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I’m Not Defending SEO

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Neil Maycock ( looped me into a blog post called “Asking Bloggers To Break The Law” on Mummy Barrow.

In summary, it was a well-deserved, opinionated rhapsody on one SEO link building tactic. SEOs only need to read an excerpt from a link builder, which the author published, to get the gist of this article:

“Unfortunately we have had new guidelines introduced that state we can’t place any more articles that are labelled as sponsored as they highlight the link has been paid for. Not great in the eyes of Google.

If that’s the case that you definitely have to state ‘sponsored’, then I won’t be able to go ahead I’m afraid.

I don’t suppose offering you a bit more money would sway the decision would it?”


As you can imagine, this sparked debate in SEO on what is, and what should never be.

I’m a realist. Some parts of SEO (as an industry) are eccentric. It always was, it probably always will be. We were born in forums, so conversations can get kind of bizarre, off-topic, chatty, etc. But, as long as there are SEOs who define search optimization as motions to improve rankings, there will be tacticians like this, and their defenders. The problem for SEOs, who define search optimization as a more holistic marketing channel, is this grants a negative context by which they don’t want to be known by. The antics continue online, and the machine starts spinning again.

But negative or not, it’s one half of what SEO is. Other SEOs, and Google, may want to change that. I think it’s a lost cause. It’s complete chaos. Sometimes we ourselves fall into our own vortex. Sometimes we drink our own (and each other’s) Kool-Aid. Some of the “personalities” we promote and the content we praise makes it feel more like a popularity contest. Sometimes we act less than classy. Alternatively, sometimes we fight each other. We trash what the other side of SEO does. The whole things starts to feel like playground fights.

It’s like republicans vs. democrats. One party can tell another group (of any political persuasion) what code they should live by, but banking on a sweeping change is a fool’s bet. Like anyone, I’d love to convince all our industry peers to see it my way (don’t try to lie and manipulate a blogger, don’t be a lazy link builder, etc.), but I don’t waste the bandwidth on the unachievable. Instead, I’d rather focus on sending the message I stand by, to the clients I pitch, the people who read my stuff, and the people I meet at networking events. I fully acknowledge what we REALLY are. It helps me define what I am.

I’m Bill. I do online marketing and strategy. The way I go about it, SEO is a big fiber in the whole canvas I create on.

As an aside, I find myself more and more distancing from SEO as a label in conversations, and instead embracing all of online marketing. When people ask me what I do, I used to say “SEO,” now I’m noticing I don’t. It’s not because of any negative industry connotation, but because I feel like I’m expanding into something more. The acronym isn’t the big picture anymore. I don’t agree with those who try to pack a multi-channel definition into such this three-letter word.

My Name Is SEOIt started a year ago. At Mozcon 2012, there were a couple presentations about “SEO needs to grow up”. We need to get more into digital PR, content marketing, etc. I completely disagreed (it took a few weeks to sink in). If you want to get more into those channels – and why not, it’s an asset – I think you stop labeling everything as SEO, and start considering yourself bigger than SEO. Should an SEO be an expert at usability, graphic design, content marketing, analytics, and social media? No, you should be an expert in what they do for improvement in SERPs and better conversion rates through search traffic. However, if you want to be an expert in those things, strive to be a digital marketer (or inbound marketer, if that’s what you prefer to call it). SEO doesn’t need blurrier definitions or an obtuse label.

I simply don’t spend time defending, labeling, or being a criticizer of SEO tactics that I personally don’t employ, though I do feel defensive whenever the other side of a story is absent. It’s valueless, and a cheap headline grabber. I don’t pitch or “negative sell” to clients on the scary SEO monsters out there. Instead, I talk about the incredible value SEO and digital marketing can have for a company.

I suggest you stop fighting about SEO definitions; accept what it is, while taking inspiration from its marketing potential, and start branching into other digital marketing channels. I believe that’s the best next step you can make to further your expertise.

Now… read this: Why I’m Quitting SEO by Martin McDonald

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    The comments are do-follow. However, any comments that use keyword anchor text as the name will be removed.

    1. Ian Howells
      March 31, 2013

      Know why the offer of more money was likely made?

      Because that offer works with a large percentage of bloggers.

      These holier than thou bloggers can take their finger pointing and shove it until they worry about the people within their own industry before bitching and complaining about others.

      Also, the author of the post you linked to simply isn’t getting it. The link builder doesn’t give a flying fuck about the disclosure law, they just want the post to pass a hand review. For them, it’s *only* about google. Not surprising though – this is what happens when non-seo people try to write/talk seo.


      • Bill Sebald
        March 31, 2013

        I definitely thought of you when writing this post.


    2. Leo Dimilo
      April 1, 2013

      “SEO is a big fiber in the whole canvas I create on.”

      I think that this is the arena that most SEO’s should be living in. One hand washes another.

      The conversation between the blogger and the PR person shows how explicitly ignorant the PR person is. They don’t get penalized by Google for advertising…they just may not get “link” credit. There is a big difference there.


    3. Call me anon
      April 1, 2013

      I get pissed when some SEOs beat up other SEOs because of white hat / black hat issues. I ignore the whole lot. I watch people devour the theatre of the mind put out by some of these SEO bloggers. But asking an SEO not to be a cheesy self promoting marketer is like asking a person not to be human.

      We’ve turned this into a big silly game. Don’t SEOs have real work to do?


    4. David Hood
      April 4, 2013

      There are are different ways to say that this is a sponsored post without using the word “sponsored”. Internet marketing has got to up its ante.


    5. Patrick
      June 21, 2013

      It can be annoying how there are such distinctions in the SEO industry between white hat and black hat. People just need to get on with it and promote sites with what works.


    6. Sarra Donathan
      February 27, 2014

      I mean I can see why Google wouldn’t like the phrase “sponsored”. They want everything to be natural. But everyone has to make money and I don’t feel the word sponsored has to do with the quality of the content. I think it is just one of those things while now they are a little strict they will roll back. I mean how as a search engine are you going to penalize that … what if you use the word sponsored in the content of your article vs saying it is sponsored. Just because the word is somewhere on the site they are penalized? I think they will eventually ease up on this stance.