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.

Lisa Barone is a writer, content marketer & VP of strategy at Overit Media. She's also a very active Twitterer, much to the dismay of the rest of the world.

See Lisa's author page for links to connect on social media.

Comments (7)
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7 Replies to “Does The Search Engine Optimization Expert Really Exist?”

well, you seem dedicated :P

keep it up xD

It confuses me to hear a statement like “there are no authoritative voices in the search engine optimization community” and end the post with “You invest in SEO training”.
So my question is: Who does the training? A non-authoritative voice in SEO? That’s not the kind of training I’d send my SEO “persons” to (being that I can’t use the term Expert without offending anyone apparently).
There are some very good points in this post, and I am an Aaron Wall fan as well. But to say there aren’t experts who truly understand the value of CTR, SEO focal points, link bait, tagged social media integration and traffic-based relevancy to build SERPS positioning, is to say there aren’t any candidates in the 2008 election worthy to be President.
Just my opinion anyway.

Wow. Thanks for the flattering comment Lisa :)

Hugo Guzman

I think Aaron summed it up best:
The last of paragraph of this article is also spot on, Lisa!
Bottom line: Who cares what Michael Martinez thinks. He’s not going to land your next SEO account or make your own proprietary site rank well (or, more importantly, convert well).

One thing is certain, it takes more than wishful thinking in order to land one of your pages in the top 10 of Google, but once you understand the criteria of what is involved, you can increase the likelihood for each of your pages.

Rankings (are) based on algorithms, therefore if you are operating within the guidelines of the formula, certain results are produced consistently as a by-product. The difficult part is knowing when your grasping straws or you really have affected a key component to the algorithm. Which I can see Michaels point, but just as we know things change (in search engines) many fundamentals still remain intact (per Lisa’s comment about the science of SEO) which I advocate and fully agree with.

The question is, will anyone really win such an argument? or will we just have to fight it out in the SERPs to make a point? Since producing a high ranking is the ultimate testament to the facts.

Oh Lisa.
You almost had me. But then you ruined it at the end with:

You start looking at the algorithm not as a black box of secrets, but for what it really is – a mathematical algorithm.

Technically, yes, it’s a mathematical algorithm.
But if you approach SEO that way, you will end up with an awful, horrid, icky, yukky website. Blech. Pooey.
The search engines are looking for the BEST, most relevant sites for the search query at hand. Yeah, they use some math to figure that out, but they use oh so much more than that.
Long gone are the days when one could simply try to reverse engineer the algo as an optimization technique. And thank goodness for that!

Hey Lisa,
Great post. I think SEO draws a lot of parallels to attending business school. Many of the professors teach business and how to start a company but have never done so themselves. They know all the right things to say and all of the theories but lack the experiences and street smarts to really become experts in the field.

In the same way SEO has become a field of knowledge professed by a select few. It’s only when you get your hands dirty with trial and error that you really become an expert SEO.


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