Ignorant, misinformed opinions about SEO abound, but so do opportunities for education.
Today's column is in response to a couple of hot-button search engine topics: Jason Calacanis recently published the opinion that SEO is bull. Additionally, Did-It's David Pasternack recently stated that the Search Engine Strategies (SES) conferences should be renamed "Search Engine Tactics."
As an SEO (define) professional, Web designer/developer, and usability practitioner since 1995, I'm a bit taken aback by those opinions.
I don't like to give pseudo-SEO experts publicity because, quite frankly, I don't believe misinformed and ignorant people deserve it. However, my main concern is how the misinformation is being received by the public.
SEO has always been a legitimate means of generating qualified traffic and sales. Granted, plenty of black-hat SEO professionals give the search industry a bad name. But there are lots of us who use SEO and follow all the search engines' terms and conditions and who get outstanding results. So let's address these two issues.
Admit Your Limitations
One of the greatest challenges of being an SES speaker is deconstructing common misconceptions about the search industry. One of the biggest misconceptions is that SEM (define) equals search engine advertising. SEM encompasses a wide variety of search engine strategies and tactics, including but not limited to:
If one weren't familiar with the search industry and read search-related articles out of context, one might mistakenly believe SEM only addresses the advertising aspect. Some writers may not have expertise in search usability or link development. As the search industry has evolved considerably since 1994, I doubt any search engine professional is an expert in all areas of SEM.
Self-proclaimed search experts should admit when they have limited or no knowledge about a topic instead of propagating misinformed or ignorant opinions. Instead of whining, a better use of time would be to actually attend sessions to fill in your knowledge gaps.
My area of expertise is SEO, specifically search usability and search-friendly Web design. Yet I've always found the search advertising session content to be fantastic, particularly landing pages and keyword research. SEO and search advertising, when implemented together, often yield outstanding results.
Know the Audience
Another challenging aspect of being an SES speaker is accommodating the wide variety of attendees' educational needs. Some attendees have a marketing background with little or no technical skills. Some are technical/IT staff with little or no marketing skills. There are also hybrids -- people with both technical and marketing skills. And within these three groups are ranges of skills and talent.
A speaker must be able to communicate in a way that doesn't bore the technical staff nor alienate those with less technical skills. Marketing and advertising professionals often attend optimization sessions and IT professionals often attend search-advertising sessions. No speaker can make all attendees happy all of the time. Nonetheless, my esteemed colleagues and I do our best at each event.
For example, I always watch my audience. I adjust my pace based on the expressions on their faces and what they're doing. If they write feverishly and have befuddled facial expressions, I know I must slow down and embellish more. I rehearse enough to know which presentation slides and examples I can skip to get points across. Additionally, when I get the same questions at conference after conference, I incorporate the answers to those questions at future events, keeping in mind that those with technical skills often ask questions that non-technical people don't understand.
The search industry is constantly evolving, sometimes in leaps and bounds, so speakers must present new material. Sometimes the new material must be refined based on further research and analysis. And sometimes the audience response necessitates different ways of presenting the same information. Believe me, I'm amazed that some attendees honestly believe that everyone in the audience has the exact knowledge they possess.
Selecting session content is a balancing act, as all speakers have a limited amount of time to present information.
Anyone who actually listens to the wide variety of speakers and their respective areas of expertise would probably not conclude that SEO is bull. Those of us in graduate school or with graduate degrees in artificial intelligence, information retrieval, library and information sciences, and the like hardly consider our years of research to be bull and certainly not easy. Fun (of course) but not easy.
So go ahead, search engine pseudoexperts. Bask in the glory that is you. Buy yourself some a drink and toast to your greatness. But please do it in private. Spare the rest of us your ignorant, misinformed opinions. A better, more productive use of your time would be to admit when you don't have knowledge about a topic and learn more about it. That's what's so great about SES conferences. They're the perfect place to learn about the wide variety of search topics within our industry.
Meet Shari at Search Engine Strategies on June 12-13 in Toronto.
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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.
Hong Kong, May 5-6, 2015
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