Monday, April 03, 2006

Clues I wish the SEO community would get

There is nothing like a good technical post and this won't be anything like it either.

It's not quite a rant, though. It's just that people don't stop and think about what they read about on the Web. The scary thing is that the Internet has now become an accepted resource in our eductational system. Teachers and librarians regularly assist students in finding information on the Internet.

Lord, I hope they stay away from Wikipedia.

But the search engine community takes the cake when it comes to naivete and laziness. I don't know how many times people go barging into forums with an opening like this:
Just found this site. What a great resource! Thank you for being here. But while reading through all the discussions, I couldn't find the answer to my questions, so I hope it's okay to ask here. Um, is it okay if I ....

And that is where they ask the same question that's been asked and answered a dozen times in the last week. Yeah, they read the forums.

Of course, some people do actually read the forums. And there are people who enjoy it when I start swatting at flies and arguing with folks over what is and isn't good SEO. I do that. I challenge people on their beliefs and assumptions. Sorry, but that was the way I was taught to be. Blame my professors and tech school instructors.

There was nothing quite so humiliating in college as sitting down to a Calculus or Set Theory test, putting together what seemed like a solid proof of some really minor mathematical principle, and having it come back the next day marked up in red with "NO! This fails here! Where did you learn this, because this isn't what I taught!"

I got the message well enough to understand that if I felt a proof didn't work right, it probably was broken. Most proofs don't stand up to close scrutiny when you're just learning. And that is in formal logic. The world of search engine optimization is anything but formal, and most people learn how to do it by reading forums and tutorials.

The tutorials are the worst possible sources of information because they summarize information without pointing to the sources. What is wrong with providing clear and concise references? It's not like people are going to check every fact in these papers (although every fact should be checked). But if someone wants to know why you say that it's important to host all their domains on different Class C IP address blocks (it's actually NOT important to do so), you should be telling them where you read about this.

Many people participate in SEO forums to show off their skill and knowledge in the field, hoping to attract new clients and newsletter subscribers. They are easy to identify because they'll often start discussions that reiterate very basic ideas (sometimes with rather bizarre rationalizations). Here I've been doing search engine optimization for 8 years and someone comes along and tells me what the basics are. Thank you. I'm a little bit beyond that.

If you're going to preach, be sure you're preaching to an audience that knows less than you. They may not appreciate your preaching anyway (I am often criticized for coming across like a know-it-all -- but when you answer as many questions as I do, or share as many opinions as I do, see how tactful and diplomatic you care to be).

It's not that I feel rudeness is okay. Technically, I'm not being rude (the people who resort to name-calling are rude, but they always exclude themselves because I compelled them to be rude). Technically, I'm just being to the point and direct and a bit insensitive to people's crushable egos. I'm sorry I don't have time to do a psychiatric evaluation of how well you'll receive advice and criticism you don't want to hear. But I'm not your therapist and you're not paying me to be your sycophant. In fact, you're not paying anyone on a forum to give you advice and feedback, and if you think the SEO community is rude and callous, go ask the jaded jerks in why they blacklisted your ISP's 32,000 IP addresses. They don't bother to explain the basics. They just open fire and call you names that drunken sailors staggering out of brothels would be ashamed to speak.

The NANAE folks are professionally rude. They enjoy it. They live for the challenge of shoving your head down through your feet. Well, that's just my opinion based on years of sifting through their pointless childish flame wars, looking for information about why certain ISPs get blacklisted. I've learned not to ask why, but rather just to confirm the blacklisting and move on.

But SEOs think I'm a know-it-all. I don't actually feel I know it all. I just know that if you're going to say something on the Internet, someone will demand you back it up with proof and support. Funny how I link to the technical papers so much and many "Old Hands" in the field just sort of cough and mutter another SEO's name.

There are some very well-known, highly respected, oft-cited SEO "experts" (who moderate SEO forums) who don't know their heads from a hole-in-the-ground. They grab buzzwords and beat them to death. They explain PageRank. They assess the importance of Hilltop. They know all about Florida. They agonize over every data center. They hobnob with Googlers and know all there is to know about search engine optimization.

But their proofs and arguments have all the finesse of an 8-year-old kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar, looking down and shuffling his feet and sniffing and snuffling and saying "I dunno" with a shrug of his shoulders.

I don't ask for much from my peers, just that they link to a valid resource rather than yet another stupid SEO tutorial. There are some very good, comprehensive introductions to SEO out there. They all get something wrong. Big deal. You could line up all my know-it-all windbag posts and find errors and outdated data, too. But if you're going to get into the meat of search engine theory, SEO tutorials won't cut deep enough -- especially not the ones that discuss hard-core technical stuff like PageRank.

I've never seen a PageRank tutorial I could agree with completely. I've never been able to write one where I felt like, "yeah, that nails it". There are so many side-issues with PageRank it's just really not worth writing about.

But the sole distinguishing difference between a quality resource and a faux resource is accountability. If they don't show you exactly where they get what they say, they are blowing smoke.

Of course, some of the smoke-blowers do provide source information. They just tend to ignore huge glaring sections of technical papers that clearly demonstrate contrary points to what they are saying. I've met a couple of Tolkien enthusiasts who do that, too. You'd think that after the 3rd or 4th time of having their nonsense undermined by a complete (as opposed to their partial) citation they'd get the message that being deliberately misleading is not appreciated by everyone. I may be the lone voice in the wilderness asking, "Where's the beef?" but I calls 'em like I sees 'em.

I don't often write SEO tutorials. I'm one of those people who feels SEO tutorials are outdated before they are published. I did send my agent a book manuscript last year. She asked for some references to similar books. Well, there weren't any, so I was kind of stuck. And then by the fall four books from well-known sources came out and covered similar material. That is probably the last time I'll write a book about search engine optimization. It's just not worth the hassle.

Search engine optimization is not really that complicated. You create some Web pages with indexable text content and then you get some links to those pages. You organize the content on the pages to show people what is most important. The search engines actually do a pretty good job with just that much effort.

But people will continue to read those stupid, ill-informed tutorials and they'll continue to follow bad advice, and they'll continue to come into SEO forums and say, "I have read everything here and cannot find the answer to my question, so...."

And you know what? I won't waste my time telling them how rude they are to so obviously lie about reading the discussions. Oftentimes, I'll pipe in along with a few other tired old hands and give them some free advice and opinions.

Free advice and opinions come without any guarantees or warranties. I cannot do anything about the facts.


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