Pump the brakes: SEO and its sweeping statements

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The following article is an opinion post written by a guest author and may not necessarily reflect the views of Search Engine Watch.

Knee-jerk reactions are rarely based on sound judgement. Instead they are driven by emotion. In such scenarios, you would be better off giving due consideration prior to taking action.

The problem is that this advice is lost upon what would appear to be a worryingly large portion of the SEO world. At critical points, the SEO community has proven that they are prone to not only making knee-jerk reactions, but then vehemently defending these reactions long after the dust has settled.

It is somewhat excusable though. Search Engine Optimization is an imperfect science. Google is continually changing their fiendishly complex algorithms and will often neither confirm or deny such changes.

It’s a poker game where everyone wears masks and keeps their cards very close to their chest – and no-one shows their cards for free. Add to this the threat of your website being heavily sanctioned by one of Google’s many bizarrely-named updates due to ‘spammy’ techniques, and you can see why people are on edge.

To add to this, the amount of ‘how to’ SEO articles on the web is staggering, and can be intimidating even for those working in the industry every day. It can be a challenge to decipher which research to trust or whose advice to take. As a direct result, SEOs tend to hang on every last word released by Google.

Filter this down and the recognized names in the industry – the likes of Rand Fishkin, John Mueller, Danny Sullivan and Neil Patel, among others, hold considerable sway over how the industry acts.

So what’s the problem?

Well, it’s the knee-jerk nature of reactions to news or statements made by Google or the aforementioned industry experts. The community treats these like a call to arms, without considering the individualistic nature of any SEO campaign or the often countless other factors that should be taken into account.

Matt Cutt’s denouncement of spammy guest blogging in 2014 was one such example:

“Guest blogging is dead!”

In January 2014 Google’s very own leader of the crusades against spam, Matt Cutts, posted an article on his blog titled “The decay and fall of guest blogging for SEO”, a strongly-worded commentary on how the SEO community had used guest blogging as a manipulative SEO technique. They had ignored the distinction made by Cutts himself between high quality and low quality guest posting, a distinction that was central to the point he was making.

What followed was a deluge of articles warning readers not to engage in any sort of guest blogging. That guest blogging was “dead” and would fetch heavy penalties – irrespective of whether you were contributing heavily researched articles to major media outlets, that were then engaged with and shared on the web hundreds or thousands of times.

The reaction was so one-sided that Cutts had to add a final paragraph to his blog stating that he was not “throwing the baby out with the bath water” and that high-quality guest blogging was acceptable; marketers just needed to make sure it was of the right quality.

However, the myth of “dead” guest blogging has persisted, and you’ll still find people who fail to make the distinction.

“SEO is dead!”

Following the sudden release into the wild of Google’s pet Panda and Penguin earlier this decade, there was a surge in statements that “SEO is dead”. Many despaired, while others sought quick fixes – but there were some who realized that in fact, only the old spammy version of SEO was dead.

The quality, relevance and user driven SEO environment was actually more important than it ever was. Speaking to Josh Steimle on the subject, he had the following commentary:

“We get sweeping statements about the state of SEO because it’s human nature–we want quick fixes, easy solutions, and above all, we want safety and predictability. It’s easier to say that guest post blogging is dead, don’t do it, than it is to say that some guest post blogging is good, some is bad, and that you have to consider each situation on its own merits to determine what’s what.

“The good news, at least for SEO experts and companies who use SEO wisely, is that alarmist commentary helps separate the professionals from the amateurs, which gives an advantage to those who keep a cool head and do the work required to truly understand SEO.”

Don’t deviate from the path

The fact is that yes, technical SEO can be pretty darn complex and there are a lot of factors to consider. But isn’t that the same with any campaign, or indeed any business venture?

Many may complain that Google moves the goalposts but in actual fact, the fundamentals remain the same. Avoiding manipulative behavior, staying relevant, developing authority and thinking about your users are four simple factors that will go a long way to keeping you on the straight and narrow.

The Google updates are inevitable. Techniques will evolve, and results will require some hard graft. Every campaign is different, but if you stick to the core principles of white-hat SEO, you need not take notice of the sweeping statements that abound in our corner of the marketing world. Nor should you have to fear future Google updates.

The irony is not lost on me that I have made some rather wide-ranging statements of my own in this post. Nevertheless, I urge you to stop and take a breath before reacting to the next piece of revolutionary news that comes up in your Google alerts.

SEO will continue to be a critical marketing function for years to come, and abiding by its core pillars will prevent you from having to lose the metaphorical baby when dispensing of its bathing water.

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