Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Derek Powazek on SEO as Snake Oil

There are many on the web who will recognize the name Derek Powazek. He is the name behind old-school sites such as Fray.com and Kvetch.com (which has apparently been taken over by spam bots) and wrote a book about communities (Design for Community, which mentions me by name, which is awesome). I also had the pleasure to meet him at SXSW back in 2001 and even participate in his Fray Cafe. So when I saw his blog post on SEO that started off with this statement, I was pleased:

Search Engine Optimization is not a legitimate form of marketing. It should not be undertaken by people with brains or souls. If someone charges you for SEO, you have been conned.

What pleases me more is that it echoes a comment I made in my post Verified: Google Ignores Meta Keywords back in September:

Those of us trying to protect our clients from SEO/SEM snake-oil salesmen are happy to finally have an official statement from Google.

Now that I've tooted my horn and compared myself to someone considered one of the top 40 "industry influencers" of 2007 by Folio Magazine, let me get to my point. I've been working on the web since Hot Java was still a browser, was excited when the first beta of Netscape Navigator made its way to world, when Yahoo were a couple of guys in a dorm posting links, when my Jolt Cola web site was included in their index because I asked them to include it, and since then the way people find things on the web has changed dramatically. For the last decade or so the search engine has become more than a convenience, it's a necessary feature of the web, without which we'd be stuck wandering billions of terrible pages of things we don't want to see (many thousand fewer of those pages once GeoCities finally closes down). Because of this, getting your site into the search engine in the top spot has become the holy grail of online marketing, one that far too many people are happy to exploit as an opportunity.

Derek makes two key points in his article

  1. The good advice is obvious, the rest doesn’t work.
  2. SEO is poisoning the web.

He supports the first point by noting that formatting, structure, summaries, quality links and so on have worked since the beginning and will continue to work. There's no magic there. It's free to read anywhere on the web. For his second point he references all the Google bombing tactics that are employed by bots to spam blogs, comment areas, twitter accounts, parked domains, etc. as well as questionable tactics that exploit loopholes (albeit temporary ones) in a search engine's ranking algorithm.

As of now the article has 180 comments, many of which are optimizers who take umbrage with the blanket statement that SEO is the work of the soulless foulspawn and their dark arts (my words, but I think I summarize his sentiment well enough). After receiving so many comments Derek added a post yesterday, his SEO FAQ, responding to a generalization of many of the questions and comments. He also offers some suggestions, including this one targeted at clients (I just took the first part):

If someone approaches you about optimizing your search engine placement, they're running a scam. Ignore them.

Having said something similar in the past to clients, this is normally where I'd segue into a discussion with my clients about how I've worked hard to ensure Algonquin Studios' content management system, QuantumCMS, adheres to best practices and provides many ways to get quality content into the pages, links, titles, page addresses, meta information (after I tell them Google doesn't use meta data for ranking but they insist because they've been conditioned to think that way) and so on. This is also the part where I remind clients that their help is needed to write that copy, interact with users, customers, partners, industry organizations, etc. to generate quality relationships and references (often in the form of links), and to plan to spend time working on this regularly to keep it fresh and relevant.

I look forward to the time when I won't be spending chunks of my day clearing spambots from my QuantumCMS Community forum, batting down spam email about submissions to 300+ search engines, ignoring bit.lys in unsolicited Twitter @ responses, and generally fighting the after effects of all the black hat SEO enabling we've allowed for years.

2 comments:

  1. FWIW, I switched to Yahoo! as my full time search engine (with the exception of when I need maps) because of how much less fooled they are by SEO tricks. I'd love to say that was because of how good a search engine it is, but it's really because SEO scammers are only targetting Google.

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  2. The big dog gets all the attention. I get massive amounts of spam followers on Twitter, but none on Brightkite. There's not large enough of a user base to warrant harassing me there. Pardon me while I stuff this comment with keywords set in white on the white background...

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