Well-known PR blogger Steve Rubel incited quite a bit of debate recently with a post he wrote that accused SEO experts of exploiting social media for the sole purpose of scamming search engines. One such expert, Marketing Pilgrim's Andy Beal, took him to task over the matter saying that the proverbial pot is calling the kettle black and that PR pros should get the log out of their own eye before trying to get the speck out of another's.
Steve seems to think there's a fire and all of us need to run to it with a bucket of water. He's certainly raising the alarm calling these "shenanigans" a "clear and present danger."
In response, I left a lengthy comment on his blog, but am reprinting it here because the chances of you finding it among the many there are slim to none.
I agree that using blogs and social media solely for the purpose of influencing search results is disingenuous and not the best and highest use of the medium. However, I can "feel their pain." Clients place great emphasis on the need to rank higher in SERPs and the burden of that falls in the lap of the SEO specialist.
Having the spent the last couple of years introducing blogs to the real estate industry I can tell you the one thing I heard over and over again was, "Will it help me rank higher in Google?" That was the only benefit many were interested in.
Truth is, blogs especially are great SEO tools. Writing frequently-updated, keyword-optimized, thematically-relevant posts will very likely vault one to the top of the rankings. I've experienced that on numerous occasions.
From what you're saying, the desire to exploit that benefit has become as tempting to SEOs as "Turkish Delight" was to Edmund in the Chronicles of Narnia. If that is indeed the case, let me encourage a return to a healthy balance of value-added conversation combined with an emphasis on and awareness of the SEO benefit of blogs and other forms of social media. It needed be one or the other when it can just as easily be both/and.
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