Yes, SEO Can Be Disgusting. But More So When It’s Ignored.

Earlier this summer, a man much smarter than I wrote on the subject of how SEO disgusted him. A week later, the post was simulcast onto PR Daily.

Now this type of post has been written in a variety of ways on thousands of different blogs over the last few years. It’s almost formulaic. SEO is dead/evil/disgusting = pageviews and links.

But regardless of one’s motivations, the author, Mark Schaefer, has every right to have this opinion. And in his experience, he’s 100 percent correct. He spoke to one “CEO of a leading Midwest search firm” and heard about a bunch of tactics that many would consider spammy. He also gets a ton of comment spam in the name of poorly thought-out “SEO.”

Fair enough, those are his experiences.

There is no doubt that SEO, much like PR, has its ethical issues. And when the article was reposted on PR Daily, for more than a few PR pros, this article was enough to dump on SEO as a relevant marketing strategy. That’s unfortunate, and potentially dangerous to one’s career.

I love that social media allows any and all of us to share our opinions. But I learned long ago that one should never take other’s advice as gospel, or worse, dismiss a marketing strategy (or tactic) based another’s experience.  Never assume another’s advice on SEO (or social media or blogging or media relations) is relevant to your business and your marketing communications strategy.

Dismissing SEO because of one opinion is like talking to the (former) editors over at News of The World editors and deciding that all journalism is disgusting. Or that email marketing is criminal because our spam folders are full of Viagra pitches. Even better, should anyone be dismissing PR as a viable business because of a high-level smear campaign?

How silly would that sound? Besides, ignoring SEO and its inherent best practices is a terrible idea, especially for PR practitioners. In fact, this ignorance for SEO is at odds at the very shiny objects PR wants to own, namely social media and content strategy, marketing and development.

Contrary to what you’ve heard, PR and social media cannot update, +1, Like, engage or content themselves into digital marketing success alone. In fact, SEO is much more successful in driving revenue and traffic at the moment prospective customers are finalizing their purchasing decisions than just about anything.

For example:

  • According to one large publisher, 41% of external traffic to their massive websites comes directly from search. Compared to 11% from social.
  • According to a comScore study, buyers “who purchase or convert online are almost as likely to use a combination of search and social resources (48%) as they are to use just search (51%) along the path to purchase.” Leaving a magical 1% making purchases on social alone.

Note which marketing disciplines were not mentioned.

There’s no doubt that SEO itself needs better PR. For example, SEO goes far beyond keyword stuffing and comment spamming, and gets into site architecture, smart design, site speed, user personas, content development and more. But for whatever reason, SEO can’t shake the bad association.

SEO can be ugly, even disgusting. But to dismiss SEO as a viable, successful and incredibly trackable marketing vehicle is extremely shortsighted. I am certain that was never the author’s intent. And if you don’t think large PR firms aren’t jumping in this arena, you’re kidding yourself.

To be as relevant as possible to your audience, to maximize your social strategy and to increase the shelf life of your content, PR cannot dismiss SEO. And as just about everything goes digital, the future of PR may depend on it.

About the Author
Dominic Litten develops strategies for search, social media and online and traditional PR that get clients pulled through the pinhole. He can be found nerding it up all over the internets, but feel free to reach him on Twitter via @djlitten.

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2 comments on “Yes, SEO Can Be Disgusting. But More So When It’s Ignored.

  1. Thanks for extending the conversation Dominic but I think you were a little one-sided in your portrayal of my article. I went out of my way to acknowledge the positive contributions of SEO Including this statement: ” I recognize that there are many important business insights and strategies that can come from legitimate SEO professionals.” I then listed seven best practices.

    I appreciate you are trying to make a living in this business but from my position — the receiving end — I am pummeled daily by blog spam, Twitter bots, link builders, phony guest posters and people trying to buy my favor in the name of SEO. Whether you like it or not, that’s part of your business too. We have built a multi-billion dollar industry on a foundation of tricking Google. That drives bizarre, desperate and unethical practices and has created bizarre, desperate and unethical companies.

    I don’t entirely see what you’re disagreeing with. SEO can do some good things but, in your words, can also be disgusting and ugly. Or, were they my words?

  2. My point was not really about you, just that you brought up a point that some PR people (in the comments and on Twitter) took incorrectly, namely that SEO is full of nonsense and that it should be ignored because it’s either too hard, too spammy or a waste of time. They didn’t read the end of your article when you said otherwise (I even noted that was never your intent).

    And it was my reaction to those PR people on Twitter that led Andrew to me, and this blog post.

    Again, not you. But the article was all they needed to continue to ignore SEO. I was trying to shed light on how content marketing and social media demand that PR practitioners understand the basic tenets of SEO and how PR’s future could depend on it.

    My other point, namely your experience on your sole practitioner blog/site and SEO or any one person’s experience, is not and should never been compared to enterprise-level or even mid-market SEO. It’s a completely different beast. And too many take the blog-level advice/experience for their business or corporate site.

    Bad idea.

    Whenever these posts come up, however, I do laugh. Not least of which because it’s been done to death, but also because name one marketing discipline that doesn’t have this dark side. Let’s look in-depth to email and it’s spammy nonsense. Let’s look at PR/IR and the rumor mill. Let’s look at social media and the cadre of gurus and ninjas who pray on unsuspecting small business owners.

    You want to do business with people who view ethics as black and white, not gray. So do I. But there is gray in just about every marketing discipline, even marketing consulting. I guess I don’t understand why SEO gets hammered more often than not.

    Marketers have to decide which side of the ledger they’d like to stand on, and I was encouraging them to not dismiss one out of hand. Unnecessarily.

    Thanks for commenting.

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