Hillbillyhood

That’s IT. I’ve had enough of online newspapers writing things about SEO. I really have. I happened to come across this article by The Globe and Mail. The Globe and Mail, ya’ll.

I don’t have anything against The Globe and Mail, anymore than I have something against the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal (who’ve written about SEO lately). There’s nothing wrong with them, IF I want to read the news.

However, when I read an article written by someone who isn’t in the SEO world – isn’t even on the outskirts of the SEO industry – well, it’s brings out the hillbilly hood in me. I have this insane urge to grab their faces, look deep in their eyes and say kindly, “shut the hell up”.

So this Globe and Mail article: the writer, Ivor Tossel, has some good information. As a former programmer, he probably knows a thing or two. Hell, he could probably teach me a thing or two. He even says some of the right stuff, like, “And SEO really is a whole industry – entirely devoted to making websites more prominent on Google and its competitors.”

Then he has to ruin it. “It isn’t a terribly technical practice,” he says. “Anyone can do it. There doesn’t need to be much, if any, programming involved.” Then, he adds the big whopper:

“Instead, it’s achieved by manipulating the content of pages – their titles, the links they contain, and their words and pictures. The basics of SEO are accessible to anyone.”

To top it all off, the single comment says,

“A lot of SEO amounts to trying to gain a search ranking unwarranted by the site’s content. A good search engine should sort the wheat from the chaff. Much of SEO tries to game the system… Dollars ploughed into content will do more for you than the same amount blown on SEO. If you focus on content you have nothing to fear from the latest Google dance.”

Mhmm. Right. Okay.

Now, I don’t know who Steve St-Laurent (the comment writer) is. Nor do I particularly care. He could be the top SEO honcho of the Internet and I’d still be irritated. Between the New York Times articles and this one (Handle SEO With Care), the SEO industry sounds like a cesspool of suspicious looking, sneaky characters from spy novels.

Why does all this piss me off? It’s not that I feel SEO is being attacked. On the contrary. I think Ivor is genuinely interested in walking people down the SEO lane. The inaccuracy gets my goat. Inaccuracy, when newspapers supposedly pride themselves in accurate reporting. Yeah, right.

And Mr. Tossel is planning on writing a 4 part series about SEO… For the record, I hope it’s not too full of inaccuracies.

SEO isn’t technical.

You know, I was just saying that same thing to Gabriella, while reading through lines of code to find all the places that might need tweaking. Okay, so there’s a little sarcasm here.

Maybe coding isn’t the same as writing in C++, etc. Maybe optimization isn’t technical when compared to programming. I don’t know. I’m not a programmer. What I do know is that I spend a lot of time cleaning up code on clients’ websites. I know we spend hours pouring over sites and analytic data – before we ever start the campaign.

What I also know is that “technical” is subjective. If we tell a client they need to optimize their alt image attributes and they say, “What,” this is technical to them. If they ask, “Where do I put this meta data stuff,” it’s technical. When we’re troubleshooting why a client’s site isn’t being properly indexed… drum roll please… it’s technical.

Let’s also consider the creation of optimized, yet marketable page titles and descriptions.

We demand a lot out of these little search snippets. They have to be optimized; they have to be relevant. They have to appeal to the target market so the target market will be interested enough to click through. They have to carry the brand’s message.

We have a total of 226 characters, with spaces, to achieve all this. If you don’t know how to do it, it’s technical. Because all technical really means, you see, is that an action belongs or pertains to a specific art, science or industry. So, while the art of SEO may not be technical in the terms of, “Hey, Joe – what do I have to do to get this lamp socket to work,” it does take a certain amount of skill to perform.

Follow Google’s best practices. 

Google’s Best Practices

Ivor correctly points out that Google has a comprehensive SEO starter guide. It’s a list of “what to do if you want to be ranked by Google”. Great; but let’s revisit it in light of recent updates, shall we?

Google best practices say…

  • Create unique title tags for each page
  • Accurately describe the page’s content
  • Use brief, but descriptive titles

Awesome. Sweet. Totally cool n stuff. So you do all that, right? Then your unique, accurate, descriptive titles appear in the SERPs just the way they should, right? Maybe… if the search engine doesn’t just rewrite them. Yes, ladies and gents – Google (search engine, not company) can “decide” to rewrite your carefully crafted titles.

Google best practices say…

  • Offer quality content
  • Create fresh, unique content
  • Write easy-to-read text

Hey, sounds good to me. This kind of advice brings search engines and visitors, so it’s a win-win. Yet, the Panda update, which targeted content farms, made a big hole for content scrappers to take over. What does this mean? It means someone can come along and decide they like your content. They can copy your fresh, quality, unique, easy-to-read text, paste it on their own site and rank above you for the terms.

Google best practices say…

  • Promote your site in the right ways
    • Telling other site owners
    • Telling your blog visitors you’ve made changes
    • Offline promotion
    • Google Places

That’s right. Use Google Places. Period. Oh, and – you can buy links, but you need to make sure you purchase them with the aim of getting traffic instead of PageRank, and somehow the search engine can tell the difference. Well, you can buy links if the New York Times doesn’t decide to go sniffing into your backlink profile that is – but I won’t even get into that.

Okay, so it’s a little about being attacked.

SEO is my job. It’s my passion. I’m a search nerd and coding geek. So, pardon me for a tad bit of irritation when people write about it, and it’s obvious they don’t actually practice it. When the information is wrong, I get pissy. Especially when we’re compared to drug dealers, like we are at the bottom of an NYT article.

“This is a group of people who will analyze this change, come back with a new strategy on Tuesday and be ranking by Thursday,” he said. “It’s kind of like what happens when drug dealers get busted. They don’t find new jobs. They switch corners.”

I beg your pardon? You wanna say that again?

-But whatever. I could go on – I probably did go on too long –, but the way optimization is perceived as an industry is something I feel strongly about. Rest assured, I’ll be keeping an eye on what else The Globe and Mail has to say about handling SEO with care.

My question to you is how do you feel about SEO being in the mainstream news and what these national newspapers are saying about it? Am I being too sensitive, or do you share the irritation/frustration? Share your thoughts and comments!