On my way home tonight my Twitter notifications started to chime. Apparently there was some chatter about SEO being similar to “nasty oil salesman, slimy tactics” and I was being brought into the conversation.
For the last year I have been a very loud advocate for SEO within the WordPress community and I’ve really tried my best to remove the remove SEO lies and other BS discussions from SEO conversations, blog posts, and webinars.
Today’s Chatter on SEO Lies and BS
Here is how the Twitter conversation started and why I couldn’t help but write a quick post about it.
The original tweets from @jeffr0:
My disgust for SEO is a psychological thing that is hard to get over.
I equate SEO to nasty oil salesman, slimy tactics that aren’t necessary to get results, you can get results without resorting to that though.
Oh bless Jeff. I love him and his big heart.
This was followed by a reply by @corymiller303:
@jeffr0 yep – this is one reason I love @rebeccagill – she’s none of that BUT gets results #truestory
Cory and I are friends and he and I have had many discussions on SEO and what it really takes to win on search.
While I’ve never worked with Jeff on SEO or even discussed it with him, I felt like he needed to know not all SEO consultants are untrustworthy. My response:
@corymiller303 @jeffr0 I try hard to pull the BS out of SEO. 😉
Next @bgardner chimes in with:
@rebeccagill @corymiller303 @jeffr0 Sounds like the start of a really good blog post. 😉
Now I might have let this all die, but I did also receive an email today from a random person who uses WordPress:
By the way – I’m a web designer here in the UK and do read your emails / check your blog etc on occasion, always inspiring to see what you’re doing, especially your down to earth, helping your clients do SEO right – without all the seemingly transient catch-phrasing and trending one minute phases, the next not *blah* that seem to litter the web and simply distract from the meat of what is actually relevant to an end user’s attempt at an otherwise confusing world of technology. If you get my drift!
Are you seeing a trend here? And this is only one day of feedback the general public’s view of SEO!
Oy. This is like a dagger through my heart.
SEO Doesn’t Have to Be Full of Lies and Slimy
SEO is good. Or it can be when it is done right and with good intentions.
SEO consultants and the SEO consulting industry can be a huge benefit to a business. The problem is there is no governing body to regulate who calls themselves an SEO expert and/or who throws up a website pushing SEO consulting as a service.
The WordPress community is also to blame. I’ve attended WordCamp presentations and started to listen to podcasts that have speakers on who are talking about SEO. In a lot of cases their views are completely wrong, outdated, and beyond the basic level you pull from a blog post.
It pains me, because it leads people astray on what good SEO is and the real ROI SEO can generate.
In the WordPress examples, intentions are good. Unfortunately WordCamp organizers and podcast hosts don’t generally know who really is knowledgable about SEO and who just dabbles in it. They can’t tell presentation slides that are fully accurate versus slides that are a bit off. Both organizers and hosts are volunteers and this subject matter is not their expertise, thus they have a hard time finding the real SEO experts.
Guess what, website owners do too. They can’t tell who is really knowledgable about SEO and who is just throwing about lies.
But Be Warned: Bad SEO Can Hurt You
Each week I receive emails or read social media posts from people asking for SEO advice and help because someone led them astray with bad information. It could be website developers who forgot about 301 redirects, SEO consultants who took money and paid for links, or marketers who flooded a press release with keyword rich anchor text are all part of my normal.
All of it can hurt SEO efforts and do longterm damage.
Recently a website design prospect stated this to me in email:
Any and all knowledge regarding SEO is great, right?
My reply was heck no. SEO knowledge isn’t all great, because the wrong SEO information can get your website removed from search engines, it can derail your sales funnel, and it can kill your business’ revenue.
I’ve seen the outcome of bad SEO myself over a decade ago when I did it myself (by mistake) and more recently when I’m providing advice to website owners who have felt the harmful ramifications of bad SEO advise from inexperienced SEO consultants. Statements like “almost my entire website is now missing from the Google index” should never come from a business owner.
And when I start really educating people on what SEO really is, they start to wonder what they’ve been paying for since their prior SEO consultants didn’t do any of the things we discuss. So what did they do? No one ever knows, which means they spent money and lots of it for vapor.
SEO Isn’t About a Green Light in a Plugin
If you use WordPress and you’ve heard of the Yoast SEO plugin, you’re familiar with the green light it gives for what should be considered an SEO friendly piece of content. Now I like the Yoast team and I know they are very very knowledgable about SEO. That green light and feedback is there to help people write better content.
The intentions of the Yoast team are honorable (I even mentioned the SEO plugin on my list of favorite website resources) and Yoast isn’t the issue.
The issue is WordPress users mistake that green light for search engine optimization. An SEO plugin does not produce SEO, nor is it search engine optimization. The SEO plugin is just a tool.
An SEO plugin is only a small part of the entire search engine optimization process. Real SEO is research, keyword mapping, site mapping, content generation, on-page optimization, and off-page optimization. It takes months of research, planning, and execution.
SEO plugins will not produce SEO. They are only tools to help you execute a thoroughly researched SEO plan and strategy.
Taking the BS Out of SEO
So how do you know what is good or bad SEO? Remember that old saying if it’s too good to be true, it probably is? Yep the same applies to SEO.
Let’s start with some classic warning signs of SEO BS. If you read or hear these comments from anyone, these lies should send you running like you’ve never ran before. Run Forest run!
- Unsolicited emails from SEO consultants. Quality SEO consultants have people come to them – through search – so they don’t reach out to website owners via email. I’m too busy to randomly review your website and give you free advice. All good SEO consultants are the same.
- I personally know the experts at Google. Ok Matt Cutts did tweet directly to me years ago and Bing has tweeted to me too, but I don’t know them. No one, except for the really well known and long-term SEO experts, know and speak with the employees of Google. And don’t mistake Google’s search team with their Adwords sales reps. Totally different groups of employees.
- I can guarantee you position one on Google. Nope, they really can’t. And this is because only part of SEO is controlled by the SEO consultant. You can work hard to get to page one and rank at the top, but no one can definitively say they can get you there.
- I’ll do all the work on the SEO project. False again. SEO is hard work and the work is distributed across a team that includes the website owner and the SEO consultant.
- I know the algorithms. Nope, you really don’t. As SEO consultants we can only make assumptions and educated guesses based on quality information, plus instinct, and my favorite – good old fashion trial and error.
- Link building is all you need. Wrong again. SEO only works when it is a holistic blend of many tasks. Link building is only a portion of the overall deliverable list.
- You won’t have to write any content. I almost think that statement is the most painful of all. SEO require content that is of high quality, based on specific topics, and optimized for SEO best practices. Without content, there is nothing to rank in search.
- You can’t do SEO yourself. Wrong! DIY SEO is possible, but it requires education. It’s why I offer an online SEO course, coaching, and a soon to be onsite SEO bootcamp. I want to educate you so you can empower yourself to know good SEO and perform your own SEO. Why? Because you can really do it yourself with education.
Putting Integrity Back into SEO
I realize this entire article may sound raw and a bit of a rant. I’m passionate about SEO and I truly believe in the goodness it can offer. I’m also really tired of the lump in my stomach when I have to listen to another person tell me SEO horror stories and darn right blatant lies they’ve been given.
I want to put integrity back into SEO. I’ve based my entire life on integrity and I want to infuse this back into SEO.
In doing so, let me set the record straight on what SEO really is:
- SEO is hard work.
- SEO requires months and months to truly produce longterm results.
- SEO is about planning and execution.
- SEO requires effort on the part of the website owner.
- SEO isn’t voodoo, but it requires education.
- SEO is more than algorithm updates.
- SEO isn’t dead. It is alive and well.
- SEO works but only if you – the website owner – make an effort.
- SEO requires education on the part of the website owner or marketer.
- SEO isn’t hands off.
- SEO isn’t industry specific, but it does require industry knowledge. Your SEO consultant must know your industry or be willing to learn the basics really quickly. This is my superpower and why I’ve had good success with SEO across multiple types of B2B and B2C industries.
- SEO isn’t the devil, nor are the search engines. The search engines want you to do good. The question is will you?
- SEO is best when the user experience is placed as a top priority. Good SEO never trumps what is good for the actual website visitor.
- SEO should empower the website owner to do good and do good for themselves.
If it takes me another year to preach about what is good SEO to the WordPress community, I’ll continue to do so. It needs to be done.
Not because WordPress is filled with bad SEO consultants. We actually have few SEO consultants. It’s because a huge portion of the WordPress community thinks SEO isn’t possible or it isn’t necessary. They’ve given up on it.
I don’t want that to be the case. I want WordPress users to see SEO plugins (like Yoast and All in One) as marvelous tools to help them succeed. And that’s because you can really succeed.
SEO is about education, planning, hard work, due diligence, and perseverance. But those things together and you are bond to find success.
Educate Yourself and Be Empowered
Want to educate yourself on what SEO really is about what really works? Start by downloading my free eBook on The Beginner’s Guide to Search Engine Optimization.
If you like what you read, venture over to my course site and learn SEO at your own pace. I’ll warn you now, the course is eight hours of education and that doesn’t even begin to include the time you’ll spend doing homework.
Of if you prefer in person training, consider signing up for our SEO Bootcamp workshop. It’s three days of intensive SEO training in an interactive setting.
John Locke says
I didn’t see the Twitter thread you mentioned, but I agree whole-hardheartedly with what you’re laying down here.
I’m not sure why people think SEO = manipulating bad results to the top of Google. Because that’s bad for business if you’re Google.
One line in here resonates with me more than anything else:
That’s the essence of accurate search rankings, right? The best results end up at the top.
Google is actually pretty smart about adjusting bad results that happen to rank high, and putting the best results near the top.
But it takes work. Website owners that think they can pay someone to do all the work are missing the point. Search engines want to reward the results (and brands) that are actually contributing the most to a subject area. That means you have to blog, and make videos, and podcast, and share on social.
What it all boils down to is this:
What results answer the search intent best? Does the searcher’s query get answered to their complete satisfaction?
This is impossible to do through ranking manipulation or a hands-off approach to content creation.
Keep fighting the good fight. Because something has to rank #1 for each query, and it might as well be something that helps the people searching for answers.
Rebecca Gill says
All great points John!
When I first started in SEO 15 years ago there were so many tactics you could do to manipulate the system it was frightening. I’m very thankful those days are behind us.
Today’s SEO is about doing the right thing for the website visitor and helping Google/Bing present the best results for a give search phrase. Help the search engines and the visitor and you will be rewarded.
It is an upward battle educating people that quick results from snake oil SEO lies won’t last and they will do more longterm harm then ever imagined. Small businesses still want that SEO magic to appear without effort, but it just doesn’t happen. Or at least not in 2016.
This is such a perfect post. One that has been needed for a long time.. I guess we will thank Twitter and Jeff for it 🙂
Having taught and coached beginners via WordPress for years, SEO will come up and becomes a certainty on some level, like death and taxes. I’ve learned the basics over the years and spent my own time reading from the experts like you, and working many hours on organic search for my own sites. And it worked, not an easy task.
As a result, I have shared basics with clients, but never professed to being an expert, or even near one. I leave that up to the people who know their stuff (and that I know and trust).
Like you said, it’s hard work, with a lot of variables. And that pretty much sums it up. Thank God there are people who know what the heck they are doing, you included 🙂 In fact I knew exactly who to come to when I needed someone to talk about SEO and eCommerce on my podcast (yes, you can hear Rebecca’s knowledge bombs there as well).
Next time someone asks me about SEO and what to do, I know which post I am sending them to …. cheers and thanks for this great resource!
Rebecca Gill says
Bob I ❤ you.
I am always uncomfortable in referring to myself as an expert in anything. There is always something to learn in technology, so I feel like no one is a true expert.
But fifteen years of education combined with trial and error have taught me a lot. And yet, there is still more to learn. It’s why I love internet marketing as much as I do.
My Strengths Finder results list three of my five traits as : Achiever,
Analytical, and Learner. I had to laugh because those three traits are completely suited for SEO.
Ha, you are modest, although I agree. I certainly don’t throw that term around loosely and yes, we are all constantly learning. Would be a big bore if we weren’t.
I guess it’s all in the eyes of the beholder 😀
Adam Camara says
Rebecca – Thank you for making this perfect blog post and taking the time to get this out there. I agree with everything you wrote and I really love the part – “SEO requires effort on the part of the website owner”. SEO is now truly a team effort more than ever. If the people with integrity in the industry, like you, keep educating I really believe this industry will be around for a very long time and in a much better state.
Rebecca Gill says
Thanks for your kind words Adam.
People keep saying SEO is dead. Old SEO is dead and there is a whole new version of it alive and well. That version is the team approach for sure. Im glad you see it too.
Occasionally I’ll receive an inquiry from someone who says they want help with SEO, but they don’t have time to participate in the process. My response is always that we are not a fit and they should consult with another SEO consultant.
My SEO consulting projects require a team. I’ll dig in just as hard as the website owner, if not more, but I need a team to make the project a success.
Christian Nelson says
I’m in an SEO mood lately…tired of just “playing around with SEO” and finally trying to learn more about it…and I’ve read two great SEO posts today…and yours is one of them.
Very helpful, and confirms some of what I’ve thought.
Thanks for the great article.
Chuck Burke says
More SEO Super powers. Thank you Rebecca for keeping us focused on the work. Another great article…and I am enjoying your course ver much!
Sean W says
Rebecca I wanted to jump in and say thank you for this post. As with any industry there are those that ethical and those that are not. I’m glad you’re doing your best to educate people about what real search engine optimization looks like. I 100% agree that good content is a solid foundation to any SEO campaign. This was certainly a refreshing read.
Katie Vandyck says
I so heartily, thoroughly, utterly agree with all of that. Am passionate about SEO too, in the way that I am passionate about getting the best out of all that I can. Because it’s the same thing. Fantastic work Rebecca Gill.
Clyde Smith says
I’m totally down with your approach.
But I also dig the fact that people still think of SEO on the whole as slimy due to foul practitioners.
That means, if they’re working the same territory as am I, they will be weaker competitors!
Carlton R. Smith says
A long favorite topic of mine, so much so, that I wrote my own ebook about it.
Bad SEOs make my job harder. I agree emphatically with all the points mentioned above. I would also add this: Google will never call you about your poor position in the SERPs. Lord knows how many robocalls I get where they are imply they are part of Google.
“Talk to our Google Specialist now …”
Joseph Gilday says
This post brings up the one and only regret I feel about quitting my full time job while we were in the middle of creating a new website for my former employer. I regret that I could not hang in there long enough to finish our work, to launch the site and continue through the next few months of publishing blog posts. I wanted that time to collaborate and practice with you and to strengthen my knowledge base before launching out on my own. Well, now I just have to do it as you have: trial and error. Except. I have someone to inspire me.
Rebecca Gill says
I’m also very disappointed we did not get to close the website out together. I was eager to see the improvements in both SEO and the user experience.
Pete Gregory says
Thank you for this post Rebecca! I’ve done a ton of SEO research on my own and paid close attention to what you’ve taught. Done right, SEO results can be very rewarding and properly tracked we can produce measured results. The thing is, good SEO requires constant study and it’s hard work!
If planning to outsource SEO, companies must avoid working with anyone making exaggerated claims or promises they can’t keep. There’s no getting away with cutting corners and there are no magic wands. Just like our parents taught us, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!
As you’ve advised, I just keep doing what best for my visitors, but without confusing Google. SEO is not that difficult to understand, but takes time and patience. Thank you for being my #1 source for up to date and reliable SEO information.
Rebecca Gill says
I love the magic wand statement. It is oh so true.
The more feedback I receive on this post, the more focused I am in spreading education on SEO.
There is a true thirst for knowledge and I love it!
Dharne and Co says
Excellent article! Thanks for sharing this Rebecca. There are many articles going round that SEO is dead. This disappoints me that this is a misconception. SEO can never be dead as long as you do it in a right manner.
Rebecca Gill says
Yes the whole “SEO is dead” fad drives me a bit insane. SEO is long from dead. Old, outdated spammy tactics are dead and yet that has never been the heart of high quality SEO!