Michael Martinez boldly goes where search marketers have always been afraid to go in his post from Monday. “Why SEO Collective Wisdom Lacks Credibility” is a passionate, well-though essay on search marketers, what they are and what they should be. In it, Martinez questions the truth in self-proclaimed SEO experts, points out the field has too many followers and little, if any, leaders and states in a comment follow-up to the piece that, “It’s way past time the SEO community take a long, hard look at itself and started growing up.”

See No EvilHis analysis of the field, and he is an SEO practitioner, is spot on. No one really knows the science of search engine optimization. It’s essentially guess work as to the significance of variables in a mathematical algorithm, and oh, by the way, there are dozens of different algorithms, not just one. (Though it could be said nailing Google’s pretty much covers your bases.)

He calls for a credible professional journal edited by SEO peers, but safely admits there’s no real answer to who the peers are (or editors for that matter).

Perhaps my favorite part of his analysis is this paragraph:

“Volume itself is a factor in both search indexing and search optimization, and it’s a factor that is rarely taken into consideration. Our confusion over standards, practices, methods, and metrics ensures that we not only optimize with blinders on, we analyze with blinders on. The only way we can improve the quality of our collective knowledge is to share it openly and uniformly.”

Herein lies the problem of whether or not what Martinez calls for is even possible.

In my experience, which I’ll admit is not maximum exposure but also not limited, search marketers are chock full of vagaries and round-about answers. No one wants to say what the secret is for fear that someone might figure it out and not hire them. Or is it that they won’t share information because they’ve got no clue what the secret is in the first place?

Getting a straight answer out of most search marketers is like getting a bone from a rabid dog.

I’ve even asked for a work estimate from one and been met with a confusing answer which included several polysyllabic words I didn’t understand.

I didn’t ask twice and won’t ever hire that guy.

Now, it’s rash to generalize, but generalizations and definitives drive traffic (there’s a search marketer tip you didn’t have to ask for) so I’m going to.

Search engines try to offer the best choices among millions of web pages to give users the information they’re seeking when entering a search term. Search marketers try to manipulate websites to rank higher in said searches whether the content is the most relevant or not.

In essence, all search marketers are trying to game the system.

Search engines have to resort to anti-gaming tactics, like altering the algorithms or studying search marketer techniques and countering them, to continue to produce what they hope is the most relevant search results for a given set of keywords.

Search engineers have to game the search marketers in return.

You ever wonder what happened to those weirdo Goth geeks with the Dungeons and Dragons or Doom fixation in high school? They’re most likely search marketers … or search engineers.

Still, the top search result is perhaps the single most valuable piece of real estate in cyberspace and we’re left trusting its generation to Wii freaks and Math Bowl champions.

Mind you, it’s rhetoric like Martinez’s post that leads to change. There are some SEO types out there who are genuinely well-intended, good people. This doesn’t mean they aren’t trying to game the system. It’s not always the people that are wrong, it’s the system.

And the system isn’t fixable.

Mahalo wants search to be based on human recommendation. But when your human recommenders include a bunch of search marketers trying to figure out how to jockey their insurance company above other insurance companies on the list, the power becomes compromised, human or not.

As long as there is search, there will be search marketers trying to game the engine.

The only solution my feeble mind can muster is for there to not be search rankings but for searches to result in tag cloud-like arrays of potential search result keywords. Don’t favor one site over another, but offer the user as unfettered an array of choices to narrow the search as possible.

But I’m sure the clever SEO gang would study user behavior and engineer ways for their client’s websites to pop up under the most heavily trafficked narrowing choices.

Yes, search marketers can turn a critical eye to marketers of other sorts and even public relations types (like me) and say, “He’s trying to manipulate people, too!” True, and there are also cretins in my business.

Martinez’s plea is a welcome sign of decency from a group of people sometimes struggling to separate the white hats from those of darker shades. But will SEO types, as he begs, “grow up” and start helping produce better search results rather than trying to beat level 45 on that rad new video game called “Google?” I doubt it.

Other Posts You’ll Find Interesting:

  1. Does The Search Engine Optimization Expert Really Exist?
  2. Why You Should Cut Back Search Marketing In A Recession
  3. I Hate Spam Email From Bad SEO Consultants
  4. 6 Tips To Not Get Ripped Of When Buying SEO Services
  5. Why I Do Not Like 95% Of SEO Experts

IMAGE: Speak No Evil” by matrianklw on Flickr.

[tags]search engine optimization, SEO, search marketing, ethics, search engines, Google, Yahoo, search engineers[/tags]

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About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is the founder and chief instigator for Social Media Explorer's blog. He is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for CafePress, one of the world's largest online retailers. His opinions are his, not necessarily theirs. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

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Comments & Reactions

Comments Policy

Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://occamsrazr.com Ike

    Some of those D&D, debate, and scholar bowl nerds went on to become writers, who happen to use weblog software engines to maintain dynamic websites with linked content.

    Just sayin’…

  • http://www.outsourceit2philippines.com/ Manage Outsourcing

    nice overview. I do like the idea that most search marketers are just guessing the right way to increase traffic. nice article

  • http://www.ryandeshazer.com Ryan DeShazer

    Jason,

    By your own “cretins” among us in PR admission, you’ve hit on something key: in any profession there are unscrupulous types who turn a blind eye to the larger picture. As a SEM, I can’t claim to always operate for the greater good of the searching populace, but generally speaking I think there is an overwhelming majority of us who operate within the guidelines handed down. Those guidelines tend to reward websites and webmasters who improve the user experience.

    It’s not all cloaked pages and link-spam.

    “Getting a straight answer out of most search marketers is like getting a bone from a rabid dog.”

    You’ve been working with the wrong people. :)

  • http://www.socialmediaexplorer.com Jason Falls

    Ike — Figured you for a D&D dude. Heh.

    Ryan — You’re right, my tendencies are to apply generalities. I know not all, in fact few, search marketer types are bad folks. I know several very good ones who are as white hat as they come. But I think search marketers have a suspect reputation in some circles for a reason. It’s all about gaming the system which most people view as unscrupulous.

    And posting something like this always brings out the right people. ;-) Thanks for being one.

  • http://www.komarketingassociates.com/blog/ Derek

    Jason – Did you just finish an interview with an SEO spouting some form of Buzzword Bingo???

    Thanks as well for referencing our post on search marketing during a recession – glad that you found it of value!

  • http://www.passagecommunications.blogspot.com Soniac

    I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how social media will effect SEM/SEO. When I think about all the “reputation management” that is popping out of the wood work, it looks like there’s a new brand of SEO. Volume of micro-content vs. macro managing existing content. Do you think that those agencies that are starting to develop gobs of positive press will eventually get lumped into the same category?

  • http://www.socialmediaexplorer.com Jason Falls

    Hey Derek. No I didn’t, but I get these wild notions and write them down. Character flaw.

    You’re welcome for the link. Very good article I’m glad to recommend for folks.

    Soniac — Great question. I think what could happen certainly leans that way, but I also have a firm belief that in social media, community does indeed rule. Therefore, the gobs of positive press piles will be there, but the street cred of those companies will void that all out since the community will know they engineered their way there. Thanks for the question. I hope others react to it as well.

  • http://www.HubSpot.com Mike Volpe

    Jason -

    Interesting post. I agree with a number of your points, and that in general the SEO industry is trying to make things more complicated than they have to be, and that some SEO folks do this to continue to charge a lot of money for not much value.

    My company is actually trying to bring more science and accountability to the industry. Check out our Website Grader SEO tool (www.WebsiteGrader.com) – it gives an honest look at the majors stats behind your website, and free advice to improve.

    If you dive deeper into our methodology (which our paying customers have access to) I think you will find that we have an honest and clear answer to the “what makes your website rank” question, and we share most all of our “secrets”. We’re trying to make money not by making SEO complicated and “black magic”, but providing upfront methods and tools to actually track results (traffic, leads and SALES) not rank.

    I’d be happy to show you what I’m talking about if you want to chat.

  • http://www.socialmediaexplorer.com Jason Falls

    Thanks Mike. Congratulations for becoming the first person to try and sell me on something in a comment post that I didn’t immediately think, “spam.” I appreciate you adding to the conversation and have actually used Website Grader to check SME (98% last time I looked … shew!).

    I’m appreciative of firms like yours and SEO practitioners who approach business ethically and honestly. As stated before, I’m well aware not all SEOs are bad guys/gals as my post may insinuate. Most are actually ones I’d love doing business with. But I think we all are in agreement with Martinez that some form of standards and practices, as well as industry checkpoints, might be in order now that the SEO discipline has started to come of age.

    Thanks again for your post. I would encourage anyone with a website to check out HubSpot’s Website Grader. It’s very informative.