I’m not a search engine optimization (SEO) professional, but I know a lot of them. I’ve been lucky enough to attend dozens of search-related conferences (from Search Engine Strategies back in the day to SMX more recently), and, in the course of this, I’ve met some very talented, well-spoken, down-to-earth good people.
If you’re wondering why SEO (the practice) and SEOs (the people) are in need of defense, you probably haven’t read the Verge article posted a few days ago. Or Danny Sullivan’s reaction. To be honest, I haven’t read either of them in full, but after a few paragraphs like those I’ve pasted below, I was moved to write. This hasn’t happened to me in a long time, so I thought I’d express some of that passion (and reason) here.
A few choice phrases from the piece in question:
Everyone hates SEO and the people who do it for a living?
I certainly don’t, and my viewpoint on these folks and their profession is much more well-informed than one could possibly gain by observing things from afar and then attending a single conference. Sure, there are bad actors, but to tar the whole profession would be like saying all lawyers are bad because some are unethical. (Bad example?)
Most people who do SEO are just looking to get their business, or their client’s business, visibility on the internet. They work with retailers or pediatric dentists or farm-to-table restaurants or mom-and-pop run car washes. They work with everyone. If you’re publishing on the internet and you’re not doing SEO, you’re doing something wrong. Because SEO is just following best practices — and the best practice of all is creating good, useful content that interests and benefits your target audience — to help Google discover (and therefore rank) your content high when people are looking for what you offer.
As you might imagine, those who publish on the internet are also no strangers to SEO. Since I’ve worked in internet publishing ever since it’s been a thing (I launched this site in 1995), I’ve gotten a behind-the-scenes look at what people do to improve their rankings and it’s not mumbo jumbo. Amanda Chicago Lewis, in the Verge article, compares SEO to doing a rain dance or ritual sacrifice. It’s not that. As many people told her for the piece, it’s a lot of hard work. It takes time and effort to develop great content, make sure your site is organized in a logical way and get pages to load as quickly as possible. Especially when you’ve got years of content online.
Is business always bad?
Here’s what it comes down to, though — your fundamental perspective on the nature of business. Why do I think this? Another line from the article:
To me, that’s crazy talk. Let me say that again.
Really? Just because someone’s trying to make a buck — or even lots of bucks — that doesn’t mean they are evil. If you believe it does, there’s really nothing I can say to change your mind. Call me a Pollyanna, but I’ve met lots of smart, honest, well-intended SEOs. Even the article admits that the days of easy money in the space are over, and the sleaziest of the lot have moved on to easier, more lucrative pursuits.
I also believe Google does a good job in an increasingly complex environment, though it will need to be continually working to deliver better results. No, it’s not perfect, and the challenges facing it are only growing in a generative AI-powered world, but I don’t think there’s anything nefarious going on. Others will disagree.