Would SEO Benefit From A Bit More Clarity?

Although I’m not usually that much of a fan of ‘talking shop’ outside of work, I had an interesting conversation this weekend about SEO with someone not particularly well-versed on the world of SERPs and backlinks. Essentially, it boiled down to ‘what is SEO’?

I’m not going to get into how you answer that question in a manner that doesn’t send the average person into a temporary coma but it did get me to thinking; should SEO be made clearer to the ‘everyman’? The small business owners, first time bloggers and so on of the world.

Although I’m relatively new to the SEO community, I’d be willing to bet quite a few people would say ‘no’. An entire industry has been built on the fact that most people don’t know – or don’t care – how their website ranks first on Google but just want it up there. It’s a sweet deal really; we get paid to rank their site, they get all the benefits associated with that ranking. Simple.

Exaggerated and Misleading Claims

Well, it would be if everyone was completely open and honest about what exactly they do to get a site ranking at number one. The problem with small business owners and the like not necessarily being that well-informed on their SEO is that it paves the way for a plethora of exaggerated and downright misleading claims and boasts in order to sell services, and for excuses when things go wrong down the line.

How many times have you seen SEO companies guarantee top rankings within a month, despite there being no real guarantees with SEO? Or how many do you still see offering to build one hundred billion random links in a month, despite that being a pretty stupid idea?

The fact is a lot of people simply don’t know what they’re paying for and there are people out there willing to take advantage of that lack of knowledge. Take this post on YouMoz for example. If you don’t want to click through, it’s essentially the story of a small business owner who was informed that building a ton of links, regardless of quality, would get him to number one in Google. And it did. Until Penguin hit.

The SEO company Mr. Small Business Owner was paying decided that the best response to this was to build even more spammy links, leaving Mr. SMB in a bit of a pickle when that didn’t work either.

It’s a horrible story, but while there’s one obvious villain in the piece, I think three parties actually had a part to play; the SEO company, the small business owner and the search engines.

SEO Companies

Let’s get the easy one out of the way first. It’s highly unlikely that the SEO company weren’t aware of what Penguin targeted, so it seems like they deliberately misled the small business owner in order to keep making money without exerting any extra effort at the expense of their client’s website. An awful thing to do, I’m sure you’ll agree, but not exactly the first example I’ve heard of an SEO company cutting corners.

As the people paid to handle the SEO affairs of our clients, it’s our responsibility to not only carry out the tasks that’ll get them to number one, but also be clear about what we are doing – and why. When Penguin hit, Fluid Creativity sent out a document outlining what exactly Penguin was and what it meant for our clients. Given that the intricacies of SEO cause a few small business owners to go cross-eyed, it’s important that we educate and inform them in a clear, easy-to-understand and, most importantly, truthful manner.


That’s not to say that the onus is just on SEO companies to impart knowledge; it’s also the responsibility of the client to question what is being carried out on their behalf, or at least be aware of it. It strikes me as truly bizarre that a lot of companies are willing to outsource their SEO and be done with it; it is, after all, the client’s livelihood at stake. Would you pay for something if you weren’t sure exactly what it was you were getting in exchange?

Google & Search Engines

Then again, who can blame the average business owner for taking a look at an SEO article and turning away immediately when it’s so unclear how exactly you ‘do SEO’. Even those who do bother to learn have to entirely revise their thinking later down the line; one minute it’s all link building and directories, the next it’s content marketing and backflips.

Google, for example, seem to enjoy moving the SEO goalposts completely without much in the way of forewarning. Now, I get why algorithm updates are important for search quality but banishing a plumbing website to SERP oblivion with no definitive date for recovery seems a ridiculously dramatic punishment for mistakes that the website owner may not have even been aware they were making. Why not introduce a bit of an early warning system; something along the lines of ‘we’re doing this in three months, get your site in order before then’?

The point is, all the secrecy surrounding SEO and sudden changes serve no-one but Google and shady SEO companies. SEO needs to be made clearer and easier-to-understand for the man on the street, so they can make an informed decision about whether it’s right for them and so they can understand just exactly what they’re signing up for.

Anyway, a bit of a ramble but what do you think? Should SEO be made clearer for those who don’t read Search Engine Land everyday, or are things fine and dandy as they are?

  • Written by on 16th October 2012 at 11:10
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