SEO Talk: Gospel or Hearsay?

The other day, Adam Audette published a post on “How Not to Fail at SEO.” In it he wrote, “Don’t listen to what anyone says about SEO, including me. Carve your own path…”

I’ve been thinking about this concept myself for a couple of months, as it’s an absolutely correct piece of advice.

I attended a conference earlier this year, and after a couple of decent sessions, ended up sitting in the SEO 101 session (primarily due to my having grabbed a seat next to a power socket — prime real estate at many conferences). The presenter wasn’t anyone whom I’d heard speak before, so I kept half an ear open to see what he was saying to the SEO newbies in the room. I wasn’t impressed.

Two of his statements stuck out in my mind.

Keyword Research

The first one revolved around keyword research. He did a decent job of walking the audience through the Google AdWords Keyword Tool. Then he made a declaration along the lines of:

“The competition field shows the number of results that you get when you do a search. You know when it says 3 million results returned.”

No, that’s not what that field is, and it’s not difficult to find out what it really is. All you have to do is go to the tool and hit the “About this data” link:

” represents the number of advertisers bidding on each keyword relative to all keywords across Google.”

Social Media: Bad for SEO?

The second statement he made was about SEO and social media, and this is verbatim:

“Social media is bad for SEO.”

His reasoning? The links are nofollowed.

Bad for SEO? So tweets don’t show up in search results? Links in Facebook news feeds don’t drive traffic? People don’t discover those links through social media then share them elsewhere?

Social media isn’t bad for SEO. There’s nothing detrimental about it. Now, had he said “neutral from a link perspective,” maybe he could have defended it. But, as it was stated, it was an indefensible blanket statement.

I’m sure there were people there who heard him say that, wrote down that statement as a key learning, then, back in the office the next day said, “We shouldn’t do social media. It’s bad for SEO. The experts say so.”

Now it’s possible that the presenter just didn’t know any better, or misspoke then didn’t want to contradict himself. Either way, you owe it to your audience, especially to an audience that’s paying to get knowledge from someone who is supposed to know what they’re talking about, to provide knowledge that’s as correct as possible.

Reader Beware

The same is true within the industry as a whole. There have been several instances where a Google employee says something off the cuff, or one-third of a sentence is misconstrued or a personal opinion taken as gospel, then bloggers and tweeters run off and declare whatever they heard to be the official Google stance. The denials and retractions may follow, but when someone new to SEO goes looking, they may end up back at the original article and that belief once again spreads.

There are also other occasions where someone runs a test, releases their results, and declares the moon to be made of green cheese. They aren’t doing it maliciously — at least, hopefully they aren’t — but if they have some cache behind their name, some people take it as gospel, even though the test may have been flawed.

Listen, Learn & Test, Test, Test

Finally, with the search engines changing their algorithms on an almost daily basis, you run the risk that what worked yesterday may not work today, so you have to continually keep an eye on what’s being said. Don’t just take it as gospel.

So what should you do? Should you not listen to the experts? Not read blogs? Not go to conferences? Absolutely not! Listen! Read! Attend!

You need to listen, learn, and test, test, test. If someone touts a new method of improving your rankings, look at it, and try it out, maybe not on your primary site, but on another one. If it works there, great, roll it out. If it doesn’t, then you haven’t done anything that can impact your primary site, and you’ve not used as many resources to try it out, and you’ve got a competitive advantage over those who blindly follow the every utterance of the experts.

Join us for SES San Francisco August 16-20, 2010 during ClickZ’s Connected Marketing Week. The festival is packed with sessions covering PPC management, keyword research, search engine optimization (SEO), social media, ad networks and exchanges, e-mail marketing, the real time web, local search, mobile, duplicate content, multiple site issues, video optimization, site optimization and usability, while offering high-level strategy, keynotes, an expo floor with 100+ companies, networking events, parties and more!

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