Why SEO Doesn’t Get the Respect It Deserves

Marketing professionals who specialize in legitimate SEO (define) don’t get a heck of a lot respect.

Why? I posed that question to search engine marketers attending Search Engine Strategies New York this week.

Perhaps it can be traced back to the time when Internet entrepreneur Jason Calacanis didn’t differentiate between white and black hat SEO, pronouncing that SEO was bull***t at Search Engine Strategies San Jose four years ago. (Proving once again you can take the guy out of Brooklyn, but you can’t take Brooklyn out of the guy.)

I decided to check out what Calcanis had to say when he spoke at SES New York this past week to an audience that included many of the same people who heard his wisecrack in San Jose.

For sure, Calcanis shows signs he’s older, wiser, and remains a wily marketer. While he primarily promoted his latest venture, Mahalo (human search engine meets social media), he admits he’s given his earlier comment some thought.

First, Calcanis said he’s learned a lot about SEO over the past four years. SEO can be beneficial, he said, “if SEO is defined as building a good clean Web site that helps people.”

Second, he’s come to know and respect some SEO and affiliate marketing practitioners, calling them “some of the smartest hustlers who ‘get it done,’ in a good sense of the word.” He said that’s in contrast to the technology elite who went to prestigious universities such as Stanford and landed “Ivory Tower” jobs at companies such as Microsoft, Yahoo, and Digg.

He also took aim at those engaged in black hat SEO and use unethical approaches to enhance a Web site’s position on SERPs (define).

“A large group is misguided. They are more into gaming the system than into the long-term value,” he said. “They are outsiders hustling to make a living. They want to make some money today. They have rent to pay.”

Of course, black hat SEO gives the entire sector a black eye.

When talking with white hat SEO specialists at SES this week, many said there’s an assortment of issues that make their jobs tough — and it’s not just the black hats. They also bear Calcanis no ill will; he’s also hustling to make a living (though he sold Weblogs, to AOL for $25 million).

SEO specialists say their challenges include the following:

The Hippo Symptom

Convincing higher ups (Google’s analytics evangelist Avanish Kaushik calls ’em hippos or the highest paid person’s opinion in the room) who want elaborate Web sites designs, yet don’t understand how this can harm SEO efforts. Though not a new problem, it still consistently frustrates many interactive marketers.

Casey Frushour, an Ann Arbor, Michigan, consultant who specializes in both Web site design and SEO, said his background helps him educate clients. If necessary, he shares research that explains how some creative approaches, such as the use of Flash, hurts site optimization.

Attention Deficit Disorder

Interactive marketers continue to understand the importance of SEO, but some may be giving it short shrift as a company’s priorities change or worse. Grabbing the attention of interactive marketers lately: social media search and Web analytics.

Competitive Disadvantage

One in-house SEO manager said his biggest obstacle to improving his company’s results on a SERP has nothing to do with black hat schemes. It’s just that better content can be found on other Web sites. And that’s clearly a problem for the entire business, not just one person working on organic search.

The Great Divide

Are jobs in paid or PPC (define) search more prestigious and carry more authority than those in organic search? In paid search, marketers manage a budget and are held accountable for results. SEO experts, on the other hand, work on behind-the-scene endeavors such as site navigation, promote search-engine friendly design, worry about meta tags, and other nuts and bolts. If paid search is seen as a better career path, what’s the incentive for someone in organic search to hang in there?

You Know, It Don’t Come Easy

SEO practitioners owe their jobs to Google, Yahoo, and the other engines that constantly tinker with the formulas for serving search results. While looking at Google since it started to deliver images, news, and video in its results, comScore found an interesting trend: Google appears to becoming a destination rather than a search engine. Over a recent six-month period, Google referred an increasing amount of traffic to its own properties such as YouTube and Google Images. If this trend continues, James Lamberti, SVP, search and media at comScore, said there will be fewer paid click options on fewer pages.

With these changes, Lamberti predicts organic search will become more important and paid search will become more competitive. And the jobs of both SEO and PPC specialists will get a lot harder. No one ever said it was going to be easy.

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