Posted May 12, 2008 5:34 pm by with 18 comments

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For once, the (semi-)mainstream media (almost) gets it right. Chris Wilson, editorial assistant at the Washington Post-owned Internet magazine Slate, wrote an article Friday about search engine optimization—and it didn’t confuse legitimate SEO with the snake oil salesmen that usually dominate the image of the industry.

In fact, Wilson’s premise was that SEO helps everyone, and I think we’d all be inclined to agree. As he put it:

Most sites are miserably un-optimized for attention from search engines because many Web masters simply lack know-how to take the basic steps toward making their sites search-friendly. Those who do, or who have the money to hire people who do, are at an enormous advantage.

That argument, which runs throughout the article, is pretty much the basic underpinning of our industry. As user Science said in the message board discussion of the article,

The reason the arms race is good is because the work that’s done to keep up in the race does improve web clarity for everyone. Pretty much everything that Google ranks highly also coincides with basic readability. I’ve advised several friends/companies about SEO, and in the end their sites always end up cleaner and more streamlined for their human users as well.

Great. Now that we’ve established that this is true, there is one problem with the article. Take a look at the opening example in the article:

The dating service Together bills itself as one of those high-end matchmakers that still connect people the old-fashioned way, face to face. Though they’ve been around since 1974, the company has long since expanded onto the Web. Google “together dating,” and their site is the first result.

Unfortunately for Together, the next two results that Google delivers are from a site called Ripoff Report, which allows people to air grievances anonymously. One of the results links to a complaint from a man named Gary in Crystal, Minn., who bought a contract with Together off a friend for $2,300.

The other result links to all 51 complaints about Together that people have filed with Ripoff Report.

Frankly, while there’s no love lost here with Ripoff Report, I’m gonna have to argue that “SEO” isn’t going to help Together. No, they need real reputation management.

Because it gets worse for them. Six of the top ten results are negative reviews of the service, many of them berating Together in the snippets on the SERP. Sadly, SEO can’t cure all that ails them (though if Together had an indented result under their #1 listing, or sitelinks, or a plus box, it would at least move some of the negative stuff further down the page).

Wilson does suggest using press releases to dominate SERPs, but they’re going to have to make those press releases pretty thrilling to get the power needed do knock off present results two through ten. He alludes to “a variety of firms [that] promise to drown out the bad publicity with press releases and other friendly content. One even specifically promises to drown out Ripoff Report with ‘satisfactory rankings from the opinions of Bloggers throughout the Internet.'”

There’s also the possibility that Together might want to take a serious look at themselves. If so many people are upset with their services, is there anything they can do to improve them? (Meanwhile I happen to know a few resources for reputation management, if they’re looking. But ask Andy, he’s the reputation management expert.)

Reputation management isn’t just positioning press releases and paid blog reviews. It also takes a look at what you’re doing, what you might need to change, and how you can address and defray the negative reviews that are already out there. Because even if you can push them off the front page, they’ll still be out there (lurking… waiting… 😉 ).

I’m really glad to see a positive take on SEO for once, but let’s not overestimate its power, eh?

  • “Reputation management isn’t just positioning press releases and paid blog reviews. It also takes a look at what you’re doing, what you might need to change, and how you can address and defray the negative reviews that are already out there.”

    Spot on!

    In Radically Transparent, we explain that you need good character otherwise you’ll never have a good reputation. If they don’t change their behavior, then reputation management simply becomes a game of whack-a-mole.

  • Jim

    I think I know what you mean by SEO snake oil salesmen Jordan but I’m not sure if I agree with everything you say about SEO! You say websites designed by Webmaster lack clarity, search friedliness and are un-optimized. Well, maybe Webmaster is the wrong word for them! A website needs to be search friendly, clear with good working internal links and yes optimized too. Those are the job of the Webmaster. That’s what they’re suppose to do. If they did, what would happen to SEO? That’s like having to hire a brick layer because the house wasn’t framed right. If SEO exits because of poor Webmasters, then maybe we should be working on Webmasters. Its just my opinion.

    Jim’s last blog post..SEO Made Easy!

  • Jordan McCollum

    That’s not really the argument here. If people considered search engines when initially designing their sites, and consulted SEOs or SEO-trained webmasters during that phase, they wouldn’t need the help afterwards, no.

    But in the real world, that seldom happens. Anyone with a website can be called a webmaster; few if any know the first thing about SEO, which is why it’s become a separate industry.

  • The folk at Google are very clever.

    Judging by what you described has happened to “Together” it seems Google may have developed a special logarithm to sort out bad customer service, good on them.

    Or was it that a geeky loner got duped by “Together” and decided to get their own back?

  • Jim

    Actually it is. Unfortunately the snake oil salesmen are winning out, just look at all the spam in your mailbox. That’s the suit SEO is wearing in the eyes of designers and that reputation is growing. Perhaps those so called masters need to be referred to as Webtrainees! At the same time you would have to agree that even SEO people are not sure what the search engines are up to. That maybe why there are so many snake oil salesmen amoung them. All SEO knows and does is listed in the Google Webmaster Tools right out there for everyone to see. Is that an industry?

    Jim’s last blog post..SEO Made Easy!

  • I think that the mainstream is still missing the point of SEO completely. Who in the world is Googling “together dating”? I imagine that where Together would benefit would be to rank for keywords like “online dating” and “face to fact dating.”

    Besides, if Together really wants to clean up the SERPs, they should employ some Universal SEO. That way, even if negative items do show up on the first page of SERPs, they’re pushed below the followed and largely overshadowed by flashier, multi-media results.

  • For me, having a nice online reputation is more important..because that way you can earn the trust of your fellow bloggers or marketers.

  • People should be able to optimise their sites well be they should certainly not write their content for the search engine spiders. Spiders are not subscribers and so content written for spiders will not get you the returning visitors and popularity that you desire.

    People that are willing to spend money on optimising their site are likely to be people who are knowledgeable about the subject they themselves are writing about on their site. I would expect their to be a correlation between the quality of the content and the effort put into SEO.


    wii guy’s last blog post..13 year-old boy involved in high speed car chase

  • It is really alarming to see how some people are tainting the SEO industry which according to them is the ethical method, by this I mean those companies just submissions and promise you a good ranking without even having a look at the site. Because of this many think that optimizing on site is not important when they look for a SEO company.

  • “Game Google”? No, sorry, this article is crap due to reinforcing good old anti-SEO prejudice.

    Tad Chef’s last blog post..How to Get Content and Earn Credibility with Old News

  • Jordan McCollum

    Way to judge an article by its title.

  • Well, it’s the old “SEO is *ull*hit” link bait whether it’s “just joking” in the text does not matter, people just read and remember that SEO is about “gaming Google”.

    If you like this title you surely will love “Rob Banks, Help the World!” or “Eat Babies, Help the World”. Stupid sensationalist tabloid writing style.

    Tad Chef’s last blog post..How to Get Content and Earn Credibility with Old News

  • Jordan McCollum

    I never said I liked the title, but I did read beyond its first two words.

    And “Eat Babies, Help the World,” would probably be the title one of the most famous satires ever written in the English language were it written today instead of in 1729. Most people aren’t too interested in reading something called “A Modest Proposal.”

  • heads up Internet Marketing Joy, I agree its the reputation that counts. People use people that they trust.

  • ruinedbyror

    Ripoffreport is nothing but a extortion scheme, They spam and violate googles terms of service to get 2 to 4 pages of complaints originating from 1 complaint on the first page of google right under your domain or business name, even if it is a false or fraudulant complaint. The only way to have Ed Magedson owner of ROR, to look at the complaint is to pay him lots and lots of money. Google knows that this is ruining thousands of good businesses and allows it to continue to be a nightmare upon the internet business community

  • Cathy Carr

    Gosh! Is there anyone or anything ethical anymore or is the whole society unethical. This is really sad. I just wrote a long email to ripoff about my ordeals and then I read your site. I just don’t know who to believe or trust. I guess the answer to that is TRUST NO ONE

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