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February 16, 2011

16

Releasing the SEO Kraken

by Anthony Verre

Before you get to the end of this post, one of two things will happen: you will curse me (most likely out loud), close this post, and likely never speak/read me again. Or, you will disagree but understand the place this comes from. I’m old enough now that giving a shit about public opinion are of bygone days. To quote one my favorite lines, “It’s not show friends, it’s show business”.

Everyone has something to say about the JCPenny situation and the most recent one at Forbes.com about “black hat SEOs”. I am not going to comment on it. What more is there to say? What I will comment on is necessary clean up of SEO.

Releasing the SEO KrakenWhat’s Really Best for the SEO Industry

What’s really best for SEOs is a cataclysmic self-implosion of the industry. That’s right, I said it. A full-on collapse from the inside-out. The good SEOs as well as the Pretenders will fall. We’ve put on weight, we’re out of shape hermits that feign individualism when it’s anything but. And if it keeps going this way, the collapse is imminent. Or the industry standardizes. And, no one, including myself, thinks that is a good idea. Creative solutions to incredibly complex situations cannot exist within standardization. Read David Harry’s post on Situational SEO and you’ll quickly see how standards just can’t be applied.

There’s only so much high-powered negative press an industry can handle. We’re not talking about Wired, that serves a demographic that swirls around what we do, we’re talking about the New York Times and Forbes. A lot of potential clients read those publications. A lot. And, a lot of people that have either never heard of our 3-letter profession or are vaguely familiar. Either way, what they’ve read most likely left a sour taste in their mouth, made them more gun-shy than they already were.

Why Realease the SEO Kraken?

As the Tree of Liberty must be refreshed against tyranny, so to must the Tree of SEO. Don’t believe the dime-store novel version of the industry, we weren’t spammers.  In fact, I can honestly say, there is way more spam now than in the old days of KW stuffing. And, all of this before there were any guidelines anywhere! Somewhere along the way I wanted my profession to be less about gaming and more about building lasting websites that rank well because they have loaded with great, useful content. Because solidity is something to stand on. Because if everyone games, the web is a much less useful place.

And, I’m of the mindset now, that Kraken must be released by the general public. By the sheer virtue of growth of the industry, like many other industries where evil has seeped into the bloodstream through tremendous expansion, a contraction of providers is coming. Infinite expansion is an impossibility, even in the universe, in our economy, where expansion and contraction constantly happen. Why should the SEO industry be an exception to the rule? It isn’t.

Non-affiliate SEO has become, and has been, big money for a few years now. Cues to tell you that: Search and SEM conferences are sprouting left and right with premium prices. SMBs and Big Corporate are in fully in the game (whether they want it done right is another question). It’s not unheard of for SEOs to be charging lawyer-like prices for work. So it is time to let the house burn to the ground.

From the Ashes

Good people will go down. However, good people will survive too. And, I’m not foolish enough to believe that just SEOs will rise from the ashbecause the house burnt down means all the turds will be wiped out. They are most certainly included in people. Probabilities suggest that a larger percentage of the turds will go underground, leave, or be crushed by the weight of the house. But, nonetheless, expunging them. This leaves a golden opportunity.

It leaves those that survive to teach, guide, and mentor those brave enough to stick their toes in the water after the collapse. And, when the situation reaches a fever-pitch again, and it will, we’ll go through this all again.

 

 

[UPDATE]

I was in error saying, “SEO began as gaming the engines[...]“.  It simply isn’t the case, as Terry Van Horne pointed out to me. And, because being correct rather than foolish is always a priority, I’d like to update that section as to how it should read:

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16 Comments
  1. Feb 17 2011

    I’m neither cursing you nor disagreeing, Tony! Maybe that’s what’s needed. It’s a fact that all the recent mudslinging, deserved or not, isn’t doing any of us any good!

  2. Rebekah May
    Feb 17 2011

    Admittedly, when I first read the JCPenny post – before I even got through the first page – my first thought was ‘oh crap it’s another article discussing black hat SEO and implying that all SEO is evil and must be banned’. I then took a deep breath and finished the article.

    I don’t like seeing articles and immediately wondering how this will affect those of us who are not “pretenders” and how we will have to defend ourselves from accusations that we’re all “snake oil salesmen” – but really, when thinking about it further, this defense mechanism is already ingrained into most of us now.

    It seems like many of our blog posts, tweets, etc. discuss how we are really here to help businesses, or how businesses can avoid being taken advantage of – even subtly there is usually a tinge of us trying to prove that we are not among those tricksters. Take Outspoken Media’s blog post about the JCPenny issue – it aims at educating consumers how not to be taken advantage of, and is an excellent post.

    I think the real question is not ‘how can we collapse the industry’ or ‘who will survive after it falls’ – but how can we all work together in a larger and continual effort to educate consumers and media alike about the genuine usefulness of good, ethical SEO?

    Like any industry there is the good and the bad among us. It just seems that with SEO, the bad taint the name so pervasively, it is difficult to ever escape from under it.

    But to me, part of calling myself an SEO is an acceptance of the fact that the industry is not always going to be seen in the best light (as any industry – the news doesn’t report great stories) I refuse to give up in my quest to continue educating others.

    We have all argued back and forth about a body that oversees or somewhat “certifies” SEOs. I don’t think this will ever be successful until we can all reach an agreement that it is needed and can vote for the people that will oversee it. As much as I personally think this may help, I don’t think it will ever happen – nobody can see eye to eye on that subject.

    So instead of just giving up or arguing about the same moot point – what are other ways we can all work together for the greater good of education?

    • Feb 17 2011

      Rebekah,

      What a wonderful, thoughtful comment. Thank you. In the end analysis of the post, that’s what I’m really asking for: working together for the greater good. Without destruction, a shedding of the skin, I can’t see the industry being stronger. I think the way we can bring about real change is to show the industry and clients alike that SEO is more than search engines. It’s about websites. It’s about creating stronger, better, more useful websites that by proxy will rank better.

      We’re also going to have to rely on the client/consumer a bit too. Sorry, but they have hold some of the responsibility here. There’s so much information on the web about SEO/SEM that is nearly pure negligence that hire asswipes and get burned. Many of us have been attempting to educate for years, but at some point, you start talking to a wall. I know that doesn’t answer the simple question you asked, but I don’t have a simple answer. I don’t know that anyone does. Head-in-Sand Syndrome isn’t going pull us through every time, all the time.

  3. Mel
    Feb 17 2011

    Yawn! Sorry, but fairy tales in the afternoon make me sleepy.
    Been around this patch a while and have seen all the predictions of doom and disaster come and go with barely a ripple on the pond.
    The reason I don’t buy into this particular fairy tale is that too many businesses depend on the results on SEO to stay alive.

    • Feb 17 2011

      Mel,

      Just to clarify, I’m not calling for the Death of SEO, nor am I saying that “SEO is DEAD”. That is complete hogwash. What I am saying is that a real, verifiable change needs to happen within the industry. And, sometimes, the best way to achieve that catalyst is through a revolution of destruction. When you lose something that means something to you, you end doing things differently to ensure that it doesn’t happen again. And, usually, it’s only after you’ve lost something, that you realize exactly what you had. It would be a shame to kill a “golden goose” industry because of idiocy and lethargy.

      I hear you, many SMBs and others do depend on SEO. But, clients come and go, so a vacuum-sealed, self-sustaining universe of clients is simply not realistic. New blood must always enter, and it makes the proposition difficult when the stink off the industry repels them. Thanks for the interesting POV!

  4. Feb 17 2011

    I hear what you’re saying Tony, but I disagree with you on this one. Not with that SEO doesn’t need an apocalypse – I think it actually does – but that the negative publicity will facilitate such an apocalypse.

    There are many industries that have endured and even prospered while suffering from mountains of bad PR that went on for years and years. Take banking for example, especially recently. Or accountants and lawyers – they’ve been suffering from a bad public image for decades.

    But people need banks, and lawyers, and accountants (or think they do). And people need SEO. The industry will endure and thrive. SEO does not depend on publicity, it depends on the continued existence of search engines. That is its only raison d’etre.

    • Feb 17 2011

      Barry,

      Hey buddy, thanks for stopping by! And, thanks for the refreshing point. I’ll have to disagree with the analogy of banking and lawyers. If only they are institutions that ingrained in civilization (sadly). Comparing SEO to an institution to be infused in daily life of billions of people just doesn’t add up for me. Institutions of that magnitude can suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune because not suffering them is social order collapse.

      My wife had a very interesting point on this; she said she’d never have known or cared about JCP scandal if her husband wasn’t an SEO. Moreover, she didn’t miss it from the SERPs. “Women’s Dresses” isn’t something that most women search for. They are very specific about brand, color, size, etc. This is all to say average consumers don’t know a damn thing about what we do. But, businesses have an inkling that what we do affects them, positively or negatively.

      That said, as long as there are search engines, there will be SEO, there’s no escaping that (thankfully). But, as Uncle Ben said, “With great power, comes great responsibility”. I think it’s high time we started taking some responsibility.

  5. Feb 17 2011

    I appreciate the unique perspective, Tony. It’s refreshing.

    That said, I simply don’t see SEO going anywhere anytime soon. In fact, I see it expanding at ever-accelerating pace, particularly once TV finally becomes an online channel subject to search (and search optimization).

    My advice to you and to others that are frustrated by the state of affairs in the industry. Dig down deep and work harder to earn your piece of the pie and don’t worry about what techniques/methodologies are fair or unfair.

    Evolution is all about survival of the fittest, and it applies to more than just the animal and plant kingdom.

    • Feb 17 2011

      Hugo,

      Good to see/hear from you! I do what I can to provide that unique perspective; whether it’s refreshing, heh, we’ll see. I too don’t think SEO is going anywhere. As Barry pointed out, and I agree with, as long as there are search engines, there’s going to be SEO. There is no calling/prediction of the DEATH of SEO here, just that the industry needs a rebirth. A refresh and restart. Because something’s gotta change.

      Evolution, when it really comes down to it, is really about luck. Luckiness that a particular set of DNA and RNA combined in a certain way as to be advantageous. There are plenty of examples where evolution just created a crippled being too. I fully plan to put my head and barrel through this, apply some of that intestinal fortitude, and keep kicking some ass. But, what kind of person would I be to let the whole system self-destruct? I suppose that’s the universal citizen in me. If we can ev/revolutionize the industry, then maybe a lot more of stand the chance for survival.

      I know, I just called for saving all our competition. But competition drives us to be better. Competition drives us to work harder, work smarter, and find new ways. Gosh, what a fantastic comment, Hugo. Certainly dipping into the philosophical bucket this morning, ha!

  6. Feb 17 2011

    We should talk more about evolution the next time we go drinking together (luck might play a part, but not so much at the macro level). I’ll try and shoot you some cool links every once in a while.

    There’s a great series that delves into some really cool aspects over on Discovery Science that’s called “Miracle Planet”:

    http://science.discovery.com/convergence/miracleplanet/tunein.html

    It will blow your mind.

  7. Feb 17 2011

    Anyone notice that the NY Times is one of the only major publishers that talks about SEO? And that EVERY time they do it is some sort of sensationalized story?

    SOMEONE had to of tipped them off, and my guess is the consultant that did the digging for them. Well that or you Anthony! :-) No one is talking about that person. JCP had been outed for years already but Google saw good CTR for their listings and deemed the big brand as worthy of top rankings so they let them continue to rank highly even with spammy SEO. Rand mentioned this the other day.

  8. Feb 18 2011

    right on!! When PPC came out there was a program to get certified – Google & Bing both had their standards and even people like Dana Todd worked hard to start SEMPO. Yet, SEO has nothing like this and it’s most likely because there are so many ways of playing the game. We all know the tactics that are white and black and many of us do touch the grey.

    The industry does need a massive clearing out and it is certain to recur as you write/predict. But how do we start that clear out? Let’s think and talk more about that because the white hats like us are tired of being looked at as black art magicians

  9. Feb 18 2011

    Anthony – you well know I like this sort of approach. Nothing strengthens like the flames of Purgatory (or Hell, if you prefer it).

    My take is that the commoditization of SEO and PPC has made lots of room for lots of vendors whose respective skills leave a lot to be desired.

    As it happens, Google and MS have had to stabilize the playing field as it relates to search… they are publicly traded. It serves them to have stability.

    With stability comes uniformity.

    With uniformity, predictability.

    With predictability, many mediocre players are able to emerge – and profit.

    The key is to acknowledge that Search has all manner of craptaculous people turning a buck. Think of the reality of Realtors, for example. only 5% of them are actually worth a poop.

    The buyer must be aware before he buys. Before he signs with a vendor. And those that don’t know enough about Search to make a decent decision are probably not the clients you want anyway.

  10. Feb 18 2011

    Tony, I’ll keep it short. SEO’s that build trust and authority with their clients and blog readers will be fine. Cream rises…Turds sink.

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