Does The Search Engine Optimization Expert Really Exist?
Today Michael Martinez argues why SEO collective wisdom lacks credibility, going as far as to say that there are no authoritative voices in the search engine optimization community. Ouch.
As far as the title of Michael’s post goes, I agree. Collective SEO wisdom is ridiculously flawed. You get people talking about what they’ve heard from alleged experts and running with it, regardless of whether they took the time to verify it or if the information sounds even remotely sensible. It’s a problem, a huge one, and it’s how we found ourselves with that reputation crisis we’ve got going.
However, I don’t think you can judge the entire industry based on these people and question its credibility. I don’t think it’s fair to say this:
"There are thought leaders in the field but are there credible knowledge leaders in the field? I would say we only have thought leaders. We have no credible knowledge leaders."M
That’s not true, though I do agree that there’s a difference between a thought leader and a knowledge leader. I consider Danny Sullivan to be a thought leader. He’s stellar at monitoring public opinion and bringing insight and context to a conversation. He can frame things in a way that helps search marketers to understand a situation from every angle.
However, when I picture a knowledge leader, I think of someone like Aaron Wall, someone who came into this industry blazing and continues to shock and awe people with his experiences, insight and ability to problem solve in real-time. If Aaron Wall isn’t a knowledge leader in the search engine optimization space, I don’t know what a knowledge leader is.
Another statement by Michael that I took objection to:
"Search engine optimization is not a science."
Honestly, I think we’re approaching a time where that statement no longer holds true.
I’ll agree that in the past search engine optimization was more art than science. It was about making guesses, monitoring the results, and then keeping what worked and disregarding the rest, but that stuff doesn’t work anymore. As things become more complicated, as the amount of eggs in your basket increase, and as the Web becomes more important as a marketing strategy, the whole industry is getting considerably more academic and scientific. It has to for companies to be willing to invest in it.
Today, you have search marketers really delving into the PageRank formula with their math hats on and pulling apart Larry and Sergey’s "The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine" paper looking for new clues. Sure, the formulas are somewhat based on what we think Google values and what we think> we see, but there’s also a lot about "what we know". It’s a far more scientific and academic approach than we’ve ever had before. And the resulting findings are a lot more credible and precise.
It’s this new academic and scientific method of looking at things that I’m seeing being used more and more in the "elite" SEO circles. I know internally we have a number of whiteboards filled with what we know, what we think we know and what we think Google doesn’t want us to know. Watching the analysts scour over it and reconstruct old theories based upon what we know now is amazing. Especially for someone like myself who doesn’t have nearly that technical of a background. We have some pretty brilliant people inside these walls and they’re looking at things 100 percent academically. It’s not about mindless theory.
The real science behind search optimization – when it is developed – will focus not on people’s practices and opinions but rather on the methods and means of influencing search results.
Exactly. Just look at the conversation regarding siloing that was brought up last week. Whether you agreed with it or not, it’s a clear sign that the conversation regarding search engine optimization is moving away from touting what we can’t prove and more about uncovering methods that work for very specific, quantifiable reasons.
Our industry is not set up to share information either openly or uniformly. People share linking tips and basic HTML optimization tips on a daily basis but that covers only about 20% of what a robust search optimization campaign deals with.
I respond with a very respectful "duh" here. I mean, clearly you’re not going to find every known search engine optimization problem and answer being discussed publicly, but that’s true in any industry. What competitive space do you know that is willing to share everything? At some point you have know when to keep your mouth shut. That doesn’t mean the information isn’t out there.
Rand said something during the Search and Blogger Reporters Forum at PubCon that struck me. He stated that in terms of white hat search engine optimization, about 90 percent of known information is out there and that 10 percent is behind the curtain and not publicly spoken of. That’s not such a bad percentage, sure it doesn’t take into consideration the advance SEO stuff, but it’s a start. The common sense material is out there, but the hard-earned nuggets are still being held close to the vest.
So what do you do and how to do you fix it? You stop listening to the so-called experts and start learning things for yourself. You hold think tanks with thought leaders and knowledge leaders you trust. You invest in SEO training. You start looking at the algorithm not as a black box of secrets, but for what it really is – a mathematical algorithm.