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Why I’ve Stopped Defending SEO

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(This post was originally published on State of Search on 24 March 2011).

Yesterday I attended a fascinating lecture by Ben Hammersley, organised by the British council, about the future of the internet. Read my write-up of the lecture on The Tomorrow Lab blog here.

There was one small blemish on this otherwise superb evening. At one point an audience member – probably not coincidentally a grey-haired man wearing a checked shirt – in the course of asking a question, referred to SEO (with venom dripping from his voice as he pronounced the acronym) as “snake-oil” and the embodiment of all that was wrong with the corporatisation of the internet.

At that time I thought to myself, ‘I need to have a chat with this guy after the lecture and set him straight.’ But then, as I contemplated it a little, I changed my mind. No, I was not going to set this guy straight. I don’t need to.

This was, after all, a member of a self-selected audience. This was a lecture about the internet, about digital technologies and what they can bring us. This talk was the sort of thing that would only be of interest to digital natives, to people who immerse themselves in all things digital. Because this man was part of this audience, it was exceptionally unlikely he was anything but a most avid user of the internet.

Here is a man who probably types queries in to Google several times of day. Here is a man who, every time he clicks on a link on a search engine results page, reaps the outcomes of SEO again and again and again. If there was ever a type of man who should not need to be explained what SEO really is and what it can do for him, it’s this man right here.

The fact that he so obviously loathed SEO and what he perceived it to stand for, can only be a symptom of a much greater ailment than a misunderstanding of what SEO is. That ailment is, of course, wilful ignorance.

I don’t need to defend SEO. Its virtues and usage are demonstrated millions of times a day, every single time someone types a query in to a search box.

And those who, even now, still don’t understand it – especially those who actively engage with the internet on a daily basis – are beyond redemption. If there was ever an apt time to use the phrase “not seeing the woods for the trees”, this would be it.

SEO doesn’t need to be explained, or defended, or educated on. SEO simply is. It doesn’t care whether you ‘believe’ in it or not. You either use it, or you perish.

{ 4 comments… add one }

  • Tracey Drain March 30, 2011, 15:53

    I’m sure I’ve met this guy! A digital dude from a very well known PR agency referred to SEO as a “dark art” during the meeting and later tweeted that he’s been pitched to by an SEO agency and “needed a wash”. So frustrated, I tweeted this: http://twitter.com/#!/karate_barbie/status/45480741185921024

    AND he was wearing a check shirt.

  • Dean Cruddace March 30, 2011, 16:11

    That`s it, every time I see a checked shirt now I am will shout “NON BELIEVER” while, wait a sec I own a checked shirt, is it contageous?

    Along the path Barry there will be all kinds of toe-dippers and naysayers, not until they have bitten the fruit of SEO success will they truly understand, and to do that they need to step down from the get rich quick horse.

  • dreyer500 April 4, 2011, 9:23

    You don’t often come across a personal interactive story like this when researching SEO. I agree with you Barry that SEO doesn’t need to be explained or defended, it is what it is – like it or not. No individual is going to come along and tear down the SEO house. SEO has manifested into it’s own consuming internet entity, bludgeoning forward regardless. Whether it is right or wrong is of little consequence, it works for many but it doesn’t work for all. It really just boils down to ones perspective, a perspective that has been formulated through ones individual web interactivity. So leave the poor fella alone, allow him his perspective.

  • Jermaine July 3, 2011, 1:17

    The main problem with seo is that it changes so often, what you know today will be different next month, the web technologies keep changing and seo is what it is, we all have to live with it righ or wrong. I do agree with dreyer500 in most aspects. we all shape the way forward for seo by doing it.

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