Confessions of an SEO Know-It-All

  |  June 27, 2007   |  Comments

A search engine marketer comes clean about past professional blunders.

You'd better sit down, this may be shocking. The truth is, search optimizers don't know everything about SEO (define).

If you've recovered, I'll continue. Here's the game: We pretend to know everything. Some of us even think we do know everything. But we don't. Our ranks are littered with faulty connections between correlation and causality, as well as misunderstandings of human behavior, both on the part of searchers and of markets in general.

I'm no exception. Following are a couple miscalculations I've made over the years.

Search Engines Love Blogs

A little over two years ago, our company began sculpting a blog. Back then, shouts of "Search engines love blogs!" were drowning out many other voices, so we decided to investigate for ourselves. While we really had no idea what would happen, my hope was the blog would have a direct effect on business. People would read our posts, quickly see how knowledgeable we are, then sprint over to fill out a proposal request.

The blog has affected business, but not as directly as we once predicted. We've tracked some visits from search engine to blog to main Web site to request for proposal, and closed the deal. We've seen some measurable increase in rankings for the main site as a result of some nice links to and from the blog. That's great, but it hasn't happened in significant, earth-shaking numbers.

Looking back, the blog has helped in ways we didn't necessarily consider. First, with over 400 articles in the bank, the blog is an excellent collateral knowledge base to which we can refer potential clients. If we identify a random technical issue with a site, chances are we've written at least one post discussing how it can be fixed.

More important is identifying, researching, and articulating hundreds of problems and solutions has made us significantly better at our jobs. This increased knowledge benefits us in signing more business, performing better for existing clients, and retaining clients long term.

Do search engines love blogs? Not necessarily. Search engines don't love blogs with content scraped from other sources. They don't love blogs with content of such little noteworthiness they fail to accrue even a modest number of links from reputable sites. What they love is unique, expert, popular content that piques user interest from the moment it hits the SERP (define) and delivers on the promise sought in the query phrase. Whether it comes in blog format, vBulletin, or plain old ASP (define) sites makes little difference, so long as the information is crawler-friendly.

With 60 percent of our blog's traffic coming from search, you could say search engines appreciate it -- perhaps even love it. But the relationship between blogging and business success isn't so easily drawn. I'm certainly glad I now understand why.

Better Integration of Search With the OS Changes the Search Field

Several years ago, I was convinced Microsoft would change the search playing field because of its dominance of the desktop OS market. This opinion stemmed from earlier experience monitoring the programming environment and application suite markets. In the early '90s, Microsoft turned formidable companies such as WordPerfect, Lotus, and Borland into pillars of salt. They did penance for failing to recognize the power that accompanies the widespread adoption of the Windows environment.

What I failed to realize is somehow (I'm still not entirely sure how) search is different. Google's place at the top of the pyramid is more stable than Lotus' was in the 1993 spreadsheet market. Currently, my best theory is several factors converged within a short time to overcome the Microsoft/WordPerfect scenario, including a better algorithm, Google's nonportal approach (which implied specialization in search), increased media notoriety for search (and Google in particular), a public that quickly realized search was the most effective method of Internet information retrieval, and maturing competition in the browser market.

Conclusion

I may not be much smarter than I was when I began in this industry, but I hope I'm a bit wiser. Back then, if asked how smart I was about SEO, I'd probably rattle off a list of algorithmic half-truths or coincidences I believed to be true. Today, I'd probably answer by saying I'm smart enough to know the difference between what I know and what I think -- and honest enough to tell clients the difference.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Erik Dafforn

Erik Dafforn is the executive vice president of Intrapromote LLC, an SEO firm headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio. Erik manages SEO campaigns for clients ranging from tiny to enormous and edits Intrapromote's blog, SEO Speedwagon. Prior to joining Intrapromote in 1999, Erik worked as a freelance writer and editor. He also worked in-house as a development editor for Macmillan and IDG Books. Erik has a Bachelor's degree in English from Wabash College. Follow Erik and Intrapromote on Twitter.

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