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.