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For most of us, SEO is not some pie-in-the-sky theory that may or not be real. We use it. And we know it works because we see and measure the results.

While SEO isn't the be-all and end-all of online marketing, helping search engines find your content and better understand what it's about can be a crucial part of making sure that internet users find your content. At the end of the day, that's really what SEO is about.

Try telling that to John Dvorak, aka Mr Anti-SEO.

In a post today entitled "SEO Fiascoes: The Trouble with Search Engine Optimization" PC Magazine's John Dvorak makes it clear that he doesn't remotely understand SEO. And because he is clearly baiting the SEO community I've used a Bit.ly URL as the link, so no linkjuice for you Dvorak!

Dvorak the Disbeliever writes:

Long URLs are bogus! Tags like 'nude' and 'naked' are counterfeits! SEO is a big business, and from what I can tell its proponents are modern snake-oil salesmen.

He describes the story of how he changed the URL structure of his blog from the WordPress default (e.g. http://www.dvorak.org/blog/?p=3100) to more descriptive ones (e.g. http://www.dvorak.org/blog/2005/10/20/hollywood-unions-want-cut-of-itunes-pie/). This, by the way, takes all of five seconds to do in the Wordpress admin area.

The results? His traffic dropped from nearly 1.2 million monthly pageviews to around 900,000. He switched back to the old URL structure and says that he's still recovering. 

The extent of his 'analysis': "I think it's because these long URLs are just crap and stupid. They are impossible to post anywhere or send in an e-mail because they get concatenated."

Frankly, I can't believe PC Magazine would pay someone to write such drivel. Perhaps if Dvorak took the time to understand what he was doing he would have recognized that how people to post and share URLs has absolutely nothing to do with SEO. Alternatively, try switching to a rich text email client. 

But why the drop in traffic? Perhaps his readers are just incapable of posting and sharing the new, longer URLs, as he seems to believe. Utterly hilarious. Perhaps Dvorak didn't realize that changing his URL structure would likely result in the reindexing of many of his pages. Perhaps he didn't implement 301 redirects properly.

We don't know because Dvorak doesn't tell us. And that's because he clearly has no idea what he was doing.

I'd be surprised if he even knew whether the drop in traffic was even attributable to a drop in search engine referrals. I bet he thinks web analytics is a racket too.

But none of this means that Dvorak can't find validation for his beliefs. According to an anonymous source he cites, his experiment with 'SEO-friendly' URL structures was as useless as he thought it was. He writes:

At first I thought it was a seasonal anomaly until I had a chat with a developer who was pitching me some new product she was doing. The developer mentioned that she was just recently at Google and involved in the search-engine strategy team in some way. She said she knew about SEO. I mentioned this trick, the long URL, and I swear she almost laughed in my face. She told me the idea was bogus, period.

She was recently at Google? She was involved with the search engine strategy team "in some way"? She said she knew about SEO? 'Bogus'? 

Gosh. That's impressive. So impressive that Dvorak can't mention her name. 

So let's turn to the advice of somebody who does have a name: Google's Matt Cutts, who heads up the team whose job it is to filter out web spam from Google's index.

In a post in 2005, he answered the question of whether it's better to use dashes or underscores in a URL and wrote:

So if you have a url like word1_word2, Google will only return that page if the user searches for word1_word2 (which almost never happens). If you have a url like word1-word2, that page can be returned for the searches word1, word2, and even “word1 word2″.

But wait. I thought the idea that Google actually looked at the keywords in URLs was "bogus"? I guess the joke was on Dvorak's anonymous 'ex-Googler' developer friend.

Bottom line: Dvorak doesn't get SEO. And that's because he doesn't want to.

SEO is about more than specific techniques, such as SEO-friendly URLs. As with most things in life, there are a few hard and fast rules. There are lots of widely-held SEO best practices and well-established SEO sins but when it comes right down to it, a successful SEO strategy is usually unique. What works well for one website may not work for another.

Just because Dvorak flipped the switch on WordPress' SEO-friendly URLs and lost pageviews doesn't mean that SEO-friendly URLs are useless. There are two types of people in this world: those who mistake their experience for that of the rest of the world and those who try to better understand the world around them in a holistic fashion. Clearly Dvorak is the former.

The reality: implementing an SEO strategy and making changes to an existing one requires discipline, patience, observation, experimentation, knowledge and above all, a willingness to learn.

Dvorak has demonstrated none of these things, which is probably why he calls those who practice what he doesn't understand "snake-oil salesman". We're with Mr T on this one.

To be sure, there are more than a few shady search marketers and hit-and-run SEO 'consultants' who don't know what they're talking about. But the same can be said when it comes to CEOs, mechanics and, clearly, technology columnists.

For those who are less interested in an ignorant rant and more interested in learning something that may be of value, be sure to read about Econsultancy's site migration and how that has impacted our SEO. Because with observation comes knowledge, and we're still keen to learn, and we're still learning...

Dvorak needs to pull his head out of the sand and wise up, if he wants to learn about what's really going on. We won't be holding our breath.

Patricio Robles

Published 10 February, 2009 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

2401 more posts from this author

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Rebecca Lieb

Rebecca Lieb, Digital Marketing Consultant & Author at self-employed

a nofollow link would have worked even better than the Bit.ly URL, which search engines can still follow to the target page.

over 7 years ago

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Michael VanDeMar

Yeah, Bit.ly links are in fact seo friendly. Just run it through here:

http://www.bad-neighborhood.com/header_detector.php

and they don't block anything via robots.txt:

http://bit.ly/robots.txt

No offense, but you really should know these things if you're going to call out someone who is calling out seo's. :)

-Michael

over 7 years ago

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Dave

PageRank really isn't supposed to measure how much you like or don't like something...it's a measure of how popular a topic is, or how much a document is talked about (data which is used towards Google's goal of knowing how likely it is that searchers are looking for it). Seems kind of silly to depend on bit.ly to be up in this case, or to use a nofollow when you actually are discussing that document.

over 7 years ago

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Pedro Sttau

Very well put Patricio. I cant understand for the life of me why would someone put himself on a position where you are jugging and critizing something you clearly know nothing about.

over 7 years ago

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Web 1 Marketing

Very well put. I was incensed to read his article, and I'm glad to see a cogent response with specific counterarguments to his drivel. It sounds as though he is paid to be a PITA rather than a real font of information, which is unfortunate since there are still many self-described SEO experts that diminish the perception of our field. Another example of his blather can be found at http://zi.ma/b9abe5 where he lambastes cloud computing wihtout addressing the biggest benefits of not having to upgrade or maintain infrastructure, and then blames AOL.

On another note, search engines can and often do follow any kind of static link, and regardless of the redirect type. Nofollow simply says "don't pass page rank." Matt Cutts said this at SMX Seattle and probably somewhere in his blog, too (and many others have tested this). I've blogged about some of the URL forwarding options at http://tinyurl.com/tinyurl-seo.

over 7 years ago

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nerdbanite.com

Quite ironic how the link for this article doesn-t follow SEO best practice.

http://econsultancy.com/blog/3278-john-dvorak-doesn-t-get-seo-but-knows-how-to-linkbait

"Doesn-t" isn't really a keyword I guess so wouldn't effect this article being found.

Haha... I am just nitpicking, good article, thanks very much!

over 7 years ago

Chris Lake

Chris Lake, CEO at Empirical Proof

@Michael - point noted on the Bit.ly link, which I inserted. I'd been informed otherwise.

And there I was being all tongue in cheek...

Cheers,

c.

over 7 years ago

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Edmunds

http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2008/09/dynamic-urls-vs-static-urls.html

Here is a more up to date info from google which leans more towards Dvoraks view

over 7 years ago

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Chad A. Johnson

I am a big fan of John Dvorak's writing, but he needs to limit himself to topics that he can speak intelligently about. He should outsource his SEO and web design to focus on editorial writing.

over 7 years ago

Edward Cowell

Edward Cowell, SEO Director at Guava UK

Having read his post it sounds like the SEO who advised him didn't explain the implications and processes involved in doing these types of changes on an old well indexed and ranked site, and didn't understand or explain clearly why they might be useful or not.

While there are some good reasons for including keyphrases in URLs, making them I quote "long" for the sake of it is totally insane and it does appear John Dvorak forgot to implement his redirects properly in order to manage the change so of course the outcome would be the equivalent of driving his website off a cliff.

These days on this type of site unless there is some flaw in the URL structure that results in poor indexing, errors or inpersistence I would steer away from changing the URL patterns, or at least I'd introduce the changes more gradually.

over 7 years ago

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Andrew Steel

At the end of the day, as your title states, he's made some good linkbait. Riling people up, particularly such a large and tech savvy target group as SEO (who are bound to talk about the post, refute it and link to it for reference) is an even easier way to acquire links than producing quality, helpful content.

With linkbait, the old saying "any publicity is good publicity" really holds true if the result is you achieve your aim - links, which I'm sure he has.

Maybe you should have just anchored your link with "worlds biggest tw*t"? :)

over 7 years ago

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Alan Charlesworth

Patricio - get off the fence and tell Mr Dvorak what you really think ;-)

His article is typical of 'man in the pub' syndrome [they read two sentences on a subject and become instant experts].

The problem I have is that my students often reference articles like his in their assignments - with some justification arguing he is 'an expert'.

Fortunately I have chance to put them right before they go off into the real world of SEO and all other things that make up this Internet Marketing malarkey.

over 7 years ago

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Cube3Marketing

Well, he may not believe in SEO or what-have-you; however I myself came to this page via a link, and I have already searched out his site to have a read through, so he is still driving plenty of traffic it seems!

about 7 years ago

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Bürostühle

i think that's all fault because of the over confidence, what everyone is doing they are not taking care of there money and result as we read in the article

over 6 years ago

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bedroom furniture

as i know john is a good writer how quietly explain all the matter happened as i don't know much about this field but i want to add the point here this all because of the seo experts.

over 6 years ago

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Google Gurus

Have to agree with Edward here. It does seem that John has jumped in and made these changes without seeking proper advice regarding redirects etc. Making changes to an old, well ranked site without the redirects in place is obviously going to have a negative impact, but to then go on and practically say SEO is nonsense and tar us all with the same brush saying that we are all more or less stealing a living, really riles me. As has been said above, its a really good linkbait, but I doubt that was his intention?

over 6 years ago

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stop gambling

that's all because of the mismanagement you write in your blog "The results? His traffic dropped from nearly 1.2 million monthly pageviews to around 900,000. He switched back to the old URL structure and says that he's still recovering." so you have to follow up the seo boy/girl that you hired, that you have to do.

over 6 years ago

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seo expert services

 As you told that "widely-held SEO best practices and well-established SEO sins but when it comes right down to it, a successful SEO strategy is usually unique. What works well for one website may not work for another". This is true that SEO expert is the only medium for the promotion of your website but its your msitake to have blind faith on SEO which would have been  striclty restricted on your part.

over 6 years ago

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Adult Dating

Good post & i think now in a days Google is focusing only on Back links means if any one have good quality for link building then defenitely he will get a good position very quickly.

about 6 years ago

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Tom Bowland

I like a lot of what John writes and have followed him for a while, he is very authoritive on what he talks about and I will continue to follow him. Always useful info!

about 5 years ago

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