Moral of the "SEO Boondoggle" Debate: Ignore the Noise

By Janet Driscoll Miller | Jul 20, 2009
More Articles by Janet


This past weekend, two people I highly admire in the SEO community posted debates about what was termed the “SEO Boondoggle” — discussing the hacks of the industry and expressing frustration within our own ranks regarding inexperienced practitioners claiming to be SEO experts.

In This Corner: Jill Whalen (aka @JillWhalen)

In one corner, you have Jill Whalen, an SEO expert who is respected by many. On Thursday, Jill posted a piece on Search Engine Land entitled “Is Most of SEO Just a Boondoggle?”. In the piece, Jill clearly expressed frustration focused on the many inexperienced SEO practitioners out there that spread misinformation about SEO and frankly make us all look bad.

In the Opposing Corner: Anthony Verre (aka @MilwaukeeSEO)

Jill’s post prompted Anthony Verre, aka The Milwaukee SEO, to respond. Anthony clearly took offense at Jill’s post, and for some very good reasons, disagreed with some of her points in the Search Engine Land post. For instance, Jill wrote of XML sitemaps:

Even the creation of XML sitemaps are for the most part, a boondoggle. For large ecommerce sites, these might provide some value, but they are certainly not a necessity for most sites

While this may be Jill’s experience, I know, personally, my feelings on XML sitemaps have been shifted in recent years because of new experiences with clients where they have been very valuable. So Anthony argued that Jill’s points may not all be valid, and I have to agree.

Where Did This Come From?

Back in May, Jill posted “85 Reasons Why Website Designers/Developers Keep SEOs in Business” on Search Engine Land. Around that same time, I had been looking for a new web designer to supplement some of our design work at the office. I did a Google search for local web designers and freelancers, and low and behold, of the 20-30 local web designers I found, 90% of them claimed to know SEO — along with many other forms of marketing. I was furious! Frustrated! I looked at the websites of these folks and found that many of them broke the rules of SEO 101 — and I was MAD! How dare they claim to be SEO practitioners when they get it all wrong! I literally had one guy tell me how he was so successful at SEO — he got one client to position 36 on Google. Whoppeee! (For clarification, dude, that’s only page 4!)

I find the same frustration with large interactive/marketing firms as well. Many of them claim to do SEO, but dig deeper and several signs will show you that they don’t know SEO from a hole in the wall — and I’m sure you’ve all experienced it.

So I was pleasantly surprised by Jill’s article back then, because she expressed so professionally what I wanted to say — BUT OUT WEB DESGINERS AND DEVELOPERS! You are NOT SEO EXPERTS!!

Then came last week’s post, and I expect that Jill, like me, had reached a boiling point. No telling what specifically frustrated her, but I expect she was aggravated by some SEO hack spreading more misinformation out there. So I empathize with her on that.

But What About Anthony’s Points?

Anthony, however, also made some good points. I feel like Jill’s post was likely written in frustration — and therefore, as Anthony says, she may have damaged many other SEOs and their process in the mix. For instance, she may not value XML sitemaps, but, as Anthony points out, they are easy to do and can give much info via Google’s Webmaster Tools. I personally feel they are a basic best practice for SEO, even if they do not directly improve search engine ranking.

Moral of the Story: Ignore the Noise

So what do we as an industry do about these “hacks” that spread misinformation? I agree with Jill on that point — it’s a problem!

Guess what — it’s a problem in any field. As Anthony points out, let your results speak for themselves. If you have good testimonials and case studies, flaunt it! And to put a positive spin on trying to educate marketers on how to find the right SEO company, we tried creating a checklist of what to look for in an SEO firm. Bottom line — we need to ignore the noise. Good work will prevail. Maybe I’m a Pollyanna, but I’ve got to believe that.

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