Last week, a situation arose that rather surprised me. I was poking around the news search engines to see if any of the new information I presented at Search Engine Strategies in Munich was picked up by journalists or bloggers (often, one and the same people). I was a bit stunned to see one of my esteemed colleagues wrote an article about some of my previous writings.
What stunned me? First, I have a great deal of respect for this colleague. He's one of the few speakers for whom I'll rearrange my schedule in order to attend his sessions. Second, we're both heavily involved in the area of search usability. Third, (and this one's the kicker), he completely misinterpreted everything I wrote. Thank goodness another usability colleague who set him straight in the blog.
The situation inspired this week's column. Granted, there's plenty of bickering among SEM and SEO professionals. At what point does the bickering become unprofessional, and how can all of us, as an industry, come together and establish standards that benefits everyone: us (SEM/SEO professionals), our clients, and the search engines?
Black-hat vs. white-hat SEO professionals
Perhaps the most bickering occurs between white-hat and black-hat SEO professionals. I'm just as guilty as the next person for contributing to the verbal and written spats.
I'm going to come clean about my opinions about my black-hat colleagues because, quite frankly, I believe my opinions have been widely misinterpreted for many, many years.
I've made it pretty clear I don't agree with black-hat practices. I don't understand people who practice them because none of us would make a living from optimization or search advertising if the commercial Web search engines didn't exist. I see no need to exploit the search engines, and I'm very fortunate to have established a business and academic career based on these beliefs.
I recognize, however, that many of my colleagues don't share my beliefs. Considering our clients often compete for the same or similar keyword phrases, our clients' business goals are going to clash. As I've written previously about competitive SEO, my way of eliminating the competition is to report search engine spam on a regular basis.
Nonetheless, I have a great deal of respect for my black-hat colleagues. I've known many of them for years. Some actually started out in Web design and eventually ended up doing full-time SEO. I once worked at a Web hosting company. I know how much detail's involved in server maintenance. Not my cup of tea, to be honest, but power to those people with that special skill set who genuinely like doing that type of job.
It takes a great deal of intelligence, skill, and attention to detail to maintain search engine traffic through black-hat techniques.
Granted, I honestly believe most of my black-hat colleagues make erroneous cause-and-effect conclusions, and I believe they're quite delusional to think they know search engines' algorithms. (It's sort of cute, actually). But at no time did I ever state (or believe) these men are stupid. Quite the contrary. These men are very, very intelligent, and their attention to detail is impressive.
I simply don't agree with their way of doing business. I'm rather fond of many of my black-hat colleagues. David Naylor, in particular, is quite funny. I adore his naughty sense of humor, and he's one smart cookie. If I decide to continue graduate school in Manchester, I intend to be a gentle thorn on his side, just for kicks. I know he'll make me laugh, as he does now.
Insults vs. professional disagreements
The point at which we cross the professionalism boundary is when we resort to name-calling and exploiting another person's name in blogs.
In SEO, we're going to disagree. For example, as I have continued my academic education and training in user-centered design (UCD), which is at the very core of SEO and communicating a positive brand, I see connections my colleagues may not otherwise see as they're not exposed to it.
Does this mean I resort to name-calling and insults? Not really, though I may succumb to a weak moment and vent for a few minutes. Have I been a victim of unnecessary name-calling and insults? Certainly. I'm sure many of my colleagues have been undeserving victims of bickering.
I hope the SEO industry can get to a point at which bickering becomes unnecessary. We're going to disagree. Besides, if everyone agreed with each other, how would we learn?
That said, I'd like to end on a more personal note.
Gentlemen, I understand you want to encourage healthy debate as much as I do. However, it isn't necessary to exploit anyone's name (including my own) or resort to name-calling to get a point across.
That said, I won't take your bait. If you want my contribution to a topic or discussion, you'll have to do it in a way that's far more professional than insults, or twisting words to suit your needs.
I, in turn, will attempt to reel in my diva tantrums.
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Shari Thurow is the founder and SEO director at Omni Marketing Interactive, a full-service search engine marketing, Web, and graphic design firm. Acknowledged as a leading expert on search engine friendly Web sites worldwide, she is the author of the top-selling marketing book, "Search Engine Visibility," published through Peachpit Press. Shari's areas of expertise include site design, search engine optimization, and usability.
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