Defending Search Again- SEO is Not Spam

By Kaitlyn Smeland Dhanaliwala | Apr 2, 2010
More Articles by Kaitlyn


Earlier this week, PCMag columnist John Dvorak posted an article called “Software Discovery is Broken” about his frustration in trying to research software online. Somehow, a post that could have been a useful guide to navigating through user-generated reviews quickly devolved into a misguided rant on what the author labels “SEO tricks.”

SIERRA MADRE, CA - MAY 29:  Spam, the often-ma...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Dvorak’s first mistake is his innacurate characterization of the search engine optimization (SEO) field.  He essentially calls SEOs spammers, plain and simple.  Now, it’s one thing to lament worthless content.  And, for sure, certain industries are spammier than others.  But it’s just ludicrous to blame such bad content on SEO.

One of the most basic principles of SEO is to create indexable content that is so relevant to a particular search query that readers will find it useful and reputable sources will want to link to it.  No legitimate SEO would try to rank a page for a search term that is completely untargeted.  If a company’s software utility is a paid product, what good is it to get traffic from people searching for a “free” solution?  (It may be good if the company is really a parked domain with AdSense ads, but I don’t think they usually hire SEOs in the first place).  Google’s ranking algorithm is continually changing to continue filtering out this kind of content.  But SEO is not about promoting spam.

The second problem with Dvorak’s article is the disconnect between his search queries and the kind of content he expects to see in SERPs.  This is where the article really starts to read like Poe’s “Tell-Tale Heart.”  Dvorak gives a couple examples of search queries that yield particularly frustrating search engine results.  But instead of proving his point, these examples merely suggest that whoever is conducting these searches may not be a particularly savvy searcher.be more specific

For example, Dvorak complains that a search for “best cell phone plan” yields a bunch of crappy listings at the top of the SERPs.  Well, with a search query like that- yeah.  A search for the “best” anything is pretty subjective, so you have to expect to see paid ads for cell phone providers offering promotional rates on competitor comparison landing pages.  And in organic listings, you have to expect to see mostly review sites.

And we all know that review sites aren’t necessarily the most reliable sources of information…

Perhaps, being in the search industry, I have a different perspective than most.  But isn’t it kind of common knowledge that user-generated reviews should be taken with a grain of salt?  Isn’t part of successfully navigating online these days knowing how to separate the wheat from the chaffAs disk defrag software retailer Joe Abusamra wrote in response to Dvorak’s piece, “No matter what you do on the Internet – work, play, research – you know you have to be smart about it and put your filters on.”

This most recent post by Dvorak is one in a string of equally absurd diatribes against the SEO industry that others have adequately discredited.  Taken as a whole, this body of work suggests he is perfectly content to remain unenlightened about what the SEO really entails and how search engines work.  But his readers should know that the SEO industry is NOT a collection of spammers; I would say that the vast majority of SEOs understand that good, targeted content is a pre-requisite for a successful SEO program.

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