writing about seo

If You’re Going To Write About SEO, Get It Right

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. 

Good & Bad Google Image
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!

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30 Responses

  1. Finally, some bold and powerful words that make sense. Thank you for creating this article. I tis kuch appreciated. Kudos!!!

  2. The problem is that our industry REALLY needs some serious PR. But it’s easy to see how idiotic some mainstream sources can be. Exactly!

  3. There are just too many SEO gurus out there but most are fake ones. I think these people should stop wasting other peoples time and money. I didn’t learn anything from these guys 🙂 but I’m glad I was saved from buying their software and since then I’ve been trying to explore the real facts of SEO through reputed blogs.

    1. LOL, I couldn’t agree with you more! I’ve yet to see an SEO software, or tool that did any critical thinking for clients in regards to their SEO strategies.

  4. THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU! This article sums up my thoughts perfectly.

    Frankly, I’m tired of mainstream media covering SEO because a.) it’s usually covered poorly, b.) it doesn’t help really anyone in the process, and c.) more junk and misunderstandings about SEO get created as a result. I’m tired of the tainted opinions and people asking me if I’m a spammer. Moreover, I’m embarrassed at the level of “reporting” many of these stories do.

    My biggest pet peeve? Mainstream media saying that SEO is killing creativity. *barf*

    1. lol sounds like someone else needs to write a rant or two 😉

      I’m hoping against hope that, some day, mainstream will do a fantastic expose about SEO companies and the positive impacts they’ve had for clients… of course, I know I’m dreaming.. but it’s a NICE dream.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment, Mandy!

  5. Maybe it’s time we SEOs started writing articles about the newspaper industry, and how they don’t actually do any independent research anymore but instead rely on he-said/she-said gossip, misquoting politicians, and 10 minutes of Googling, and call that “reporting”.

      1. yeppers…

        however.. maybe… you might re-think this..

        “We have a total of 226 characters, with spaces, to achieve all this.”

        Be careful what you read and regurgitate. =)

        1. I beg pardon? Me? Read and regurgitate? Think about it before you cast such disparaging remarks upon my character, mister. 😀 I read. I test. I use. I share. I do not regurgitate.

          226 characters is an approximate total of visible characters in the title and meta description; it might be a little on the low side, give or take a few. Now, I did say “visible” characters… I’m well aware that both titles and descriptions can carry on way past the dot dot dot search engines so generously supply.

          So, anywhere from 70 to maybe 75 for the title and 156 – 160 for the description… again, give or take a few depending on how long the last word is.

          So… do I still need to rethink?

          1. lol..

            ..wait.. disparaging? nope.. i am on level343 blog.. i know someone here.. so i’m not a comment troll…

            unless.. (someone) writes about SEO and is wrong..
            because hey.. if you write about SEO, you better get it right, correct?

            This is how I read it.. (you decide if my comment is mean or helpful to someone writing a blog about people writing blogs with less experience then themselves… oh crap.. that explains it.. i can’t read anymore blogs!@ AHHH!!!!)

            anyways =)

            Let’s also consider the creation of optimized, yet marketable page titles and descriptions.
            We have a total of 226 characters, with spaces, to achieve all this…….”

            and used the word technical.

            so.. technically how many characters can be in title, how many can be in description…

            (don’t answer this.. every single answer on the internet is wrong.. it is a trick question.. and a spam loophole in google.. and I don’t want anyone using it. )

            but.. did you personally actually test?
            how did you come up with the number?

            if you tested.. how and what did you test?

            (again.. you don’t have to answer.. just think about it)

            feel free to delete comment if it gets flamed… i’m actually a very nice guy =)


          2. lol okay okay – so you’re really a very nice guy and I’m not nearly as sensitive about marks on my character as it may seem.

            You’re right – you might as well give it up and step away from blogs all together. Who doesn’t get at least an occasional kick out of poking fingers at the less knowledgeable? Makes us feel smarter, don’tcha know 😉

            About the use of the word “technical”… You know, I wrote this after reading several articles written by mainstream news. – And the “big picture” that came across just plain pissed me off.

            It’s like…okay, here’s an example. I don’t have anything against blackhatters, but I do have something against spammers… when someone automatically assumes I’m a “blackhat spammer” because I say I’m an SEO, it just rubs me the wrong way. “I” know that I do more than tweak a few titles, descriptions and alts. I know SEO isn’t just a merry walk through the park on a nice, sunny day. I know there’s a reason why good SEO companies charge so much. So… someone making it sound like it’s the IT equivalent of flipping burgers .. well, I get irritated. lol I’ve flipped burgers… SEO ain’t that easy.

            Hmm… maybe I am as sensitive as it sounds lolol It’s always irritated me when people assume crap, whether it’s about me or anybody/anything else.

            In response to your questions about characters, testing, numbers, etc… (deletes answer upon commenter’s request) 😀

            As for deleting a comment… Pfft… as if.

            By the way… glad to see you’re becoming a regular commenter on our blog 😀

          3. one word..



            You are preaching to the choir.. was just adjusting your pitch..

            oh.. fyi.. hate commenting on blogs where people are wrong.. always end up looking like an (posterior opening).

            you weren’t wrong.. just off by about 600 or so characters.. =)
            (yes.. you are supposed to ignore this answer)

  6. Evidently Google forgot that it is supposed “To do No Evil”. Then too the NYT forgot there’s too “All the News That’s Fit to Print”. It’s too bad that companies can’t follow there own known best practices. This sort of nonsense just continues the myth that SEO is all manipulation, blackhatting, and so on. Great article

    1. “This sort of nonsense just continues the myth that SEO is all manipulation, blackhatting and so on.”

      Exactly! And I think the irritation all comes down to that, at least for me. I *know* Level343 isn’t the only SEO company practicing ethical, white hat SEO. I *know* there are many more out there. So to perpetrate the idea that SEOs are like drug dealers, or “all” SEOs are bad, scam artists, blackhatters, manipulators and so on…

      Well, as far as I’m concerned, it’s defamation of character.

      Thanks for adding your two cents, Robert!

      1. LOL defamation of character… I hear you sister but you know when you get to be my age your mantra maybe your mantra will be on of “perception is 100% reality… Ommm” Basically, you won’t take it personally or you won’t give a rats a$$.

        1. “Perception is 100% reality” – I’m already there, I’m already there – but that doesn’t mean I have to LIKE their perception *mumble mumble mumble*

  7. I learn so much from you and appreciate the way you covered this story. There are some who see SEO as mostly tactical and even manipulative, and then there’s passionate people like you who study this thing inside and out to get it right. Great response…not sensitive, just smart.

    1. Thanks so much for your comment, Tami – it’s good to know we’re having a positive impact (even if it’s from a rant lol). Maybe articles like this will open up some conversation between mainstream news and SEOs… It’s probably just a dream of mine, but how I’d LOVE to read something positive about our industry in the main.

  8. Just shows you how ignorant people might me , even in the big name magazines. that’s what happening when you let IT manager conduct an article on a very specific IT field without consulting an expert in the field.

  9. I couldn’t agree with you more. We’re in a tough spot as an industry. SEO has essentially become mainstream over the last few years as more and more businesses and news outlets become aware of us. The problem is that our industry REALLY needs some serious PR. There are a wealth of snake oil salesmen in our ranks that make those of us who are serious and passionate about our craft look like a bunch of creeps. It’s that persona that plagues our industry’s image and is carrying over into the mainstream media more and more. The sad thing is that with all the recent outings and trash talking I don’t think it’s going to go away anytime soon.

  10. Heya Doc, thanks for stopping by! As I said to Julie, I’m so glad it’s not just me.

    You know, the NYT writer – I read something about him being knowledgeable in digital culture or some such twattle. I’m still trying to figure out how his background makes him the SEO sheriff: a biased SEO sheriff at that.

    HA – still leaves a sour taste… and I’m normally such a pleasant person. 😀

  11. This grates me too and I totally agree that the term ‘technical’ belongs to a specific industry or particular science. Having started off in the industry as an SEO programmer, I’ve found that SEO can be pretty technical in the coding sense too.

    1. Thanks, Julie – I’m so glad it’s not just me! Bah – it still boils my blood. I look forward to the day when SEO is considered more than just a “baby” industry. Thanks for your input!

  12. I’m just starting to dig into SEO for my site so I’m definitely a beginner at this point. But it’s easy to see how idiotic some mainstream sources can be. Now, the content scraping you spoke of could be a major issue for every blogger with unique content. Hopefully everything will get fixed soon enough. Thanks for Sharing.


    1. If people like you, those at the beginning of SEO, can see the idiocy of what’s being reported, there’s hope. lol Thanks for your comment, Tony!

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