A Plea for the Legitimacy of SEO: 3 Simple Truths

A Plea for the Legitimacy of SEO: 3 Simple Truths

Summary: SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is often misunderstood to be something that encompasses many negative aspects of the web. This post gives 3 simple truths which help to defend the integrity of white hat SEO.

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This post is something I feel SEO (Search Engine Optimization) desperately needs: A plea for its legitimacy. The following short list is comprised of three simple truths which I hope will aid in establishing the legitimacy of SEO for you beyond the shadow of a doubt -- even if you do not yet understand exactly how or why. SEO has an incredibly tarnished image throughout many industries and schools of thought thanks to spammers and the black hat tactics often associated with the industry. Likewise, it doesn't help that SEO is often thought to be unquantifiable, unqualifiable, and ultimately unjustifiable by many. So, without any further adieu, here are 3 simple truths to defend the integrity of white hat SEO.

Truth 1: SEO is an Acronym; not a Word

I can't tell you how often I hear and see "SEO" spoken as a word in some cynical context. "SEO is just a bunch of hocus pocus used to pad search engine results." It's almost as if "SEO" has become a word synonymous with everything negative on the Web. Just so we're clear, it stands for "Search Engine Optimization." It is also used to reference a person as a "Search Engine Optimizer;" as in, "Jon Payne is one of the best SEOs in the industry."

Anyway, just what exactly does "Search Engine Optimization" mean? In its most basic form, it simply means optimizing your Web site for search engines. It ranges from optimizing content and code on your Web site to optimizing content on other Web sites that are relevant to your Web site (more on this later). Yes, there are black hat SEO tactics (high-risk and excessively spammy tactics that can be leveraged to cheat your way to higher rankings) and white hat SEO tactics (the tactics I will focus on teaching and that many people build legitimate, long-standing businesses off of), but just realize that SEO is not a word defined as cheating search engines and spamming searchers.

Truth 2: Eating, Drinking, Breathing and Sleeping SEO

It's important for you to realize that while there are plenty of "black hat SEOs" out there who lie, steal, and cheat their way to higher rankings, there are equally as many -- if not more -- who eat, drink, breathe, and sleep white hat SEO practices. Those people make this stuff their life because they're interested in it and they're interested in genuinely  helping their clients to succeed! Some people run legitimate agencies, others take the role of consulting, and then you have the individuals who REALLY dig in and tread not-yet-trodden paths.

People do this for their livelihood and they earn an honest living doing as such. The problem becomes trying to flesh out just who is legitimate and who is not. Luckily, there are some quick signs to look for which will aid you in spotting the difference should you be in the market for hiring an SEO agency or consultant. For instance, anyone who guarantees top-rank results before ever speaking with you most likely isn't worth hiring. I will dive much deeper into the topic of spotting shady SEO agencies/consultants soon in another post.

Truth 3: Good Enough for Microsoft and Google; Good Enough for You

If Google and Microsoft speak in terms of SEO, why shouldn't you? My final and undoubtedly most compelling point; here are two of the most successful companies in the world with tremendous presence on the Internet who discuss and implement SEO -- and not just in some minuscule capacity, either! Please reference the following links which help support this 3rd and final truth:

1 - Google's Dedicated Site and Guide to SEO: Google has a page dedicated to what you need to know when it comes to hiring an SEO. The page also includes a beginner's guide to SEO. 'nough said! Click here to view the page and click here to download the guide (it's a PDF).

2 - Google's Face of SEO, Matt Cutts: Although addressing SEO is not his primary role, he spends a lot of time addressing it. In a lot of ways, he is our lifeline to a small fraction of Google's views and mechanisms with search and SEO. Click Here to visit his blog.

3 - Microsoft's SEO Toolkit: Yes, Microsoft has created a tool which will essentially crawl your site and provide a detailed report of areas needing some SEO lovin'. If you will, recall the context in which I defined SEO in truth 1. Optimized content and code are what Microsoft has based its tool on. Click Here to read all about it and download it. It's FREE!

4 - Microsoft's Face of SEO, Chris Moore: Less known in the SEO realm is Microsoft Program manager Chris Moore. He diligently posts about SEO in relation to Microsoft; the ways they implement it, places they discuss it, et al. Even if for nothing else, this just goes to show how a company like Microsoft chooses to invest in SEO. Click hereto check out his blog on Microsoft's MSDN blog network!

3 Simple Truths: Conclusion

I hope this post goes to show you just how legitimate SEO really is. As with many things in life, you have to take the good with the bad and SEO is not exempt from that. The points to take away from this post are clarification of exactly what you should mean from now on when you say "SEO," the fact that plenty of positive forces out there live and breathe honest SEO practices, and the fact that companies as big as Google and Microsoft clearly invest in SEO (which means you should, too).

As this blog begins to flourish, I will delve deeper into the specifics of SEO to show you how you can begin to implement changes that will help your site rank better! Likewise, I will help you spot the difference between real SEO talent and the people/agencies who are out there to make a quick buck off of you. Thanks for your time and please feel free to leave your questions or comments below -- especially if you have a "simple truth" of your own!

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  • RE: A Plea for the Legitimacy of SEO: 3 Simple Truths

    I have been doing SEO for about 5 years now. What fascinates me in the industry is how it (SEO) has been decapitated from the concept of marketing. SEO or Search Marketing is an exercise in the science of marketing. The same traditional marketing concepts that have been developed over the last century also apply to Search Marketing. The idea is to figure out who your audience is (keyword research). Then you have to show how your product or service can help your audience solve their problem. Their are many tools, sites and methods to do this. Keep if this idea in mind as you grow your business you can't lose.

    Sidney Nicholas
    Search Media LLC
    mysemcompany.com
    Supersid
    • RE: A Plea for the Legitimacy of SEO: 3 Simple Truths

      @Supersid While I do agree with you for the most part, my personal experience with clients has led me to think to the contrary where SEO being disconnected from the concept of marketing is concerned! I think the line has become more blurred between what, exactly, SEO is in relation to SEM. To be a successful SEO these days is to wear all of the internet marketing hats: SEO, SEM, social media, lead generation, email marketing, et al.

      Also, I personally like to think of SEO as a uniquely individual component of internet marketing as a whole. Though they are both ultimately products of marketing, SEO and SEM are different entities insofar as SEO relating to organic search and SEM relating to paid search. They both use some of the same pages out of the book of internet marketing (such as keyword research, as you noted), but when you really seek to distinguish the lines between organic results and paid results, that's where I see SEO as a uniquely identifiable entity almost separate from the other facets of internet marketing. That's just my personal take on it, though. =)

      I do absolutely agree that companies should do more than just SEO, and I will begin to stress that as this blog grows. Your input is definitely valuable, so thank you for taking the time to offer your feedback!
      StephenChapman
    • RE: A Plea for the Legitimacy of SEO: 3 Simple Truths

      I'm just now getting into SEO for the first time and had no idea what was involved. I don't have a lot of time or money to invest in it, so I'm very interested in the quick, minimal ways to get my site noticed by my audience: players and parents of youth sports players.
      rynning
  • RE: A Plea for the Legitimacy of SEO: 3 Simple Truths

    Great post! Thanks for sharing this, this really gives the truths which would help to defend the integrity of SEO. There are are some got the wrong impression about SEO because of misinformation but with this post I think it would be corrected.
    Outsourcing Philippines today
  • RE: A Plea for the Legitimacy of SEO: 3 Simple Truths

    Great information, and in a context that can be understood in the simplest of terms. It seems that people in this industry want to be party to the conversations of "SEO" without necessarily understanding the real meaning. People seemingly take the word of others instead of delving into resources such as this forum to find out the real truth of the matter. I applaud your efforts and look forward to learning more about SEO from someone who actually has a proper understanding of the subject.

    Cheers!
    Angela Weyenberg
    aweyenberg
  • SEO Rackets

    Business has to come to grips with the extent to which they want their company represented by Google or Microsoft. Many already confuse a Google search term with a url. A single web site can find itself defined largely by the internet's popularity contests. The aggregate experience sets the tone for the individual browser's experience. Apparently this is a good thing? No. Things are homogenized and run through the mill. SEO is "just doing it's job" hopefully legitimately. The mandate is not differentiation however. The maker of chocolates looking for "hits" gets exactly the same advice as the other candy merchant down the block. Language is being sold back to us as though it wasn't ours. Page views have replaced business relationships as though business could never have been conducted before the internet. At some point, it may occur that everyone is in a parasitic, and imbalanced race towards a bottom full of low grade, volume-based businesses.

    Here's the deal. Anyone who eat, sleeps and breaths SEO needs their head examined. It is a small component part of a much larger picture. If it is sold as complex enough to need specialists, it is effectively a racket whether that complexity is valid or not. These are directories for heavens sake. We don't require rocket scientists to place a yellow pages listing. If we do, we are being used.
    norgate
    • RE: A Plea for the Legitimacy of SEO: 3 Simple Truths

      @norgate Thank you for your feedback!

      Honestly, I'm a bit baffled by the manner which you've chosen to state your philosophical wanderings. Some of what you said makes sense, but other parts are just obscure and skewed logic. For example, as someone who has worked with numerous clients ranging from "mom 'n pops shops" to large enterprises, I can honestly say that the point of page views *is* to generate business relationships; not replace them. Anyone who is serious about generating revenue only cares about popularity, hits and page views to the extent that they generate conversions and business relationships. How any given company decides to handle those conversions and business relationships is up to them, but you almost seem to be projecting bad business practices across the whole of the Internet and businesses who choose to utilize it. I honestly wonder what has made you feel exactly the way you do about some of the things you said.

      I mean, perhaps you're right to consider that we may find ourselves in a future of low-grade, volume-based businesses. Or, perhaps you're just completely wrong and business will progress as it has up to this point -- of which, the pros and cons of the advent of the Internet as it relates to business and business relationships are a completely separate debate altogether.

      Anyway, to address your "deal" about anyone eating, sleeping, and breathing SEO needing their head examined; I think you either missed the point or I simply didn't clarify enough. When I made that statement, I was referring to the people who conduct business with multiple clients and spend their time not only running through the daily practices of legitimate SEO, but also being creative and coming up with unique campaigns that will help clients succeed. There are reports to run, action items to complete, meetings to hold, industries to investigate, keyword research to take place, competition analysis, on-site structuring, content creation, analytics to study, processes to outsource and track, deadlines to meet, and much more. SEO isn't just comprised of building links via directory submissions as you seem to imply at the end of your wandering. Once you take one person who specializes in all of the aforementioned points of SEO and you have them replicate everything across the span of multiple clients, then eating, sleeping and breathing SEO really has nothing at all to do with one needing their head examined. No one said SEO was rocket science, but if you think SEO is as small of a component as you seem to imply, then let me be the first to say you still have a lot to learn and that's exactly why I'm delving into SEO in the manner that I am on this blog!

      -Stephen

      P.S. Chances are, the maker of chocolates looking for "hits" will only get the same advice as the other candy merchant down the block if both are just inquiring about SEO. Every method and practice has its fundamentals but the distinguishment between advice and implementation are uncanny -- especially when one transcends fundamentals and steps into creative space (ethically, of course). Fundamentals are just the start. Creativity is where differentiation really occurs. And, yes; there's plenty of room for it in SEO and ethically at that.
      StephenChapman
  • SEO Simple Truth

    As someone new to this SEO thing, I like the thought behind this and encourage more people to adopt the same attitude. Also, I see that Google is cracking down more on black hat techniques, which is great for those of use who are doing it the correct way. Thanks for the blog post.
    Rick
    JSpeils
    • RE: A Plea for the Legitimacy of SEO: 3 Simple Truths

      @JSpeils Hi there, Rick. Thank you for your encouraging feedback -- I appreciate your viewership! I also hope more people adopt a similar attitude. SEO really does serve a genuine purpose and it needs to be made tangible and accessible to everyone, I feel. Quite a journey, but I hope to play a big part in flipping the current perception of SEO as only something "sneaky people" do.

      Thanks again. =)

      -Stephen
      StephenChapman
  • RE: A Plea for the Legitimacy of SEO: 3 Simple Truths

    Is any SEO legitimate ?

    Perhaps you have a poor Google or Bing search result, because you have a crud website.
    neilpost
    • RE: A Plea for the Legitimacy of SEO: 3 Simple Truths

      @neilpost Yes, a lot of SEO is legitimate. It's why folks like Google have SEO guides. By you optimizing your content, you're in turn helping Google (and whoever else crawls your site, be it Bing, Yahoo, Ask, et al) discover exactly what your relevance is. Sure, that can work in adverse ways, but Google is getting better and better with figuring out who is spamming vs. who is simply optimizing; i.e. cleaning up their code, using better language in places where meaning and context aren't clear, etc.

      True, people have just flat-out "crud" Web sites, but do they rank low because their content is truly not interesting or because they just aren't saying what they want to say in a way that plays friendly with search engines? You can write for humans first, then search engines next and still have completely legitimate copy. Absolutely.

      -Stephen
      StephenChapman
  • RE: A Plea for the Legitimacy of SEO: 3 Simple Truths

    "optimizing content on other Web sites that are relevant to your Web site" sounds like a euphemism for vandalizing other folks' websites with spamlinks.
    orangemike
    • RE: A Plea for the Legitimacy of SEO: 3 Simple Truths

      @orangemike Yeah, I agree. lol. However, I meant in a more ethical way, such as guest blog posts, relevant directory submissions, useful comments on blogs and forums relevant to your content, etc.
      StephenChapman
  • RE: A Plea for the Legitimacy of SEO: 3 Simple Truths

    Good article Stephen. I agree that legitimate search engine optimization experts are sometimes, and unfairly, being painted negatively. It would be nice to have a certification process that lets the user know who is real and who is black hat. For the average small business owner it is difficult to know.
    BallantyneGuy
    • RE: A Plea for the Legitimacy of SEO: 3 Simple Truths

      @BallantyneGuy Thank you for your comment and for voicing your concerns. I definitely empathize with you where certification is concerned, but it's just... a very touchy situation. Please stay tuned, because I'm actually working on a post right now addressing that very situation (certification). I will have it posted by this Friday.

      As for how to know who out there has your best interests at heart, that's also a touchy situation. A good SEO will be happy to go so far as to allow you to speak to a client or two of theirs who is happy with the services provided for them. It's a good measure for weeding out the behavior of consultants and agencies who fabricate their credentials. I will also address this point in due time here on the blog.

      Thanks again!

      -Stephen
      StephenChapman
  • RE: A Plea for the Legitimacy of SEO: 3 Simple Truths

    Listening to Google (makes Google search) and Microsoft (makes Bing) tell us the importance of SEO is like listening to a bullet manufacturer tell us the importance of guns.

    For two companies who have a lot at stake in their search business, naturally they should want people to make it easier for their product to have increased value.

    The question is: is SEO optimization helping the search providers more than the searchers? The efforts of these companies is simply what supply does to stimulate demand, like selling snacks loaded with salt in order to generate thirst for drinks and then marveling "wow, look how thirsty people are."

    This article seems to be speaking more to the legitimacy of the supplier commitment, which was ably demonstrated, but didn't really clarify for me the legitimacy of the value of the process of optimizing a site for search engines.
    Non-techie Talk
    • RE: A Plea for the Legitimacy of SEO: 3 Simple Truths

      @NontechieTalk Thanks for your feedback! I understand the logic with which you've approached this information and I'm glad to read your perspective.

      When it comes to SEO, the methods long pre-date Bing and Google's getting involved with it. For many years, Google ignored SEO altogether -- with the exception of (quietly and privately) penalizing people for taking advantage of it (in the early days of search, it was easy to stuff your website with keywords and easily trick the search engines into thinking your site was about whatever your META tags suggested). It's that negative stigma which still exists surrounding SEO, but it's actually completely different these days.

      All preconceived notions aside based on what you've read in this article, SEO really *is* to help the search engines AS WELL AS your own site! By implementing the extremely white hat SEO measures outlined by Microsoft and Google (but not exclusively them; I just chose them because what they provide really is of value to people), you're helping their search engines to determine your site's content more accurately -- which, in turn, means you're helping yourself to hopefully rank higher.

      Now, with that said, they aren't just giving you the keys to the kingdom. Sure, they have tools and guides, but everyone could take complete advantage if they knew exactly what works and how. SEO is really all about helping search engines to determine your relevance. If you do a good job, you may rank higher, but it's not that cut-and-dry.

      So, ultimately, the value of the process of optimizing a site for search engines is so that the search engines will find your content relevant for exactly what you want them to find it to be relevant for. This, hopefully, results in an increase in rankings and an increase in rankings is very valuable for business. That's the catch-22, though. Google isn't just going to skyrocket you to the top because you help them determine what your site is about. There are ways for them to determine if you're trying to trick them by being dishonest in how you represent your site. There is a lot more to it than I will delve into in this comment, but I will certainly address this in a later post.

      All-in-all, SEO is worth the consideration if you stand to gain something from it. That can be traffic, new business, popularity, earnings, etc. If you're a business and you see almost no traffic to your site, SEO can make a huge difference in most cases. If you're just a blogger looking for popularity and rankings, well... the extent to which you delve into SEO is solely up to you.

      -Stephen
      StephenChapman
  • RE: A Plea for the Legitimacy of SEO: 3 Simple Truths

    The key point is that SEO is just small element of Internet Marketing which is just one part of the entire marketing mix. That's not to denigrate the exigency of SEO, merely to put it in perspective. Something that is often lost, forgotten or just ignored.<br><br>I often use the analogy of building a house to explain the various critical components of marketing that clients need to understand. Without a clear plan the house cannot be constructed, without solid foundations the structure will collapse and so on as you step through the necessary processes of inbound marketing activities. Unless these fundamentals are addressed and implemented, nothing will stand up. The website is the core of the internet marketing strategy. SEO makes it perform as a business tool.<br><br>I like your third simple truth. One of the most difficult parts of the SEO process is often convincing a client what he must do, especially those that believe they "know" about SEO. To many, we're selling an intangible, as they'll only derive the benefit in the future, assuming it's all done properly and the other components are in place. Because we cannot guarantee anything, other than our committment to them. Whilst those from the dark side, who are prepared to commit any and of all the deadly sins of SEO will provide tangibles in the form of guarantees. That's the toughest part because sometimes it is hard to walk away from a prospect and lose them to the dark side. But then again, we're just marketeers not jedi.<br><br>Keep up the good work Stephen and I look forward to reading more useful and hopefully provocative stuff in the future.

    Doug Henry
    www.NetGrowthConsulting.co.uk
    DougH08
    • RE: A Plea for the Legitimacy of SEO: 3 Simple Truths

      @DougH08

      Hello, Doug. Thank you for your feedback! That's a great analogy you've provided and I do agree completely with what you've said. Primarily, I aim to ease the majority of my viewership into the additional concepts of Internet marketing over time. While it is just one component, it's one I feel a lot of people simply do not get right or focus on enough. I'd like to change that.

      And, yes, it is tough losing a prospective client to a black hat agency, but I really am pushing for changing and clarifying the perception of SEO in such a manner that it will make it easier for us white hats out there to land the client because they will be educated just enough to know that good results take time, even if they don't want to hear it or accept it. It's worth a shot, at least. =)

      Thanks again for your viewership and participation. I hope I don't let you down with my future posts!

      -Stephen
      StephenChapman
  • Good Post But Maybe a Few Years Late ?

    As one who offers SEO services along with all the other things you mentioned that are required today, such as social media, lead generation, email marketing, etc., I appreciate that you have taken the bull by the horns to address this important topic. It will certainly spur some heated debate, I'm sure. I'm just wondering if it's not a few years late in getting the message delivered. Better late than never, I suppose.

    Thanks for doing this Stephen. I'll be watching with interest.

    Randy Duermyer
    RandyDuermyer