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?