SEO Can’t Fix Stupid

The divisiveness of the SEO (define) industry has reared its tenacious, albeit link-baiting head again in recent weeks. Apparently as contentious as politics and religion, SEO tactics should not be discussed in polite company; especially the company you keep includes Web designers, Internet technologists, and failed spammers.

Small wonder search engine conferences remain highly attended. They provide safe havens where like-minded souls can discuss the loathsome topic of SEO without having vitriol served up with light refreshments.

Verbal attacks and written rebuttals aside, the SEO industry does not need governing bodies or a public relations campaign to repair its tarnished image. It does, however, need to recognize misplaced criticism and move on.

As long as the industry is bound to non-disclosure agreements that keep mouths clamped shut and astounding results in private e-mails and reports, SEO will remain a mystical place where seemingly inexplicable secrets are kept by practitioners that guard the gate to great success stories.

Other gates, however, are wide open and free for anyone to review and openly discuss the many facets of SEO tactics. If you do a bit of research and reading, and keep up with the search engines Webmaster blogs, you will find SEO tactics and techniques that are available to just about anyone to implement.

At its core, successful SEO is all about creating crawler friendly Web-based documents that are relevant, interesting, and useful to people that use search engines to find content. Sounds simple, doesn’t it?

Yet I know of only one site I’ve worked on this year that was properly canonicalized (define). So much for being crawler friendly — or link-building friendly for that matter. Canonicalization is a well-documented search engine optimization fundamental, but so many online organizations still get it wrong or simply ignore the concept. Webmaster tools have been built to further simplify the process, and these tools remain inexplicably underused.

Dynamic URLs remain the root cause of many organizations’ underwhelming performance in the search engines. Again, this topic is well documented by the search engines and many different tools are available to help statically rewrite or stem infinitely appended and/or filtered URLs. But if you don’t know what an optimal URL looks like in the first place, then it’s going to be challenging to retool a Web site built on dynamic URLs in an optimal manner.

Keyword research, which is readily available, can help determine where there is high demand for goods and services relevant to an online business, but many organizations still don’t understand what type of search queries are driving traffic to their sites right now. All they know is that they want to be found for [hiking boots], for example, even though they call it [athletic footwear] throughout their Web site. So much for getting that content thing right.

As simple as the SEO maxim sounds — create a crawler friendly Web site that has relevant, interesting, and useful content — it’s a dictum that is rarely well executed. That’s where SEO practitioners can add value to the online marketing mix. We can find proverbial needles in the haystacks that can translate into real returns from search engine referrals, when properly executed. That brings me to some of the things that SEO can’t do.

SEO can’t fix a bad business model. If there is no demand for your goods or services, then high rankings in the search engines aren’t going to help.

SEO can’t fix poor execution. The search engines can send only the traffic a business deserves and that traffic is earned on a click-by-click basis. If an online organization doesn’t deliver as promised or even as expected, then it’s a business issue, not an SEO issue. Money would be better spent fixing the core business matter rather than blowing the marketing budget on “managing” an online reputation.

SEO can’t fix server downtime, magically cure out-of-stock situations, or make a flawed business plan defect-free.

SEO can’t fix stupid.

If you take money for SEO under these circumstances, then your efforts drown in one big collective puddle of suck. This is where SEO grows its warts and blemishes — when results are attained from gaming the search engines by duping clients and its customers alike — this is where criticism of the SEO industry is wholly justified.

Yes, it takes some serious practice to get your head around the moving parts of SEO. Indeed, it takes some experience to understand which tools should be wielded when, where, how, and why. Certainly, we are open to criticism when we fail to meet clients’ expectations.

When addressing criticism of the SEO industry, it helps to have an understanding of why critics are so cynical. Successful SEO remains part art and part science. As long as this is the case, SEO will remain wide open to interpretation by its many practitioners.

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