Stay with me, I’m not just pulling your leg. If you would like to write a reasoned rebuttal, by all means do so via the comments or trackback!
Anyone who’s been on the ‘Net for any length of time knows that SEOs have a bad reputation. The reasons ‘everyone else’ (Web designers, Diggers, everyday Web users) don’t like us are valid, and many:
- Irrelevant or low-quality search results are often the work of SEOs
- Blog comment spam and trackback spam is often the work of SEOs
- Spam on social media sites such as Digg or Del.icio.us is often the work of SEOs
Now, I hear some white hat SEOs whining: but it wasn’t us! It was our black hat SEO cousins! To that I say: bugger off. Yes, we come in different shades and colors and types, but none of us wants to rank ‘correctly’, we all want to rank ‘as high as possible’, so stop pretending you’re on Google’s ’side’. We are a (highly dysfunctional) family. And even if you disown your ornery, toothless, black hat country cousin, everyone on the outside is going to associate you with him. Bottom line: we SEOs are in it together.
Anyway, it’s pretty clear that there are a lot of inconveniences and annoyances that everyday web users have to put up with because of us SEOs, and, in general, those everyday users don’t differentiate between white hats, black hats, gray hats or green hats. Thus we SEOs, in the aggregate, have a bad reputation among the Internet plebs (and patricians).
I would like to point out, however, that SEOs have actually done a lot of good for everyday users on the Web.
- SEOs have helped along the march to higher accessibility. Now, very few SEOs have preached about the overlap of accessibility and SEO (ahem). But even if most SEOs aren’t aware of it, many “on page” SEO best practices overlap heavily with accessibility. In many instances, it is hard to make the business case for high accessibility to the site owner. (”How many blind people even want to use our site, anyhow?”) Good thing SEOs have their own reasons for using alt attributes on images! Any SEO who reads and understands Google’s Guidelines and the like can’t help but further accessibility on the Web. And every little bit helps.
- SEOs often make search results more relevant. OK, for instance: if there is one single tactic that every single SEO nearly always pays attention to, it is writing a unique, relevant title tag. In many cases the designer, webmaster or site owner would have otherwise ignored the issue were it not for the SEO’s insistence. Now, SEOs care about the title tag because it can help rankings, but unique and relevant titles are also a huge usability boon. Without us, many more pages in the SERPs would have irrelevant or non-unique titles, and the search results would be less relevant and useful to everyday users in this respect. This is just one example; SEOs also ensure that Google includes many high quality Web pages which otherwise wouldn’t have been included, by tweaking site architecture and correcting indexing issues. In both of these cases (and with many similar website elements), SEO has made it profitable to improve the usability, spiderability, and quality of Web pages. We may not have done it altruistically, but the end result is countless Web pages (and SERPs) which are more usable, high quality and relevant as a side effect to our work.
- SEOs have helped revolutionary Web applications such as Google and Digg reach the tipping point. SEOs tend to be early adopters and have wide online social circles, so when we seize onto something, we can help it spread faster than it otherwise would have. In the case of Google, the search engine’s administrators arguably purposefully appealed to SEOs by showing PageRank in the toolbar, which of course couldn’t help but fascinate every SEO. This led to a (perhaps unhealthy) obsession in the SEO industry; this obsession led to branding, coverage, and more user adoption. In the case of Digg, I admit that it had hit it big before SEOs infiltrated, but certainly a lot of the mainstream media and blogosphere attention centered on the SEO issues: power users, ‘the big Digg rig’, link baiting, etc. The ‘friction’ that SEOs cause brings attention, coverage and new users to the application. Now, the flipside of this is that once SEOs latch onto something, they often–initially–pollute it profusely, and lower its usefulness to everyday users. (This happened with both Google and Digg.) But I would argue this is a natural growing pain for any Web ecosystem, and when the administrators deal with the pollution the system usually ends up stronger and better as a result. Meanwhile, having helped solidify the application’s staying power, many SEOs stick around and become very productive users in the system.
Now, believe me I am not looking for a Nobel peace prize here. I just wanted to point out that SEOs have done a lot of good, as a group, for the Web. So, designers, Diggers, searchers: the next time you want to bash SEOs for all the Web’s woes… don’t.
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