Sometime last year, there was a Whiteboard Friday post on Moz which got the industry shaking in its boots and sparked a huge debate on dozens of reputable blogs within the SEO industry.
The main idea of the discussion revolved around a theory presented, stating that it was possible to lift the Google Penguin penalty action by only using the 'disavow' tool. That was the beginning of a string of back-and-forth attacks between proponents and opponents.
Have you stopped to consider that perhaps this matter is being approached from the wrong angle? Think about this:
Why is it a contentious issue? Does it inherently make a positive contribution to the provision of internet marketing service to customers? Is there a conclusion to be made, which will change the practice of SEO for the better? Or is it just an argument for argument's sake?
SEO is a serious industry that has grown from the ground to what it is now. However, it seems that we may have to redefine the foundations of SEO in order that current and future generations may approach it from the correct perspective.
- SEO is Demanding
The field of SEO is mostly creative rather than scientific. It brings together different variables all with a single goal: to generate more leads and traffic for a business and improve the conversion of those leads to actual sales.
A scientific study involves tests carried out in repeatable circumstances to prove or disprove a hypothesis. This is however not possible with SEO because no two businesses are exactly alike, and therefore, what has worked for one business may fail to achieve the same result when applied to another business.
It is possible to draw hypotheses based on different methods applied in SEO and write about them, but allowances must be made for variability between businesses, and also for the fact that algorithms are always changing and undergoing updates. This makes it virtually impossible to create the repeatability necessary to pass off a hypothesis as fact.
- SEO starts and ends with Google
Every year, Google makes an average of 300 changes to its search algorithm. This is according to a statement made in 2009 by Matt Cutts, who was then Head of Webspam. Five years on, it is very likely that the numbers have increased, which gives an average of 5-6 changes on the algorithm weekly.
By virtue of this fact, statistical significance has little implication, since creating a repeatable experiment is very difficult given that the search algorithm today is likely to be tweaked by tomorrow. Nothing about SEO is scientific. Everything is about Google.
- SEO is inherently Risky
Anyone putting forth some theory can purport to have an expert opinion, such as was the case mentioned above. However, when a reputable SEO site features a writer with a simple theory, but presents it as fact, it creates an ethical and professional dilemma within the industry.
In this environment, one simple declaration by someone enjoying such a position of clout will be re-blogged, tweeted, shared and spread exponentially in a matter of minutes, so that you couldn't take it back if you wanted to. You may send out a retraction, but it's likely to be of little consequence given how far the declaration will have reached.
It is to be expected that large and trusted sites in the SEO industry would therefore make an effort to vet everything they permit to be published on their websites.
- SEO is Mean
In the practice of SEO, it is possible to turn cruel and mean, similar to what happened above. This is not a quality that is unique to SEO alone; rather it's a by-product of human interaction given different socializations.
It is permissible to question a theory to determine its feasibility in the long term; conversation that is directed this way is okay. However, when the conversation strays to become an attack on the person, a cruelty door is opened and that will cloud the factual discussion.
Just as scientific studies have peer reviews, there should be the same for the SEO industry, but this cannot be possible until we learn the discipline of separating the person from the point of contention.
- SEO is Zealous
There's a bad and good side to the kind of zeal displayed by the SEO breed. It's okay if you want to share theories and actions that you've proven to have worked for your clients. However, the fact that they did work shouldn't automatically be translated to mean that they always work. This unfortunately is very common in SEO.
Instead of initiating personal attacks, a beneficial approach might be to inquire where the writer got his information, and then criticize that, not him. For each suggestion, SEO software or tactic commended, the first question should be: where is it coming from?
- SEO is Confidential
Unfortunately, most of the time, SEO professionals who are working on genuine sites with the kind of traffic that can attach statistical significance and believable proof to the effectiveness of a given tactic are also prohibited from revealing the names of those clients and/or sites.
It is not unheard of to hear people making outlandish claims about "special systems and patented methods", because they can always hide behind confidentiality of clients. This isn't likely to change, so you should be wary when you hear someone say that they have 'a secret ingredient'.
Buyers should also not be too quick to run away from professionals just because they don't have any 'big names' displayed on their site. Those may actually turn out to be the best people to use.
It is important to apply due diligence to everything you hear in SEO, and expect to be tested thoroughly anytime you post a theory. Sometimes it's just the passion of over-zealous SEO creators. Other times its genuine interest to determine whether you've thought through every variable and your theory still holds water. Either way, it's a good thing.
Those who've been doing SEO for a while are very protective of the profession, and don't want to see it watered down by unproven claims driven by an urge to place self 'on the map'.
In the end, there's only one thing to be said: focus on the customer and deliver stellar results each time. SEO is hardly a Launchpad to seek fame, but maybe, if you do what you do well, you will earn respect.