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SEO is a polarizing subject. Bring it up in the company of the tech set and chances are you'll get a debate not unlike one you might get when talking about religion and politics.

A lot of the criticism of SEO is misplaced while some of it isn't. When addressing SEO criticism, it helps to have an understanding of why critics are so skeptical. Here are top 10 reasons.

They don't know what SEO is. While the phrase 'search engine optimization' seems pretty straightforward, it's pretty obvious that many of the most ardent SEO critics don't really know what SEO is. Case in point: Derek Powazek's recent attack on SEO equated botnets and hacking attempts with SEO, a clear indication that Powazek didn't really know what he was talking about.

They had a bad experience. There's plenty of SEO snake oil out there and a bad experience with an SEO snake oil salesman could easily lead someone to believe that SEO itself is a scam. People throw the baby out with the bath water all the time and SEO in particular is no exception.

They're listening to the wrong people. It's easy to form a bad opinion of just about anything if you listen to the wrong people. Just as in social media, there are plenty of people in the SEO world who promulgate myths, misstate facts and make sweeping proclamations. These things aren't always done intentionally but the harm is done regardless. Unfortunately, the people who are most apt to do these things are often the ones who have the time to hog the spotlight and are most visible to newbies.

They're jealous. If the competition has great SERPs thanks to its SEO efforts, and you don't, it's convenient to criticize the competition's use of SEO. After all, you're better than the competition so any competitor who appears more prominently in the SERPs must be scheming, right?

They're lazy. SEO is hard work. From learning the basics to staying abreast of the latest trends to actually applying your knowledge in practice, SEO, like most things worthwhile, requires hard work and an investment of time. Out of all the people who criticize SEO, how many do you really think have actually made a reasonable effort to see what SEO can do for them?

They already have great SERPs. It's completely possible to obtain great SERPs without making a dedicated SEO effort or being an expert SEO. That's because so many of the important aspects of good SEO (content, information architecture, design) aren't exclusive to SEO. So someone who has acquired great SERPs but who didn't consciously focus on SEO has good reason to ask what all the SEO hoopla is about.

SEO seems too complicated. SEO is a nuanced field and in many areas, there are no black and white answers. Much is unique to individual circumstances and there's also a lot of myth and misinformation that needs to be sifted through. This can easily deter someone.

They experienced failure. There's no magic formula when it comes to SEO and results aren't realized overnight. For the impatient, a lack of instant results can serve as the foundation for SEO skepticism.

They're master link builders. What's one of the fastest ways to acquire new backlinks? Write an inflammatory post calling SEO a scam. Oh the irony!

They're full of nonsense. A lot of the people who criticize SEO don't really believe what they say. Take Jason Calacanis, for instance. He's said some pretty mean things about SEO yet his company, Mahalo, is basically an SEO play. And uses some pretty aggressive tactics at that.

Have I missed anything? What rationales have you seen behind SEO criticism?

Photo credit: Search Engine People Blog via Flickr.

Patricio Robles

Published 16 October, 2009 by Patricio Robles

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

2377 more posts from this author

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Anthony Collins

I like this a lot! - I might just print it out and use it when talking to internal people who don't understand why SEO is essential - and who have been disappointed in the past by inffective SEO campaigns.

almost 7 years ago

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Jacob Wright

I think you missed out the biggest one, which is a matter of principle.

Search engine algorithms are designed to rank the sites in the order of relevance.

Writing/producing pages that are relevant, interesting and useful should therefore ensure good rankings.  Do this and consumers, search engines and clients will all be happy.

So the question is, why replace transparent easily-understood concepts like producing good, relevant, useful content with the jargon of SEO?  Why introduce what appears to be an attempt to "game the system"?  Is it better for clients to spend their money on SEO or just on making their pages more useful and interesting?

almost 7 years ago

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Mirek Polyniak

People should start with criticism targeted at Google as there are no clear rules from the Big Brother of the Net. And lots of changes haven't been properly communicated hence SEO seems to be a sort of mumbo-jumbo to many people. But SEO is essential and the most effective - vide research in the US where marketeers admitted that it simply superior to other e-marketing activities: Forbes, 2009 Ad Effectiveness Survey, June 1st, 2009

almost 7 years ago

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Senthil Ramesh

Well said, people genereally criticise it generally if they had bad experience and failures or they dont know about it correctly. They are the major ones and the resto of them too plays a minimal part.

almost 7 years ago

Alice Morgan

Alice Morgan, Freelance digital marketing consultant at Freelance

I like this. It'll be good ammo for me too. In my experience the worst thing is lack of understanding from the lead digital agency. Clients are receptive and hungry to understand, while agencies don't want to be exposed for not  knowing.

almost 7 years ago

Matthew Phelan

Matthew Phelan, Director and Co-Founder at 4Ps Marketing

“They had a bad experience” is a really common area of conversation and often comes up during the pitching process. We recently won a client who had previously been let down by 2 SEO agencies prior to us. 1 well known and the other I had not heard of before. The previous agency had actually got the client banned from Google for their main search term and had their Googe PageRank reduced to 0.

I can understand why some clients can be cautious and it is the responsibility of  everyone in this industry to clear up these issues through education. Easier said than done  .

It has been a positive move for all of us that Google has recently entered the SEO debate.

Happy weekend everyone!

almost 7 years ago

Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles, Tech Reporter at Econsultancy

Jacob,

You say "Writing/producing pages that are relevant, interesting and useful should therefore ensure good rankings".

Yet I'm sure we could all find examples of people who have wonderful websites with great content that don't have great SERPs. Perhaps they make it harder for the search engines (poor page structure and information architecture) or the search engines have no way to tell how relevant and interesting their websites are (there are no backlinks because they don't promote).

As an admittedly crude analogy, think of SEO as a beauty pageant for websites. You can have dozens of beautiful contestants but it's not just about pure beauty. It's about make-up, fashion, talent, attitude, preparation. And so it is with SEO. You can have great content but that alone doesn't mean you're ready to compete.

almost 7 years ago

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Helen @ Cucumber Marketing

Great post! So, so true. I especially agree with "They don't know what SEO is" statement. People tend to criticize something that they don't understand.

almost 7 years ago

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Kruse UK Services

What's needed is an industry body, a recognised trade society of some kind. I'm not keen on SEMPO and the UK group, if they're still going, strikes me as a boys club, us and our snooty mates kind of thing. Anybody want to start one? Two purposes, educating the public about SEO and member testing and certification. I remember when SEMPO first started all you had to do to become a Search Engine Marketing Pro was to send it $200 and a photo. No testing or anything you'll notice. That's why I never bothered with it. Any proper organisation especially in an industry based around so volatile an environment needs annual retesting too. Who has enough time on their hands to organise something?

BB

almost 7 years ago

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King Sidharth

LOL! Nice post... "They're master link builders. What's one of the fastest ways to acquire new backlinks? Write an inflammatory post calling SEO a scam. Oh the irony!" loved it! I see many people talking baout The Law of Attraction flaw only to sell their Law of Attraction products. Oh! The irony.

almost 7 years ago

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veiko herne

I have been in Internet since 1993 and built some of the technologies. Between 2000-2005 I had other interest and when I was in UK, I was surprised how many different specialiaties it had created.

Customer who needs SEO have probably purchased the website from web designers and graphic artists having all those "About Us" anchor links inside.

SEEO work isnt just writing metatags to those websites but sometimes client just doesnt allow to change the content.

Link Bulding is not a SEO work, its part of your online publicity campaign.

So if you build your site right way at first place and have online marketing strategy in place, you do not need a SEO at all.

almost 7 years ago

Jayne Reddyhoff

Jayne Reddyhoff, Director at The Ecommerce Adviser

Patricio - another interesting article; thanks very much.

My personal favourite example of listening to the wrong people is "I was talking to this guy I met in the pub who knows all about websites and he said..."

Veiko - If you build your website the right way to start with and implement a comprehensive online marketing strategy, including plenty of relevant, useful content and building lots of relevant links, you are doing SEO whether you call it that or not.

almost 7 years ago

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Dennis Hollingworth, Director at Red Creative Moves Ltd

I have 3 friends.
Well, I have a fair few more than that, but for now, 'these 3' are in the spotlight.

Friend 1:
'Geek' or 'Nerd' are offensive comments to him. Why? Because, by his own admittance, and anyone who knows him's acknowledgement, he is of Uber status here, not seeing why 'everyone' isn't seeing, and working, like him.
Friend 2:
SEO evangelist.
As he can use Dreamweaver to a very competent level, sees 'friend 1' as an almost superfluous, but unfortunately not; he can do stuff just that little bit quicker, and can quote the answer to any problem without ‘taking a look’.
Friend 3:
Dabbles a bit in DW, dabbles a bit more with analytical packages, reads books on subjects like ‘Web Copy that sells’, and wishes he could learn Derren Browns tricks of the trade, adapting for the Web sites he masters.

Okay, picture set.
What do all 3 have in common?
All three have clients, and all those clients, from the one-man-band down the road, to the senior marketeer with the word ‘digital’ or ‘online’ preceding his job title, give them the same hard time, have the same – ‘P1 to 3, page 1 please’ – expectations, and all are aware to some degree of bad news stories, where someone had been promised the Holy Grail landing pad mentioned above, and instead disappeared into the Abyss, quickly followed by the ‘seo consultant’.

Socialising, networking, generally chatting to people, these ‘3 friends’ are, in my circles, quite typical. At the moment, all 3 are needed at some point, with some clients. In terms of where Google takes in the future, who knows?!

almost 7 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Hi Patricio

Thanks for the article, some great points.

I would add to the list the problem that many potential clients simply do not know what they want to achieve from SEO, which is closely associated with not knowing what it really is.

From my own experience when Head of eCommerce, I did not understand what questions I should be asking and what I wanted to achieve. Is page rank the end goal? I thought so then but now would consider that just one target to aim for.

The snake oil game makes it harder for talented SEOs to educate people and set realistic expectations. It is still easier to sell the virtues of PPC because Clients can see the instant impact. SEO is an easier concept to sell when people understand long-term planning. This ties in with your comment on laziness.

Thanks

james

almost 7 years ago

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SEO Pakistan

clients always wants to see their website ranking 1st for the keyword but whats the point of getting 1st rank and not heeting good traffic? thats where a SEo gets criticized from aclient and this usually happens when a SEo does what ever client says, if you want to get good traffic with good rankings then a client mst consider the suggesstions which SEos give, its for the clients betterment.

almost 7 years ago

Charlie Osmond

Charlie Osmond, Chief Tease at Triptease

If I were to criticize SEO, it would be because I once got a few quotes from reputable SEO firms. I was astonished at the day rate they quoted for someone with just a couple of years experience.

I remember doing a quick calculation and realising it was more than Obama gets paid for running the free world. SEO is both an art and a science. But I wonder if the big agencies are going to be able to sustain such high charges.

In case it's helpful to anyone, I found our freelance SEO by searching Linkedin for someone who used to work at a big agency. The rates were generally 1/5th of the agency rate.

almost 7 years ago

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Sara Kmiecik

Great post. As an SEO specialist, I have witnessed all of these criticisms. With most of these, it just takes some reassurance on your part to convince others that it is a valid profession.

almost 7 years ago

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Tim Rose

"Is it better for clients to spend their money on SEO or just on making their pages more useful and interesting?" Jacob Wright 11:58AM on 16th October 2009

Good point Jacob, though convincing clients to ignore SEO in favour of quality content for the general good may be tricky?

almost 7 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Hi Tim, Jacob

Isn't quality content part of SEO? How do you write 'quality' content and how do you integrate this with your overall site optimisation and linking strategy?

I think you need to look at quality from at least 3 angles:

1) Is the content optimised for search engines so that it contains relevant keywords/links to help with indexing and is coded to be search engine friendly? (the latter I take as given if you are already running an indexed website)

2) Is the content the right quality to portray your brand in the right light and in a way that is consistent with your public persona and reputation? This ties in with your PR (both off and online)

3) Is the content of interest and value to your visitors? 

Rich, interesting content is important for visitors to engage them and lead them down the conversion path, whatever that conversion goal may be. However, if you ignore the technical SEO aspect of the optimisation, you could be affecting the visibility of that content to people who don't already know you.

I see content as an integral part of effective SEO - whether or not you turn to a specialist/agency to provide the resource comes down to a personal and commercial decision.

I don't believe in all eggs in one basket - content building should not stop link building, technical developments (e.g. XML sitemaps), social media optimisation etc

What do you think?

Thanks

james

almost 7 years ago

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Damian Doman

With such a huge number of websites fighting for the first position, it's essential to understand SEO. Most people criticise it because they have very little knowledge on the subject. What a lot of them think is that it's enough to create a nice website that looks good and has well-written articles. They expect it to work soon after launching a page so they just wait for the clients to come. However, one cannot criticise something unless they have an expert knowledge about SEO and somethign valuable to share. Otherwise, the criticism is not reliable at all. After all, by not understaning SEO and implementing careless tactics, of course you're going to have problems.

almost 7 years ago

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Andrea

Then again...how can information be useful if it never reaches the end-user...? It's a fine art to present the online audience with information that is accurate, fresh and yes... useful. But unfortunately in order for it to be "useful" to the vast amount of online searchers, it must be search engine friendly. I think the challenge is to make use of SEO in way that won’t compromise the quality and truthfulness of your content…but maybe I’m an idealist ;-) Unfortunately “useful” information that ranks poorly within search results will never be that “useful” to the majority of end-user because they’ll never have access to it in the first place. 

We can ask ourselves why it is that flaky content often ranks well with search engines? Does it reveal something about our society’s appetite for quick fixes when it comes to search results? But I might be opening up a can of worms here...

over 6 years ago

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SEO Wanna Be

Hi your post is amazing, It's incredible, I learned a lot about SEO and Man, this thing's getting better and better as I learn more about internet marketing. Also as part of my ongoing mission to find the absolute best tools to make money, this is without a doubt at the top of my list. Everything happened so fast!

over 6 years ago

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Davo

People seem to think that SEO is easy. It's not especially if you're in a crowded niche. But any business should realise that it needs an internet prescence and accept that they need to SEO their sites.

over 6 years ago

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technomartrga


Fantastic. I’m feeling better about using someone else’s template rather than trying to create my own.

over 6 years ago

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SEO Services Expert Company, Search Engine Optimization Expert at SEO Services Company

There are certain businesses which have a major share of customers who regularly throng towards search engines. Take for example, software industry, travel industry and various others.

over 6 years ago

John Braithwaite

John Braithwaite, Managing Director at Ergo Digital

Few comments: 1. The comment about SEO disrupting the process is ill-informed because actually only dumb businesses would work hard at getting rankings for terms and phrases they're not relevant for. It's actually a great way (within reason) of self auditing sites - because of this reason, and 2. SEO types don't really explain the metrics and can tend to blur the boundaries. For example, classic case today... this firm I visited has a specialist Dental Accountancy practice and they had an SEO working for them at about £2-300 per month trying to get them top for phrases like 'Dental Accountant'. Trouble is that all the target search terms amounted to about 600 searches a month in Google. Meaning, therefore, that they would ACTUALLY be spending far more than an equivalent PPC campaign on the same phrases. But too often SEO's don't like sharing the search volumes (either because of point 3 below, or because it is not in their interest to do so), and 3. Oh, and the other one is more often than not SEO-types are detatched from really having the marketing firepower to demonstrate the value of SEO. They talk too much about position 1 / first page of Google without putting it into hard, cold cash terms. And, finally, two great litmus tests for SEOs: - If they don't start the process by talking and presenting ideas about how to improve your website, then walk away, and - If they start taking 'credit' for getting you ranking on your brand name / exact match domain, then also walk away Cheers John

over 6 years ago

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Diljeet Singh

Well said, people genereally criticize it Because they dont know about it correctly

over 5 years ago

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sean

The changing state of seo these days is a cross over from old school to the new technical seo, all have different opinions but still get the same results, this mean there is no said way for for it to be done.
As long as you get results I say!

over 5 years ago

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SEO Expert

i am forced by my client to do his linkbuilding on long tail keywords but i am forcing him too that i will not work on such keywords because they do not have any competition and searches on google most of the clients think that what ever they decide as there keyword is actually what others are going to search but it is not like that i will suggest such clients to be realistic and let us do our own work!

almost 5 years ago

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Username

I think the biggest reason why people criticize SEOs is that they are just unable to understand most of the hi-tech terms that we use in SEO, and most of them are not really as internet savvy as SEOs.

almost 5 years ago

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