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The State of the SEO Industry Address



By Taylor Pratt

It seems like over the last year more and more posts have come out criticizing SEO, questioning the use of standards, and all in all, casting a dark cloud over the industry that so many of us have grown to love. I’ve stood up to fight in the pointless drama, but it seems like there will be an endless amount of posts as to the death and corruption of SEO. Allow me to light up the beacon of SEO freedom, and follow me to what the industry used to be, and still should be, regarded as.

Just over 2 ½ years ago, I stumbled into this industry. I signed up for industry forums and subscribed to RSS feeds, not knowing what lay ahead for me. As I started to listen to podcasts and read forum and blog posts, I realized that this industry was more than ranking for high traffic keywords. It was about trusting in others, learning from one another, and building a helpful and friendly community.

Yet over the past 1 ½ years I’ve seen a change in the SEO industry. The very cornerstone of this industry is being ripped to shreds. Is it because the industry has grown so much over the last few years? Can we return to the glory days of SEO? I think we can, but it requires focus and commitment from each member.

First, we must remember what this industry stands for.

This is the industry that adapts to new challenges. Since the dawn of Search Engines, they have always used an algorithm to decipher which pages were the most relevant to a user. As the Internet continues to grow and become more and more relied upon as a source of information, the Search Engines are forced to update and create an algorithm that can adapt to new technologies. This practice is over a decade old, and any (and every) SEO will tell you that you need to pay attention to adapt to these new changes. You (the SEO) needs to tweak your algorithm, make the changes that you think are the most beneficial to the user (just like the Search Engines) and continue to follow their rules (a.k.a. their algorithm) in order to make your site found. I’m not talking about jumping because Google told you to. I’m talking about knowing why Google wants you to jump so you don’t have to wait for them to tell you to do so. Those who have lasted over a year in this industry will tell you they are working on that every single day.

This is the industry that focuses on usability and conversions. We don’t report rankings. We don’t care if we rank #1 for a high-traffic keyword if it doesn’t convert. We care about creating a user-friendly website that is designed to make conversions easier and faster. Just as the Search Engines are focusing on returning relevant results to the user, we are determined to make our result as relevant as possible. That includes adding helpful tools, educational articles and a short newsletter signup form.

Second, we must re-establish a respect for one another.

Too many of the SEOs in this industry who dedicate their time and energy towards helping you progress in your career take a beating for doing so. Whether you already knew everything they spoke about, you didn’t think it was advanced enough, or you even thought they were too rough on your site review, remember one thing – they did it with the intention of helping you. The backlash I read in conference reviews is heart-breaking. Bloggers will tear these speeches apart, just to get a few cheap shots in and hopes to getting a few links. If you have beef with the level of education at the conference, take it up with the organizer – not the ones volunteering to speak for your benefit.

We have every right to challenge one another and debate best practices in SEO, but we need to do a better job of maintaining a level of respect for one another as well. Stop getting baited into childish banter, and start standing up for your SEO beliefs by proving your theories. Ignore the trolls and focus on what you know to be true.

Finally, take time to thank one another and to challenge each other’s theories, rather than attacking them. There are too many people who work their tails off to make this industry what it is, and they don’t get nearly enough respect for it.

In the past 18 months, SEOs have seen the unfolding of demeaning accusations about their profession. In all of the SEO industry’s young history, even when we have disagreed with one another, we have seen posts of purpose that unite us.

The true understanding and dominating of Search Engine Optimization was once a dream each one of us had. And as we each reach that goal, we begin to challenge ourselves with new dreams. Let us go forward united and with confidence. The road to victory is uneven and unpredictable, but as long as we focus on building sites for our users, we know where that road leads: It leads to conversions.

Thank you.

This is an entry to Marketing Pilgrim’s 3rd Annual SEM Scholarship contest.

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  • John

    You summed-up my favorite SEO point with:

    “Just as the Search Engines are focusing on returning relevant results to the user, we are determined to make our result as relevant as possible.”

    Good, effective SEO benefits everyone. When I’ve seen good SEOs finish with a site, it has more and better content. It has a relationship with relevant sites whose visitors can benefit from that content. It ranks better because it IS better.

    As websites have rushed to get higher search engine ranking, we have seen the websites themselves become more useful and more friendly to the visitor.

    It may have started out as a side-effect, but I don’t think it can be considered as such anymore.

    SEO won’t stop evolving. As search engines get better at knowing what is useful and relevant to the searcher, only useful and relevant sites will rank well. SEO is the natural steward of this process of site improvement.

    Bravo.

  • http://www.imonsterlance.com find freelancers

    pormotive news!!

  • http://www.gonzo-seo.com/ pratt

    Thanks, John. I couldn’t agree more with you that SEO won’t stop evolving. And I agree that the best SEOs improve the website so it deserves to be ranking as high as it does. If they are creating strong, educational content – doesn’t it deserve to be found?

    pratt’s last blog post..Help From My Friends

  • http://www.purposeinc.com dk

    I learned early on that what you say is correct. SEO is really based on trust and friendship. What happens in the real world drives what happens online. Then after you have earned trust and friends, then new people will discover your reputation online, and find you in real life.

    The reason I am here, reading and commenting, is because I know you from the real world, and want to help you.

    dk’s last blog post..MMA Couture Gets $ to Disabled Vets

  • http://www.snoopbloggyblog.com SnoopBlog

    “Can’t we all just get along” – Martin Lawrence

    Pratt, good post man!

  • http://darkside.sobek.pl/de/ Dark Side

    Have to agree with @dk, the easiest way to sell is to be respected, and the easiest way to be respected is to be a person one can trust. You can fake, many people won’t see the difference, but in the end being truthful is easier.

  • http://chasinggoogle.blogspot.com Elections guy

    Just don’t use black hat seo.

    Elections guy’s last blog post..Obama wins Oregon primary

  • http://www.ihelpyou.com Doug Heil

    Nice piece Taylor, and while I agree with some of your points, I disagree with others. It’s never been a case of having to evolve with some algo for me at all. Matter of fact; the things my firm did since becoming a full development firm 5 years ago is exactly how I do things today. Nothing has changed much at all.

    As far as the SEO industry? I view things in the exact opposite. I feel the people who are in it are faaar toooo damn nice to each other. That’s why we are in the state we are in. Too many ass-kissers in this industry with not many calling out bogus and crap when they see it. The search engines are far too damn nice as well. They need to get tougher on blackhats. A slap in the face and simply saying clean it up and don’t do that anymore, and then back into the index is not tough enough.

    The people outside of our industry see it as broken and with good reason. I’ve been in 4 different industries now over my 50 years, and I can tell you for a fact that the people who make them up would not befriend and praise and promote another who takes the short-cuts and cheats the system for a short-term profit. They just don’t. In fact; they do their best to run those people out of the industry. That does not happen in the SEO industry. Blackhats are praised and cheered, and asked to speak at conferences, and touted in SEO blogs daily.

    Yes; while this is a feel good blog post, it’s just a band aide type thing for what is really going on and has been a slow spiral downhill for quite a while, due to being too damn nice.

  • http://www.gonzo-seo.com/ pratt

    Thanks for the comment Doug, I think you make some good points as well.

    I can understand your point about people being too nice to each other, but the problem I see is that when they do call someone out, they do it unprofessionally. I am a strong believer in constructive criticism and people challenging each other.

    I think some Blackhats are cheered on, but I also see a good bit of them take a lot of heat. I think right now there is a balance, and I’m with you on how it should be.

    Perhaps a band aide, but perhaps something to get the motors going in people’s mind to show more pride and respect. My favorite thing about this industry is interacting with helpful (and nice) marketers. I would hate to see that change.

    pratt’s last blog post..Help From My Friends

  • http://www.mtv.com Kieran

    Name one industry that doesnt have ass kissers? I mean come on people being nice to each other has nothing to do with any downfall of SEO. The people to blame for the bad rap of SEO are the scammers and spammers – plain and simple. Just like in ALL OTHER types of Digital marketing the people doing the shady stuff give everyone else a bad name – even though SEO in a valuable and viable piece of any companies Digital Strategy. Look at email – spammers did their best to destroy email as a legitimate vehicle for promotion and email marketing received 100 times more bad press then SEO will ever get. But has that stopped legitimate companies and marketers from utilizing it? Of course not.

    IMo SEO should be and will always be a core part of a companies SEO strategy. And for anyone worried about the future of the industry / job security – you should never put all of your eggs in one basket. A good SEO’er should be well versed in all aspects of the digital landscape.

  • Tamara

    I agree that we should focus on users and usability. A key point to keep in mind!

  • http://www.ihelpyou.com Doug Heil

    Taylor; Some people call spammers out forcefully, and not nicely. Too many don’t call out a spammer at all or do it too damn nicely. That’s my point. Other people praise and tout spammers, which can never be a good thing.

    Kieran wrote:
    “The people to blame for the bad rap of SEO are the scammers and spammers – plain and simple.”

    That’s exactly right, so why does the industry praise these people for the most part and even invites them to speak at conferences and touts them everywhere, and takes their money for advertising?

    Just look at the most recent thang; we have a SEO/social media person who writes a fake news article. He posts it to the news section of Digg. He sticks it on a financial website as news. A site otherwise trusted for real news in every way. He did all of this for profit. Period. In other words, the entire fiasco was a scam in order to gain incoming links. He not only deceived all peoples who read it, but he deceived the search engines as well. He flat out admitted as such and to this day he says he will do it again and again.

    So what does many, many SEO’s and others say about this guy? They praise and tout him and say he’s the greatest thing ever. The guy lied and cheated and scammed everyone, and this is a good thing?

    I could go on and on and on with examples. If anyone thinks that being nice in this industry gets the industry anywhere, think again. It’s done nothing but drive down the entire industry. You cannot be nice to a spammer. You empower these people every time you give them a podium or praise them or tout them, or even allow them to advertise. No; I’ve never been in an industry that works this way until I jumped on the internet 10 years ago with this SEO stuff.

  • http://www.mtv.com Kieran

    @Doug – my quick answer is that conferences want people who are interesting and are into self-promotion. These rogue SEO’ers fit the bill perfectly.

    I think in this conversation it is important to separate SEO between in-house and consultants / agency.

  • http://www.toprankseo.blogspot.com Afzal Khan

    Nice read! you said it right, SEO industry is a pool where everyone is competitive, same time respects other SEO’s. Somehow few un-ethical SEO’s are ruining SEO industry.

    I applaud your efforts – Liked the most especially below one
    “We have every right to challenge one another and debate best practices in SEO, but we need to do a better job of maintaining a level of respect for one another as well. Stop getting baited into childish banter, and start standing up for your SEO beliefs by proving your theories. Ignore the trolls and focus on what you know to be true.”

    Afzal Khan’s last blog post..Mount Everest Ascent Logo – Google celebrate 55th anniversary of Mount Everest Ascent

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  • http://marketinggossip.blogspot.com Asif Anwar

    Nice article and also passionate.

    [It was about trusting in others, learning from one another, and building a helpful and friendly community.]

    The Search Marketing industry could not grow if we didn’t share each other’s knowledge, expertise, experience, success, and failures. If all the information were hidden, this industry couldn’t grow to this level we see today.

    [We have every right to challenge one another and debate best practices in SEO, but we need to do a better job of maintaining a level of respect for one another as well. Stop getting baited into childish banter, and start standing up for your SEO beliefs by proving your theories. Ignore the trolls and focus on what you know to be true.]

    I strongly believe in your words. Again people are challenging top marketers now-a-days. Have Googled for the keywords “Brad Callen”? The first PPC result is “Keyword Elite? Lies”. Another is “stompernet”, the 1st PPC result says: “The Stompernet Scam?”. These results are not actually beating the best marketers, rather they are trying to sell their enhancement along the the solutions from the best marketers.

    [The road to victory is uneven and unpredictable, but as long as we focus on building sites for our users, we know where that road leads: It leads to conversions.]

    It’s really leading to conversions for small businesses like us. And search engines are forcing us to narrow our effort in niche marketing. But, for big businesses, conversion is not an issue.

    Asif Anwar’s last blog post..13 Prophecies of Internet Marketing – The Near & Far Future of Online Marketing

  • http://congressratings.com/ Marc

    People used to criticize Michael Jordan all the time, especially me. But thats because he was trouncing my beloved NY Knicks all the time.

    Hate the game not the players

    Marc’s last blog post..Obama, Barack- (D – IL) Senate

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  • http://www.semscholar.com David Temple

    I appreciate the spirit of this post and agree that a lot of seo’s take the criticism personally and are “baited into childish banter”. We can’t agree, and I don’t know if we can even agree to disagree.

    I don’t know what you mean by “bloggers will tear these speeches apart” but if they do I’m glad of it. I want to know if I’m being misinformed. Of course if it’s petty bickering that’s different.

    Best wishes in this contest, you’re already a winner.

    David Temple’s last blog post..Chris Winfield scores a hat trick; twittering, blogging and presenting

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  • http://www.bodymakeovers.com Chris Bell

    It’s a great article. I am always on a look for such a great resource.

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