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Newsflash: The mainstream still doesn’t understand SEO

The media plays an important role in society in that it helps to shape mainstream opinion and idealogy. This responsibility extends into less critical portions of society such as interactive marketing.

Unfortunately, it’s clear to me that many mainstream media outlets don’t take this responsibility too seriously, particularly when addressing the topic of SEO.

I’ve pointed out glaring examples of this misappropriation of media authority in the past as have many others in our industry. However, that hasn’t seemed to slow down the steady stream of flat out ignorant articles published by supposedly top line journalistic outlets.

The latest example is this doozy that was published by a guest poster on FastCompany.com:

Bad SEO Could Be Killing Your Blog Titles

This example is particularly egregious in that its main premise is based on the idea that the title of an article or blog  post is a key SEO factor (apparently, like Gene Weingarten, this author is not familiar with the difference between a title and a title tag) and moreover, the example it cites as  “proof” of this phenomenon is an equally misinformed piece that was posted on the Wall Street Journal (and then reposted on CNET) which completely fails to grasp the impact of title tags as well as other key ranking factors like inbound links and anchor text.

This is extremely bothersome on at least two levels:

  • Firstly, I’m a fan of Fast Company, so it kills me that they allowed a guest poster (from a Venture Capital firm) to post such a misinformed article. I’ll probably keep the site on my RSS reader feed for now, but I’ll definitely take in their content (particularly from guest posters) with a large grain of salt.
  • Secondly, but perhaps most importantly, it’s these types of articles from mainstream and authoritative publications that misinform the very executives and decision makers that marketers like me end up dealing with on a day-to-day basis. No wonder me and my colleagues end up spending such a disproportionate amount of time “educating” clients on how SEO really works (e.g. helping them unlearn horrific advice like aforementioned example).

Sadly, some executives and decision makers never truly unlearn the bad lessons they digest via mainstream publications, leading to unrealistic expectations, failed marketing programs, and an SEO industry that is heading into its third decade of existence and yet seems to be perpetually stuck in infancy mode with its main label being something along the lines of “snakeoil” or “spam.”

I, for one, refuse to let this get me down. Instead, I’ll continue to try and educate the industry one reader (and big brand decision maker) at a time. Which means that if you’re a mainstream publication that doesn’t spend a lot of time checking facts when it comes to SEO, be prepared to be the accidental star of my next blog post.

P.S. I didn’t optimize the title of this article because there’s absolutely no need to do so (that’s what title tags are for).


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • http://twitter.com/dancristo Dan Cristo

    Love the passion.

    Keep in mind that the need to educate is a large reason why we stay gainfully employed. If everyone was an SEO expert we’d be chasing down recruiters instead of recruiters chasing down us.

    • Anonymous

      I’m not sure if I’m on board with that sentiment. I find that the most educated clients provide the biggest opportunity for expansion, particularly in terms of making SEO simply a part of a much broader and comprehensive multi-channel marketing strategy.

      • http://twitter.com/dancristo Dan Cristo

        I think we are looking at it from different angles.

        What you are talking about are clients who understand the value of SEO, but don’t understand how to do it. What I’m talking about is clients who both understand the value + understand how to do it. To the point where they know the difference between title tags and post titles.

        A lot of the value a consultant brings to the table is correcting misinformation. I’m not saying that we should be happy when journalist provide inaccurate information. I just recognize that part of our success as consultants comes from the fact that the industry suffers from lazy journalism.

        • Anonymous

          No doubt, Dan. I still think I’m slightly on a different page, but we’re more or less seeing eye to eye here (e.g. some journalists need to clean up their act).

          • Joe Chasse

            I think the key point here is “journalists” writing on subject matter expertise in which they have NO expertise.

          • Anonymous

            Indeed, although this particular example was written by someone who works for a VC company (oddly enough).

  • http://twitter.com/Linztm Lindsey Anderson

    Thanks for Dan suggesting this article early, great read. I’ve come across so many “Pros” that just make me hate the bad name they’ve given to the work. The same company will hire the same types of “SEO”s over and over again and by the time they get to someone willing to provide the results and do the work, they no longer trust them.

    • Anonymous

      Valid points, Lindsey. It’s a vicious cycle that leads to jaded decision makers (e.g. the worst kind)

  • http://www.searchinfluence.com/blog/ Douglas Thomas

    To be honest, the H1 likely has significant weight on the search algorithm. That being said, I totally agree that people not understanding how search engines work is a hindrance to what we do.

    Unlike Dan, I see the ideal situation like traditional marketing. Anyone can do a (bad) marketing job, but it takes someone with time and skill to do it right. A great example is keyword research, where someone can understand the process of finding and needing keywords, but not know what kind of keywords to pick. Similarly, a dev person can know about structured microdata, but not implement it in the optimal way that Google will include the semantic data.

    I wholeheartedly agree that more people across skillsets should learn about SEO and internet marketing in general — this can only raise the value of true experts in the field, and may cut some of the chaff.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks Douglas! Unfortunately, I couldn’t disagree more about the relative value of an H1. I can tell you from personal experience that sites that don’t even use headers (e.g. no H1s on any page) still easily rank for some of the most competitive keywords in the world. In the grand scheme of things, headers are a little more than a “nice to have.”

      In any case, I do appreciate the ideas and inputs, so please keep them coming!

  • http://www.organicseoconsultant.com/ Miguel Salcido

    I’m so upset with the way that major media publications report on SEO. It’s either misinformed like the examples provided here, or it is some sort of salacious, sensationalized, outing of “black hat” techniques. No one wants to write about how large of an ROI that SEO provides, or how a small business used SEO to successfully compete with larger enterprises on their space, etc. That being said, the sensationalism that goes on in the media is a direct result of what people want. They, unfortunately, want to hear about drama. They want their real lives to be like their soap operas.

    Why didn’t you comment on that post though? I’m curious? Because it sparked an entire blog post, yet you neglected to comment and work to educate the author and audience there at FC.

    • Anonymous

      Good question, Miguel. It was a combination of things: 1) it was an experiment to see if Fast Company and/or that VC firm do any sort of listening/analysis in terms of their content and how it’s being perceived (so far, it appears that the answer is no) 2) I was feeling a little bit lazy and didn’t feel they deserved it.

      You make an interesting assertion about why this type of content makes the rounds.

  • http://twitter.com/seoteky jayson bagio

    Just acquired a client that came from an SEO agency of a prominent newspaper columnist. What sucks here is that my client pay them pricey fees for website that is crap and not well optimized. This mainstream dope pretends to know SEO/Internet Marketing and even give seminars to business owners. Now why did I doubt that this mainstream dude know SEO? I checked their website title tag has 270+ characters, SEO Standards? FAILED! Sitemap.xml? Nowhere to be found… My client only paid for their name, not for the results.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for chiming in, Jayson! That’s definitely a common occurrence (SEO’s selling on name instead of substance) although to be fair, I don’t think that writing extremely long title tags or failing to implement an xml sitemaps are proof of being bad at SEO. There’s certainly a lot more to it than that.

      • http://twitter.com/seoteky jayson bagio

        Yeah might be, but those are the most basic things that I usually look at first. If they don’t have those basic things, or have it but can’t follow some simple standards. People shouldn’t expect so much from them. I just hate it when someone says that they are an expert of this and that and can’t prove it 🙂

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