Maybe “Why Most People Who Call Themselves SEOs are Habitual Liars” would be strictly accurate, as I subscribe to the Michael Martinez school of thought. Whatever you do in the name of SEO for the primary purpose of improving PageRank isn’t optimization, it’s manipulation.
Not many people like to think of themselves as specialists in search-engine manipulation, so most take the easy route and choose to believe that they employ only untainted, white-hat ideology, with the sole intent of enhancing the user experience. It’s a short step from there to justifying anything from link-buying to article-spinning as a valid optimization technique, and a similarly natural logic to assuming the title “SEO.”
Before the entire paid-up membership of the SEO community jumps down my throat, I suggest each of you takes a look in the mirror. Can you tell yourself you’ve never published copy that was woven around one or more targeted keyword terms, that had carefully chosen anchor text for any contextual links, or that was created for the sole purpose of gaining backlinks to a client’s site? If you can, you’re either not one of the SEOs this article is about, or you’re in the habit of lying to yourself – and most of you will be in the second group.
Nothing Changes Much in SEO
“I used to do those things”, I hear you say. “But today I’m white-hat, pure and simple. Nothing unethical about my SEO.”
I disagree, and with justification – in my humble opinion, at least. I’m not an SEO, I’m a freelance writer, but I write regularly for clients in the SEO business. For research material, I subscribe to a good selection of influential blogs and newsletters, and I spend too many hours each week following the exploits of Google’s monochrome menagerie and the community’s subsequent thinking on link building, content marketing, guest posting and anything else remotely connected with SEO. I’ve read more articles about “outliving Panda” or “surviving post-Penguin” than I care to remember, and one thing is clear – no two SEOs have the same view on just about anything.
Since I started writing professionally – after spending many years running bricks-and-mortar businesses – I’ve seen the SEO landscape undergo serious change. Two things have remained true throughout: firstly, there’s rarely any agreement about the “right” way to react to a particular change; and secondly, people typically respond by looking for a way to continue pushing the envelope, but not so much they get penalized.
Adding Value – Not Content Without a Sense of Purpose
Content marketing has been in the spotlight since February 2011, when Panda ripped the guts out of sites that observed no editorial guidelines, had no content strategy and imposed no consistent writing standards. Two-and-a-half years on, posts offering advice about content strategy and journalistic standards are two-a-penny, and it’s nigh-on impossible to find an original piece on the subject.
Experts from all sides of the table wax lyrical about resource articles, audio and video, infographics, white papers, product reviews and user-generated content as though all these were something new. I did read one article recently that dared to talk about providing the reader with information, but it was an exception to the rule. Why do so many “authorities” continue to pay lip-service to providing something useful for visitors, and focus almost exclusively on not infringing Google’s (or Bing’s or whoever’s) Webmaster Guidelines? Is writing something original and informative really that hard?
Breaking Links with the Past – Old Habits Die Hard
Build-My-Rank-type blog networks are dead. Paid-for link building is no longer worth the risk. Comment spam is worthless. The only good link is a natural link, and you should be earning those by publishing top-quality, link-worthy content. That’s the way it works nowadays, right?
Wrong … are you really surprised? SEOs, would-be or genuine, know as well as I do that spammy link building is alive and well, months after Penguin supposedly stamped on it for the final time.
I recently acquired a home-improvement blog, which in truth qualifies as a fully fledged BINO, or blog-in-name-only. I inherited more than a hundred guest posts, most of which were clearly written solely for links. Each week, I receive requests to publish articles that have nothing to do with informing the reader – most are from SEO companies, on behalf of clients, and a good number are quite up-front, offering to pay for links. How many of them tell the client about the risks they run? Are you among them?
Guest Posting is the New Article Marketing
This, from no less an authority than Google itself which includes among specific examples of manipulative link schemes:
“Large-scale article-marketing or guest-posting campaigns with keyword-rich anchor-text links.”
Yes folks, although article marketing has been officially dead for most of the current decade, guest posting to improve page rank is alive, kicking and now finding itself in the harsh glare of Google’s anti-spam spotlight. It’s no coincidence that my much-abused blog is now receiving requests from those self-same SEOs to remove links that they were so keen to insert only months earlier.
Not only that, but there’s an almost holier-than-thou attitude buried (none too deeply) in some of these messages. How about this for a not-very-thinly veiled threat:
I generally remove links promptly when requested (without charging for the privilege – another example of what is often nakedly opportunistic behavior) but I didn’t rush to get rid of this one. If you’re wondering where this is going – I’m not accepting guest posts right now, as I need to clean up the site (read: delete most of the original posts) before even thinking about adding new content.
Are Rankings Really More Important than Traffic?
If you still believe that a first-page search listing for one or other putative keyword-of-note outweighs attracting real visitors, then you really do need help.
So we’re agreed that it’s traffic that we’re after? Why then, do so many SEOs continue to kowtow to clients who want to see their site “at the top of Google”, refusing to tackle the issue head-on? And then bemoaning the client’s lack of SEO-savvy …
Let’s put it to the test. I don’t expect this piece will ever see the top of Google (except maybe from below) but I’m hoping that real people read it – and mention it to their friends. Who knows, I might even snag a few comments. That, for me, is the objective – using my skills to stir your emotions and stimulate debate.
What’s your take? What sort of SEO are you? Or is SEO now just another S-word to be avoided at all costs?