Black hat and White hat SEO (or "Is SEO B.S. or not?")

Someone asked me about my thoughts on SEO (search engine optimization) at an search engine event two years ago and I responded that I thought SEO was B.S. Yesterday Danny asked me again about that statement and I tried to make it clear.

It seems that folks are spinning the comments–again. Let me be *try* and be super clear here. I don’t hate SEO folks, and I don’t think it’s all B.S.–just most of it.

My belief has always been that:

  • a) if you do a great site and you take your time you will rise in the Google rankings
  • b) I have faith in Google’s ability to sort the good from the bad
  • c) all the SEO folks I’ve ever talked to–and I’ve talked to many over the past decade or so–have pitched me on expensive contracts that you can’t cancel for two years with them to do all kinds of shady things to move up in the rankings
  • d) the best way to do SEO is make better content, more consistently

The SEO industry has a reputation issue. It seems that like hackers there are “white hat” and “black hat” folks. In other words, folks who do “good” SEO (as in fair techniques) and folks who do shady/bad SEO.

Now, I’m no expert on SEO, but I have been blessed with having great tech folks on my teams over the years and we’ve of course discussed making things easy for search engines. Things like naming the URLs well with real words vs. putting things like numbers in the URLs. Things like linking to your various sites (having a blogroll), having tags, and having a sitemap.

As a matter of fact, when we redid Netscape our search engine traffic went from 2% in June to 8% in October–that’s a huge jump and it’s thanks to good site design, better content, and more user interaction. I’m sure that digg gets 10-20% of their traffic from Google at this point, and Netscape is right behind digg in that regard. In fact, Netscape will probably pass digg in terms of search traffic in another year because it has tags and digg does not.

So, when I say I think SEO is B.S. I’m talking about the shady stuff–not the good guys. If folks are building good websites, well, then they’re consulting folks on building decent websites in my mind.

I know for a fact that a lot of folks in the industry look at the SEO companies as shady. They feel like it’s filled with slick guys in really bad suits running around at cheap hotels pushing desperate clients to sign fat contracts. That’s how folks look at SEO–like it or not.

It’s just a fact.

Is it fair? Not to the good, white hat SEO folks–but it is fair to the shady folks who’ve earned their reputations.

  • http://www.dataflurry.com/marketing/seo_consultants_experts.html SEO Consultant Joel

    You know what, I am actually in SEO but I believe what you are saying. You must create a site that offers great content and a great user experience with basic SEO tactics and you are on the road to success. Thanks for the post

  • http://www.newengland-webdesign.com Fenris Wulf

    As a web master that also does white hat SEO I have to agree with what your are saying.
    I also agree it is not fair to those that do good quality SEO work but it is so hard for someone to know if they are a good SEO or not sometimes.

    I do not think huge amounts should be paid for SEO it is not that hard or difficult and many over charge for their work. Once the meta tags are done and the site has been checked to ensure it is well done basic SEO is all a good site needs, its should not cost you thousands a yeear.

    Good article.

  • http://blog.foremastjacks.com Jason Cochran

    “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark…”

    I blogged on this recently as well:

    http://blog.foremastjacks.com/index.php/2009/05/bing-has-seo-community-theorizing-ad-nauseam

    SEO is one of the greatest capers in history: take something completely out of anyone’s control: search engines, and convince the world that you can control it, or better yet,”predict” its behavior.

    If that’s not bullshit, I don’t know what is. SEO is not a full-time occupation in my opinion folks. It’s a collateral duty for a junior or mid-level developer at best. “Joe, go implement these best practices…” Done.

    Seriously people… don’t buy into this SEO nonsense. Google could completely change their search logic/algorithms overnight and I promise you that your “SEO professionals” will run straight to their software development teams for the real answers. The only people that know what’s going on inside Google’s search engine are the folks at Google and they’re not talking!

    Search engines like Google change their algorithms constantly. Why? Mainly to improve on their ability to distinguish shit content from the real thing. What is the lesson here? As search engines improve, the need for these types of BS optimiztions decreases.

    Invest in your software development team and create quality content built on a sound architecture that implements best practices, and you will be fine.

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  • Terrence Devlin

    First of all, I would like to completely agree with this post.
    Secondly, I actually went to school for business and marketing:
    SEO is BS! Marketers are to lawyers as SEO are to paralegals,
    if not worse. Do SEO’s think that real businesses would
    consider them credible, reliable? Over rated spammers!