It seems like every few months, somebody has to write a blog post
calling SEO a ‘scam‘ of some sort. It’s a meme that always works and
this time around, it’s coming from a guy named Derek Powazek, who calls
SEOs “spammers, evildoers, and opportunists“.

It’s a great linkbait, which, ironically, is sure to help Powazek’s SERPs.

Like most ‘SEO is a scam‘ linkbait, the arguments are fatally flawed. So let’s begin.

1. Derek says: “The good advice is obvious, the rest doesn’t work.”

First, while there’s some truth to the notion that “the good advice is obvious“, Powazek misses the point that the devil is in the details. Even if you’re using good titles, formatting your markup properly, etc., that’s just the beginning. Just because you’ve built a page that employs a good title, for instance, doesn’t necessarily mean that there isn’t room for improvement.

Powazek’s arguments start to fall apart almost immediately, however, when he writes:

Occasionally a darkside SEO master may find some loophole in the Google algorithm to exploit, which might actually lead to an increase in traffic. But that ill-gotten traffic gain won’t last long. Google changes the way it ranks its index monthly (if not more), so even if some SEO technique worked, and usually they don’t, it’ll last for a couple weeks, tops.

First, Powazek seems to be a little bit confused about how frequently Google releases major algorithm updates. Not surprising, of course.

Second, SEO isn’t really about techniques so much as it is about knowledge. It’s about understanding the relative importance of both on-page and off-page ranking factors. Once you understand them, of course, you can try to influence them. I’m sure Powazek would cringe at the thought that the domain name is an important ranking factor for Google and that people actually use this to their advantage (and have been for some time). In fact, this ranking factor probably has a lot to do with the reason Powazek’s website, Fray, which is located at fray.com, ranks so well for “fray” on Google. Just because he didn’t know about this ranking factor when he purchased the domain name doesn’t make the ranking factor any less real (or important for somebody who recognizes the benefits of keyword domains).

2. Derek says: “SEO is poisoning the web.”

This is where Powazek’s arguments really fall apart like a bad football team. Powazek writes:

Google’s ranking algorithm is based on links. So the most effective way to game their system is to plant links on as many sites as possible, all pointing to your site, linked from specific keywords. This is called Google bombing.

SEO cockroaches employ botnets, third-world labor, and zombie computers to blanket the web with link spam. 99% of spam comments to blogs are these kind of links. The target of these links is not the blog readers, it’s Google.

SEO bastards are behind worms that attack blog services like Blogger, WordPress, and Movable Type. Some hack into the blog templates themselves to insert links that are hidden from the readers of that blog, but visible to a Google crawler.

First of all, the people engaging in this behavior aren’t ‘SEOs‘. The SEO looking to optimize his client’s websites isn’t running a botnet of 50,000 compromised computers and hacking websites, for obvious reasons. The people who are doing these things are criminals who are usually looking to spread malware. Calling them SEOs is sort of like calling thieves ‘waiters‘ because a few thieves work at a restaurant during the day.

Second, the most effective way to “game” Google’s algorithm is not to “plant links on as many sites as possible“. Clearly, Powazek doesn’t understand how Google evaluates backlinks. They are, of course, not all created equal. While it’s not surprising that Powazek doesn’t know this, anyone who has spent 30 minutes reading about SEO knows that Google isn’t just counting the number of backlinks you have and pumping up your SERPs if it’s a big number.

Third, the poisonous techniques that Powazek lists — comment spam, stolen RSS content, hacking, etc. — are generally ineffective, something that Powazek would know if he took the time to research what he was writing. Most blogging platforms nofollow comments, Google is quite good at identifying duplicate content and it often identifies hacked websites (and drops them like a bad habit) before the owners even know they’ve been hacked.

Powazek shouldn’t assume that because criminals employ such techniques, they’re effective, or that they’re exclusively targeting SERPs. The reason criminals do these things is because the cost of doing them is so low. Any benefit whatsoever (and not necessarily SERP-driven) can deliver a significant ROI.

Ironically, Powazek ends with high-level advice fit for an SEO:

  1. Create great content.
  2. Tell people about it.

The latter sort of sounds like what you’re doing with a link building campaign, no?

All in all, Powazek’s linkbait really doesn’t add much but is notable for its misguided vitriol. That’s why it’s worth responding to. Unfortunately, we can expect this meme to arise again soon in a new form. Let’s hope that it will be more original and informed the next time around.

Photo credit: Nima Badiey via Flickr.