SEOs: the New Pornographers of the Web

There's something about the Search Engine Optimization (SEO) industry that I find highly distasteful. I've never quite been able to put my finger on it, until I read Rich Skrenta's pornographers vs. SEOs.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original blog entry at:

The other parallel? SEO seems to dominate a disproportionate amount of time, energy, and money on the web.

And somebody always ends up getting screwed.

Hillarious! This is why I love Coding Horror…you articulate my gut reactions to all sorts of things!

you might read this: Why The SEO Folks Were Mad At You, Jason

which will help you understand, if you care to, that you are characterizing a diverse group of people as if they are all the same.

the short story is, SEO is not all about tricks, not all about gaming. if that were the case, Google itself wouldn’t say: What is an SEO expert? | Google Search Central  |  Google Developers

Many SEOs provide useful services for website owners, from writing copy to giving advice on site architecture and helping to find relevant directories to which a site can be submitted.

@Danny…I agree: SEOs are people too. But then come up with a name that’s not linked to tainted/gaming/slimy techniques for the “good” people in the industry. Web optimizers? Sounds much better to me…

Many SEOs provide useful services for website owners, from writing copy to giving advice on site architecture and helping to find relevant directories to which a site can be submitted.

Sure. And there are some really great articles in Playboy. But that’s not what you think of when you hear “porn” now, is it? And as Jeff noted, solid web design isn’t what comes to mind for most of us when we hear SEO.

The name’s tainted. And it ain’t getting any cleaner…

Where did you that picture of me explaining recursion to a friend from? Nice mustache eh?

The photo of the guy holding the Google cheque. Isn’t he the owner/founder of I fail to see why an image of him showing a Google cheque, which he’s earned, fits in to this post? Especially after the end of the previous line “raw greed”.

Diego, I would make the guess that whoever is holding that cheque is the founder of ShoeMoney–namely Jeremy Schoemaker. How that ranks in Jeff’s judgment, though, I’ve no idea.

gosh, you know, a lot of people have odd opinions about gay people. so maybe gay people should come up with a name that’s not linked to mistaken stereotypes.

the seos that you assume are in the minority – the ones that you assume should change to some other name? talk with some of them sometime about the horror stories they’ve encountered trying to clean up the messes some programmers and designers can make of web sites because they refuse to understand that search engine deserve as much consideration as to how they will render a web site as perhaps opera or safari.

given the bad rep these groups have, maybe they should change their names. they’re pretty tainted and not getting any better.

sure, seo gets a bad rep. but it also actually has a good rep with plenty of people who don’t assume the worse, who do hire firms and get good help. i’ll stick with the name. we’ve had the stereotypes for years. i’m sure they won’t go away. but, you know, ya try.

Heliologue… thanks for the further details. Was just Googling and came across an interesting post about the site’s claims and Shoemoney…

A Google image search for “markus plenty off fish” brings up the image Jeff used in this blog post as the first result. Don’t know if it’s him.

Anyway, I don’t really care for the squabbles. At first I thought it was the guy and he’s just making money of his popular site then there’s someone else saying his claims are false… oh well. Back to twitter… :slight_smile:

Diego, thanks for the clarification. I’ll update the link so this is clear. Although when your site is named “shoeMONEY”, I think that’s another illustration of where your priorities are.

Hmmmm… one could easily confuse this post as a linkbait post? Meets the well known hooks of attack or contrary.

SEO is the ancient art of advertising pure and simple. Just as slimy (or not) as any other advertising. Anytime you think about nothing but advertising and stop caring about your product you are bound to start getting slimy.

The salesman that sells you your car using human engineering, the fact that milk is a loss leader and in the back of the supermarket, making your company start with AAA to get at the top of the list, and playing up controversies to get more exposure in the media… Marketing and advertising tactics existed long before SEO. SEO is just the latest incarnation.

Nobody loves marketing/advertising but it plays an essential role if you ever want to sell anything. All marketing/advertising is a calculated way to sell a product. It may seem duplicitous, but people will continue to market/advertise. SEO won’t go away it will just smarter about getting on our radar and annoying us.

There’s no doubt SEO is a pointer to a very shandy portion of the web that is not a good citizen–that which tries to “fool” relevancy with interest. However, search traffic, if used correctly is less intrusive than even typical media ads. If I know you’re looking for a 2005 M3 Convertable, then I’m going to show you an ad for that and not financial services (ala CNN).

Given that, I think a real marketplace exists for people who want to help advertisers enter the relevancy game. I mean, how many companies have you seen whose entire brand is presented in Flash? If a consultant tries to optimize a site for relevancy with actual content treatment and ad to context ranking… isn’t that just making a better user experience for all?

As with anything it’s all a semantics game. If you define an SEO as someone who helps people most efficiently match their advertisements with the needs of searchers, to me, that’s doing the web a service. If you define it as one who tries to fool search engines into thinking you’re relevant for a term on which you are not… then priorities are not only opportunistic, but also lacking foresight.

Hi Jeff,

I’m the other example that Rich used in his post of an SEO who pays attention to changes in technology on the Web.

You may view the SEO industry as one which primarily engages in get-rich quick schemes and scamming people, but I view it as an industry which amongst other things, helps people who have been harmed by programmers and designers who don’t know as much about the Web as they should.

You know, the designers who convince their clients that search engines will be able to understand and index content on the all-flash sites that they build for those clients, or who place important text within images that search engines can’t read.

The programmers who come up with content management systems that pass multiple data variables through the URLs of web pages, and sites with pages that have multiple different URLs all pointing to the same page, or endless loops that keep spiders from indexing sites.

Or the template builders who decide that they should make the post dates in blog posts into H2 elements, and the post titles into H3 elements, even though the post date isn’t a semantically meaningful heading for a post.

Some aspects of SEO are basic web design 101, but the skillset that a good SEO possesses can go far beyond that. But selling snake oil is a skill that only a few possess and practice. If you haven’t read Danny’s Search Engine Land link above, I hope that you will.

Where’s the similarity with porn? If you’re trying to say it’s simply as objectionable as porn, then it’s so poor a comparison as to be meaningless. In that case you could say SEO is the new pyramid scheme. Honestly, I think people just like hearing and using the word porn, it still shocks people surprisingly.

I work in the industry by the way. All of the products my company, and 99% of our competitors, sell are both legal and truthfully advertised. I don’t work with greasy sleazbags (though there are some in the industry) and resent the implication that we’re all somehow shady. If you’re going to demonize the adult industry fine, I understand some people’s objections to what we do, though I don’t share them myself.

Oh, and I’m posting this under a pseudonym because the world’s too ignorant to have a mature perspective of the industry I call home.

SEOs are the new pornographers of the net? SEOs are as old as the search engines, which have most likely been round on the net longer than you have!

Some dentists take more then 500$ for 5 minutes of work, nobody says nothing against this people. People involved in plain marketing are trying to earn some money for thier clients, nobody talks negative about them. But if some guy or company work as SEO it’s a big problem, why? All other industries work to earn money and pay the bills.

SEO is not tips and tricks, it is more about knowledge of SE guidelines these days, like

  • Duplicate content checks
  • Sitemap submissions
  • Webmaster tools

and so on and on. Also many brilliant people do not have time to understand the html part of their business. a good SEO will empower the web business. Do not generalize it this way.