November 1, 2014

It’s all Bullshit, Bullshit everywhere.

SEO Blogs

I’m starting to think all of those “SEO is bullshit” articles may actually have a point. Take a look at some of the headlines I saw being spewed across my twitter stream today by several well-known SEOs. Here they are, paraphrased based on the articles they linked to:

SEO & Paid Search should be separate – by the CEO of a company who only does paid search

Top 10 WordPress themes that I could find affiliate links for – by an affiliate marketer

Mobile & Desktop websites should be different experiences – by the CEO of a company specializing in creating separate mobile websites.

Top 10 SEO agencies according to company who charges SEO agencies to be in their listings

You can’t measure the ROI of social media – by company who can’t show positive ROI

Every company needs to buy facebook ads – by president of company that does facebook advertising

Sensing a pattern here? I am. Other than a few select posts by a few select authors, I can’t remember the last time I read something on an SEO blog that wasn’t financially motivated. Very few people are sharing information in order to teach or inform, and hardly anything is done without some sort of financial motivation behind it anymore. Maybe that’s always been the case, but I like to think it wasn’t.

Ever wonder why SEO has such a bad reputation? It’s because a vast majority of our industry will say or endorse anything if they can make a few bucks off of it.

Don’t believe me? Look at the ads on your favorite industry blog. I bet you see paid link services and TopSEOs don’t you? Hover over them. Those aren’t adsense, those are direct placement. See what I mean? Even our best publications and conferences will accept any advertiser, sponsor, or exhibitor willing to pay the fee on time. Sure they’ve got bills to pay and all, and they are businesses who owe it to their stakeholders to turn a profit, but that’s just one symptom of the problem.

Every industry has their own trade journals, professional organizations, industry publications, conferences, and what not. I think we’ve actually got too many, but that’s not the problem. The problem is that people in the SEO industry quickly realized they could make more money selling bullshit to aspiring SEOs than they could by actually doing SEO. SEO used to be quite easy. It used to be about reverse engineering the algorithm and doing the little things that others weren’t to set your site apart. Then, more people started doing SEO, search algorithms improved, and SEO got a lot harder. People realized how important SEO was, but it was hard to do and an entire new generation of people looking for quick SEO fixes sprang up. Suddenly, it was much easier to market to SEOs that it was to actually do SEO.

We became unable to separate the marketing from the marketer. Our professional publications and events have become just one more channel to market to. For many, SEO has been dead for years. It died due to neglect and was reincarnated as something we’ll call SEOM – search engine optimization marketing. Almost ironically, practitioners of SEOM actually do a very good job of performing real SEO on their sites selling bullshit SEO, but they’re not blogging or speaking about that.

Maybe it’s an inherent problem within growth agencies like internet marketing, carpet baggers and what not, but it seems to be getting out of control lately. When’s the last time you saw an SEO blog recommend something that didn’t have an affiliate program? Have you read an article recently by a CEO who wasn’t just re-affirming that his company can solve problems you didn’t know you had? Ever seen a guest blog post where the article wasn’t carefully crafted around the links it was meant to include?

We constantly debate questions like Should we rename SEO? (this @mattcutts video being from literally 10 minutes ago) but the SEO moniker isn’t the problem. We’re the problem. Sure a new name would offer a fresh canvas (to put it quite existentially) but does anyone honestly believe we wouldn’t quickly paint over that new name’s canvas with the first thing somebody paid us to paint?

We’re marketers; it’s hard to stop thinking like marketers – I get that. For the sake of our industry though, whatever we decide to name it, we need to { stop shitting where we eat | separate our milkplates from our meat }

I’m not speaking for the whole industry here, there’s a lot of quality SEOs and marketers out there – you just won’t find them on any “top” list. For every good marketer though, there’s a lot more willing to take the first dollar that comes their way regardless of what that requires. A name change won’t get rid of them. It’s going to take a lot more, but we can start by not giving them our money, time, audience, or ad inventory.

About Ryan Jones

Ryan Jones is an SEO from Detroit. By day he works as a manager of SEO & Analytics at SapientNitro where his team performs SEO for Fortune500 clients. By night he's either playing hockey or attempting to take over the world with his own websites - which he would have already succeeded in doing had it not been for those meddling kids and their dog. The views expressed here have not been paid for and belong only to Ryan, not any of his employers or clients. Follow Ryan on Twitter at: @RyanJones, add him on Google+ or visit his personal website: www.RyanMJones.com

Comments

  1. Ryan…I couldn’t agree more. Having come into this industry watching some of the lame ass things people who claim to be SEO experts, I’m reminded of the old adage…”actions speak louder than words”. There are the peeps who talk a lot (hoping for exposure and sales) and those within in the industry that bust their ass to give value to their clients. I hope more people “quit shitting where they eat in this industry” and keep working to give results to clients instead of marketing for some commissions. Good stuff…gotta retweet this.

  2. It’s not a problem unique to SEO. Spend a lengthy time in any industry and you’ll come across the same patterns. People often take the easy route, even when that means tossing aside one’s principles for profit (my biggest pet peeve).

  3. Really Ryan? One of the things I like about our industry (which I’m not ashamed to call “SEO”) is that there’s so many passionate individuals that offer up their observations, weigh in with their opinions and share resources without any seeming ulterior motive. Maybe I’m naive, or maybe it’s because I actually “do SEO”, but I’ve certainly never written a post where “how can this benefit me or my company financially” entered my mind.

    As to the ads “on your favorite industry blog” I kind of fail to see the point you’re making here. What relationship do those ads have to the quality of a post? The money is being made here in most cases (single author blogs excepted) by the publisher, not the author. Regardless of the industry involved, if advertisers can pay and the ads themselves aren’t outright fraudulent why should SEO industry publications be held to a higher standard than, say, Wired, or the New York Times?

    Having said all of this, there certainly is room for a conversation – preferably an ongoing conversation – about the ethics of marketing. Should one take on any client that can pay? If not, what are the types of clients or industry spaces from which one should steer clear? Should these be wholly personal decisions, or should the marketing and advertising industries try to develop guidelines about what sort of marketing is ethical and which is not?

    Of course, this examination rapidly and necessarily involves a discussion about capitalism as well. In short, to what degree is one either complicit or disconnected from the products and services for which one shills? If I use my skills to help improve the conversion rate of a landing page offering an iPad in a contest, am I by extension as culpable as Apple for the low wages and poor working conditions at Foxconn?

    But these issues get little airing. Much less so than the more trivial questions about “is SEO bullshit?” or “why does SEO have such a bad reputation?” That a proportion of SEOs shill for the services their companies offer or the products that their clients produce isn’t particular to this industry.

    For what it’s worth I think such obvious and unsightly self-interested promotion is ultimately not in the interest of an author or company that sponsors them, as at least a fair proportion of readers can tell the difference between butter and margarine, and personal an corporate reputations suffer accordingly. But I don’t know of any other marketing field for which this doesn’t also hold true.

  4. I can’t help but point out that you, Ryan, are an SEO with one of those large corporate consulting companies with big corporate clients. Unlike a smaller, nimble, perhaps research-oriented SEO who works constantly to test, check, re-check, study and investigate what works TODAY in SEO, you spend a ton of time in meetings. And pitching big clients on big, long term contracts, which usually include well-padded services. Could it be that you, more than other non-big-agency independent SEOs, rely on an open SEO model where everything is shared (so you can use it?)

    Some SEOs have business owners as client contacts. You are more likely to have product managers as clients, or division managers, or VPs of marketing. I bet your clients 1. value authority very highly and 2. demand their consultant be the “smartest guy in the room” on SEO issues 3. don’t always actually do much of the SEO that they talk about doing/plan to do (for many reasons).

    Tell me how wrong I am, but this sure reads like a rant from an SEO guy who has a vested in interest in every other SEO guy publishing observations, findings, analyses, “secrets” and knowledge, for free, so he can use it.

  5. I know how you love playing devils advocate, so I’ll take some of that lightly, but I can see how you would think that John, but that’s definitely not me. Yeah, I work with big clients but my background is also that of a computer scientist and programmer. I still run several of my own websites and I still do some consulting with smaller clients when time permits.

    I’m always testing stuff both in theory and in practice on my own websites. I’ve even set up sites in the past simply to test stuff. Everything I recommend to a client is based on analytics, coding or HTML standards, search engine guidelines, or provable tested methods.

    You’ll also notice from my past history that whenever I have a key learning or significant thought that I also share it with the community. Ask several of my friends, they’ll tell you how often I’m willing to help them.

    I just think that as a community and an industry, we’d all benefit from more open and honest communications. There’s nothing wrong with getting some self promotion out of it – like when a doctor gets the prestige from having his name in a medical journal. It’s when money is involved that it’s shady – like for example a doctor who prescribes one drug over another because the pharmacy rep is paying him to.

    To me, there’s a fine distinction. People giving good advice or sharing quality information or creating good tools AND profiting from it isn’t a problem. People giving advice or recommending something simply because they profit from it IS a problem and it harms our industry as a whole.

    To me, it’s all about integrity.

  6. This happens. It almost always happens; where there is growth there is game, and a lot of people are gaming the SEO industry. Cash Rules Everything Around Me, it’s like the WU was talking about us.

    I really think you nailed it with this one.
    “The problem is that people in the SEO industry quickly realized they could make more money selling bullshit to aspiring SEOs than they could by actually doing SEO.”

    Personally, I’m sick of it all, the old school has turned into high school and the cool kids are are so busy trying to prove they are cool they shit on each other more than cheer for the home team. The new kids talk smack about the old guard because they are so busy selling SEO that they are not doing SEO enough to really know what they are selling.

    The crazy thing is the Search Engines are easier to game than in a long time, but no one want’s to hear people talk about that, because that’s “black hat”, and they don’t want Matt to ban their blog or company site. The reality is they shouldn’t anyway because as KRS ONE said “real bad boys move in silence”

    The time has come to stop talking the talk, and start walking the walk.

    Word is bond!
    -Bob

  7. @Ryan I know your background I’m just noting the irony in your rant, and that you’re much more “protected” for a paycheck than many of the seo bloggers who would be revealing important knowledge for no gain (except for help from you on occasion, which I now understand).

    @Bob funny how if you look at the # years of experience touted by those ‘young uns who bad mouth the old school seo, it’s always less than 3 (see http://www.johnon.com/694/seo-kickbacks.html). Demand for SEO + “Bitch gotta eat” = Inbound Marketing?

  8. Totally get the irony John. in fact, if I had a plugin that let me disable ads on just this post, I would have – but I’m too lazy to go edit my template to remove them.

    I will note (as I did on twitter) that I do block any known spam/shady/scam sites within adsense if i ever see them appearing on my sites.

    you may be on to something with the paycheck thing, which is why it makes me even sadder when I see that type of behavior from people who aren’t hurting to put food on their table.

    I’m also fine with the fact that some things people don’t want to share. I get that, some secrets shouldn’t be shared – but marketing yourself as somebody who’s educating others about SEO while only “educating” them about things that have affiliate programs is, to me, unethical.

    there’s a fine line in all of these things.

  9. @johnandrews Damn 3 years late on the re-uppin’ my underground status, but going deep and staying deep.

  10. Nice point Ryan!

    I agree with the fact that what we see in our twitter stream has less value and more commercialism and I guess that is one of the reason people are shifting to Inbound.org for reading some good stuff that contain less or no commercialism.

    As far as the ads are concern, for a blog that does not offer any service and purely based on Ads somehow have to go for ads that say “get 500 links from PR 7 websites.” but blogs that are in either way associated with the company should never go for Ads and if they are going for it… I think they are more interested in dollars then sharing information!

    I also agree that we have a bad name when it comes to general public and to a higher extent we are the reason behind it.

    But I guess Ryan, this is still a relatively new industry and it need more time to get stabled. In my opinion the industry needs a little more time and we will see good amount of shit will go away and people with value will rock again!

  11. Wanted to say great article and your right, most seo’s are in it for the money and take advnatage of clients . This must stop now, as we will loose to media brick and mortar companies. We all know how the people are, but one one wants to say, who the haters are.

    I respect Danny, Matt, you, rust Brick, SEJ, SEL, SEs, Pubcon, Brett, as he asked me to come to pubcon years ago, personally when I had a booth at blogworld. I don’t rad tweets from the inner circles, I just do good busjiness and my goal is to make clients money and to do what’s right. The 3 seo’s that caused me trouble in the past and one got a C&D from my counsel, are just causing trouble, for some unkown reason. Bottom line where I come from and my thoughts is,I paid for ses and pu con and etc all these years since early 2000’s and I don’t need former speakers and one current speaker at pubcon to bash me, as I learned from them. Its like me going to college or school and the teachers teaches and then defames me and slanders mw. Now I won’t stand for this, as this is why I been very voiceterous. Excuse spelling, as I respect you John, or I wouldn’t write this, as I am tired of seeing haters and will be watching for all the tricks. Like the words have been said by my father, you can’t con a con man, not saying I am, but I know the tricks and the stupid bots and the seo’s that think their in a video game on a planet and their mission to fight bots and shit need to leave.if one talks shit, they need to back up with proof of doing good for industry.

    If anyone wants to buy the seochampion.com company, I don’t care anymore, as its annoying, as if ibstay in, I will get defeisive with attorneys, if the senseless keep speaking non sense,

    I come from a family, where respect is given when deserved

    Good article, just speaking loud here, for the ” bots and people that control SEJ and etc and SES to make it better, as its dying anyway, unless one is great at sales, which I am and follow rules. I am happy to meet u and give you a tour John. Thanks mike

  12. Oh, and then there’s also this talk about being “ethical”, and the less they actually know about SEO the louder they scream about “ethics”

  13. Hey, wanna buy a 125×125 pixel sidebar banner on my blog promoting this post?

  14. hahaha. now i’m tempted to do that on the top SEO blogs….

  15. Nice post Ryan. Since marketers are trying to sell to other marketers, it’s becoming a crowded pool. BTW, you got any skimlinks in your post? :)

  16. Great post Ryan but I have to disagree on one big point.

    The point being

    Danny Sullivan – quite frankly he has never really been an SEO, well not since 1999 or something. He is an “SEO journalist” and a good SEO Journalist at that. There is a big difference! Yes he ranked searchengineland but when Matt Cutts walks out on SES and follows you to SMX I think you actually don’t need SEO! If he had to start fresh today no rep and no “Pals” helping him out I doubt he could SEO out of a wet paper bag, he has long been gone from the trenches. Add to this that if every second word that comes out of his mouth is SMX (is that a word? and yes I am exaggerating a little) and you have some who is shamelessly promoting something that pretends to offer value but really is only designed to make him money. He really has no expertise other than being able to contact Matt Cutts when ever he wants, so why promote these events? other than to make money that is! Oh wait that’s right he does get Matt Cutts to turn up and tell people to “make better content”. Can’t wait for SMX to come to my home town so I can fork over a $1k large to be told something that I could get from one of Matt’s “AWESOME” videos.

    What we really need in the SEO industry is a salty droid clone. Someone who can expose these shifty SEO’s and their boiler room operations. One day it will come!

  17. So many grammar errors. I’m trying again

    I feel like the phenomenon you’re describing is partly the specialization of a field that has, throughout its short history, been relatively generalized. Of course a mobile design firm will post content about mobile design. It’s what they do for a living. Don’t confuse correlation with causation; the fact that there are ten thousand firms with different tactics producing content (that functions as marketing material) doesn’t necessarily indicate the deterioration of the industry. I don’t think anyone legitimate (or at least established) makes up strategies and then throws together content to support it.

    People operate their businesses the way they do and find their niches because they believe in what they’re doing. You can’t cry foul every time an SEO puts out material that backs up (or makes a case for) his/her services. The alternative would be a world in which every SEO firm treats their strategy like the Romney/Ryan tax plan. I’d much rather read 10 different articles with opposing perspectives about the value of social media vs. the importance of a website and decide for myself what makes the most sense in my industry and for my company. I don’t think the SEO/SEM industry can be expected to behave differently than any other in that way.

  18. I like how you say-
    The problem is that people in the SEO industry quickly realized they could make more money selling bullshit to aspiring SEOs than they could by actually doing SEO.
    This statement has a very similar sentiment to it as did a blog post last year by Aaron Wall- Celebrities killed the SEO star. So much of what I read is simply parroting of what others are saying, speculation with out substantial tests to back it up. I think our content as SEOers and Marketers will continue to be self serving because we know that we can get sales from blog posts, white papers, and possibly even from participating in conferences. Those not as keen in marketing don’t realize this and hence may have a more altruistic purpose for writing.

  19. IrishWonder says:

    >Inbound.org for reading some good stuff that contain less or no commercialism.
    Moosa, with all due respect to you, no commercial salesy stuff on inbound? Really? Oh come on…

  20. @IrishWonder,

    I agree sir! and that’s why i said “…good stuff that contain less or no commercialism” “less”

  21. SEW runs Text Link Ads – the whole SEO section is sponsored by them – but we don’t get even a single mention in this article? Now that’s bullshit!

  22. I guess you haven’t been reading anything I’ve written lately. Sigh.