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Are Search Engine Optimizers Spammers, Evildoers, and Opportunists?

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First of all, a shout out to Joanna Hogan‏ (surfwrite), who asked for my thoughts on the post by Derek Powazek entitled, entitled, "Spammers, Evildoers, and Opportunists."

It must have been a no good, very bad Columbus Day for Powazek. He decided to call search engine optimizers, "goat sacrificers and snake oil salesmen."

Strong stuff.

Now, Powazek was called one of the top 40 "Industry Influencers" in 2007 by Folio Magazine. He once worked at pioneering sites like HotWired, Blogger, and Technorati. He now splits his time between working as "Chief of Awesome" for HP's MagCloud and Creative Director of Collecta, advising a handful of startup companies on community design. And you've got to admire a guy who "lives in San Francisco with his wife, two nutty Chihuahuas, a grumpy cat, and a house full of plants named Fred."

So, I read his rant -- twice. And I think it requires a response.

(By the way, I'd provide the same kind of response if he'd called public relations people flacks and spin doctors. There are some groups that need defending.)

So, what proof does Powazek offer that search engine optimizers can't "dance the magic dance that will please the Google Gods and make eyeballs rain down upon you" the way they claim they can?

He claims, "the good advice is obvious, the rest doesn't work."

Well, if the good advice were obvious, then "SEO training" wouldn't be such a popular search term. Go to Google Insights for Search and compare search volume patterns for the terms "SEO training" and "SEM training." As you will see, SEO training is hot, but SEM training is not.

And the people conducting these searches aren't looking for a new breed of con man. They are are looking for good advice about search engine optimization that isn't obvious.

And reputable organizations like Search Engine Strategies, Market Motive, and the SEMPO Institute all offer SEO courses for SEO specialists.

And there are books on the topic from reputable authors like Rebecca Lieb's The Truth About Search Engine Optimization, Search Engine Optimization: An Hour a Day by Jennifer Grappone and Gradiva Couzin, and The Art of SEO by Eric Enge, Stephan Spencer, Rand Fishkin, and Jessie Stricchiola.

None of these SEO courses or SEO books would be necessary if the good advice was obvious.

Powazek also claims, "SEO is poisoning the web."

Well, it did once, when AltaVista was king of the hill back in 2000. And SEO could poison the web again -- if Google wasn't doing a better job than AltaVista did in fighting the darkside SEO masters that Powazek remembers from the old days.

Apparently, Powazek missed the 2005 post by Gord Hotchkiss, who retold the story of my dinner with a black hat SEO. In between the courses, a confession came out that stopped me in my tracks: "Black hat stuff is getting too hard. I'm actually thinking about turning legit."

And, apparently Powazek didn't read the 2007 post on the Official Google Webmaster Central Blog that Google has begun minimizing the impact of many Googlebombs. He thinks "Google bombing" still works.

Greg Jarboe interviewing Matt Cutts.jpg Now, it turns out that I do agree with Powazek on "the One True Way to get a lot of traffic on the web." He says, "Make something great. Tell people about it. Do it again."

Or, as Google says about link schemes, "The best way to get other sites to create relevant links to yours is to create unique, relevant content that can quickly gain popularity in the Internet community. The more useful content you have, the greater the chances someone else will find that content valuable to their readers and link to it."

Now, apparently Powazek has decided that calling search engine optimizers "spammers, evildoers, and opportunists" can quickly gain popularity in the Internet community. Saying something controversial to generate discussion is a classic linkbaiting technique.

As Matt Cutts said in a 2006 post entitled, "SEO Advice: linkbait and linkbaiting," on his Matt Cutts: Gadgets, Google, and SEO blog, "On a meta-level, I think of 'linkbait' as something interesting enough to catch people's attention, and that doesn't have to be a bad thing. There are a lot of ways to do that, including putting in sweat-of-the-brow work to generate data or insights, or it can be as simple as being creative. You can also say something controversial to generate discussion (this last one gets tired if you overuse it, though)."

The only thing easier than picking on search engine optimizers is to call public relations people flacks and spin doctors. That's like shooting fish in a barrel.

But that's another topic for another day.


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