Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The harm SEOs do: Pride

HubrisImage by voss via Flickr

I really enjoy SEO and the SEO community. I can’t believe it’s been a double digit number of years since a few of us started to promote sites to the top of AltaVista – just for bragging rights on UseNet. It’s been nearly as long since that new search engine, Google, the one we all knew would be a huge success bought Deja.com’s Usenet Service.

At times, though, I get really annoyed by the SEO community. We are often our greatest enemies. One fault in particular brings us down – pride.

There was far less pride in the early days. When Google said it didn’t want to see white text on a white background or even light-grey text on a white background no one moaned that “Google had created a content economy and should expect – allow – people to hide text if they wanted to”. When Google said it wasn’t a fan of people dropping links into Guest Books no one significant moaned that the “search engine had created a link economy that people should be able to promote sites however they wanted to”.

Nevertheless, when Google further clarified its stance on buying links a whole chorus of complaints rose up.

I can see why. Some SEOs had built not just their career but their reputation on link buying and selling techniques and tactics. It wasn’t just about the money. It was also about the pride.

Money was important, sure. It wasn’t just that some agencies needed to buy links in order to move the SEO needle it was that some agencies took significant commission on link dealing and wanted to protect that income stream.

Compare that to the loss of the Best Practise Funding in the UK, though, which involved far larger figures. Sure the PPC community isn’t as vocal as the SEO community and some of the traditional media agencies simply didn’t know what to say – but, by and large, pride wasn’t harmed and so most people moved on.

Even today we have SEOs who try and argue that any advert that looks like a link is comparable to a bought link. It isn’t. These people know the difference between JavaScript and HTML. They know exactly what Google is objecting too and what the search engine isn’t objecting too. Nevertheless; they continue to muddy the waters in order to protect their pride.

It’s not just paid links that we see this intractable pride coming from too many SEOs, though. It’s all over the place.

Too many SEOs are in denial about the radical changes that have overhauled Google in recent months.

Personal search is now automatic and standard. It’s actually quite hard to opt out of personalised search. Nevertheless, too many SEOs push on with a “business as usual” message and haven’t updated their techniques since 2008 or before.

Social search is running, as a beta, but as a default. Once again you’ll be hard pressed to find an SEO strategy that accepts this, works with or even recognises this.

Real-time search means that we’re not far away from the situation where no two Google searches being identical. Are we seeing a flood of blog posts discussing this? No. It’s more business as usual.

Sure, some of this is an honest lack of understanding from some of the more junior players in the SEO industry, some of it is an unwillingness to change and adapt – protecting the old model – but I fear some of it is the belief that the old ways should continue unchallenged.

I believe that this unwillingness to admit the need to change will harm the SEO industry. I also fear it harms clients. Clients pay for best advice – they don’t pay to maintain egos and hubris.

I’ve made mistakes in the past. Rather than let them haunt me I find it more helpful to learn from them and make sure they never happen again.

I strongly believe that SEO needs to evolve in 2010 if it’s too survive, I don’t think it is a lack of skills that will hold the industry back; if fear it’ll be pride and protectionism.

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