Why People Hate SEO

Every few months, someone seems to attack search engine optimization. SEOs are often quick to rise in defense of their profession. I’ve done that plenty myself, in the past. But a barrage of recent cold-call SEO pitches in my inbox even has me hating SEO.

Of course, I don’t really hate SEO. That’s because I know the difference between:

  • SEO and search engine spam
  • SEO and snake-oil promises

SEO remains the act of gaining free traffic from search engines, and also to me, gaining that traffic in ways that don’t put you at risk of being banned or penalized by those search engines. It’s a perfectly acceptable activity that even the search engines encourage. That’s why Google itself offers a guide to SEO.

White Hat, Black Hat & No Hat SEO

 Search engine spam, to me, isn’t SEO. Some who practice it may disagree. “Black Hat SEO” to them remains SEO. Just because they don’t want to follow the rules a search engine puts down doesn’t mean they aren’t doing SEO.

OK, then we have two types of SEO, “white hat” and “black hat.” And it’s black hat SEO alone that cause all the problems, right? Nope. That’s because you’ve also got some supposed “white hats” who don’t violate any rules but also don’t actually provide any SEO value. Let’s call them “no hats.”

The No Hat Pitch

I’m pretty sick of no hat SEOs. That’s because they send me crud like this:

The end of the year is quickly approaching, which means holidays, parties, family, friends, and a lost chance to save money on search engine marketing, Website Designing/Development.

We saved the best promotion for the end of the year! ONLY $50!! HuRRy UP!!

Search Engine Optimization. Love your website? Save initial SEO setup fee and see your website on first page of search engines.

No Black-hat methods.

Take a trial for just $50 and get linked with 100 quality websites having page rank up to 5.

Our team works directly with you to meet our target which is #1 position on search engines. We sincerely believe that the above services will merit with the requirements of your Organization

I’m pretty sure spending $50 will do absolutely nothing for me or anyone using this firm. Maybe they’ll somehow place 100 links on the web, and maybe, just maybe, they really will do it without “black hat” methods.

But those links probably won’t really give my site any benefit. What’s the anchor text going to be? If it’s the same for each page, going up all at the same time, might that trigger some unnatural link warning from Google? And even with low cost labor being used, $50 simply doesn’t cover the necessary time to understand what a site is about, to research other sites and then engage in communication to obtain quality links.

Another No Hat Pitch

Here’s another, sent to me and all the Marketing Land editors through our contact form:

I thought you might like to know some of the reasons why you are not getting enough organic & social media traffic on your website.

I would like to update you that your website is still not ranked on the top pages of Google SERPs for your popular keywords (Products). Your loss is your competitor’s gain i.e. the traffic which could have generated quality sales for you goes to your competitors as they rank well in the Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs) organically. Reasons:

  1. HTML and other on-page errors are present on your website.
  2. Low number of internal and external quality links present on your website.
  3. Duplicate or low quality contents present in your website without any regular update.
  4. Need to update fresh contents on your website and blogs as per the latest Google guideline.
  5. Broken Links and Poison words might be present in your website.
  6. Social media profile needs to be updated regularly.

Long gone are the days when Google used to give priority to websites of keyword based domains or websites with huge number of links. Now Google counts each and every detail to verify if your website is relevant to the keywords you are promoting for. A single un-wanted link or a duplicate content can lead your website to be penalized by Google.

We are a leading website promotion company providing online promotion, SMO, Reputation Management, Content (both web and promotional content) fixing services to clients.

We have a team of 240+ SEO professional working 24*7. Our team of dedicated Google Analytic and Adwords certified professionals excel in promoting and increasing the visibility of a website in various search engines (including the latest Google Panda and Penguin updates), which will directly help in increasing traffics for your website.

Unlike other SEO companies we do not believe in talking rather we believe in delivering what we promise to our clients. We provide guaranteed services or money back-guarantee to all our clients who consider working with us.

If you are getting rigid by paying a huge amount in PPC then Organic listing by using white hat technique will be definitely a right choice for you. As the rate of conversion is more in organic listing as compared to PPC, eventually it will be an absolute gain for you.

This email just tells you the fraction of things we do, our optimization process involves many other technical factors which can be sent to you on your request. If you would like to know more about our services then please write us back else you can give us a call us in our number below.

The email is crap right from the first sentence, given that the person sending this has no idea what keywords are important to our site.

The itemization of problems isn’t correct, but then again, neither is some of the grammar in the itemization. But some people might believe this, in the way they might believe someone pitching an unnecessary product to remove mold in their home or to prevent a car from developing rust.

If this company really does have a team of certified Google Analytics and Google AdWords people, I’d hope Google would pull those certifications, which mean nothing in terms of guaranteeing SEO results. It’s like saying you have a team of certified carpenters and electricians who are going to try and fix your plumbing problems.

The Terrible Public Faces Of “SEO”

Pitches like these cause some people to hate SEO simply because they’re so so damn annoying. Others end up hating SEO because they’re taken in and waste their money on something they thought was SEO but wasn’t. Either way, it’s not a pretty public face that some associate with SEO.

This leads to what I’ve called crap hat SEO. Crap hat SEO produces the second terrible public face that people see.

Crap Hat SEO

A crap hat SEO doesn’t give a damn about anything. They may be generating hundreds or thousands of pages of nonsensical copy using software, then using more software to comment spam the hell out of sites and pretty much not caring about what type of mess they leave behind, as long as they rank.

And mess it is. Publishers who own those comment spammed sites have to deal with the garbage, and they blame the damn “SEOs” for causing it. You also have some searchers who encounter junk pages that don’t really deliver what they’re looking for eventually realize there’s this “SEO thing” that screwed everything up.

The SEO Reputation Problem

I wish I had an easy solution for these things, but I don’t. What I can say is that SEO is not alone among industries where some bad actors can give the entire profession a terrible reputation.

For example, anyone who’s ever taken out a home loan knows that in the following weeks, you’ll get inundated with “official letters” of all types, stamped “time sensitive” or “important notice” and sounding authoritative by listing your loan balance or lender.

These pitches for insurance policies or refinancing offers are crap, public facing crap that give the insurance and mortgage industries a bad name.

But both industries provide necessary services, and there are good people and companies in those industries. That’s why they continue on, and it’s why SEO continues on despite every few months someone writing an article declaring that it’s going to die.

The Attack & Response Pattern

I pretty much stopped responding to those types of articles back in 2011. After I’d written things like these:

What else was there to say? And that’s just a sampling. I’d written many more articles on this topic stretching back into the late 1990s.

In the end, I decided to generally ignore articles that are often written by people who really don’t understand what SEO is about. In the past, I might have fired up a 3,000 word response to such things. Now, at best, I might leave a comment.

Someone on Forbes wants to declare SEO will be dead in two years? It’s not worth the effort. Anyone with any real knowledge of the SEO space knows that’s absurd. And anyway, it’s not a real Forbes writer. It’s just one what I call Fake Forbes writers, where that publication that had a name that once meant something now seems to let anyone write anything for page views.

Some designer wants to warn the world against why a good designer is all you need for SEO? Hey, I was heartened to see Bill Slawski and Will Critchlow step up with a response. But how many times do we have to do this? Wasn’t 2004 enough? How about 2009? Does it have to always repeat? Why on earth doesn’t anyone gripe about how the development and design industries continue to fail to get SEO over and over again?

Well, part of it is that bad designers and bad developers aren’t crapping all over the web in ways that are easily seen and pinned to those industries. You encounter a bad web site. You blame the site, or a code error, not the people that created it, who aren’t associated with those annoying emails you get.

Part of it is also due to the fact that plenty of designers and developers do get SEO, get the need to either understand it and use best practices themselves or work with actual professional SEOs who do.

Education Does Help

And part of it is that yes, I suppose the wheel will keep having to go around and around, that education will always be needed. Personally, I’ll likely continue to ignore the flare-ups from places that don’t deserve attention. But in places where education might indeed help, maybe the good fight continues to be worth waging.

Along these lines, it would be nice if the largest industry body associated with SEO, SEMPO, actually seemed to be doing some of that outbound education when these flare-ups happen rather than individual SEOs themselves having to step forward.

Education won’t stop the crap that’s out there, of course. But maybe it will help people understand how to distinguish the crap they assume is SEO from the real SEO that is beneficial. Maybe it will help the professionals who provide quality SEO get more of the respect they deserve.

One thing I know. Bad reputation or not, SEO has continued on despite 15 years now of people declaring it will die. I fully expect it’ll keep going for another 15 years, if not many more.

Related Articles

Related Topics: Channel: Search Marketing | Search Marketing | Search Marketing Column


About The Author: is Founding Editor of Marketing Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search marketing and internet marketing issues, who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

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  • http://www.brickmarketing.com/ Nick Stamoulis

    I love opening my inbox to see a flood of those SEO proposal emails. I’m pretty sure I’ve gotten the same email from “Bob” three or four times at this point. The problem is there are site owners out there that will still get roped in by messaging like that, especially if they are new to the world of SEO or even just marketing in general. I think those “no hat” SEO guys might even be worse than black hat because at least you can get some kind of results (however long or short lived it may be) with black hat tactics!

  • disqus_Xaj08UB0Dl

    Stop complaining and help put in place some sort of accreditation for SEO professionals and companies.

  • http://gyitsakalakis.com/ Gyi Tsakalakis

    No hat. Perfect. I’m borrowing that, thanks.

  • http://www.pixelrage.net Pixelrage

    Many laypeople are against SEO for these kinds of scammy emails, while many internet marketers are against SEO because it has become a hypocritical industry where top rankers have gotten there through buying links on services like TextLinkAds…seen this so many times, and it makes me wonder what Google is going to do about it, if anything.

  • http://steveplunkett.com @steveplunkett

    SEO is mostly a checklist for the Fortune 50.
    a. are you doing anything shady? (they don’t know)
    b. install GWT, get access to analytics, do history assessment/
    c. do keyword research, look for seasonal, inquire about PR activities.

    wait.. this is kinda cut and dried isn’t it?
    we are like web detectives or import car mechanics.. aren’t we..
    we fix want is wrong, do gap analysis for growth, measure,
    increase qualified traffic, increase conversion
    solidify brand presence – orm
    create content for growth and authority in non-branded terms based on customer position in the buying cyckle cross referenced with their need state, applied to client’s info about their customer from sales..

    end of day.. did sales increase?


  • Paul Ryan

    There will always be spammers, snake oil salesmen and people too stupid/lazy/greedy to learn. It’s a nice idea in theory, but that’s it, as it won’t stop those people who want to quickly and easily make money. They’ll move from one short-term scheme to another.

    And let’s face it, people like cheap, so often they will easily be sucked in by spammers/black hats.

    Google has some certification (for Adwords and Analytics). There’s also InboundMarketing.com’s certification, which is supposed to be good (and free to study… but it’s not the quick and lazy way to make $$$).

    Look at how many people are even too lazy to read the Google Webmaster Guidelines. They could easily avoid, or resolve, so many problems by doing so. Often, people don’t want to put in effort, though. The thought process is instead, “Why spend time reading some blog posts at ML, SEL, SEOmoz or wherever when it’s quicker to pay $5 to someone on Fiverr?”

    Yeah, Google’s updates are pushing it towards a content marketing strategy and manipulation is working less, but it still does sometimes (even if for a short time) and people still believe these myths about SEO. The number of “link sellers” on forums, microworker sites, etc, is not declining and often each update is a new opportunity for them to sell more snake oil.

  • http://about.me/andrewgirdwood Andrew Girdwood

    There are cowboys and charlatans in many industries. What SEO does, which is pretty rare, is refuse to condemn the bad behaviour.

    We might not have any SEO accreditations but there are SEO organisations and I don’t think any one has ever been expelled for being black hat.

    Part of the problem is that the definition is fluid. I remember when Google ruled out guestbook links as spam or the first time we discovered that chasing hot topics was considered a spam signal. Does that make everyone who ever chased a hot topic a spammer? Nope.

    In addition to Danny’s points I’d add those two; the community preferring not to condemn no/black hats and shifting boundaries between acceptable and not acceptable.

  • TmWe

    I would rather see the SEO community condemn the bad behaviour that can be more often geared towards obtaining money by deception than providing any hint of genuine services.

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    I stopped short of getting into the accreditation idea. That’s because it has a long and heavily debated history. When SEMPO started, that was especially one of the key flaring points the organization had — that some didn’t want it to try and accredit SEO. Perhaps I’ll revisit it and some of the ideas that have been out there, such as the search engines providing it. The difficulty is generally that while you can accredit someone for perhaps being “white hat,” that’s no guarantee they actually provide a valuable service.

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    Well, SEO is much more complicated than that. Local? Oh, have you registered your site with Google+ Local? Got writers? Have you established authorship? Just the keyword research aspect alone isn’t a “checklist” item but crucial, foundational marketing.

    But I don’t think the problem is with the Fortune 50. I think big companies get the value of SEO. I think it’s the small and midsized companies that may not have the resources to build in-house teams or vet when they go to a third party.

    Those groups can get taken in by the bad pitches or someone who says they are an SEO along with being a designer, when they know little of SEO.

  • http://www.top10seotips.com/seo_expert.htm SEO Expert Steve Wiideman

    In my experience, the corporate approach and viewpoint to search optimization (a few naive companies being the exception, cough JCP) has consistently filtered out the garbage. That viewpoint is one that embraces general online marketing principles to build the brand of the company through earning visibility with industry-relevant, shareable content.

    If the IM world can look at SEO as a way to get traffic and visibility from authoritative pages relating to their brand name, product name, product type or product benefit, that indirectly impacts Google’s impression of a site’s popularity, then we’ll be golden.

    But you’re right, as long as the black hats, no-hats, and crap hats keep shoving the same ole passe rhetoric in emails and sales pages, the world will still have a negative opinion of our industry.

  • http://kercommunications.com/ Nick Ker

    I try call bullshit on misinformed anti-SEO articles when I see them, if I have the time. I also attempt to do the same when I see “crap hat” SEO being promoted somewhere where my comment won’t get deleted.
    Are there better ways I should spend my time? Probably. But at least I feel like I am doing my part to try to clean up the industry. When bullshit is allowed to pass freely without anyone pointing it out, we all suffer.

  • http://www.top10seotips.com/seo_expert.htm SEO Expert Steve Wiideman

    I think that’s what’s Danny was asking SEMPO to do – create accountability through education. Danny, am I off here?

  • Nataliya Yakushev

    If someone starts sending me links to articles “SEO is dead” etc. or links to “Unlimited SEO for 29.99 per month” offers, I know they are about to ask me to help with their website optimization. I guess first people want to let me know that what I do for living is totally useless, but they still need it lol

  • Pat Grady

    SEO is like leasing a car that unexpectedly morphs. Alternatives to leasing a change-o-matic vehicle exist, but you end up owning a very expensive tricycle, still dreaming of a monster truck.

  • Pat Grady

    Frustration is born of those mistakenly wishing for SEO to be a commodity. How does one then compete in that hypothetical ecosystem? Think through that wish my frustrated friends, you really don’t want it to come true. Though complex and hard to price, specialization and differentiation are your very best friends!

  • Blake O’Ruairi

    What really piss#s me off is i actually LIKE the food (group) Spam itself. (New Jalepono flavor…yummy! on Yacobs cream crackers with some chutney..)
    It chaps the heck out of me nips when folks keep calling shoddy business practices “spam”. Enuff on that.

    There’s NADA to be done about those who crassly exploit the under-educated.
    ML., SEL., SEOmoz etc. (and when did etcetera become ‘ect’?) admirably and diligently go above and beyond to point out the true necessities for those wanting to do it right, or to find those companies that WILL do ti right for them.
    I disagree in that its not a “science” but more of a finely attuned art form, a learned method of correctly assessing and approaching solutions with an informed, yet biased towards specific results, opinion on SERPs. Per client.

    Let’s none of us forget that SEO/SEM/CRO practice’s are, in essence, a nuanced approach to being a ‘hit-man’ sales person.
    hell yeah.

    Don’t Produce = Don’t Sell = Don’t get Paid.

    Yet to find a company that just wants great seo without results….

  • http://www.thewriteprovider.co.uk/ Shaun

    A mistake I’ve made all too often is actually responding to these kind of SEO companies in a polite manner to tell them I have things covered. By the time I get another three emails of them, I can feel the steam coming out of my ears.

  • http://www.web-media.co.uk/ Rob Willox | Inbound SEO

    Andrew Girdwood together with other contributors are right, there are cowboys and charlatans in every industry (recent banking crisis one that has affected most of us) and unfortunately, even if there were an accreditation body (the banking industry apparently had one), it wouldn’t eradicate them.

    We all get them telling us we are not ranking on page 1 etc and it is clear they have just been scraping email addresses for mass spamming.

    Have been getting recently similar offers to get 5-star ratings on Tripadvisor for a client who, if they had checked, already has 4/5-star ratings in their location/category.

    The unfortunate aspect, as Danny makes in a comment reply, is those site owners who don’t either have the resources, knowledge or know where to find it, fall for the offer and once bitten are twice shy giving SEO its unjustified shady image.

    Maybe, rather than ignore it, hoping it will just go away (it won’t) we all should be more pro-active and denounce the perpetrators in whatever industry we find them!

  • http://kercommunications.com/ Nick Ker

    My thoughts exactly. If we can make it a little easier to find the truth, well, that’s a start anyway.

  • disqus_Xaj08UB0Dl

    Agree that while it won’t stop the “crap hats” and is no guarantee they
    actually provide a valuable service, what it will do however is shift
    the client conversation from “SEO is SPAM” to, “you are dumb enough to hire a consultant who is not accredited.”

  • http://steveplunkett.com @steveplunkett

    agree.. too many snake oil vendors

  • http://steveplunkett.com @steveplunkett

    biggest problem is seos developed in silos.. we have different cliques and schools of thought.. also SEO at a 7 figure budget is a completely different animal.. it’s no longer about the keyword, it’s about the brand, it’s about local, it’s about schema, it’s about products, API’s mobile, tablet and always evolving.. always.. like last night, like 2 nights before.. yelp in and out of google.. in and out of bing.. changes… all the time…

  • Ross N. C. Vince

    India’s Finest Art… Spam. I get at least 10 mails per day, all of them hilariously awful. But who is to blame in this issue? The people who send such rubbish, or the people who actually procure their services?

  • http://twitter.com/jennyhalasz Jenny Halasz

    I’d like to see some sort of certification. I don’t want detailed regulation, but maybe SEMPO could work with one of the SEO training companies to come up with some SEMPO approved certifications… and for separate disciplines of search – basic PPC and basic SEO yes, but also Local, Social, Content Marketing, PR, Linking… The bottom line is that the industry has fragmented enough that it’s not realistic to be the expert in all aspects of search anymore, although many claim to be.

    Thanks for the article, Danny.

  • http://kercommunications.com/ Nick Ker

    The problem with certification, IMO, is that while Google’s guidelines are pretty clear, the interpretations of what is good and what is not vary way too much to be able to properly certify someone. If SEO was as simple as a checklist, certification would be easy. But it isn’t. So much is dependent on individual situations, so the easy stuff like “how long should a title element be” may be simple enough to have a right or wrong answer, but a question like “should the website name be in the title element” does not have an absolute answer. It seems like certification would require several short essay questions which would lead to extremely long certification times.
    Haven’t come across one lately, but freelancer sites like odesk & elance do have jobs posted for people to take various certification exams like adwords for them. That would definitely be a concern.
    And then there is the opportunity for corruption within the certifying body – paid to speed up the process, letting friends slide on some things… Certification from anyone but maybe Google itself would just have too many flaws to be trustworthy.

    Consider the BBB – all you really have to do is pay their fee and not have any complaints against you within their system and you are “accredited”. I know of several extremely shady businesses (SEO and non-SEO) that have A+ ratings. So unless the FTC or something like that wants to get involved (not likely, and also not immune to corruption), self-policing and educating is about the best we can do.

    Even if a trustworthy certification organization did exist, there would likely be a copycat that would gladly certify black/crap hats and spammers for a fee. Then they could blackhat that certifying website to the top so unsuspecting website owners would think it was the one to trust.
    I still have new clients who have found Topseos and think that a rating on there means something.

  • http://twitter.com/jennyhalasz Jenny Halasz

    You’re right that there’s limitless potential for corruption and gaming the system. But I would see a “certification” not as an end all be all, but more of… there are certifications available and this agency took the time to get one. It in my opinion would be a first step to letting the rest of the world know that while it’s not an exact science, there are rights and wrongs. A certification coupled with a report on average fees or something might be an opportunity to show the uneducated world that those unsolicited emails you get aren’t from anyone reputable. Of course there will always be people who believe anything too good to be true, but I hear every day of consultants who are hired to bail out agencies who’ve sold services they can’t support based on their skill in a different area of search or marketing.

    The problem with companies like topseos is that they’re the only ones “certifying” people. If more reputable firms would “certify”, at least you could tell someone who says “but they were ranked on topseos” that that’s not a reputable certifying body, but so and so is. Right now, we don’t really have anyone who IS reputable to point to.

  • http://www.bizsugar.com/ Heather Stone

    Hi Danny,
    Not sure online entrepreneurs and small business entrepreneurs hate SEO so much as find it intimidating. (Though I may be speaking just for myself here.) There are plenty of changes and plenty of people claiming to have the answer, but, of course, this is the case with many other aspects of your business too. Thanks to Francisco Perez for sharing this post with the BizSugar community.

  • http://www.facebook.com/paulroneclarke Paul Rone-Clarke

    I think the issue is – that for many people optimizing either local or small niche keywords for moderately good URL’s – black hat is the fastest/cheapest way to get short term gains. It shouldn’t be (of course) but it is.

    Sometimes the gains are not that short term either. I’ve ranked clients against sites who are obviously spamming “forum signatures” and “blog comments” with poor content by the tens of thousand – and consistently ranking higher than my clients sites efforts by other websites with better onsite SEO and better offsite linking strategies.

    This is in late 2012 and early 2013 here. “Now” in other words.
    It’s not an absolute, these may be exceptions rather than the rule these days, but there are enough of them succeeding in commercially viable sectors to make this an issue.
    While we talk about the sophistication of Google to spot spam, plagirism and poor onsite optimization, the reality for many on the internet is little different now from the situation they found in 2000.

    It’s all about economics. Work a 60 hour week to satisfy 4 clients slowly but ethically? Or 10 clients and earn 250% more cash?

    My first article in the subject was in 1996 – it bemoaned Alta Vista and Lycos for simplifying the process of getting high presence in their (at the time quite substantial) search directory.
    While the silly “hidden text” and “banner spam” techniques of 17 years ago no longer work, the methods that do are sufficiently well known and automated to make the overall problem more or less the same.

    The detail that people are prepared to go to to understand the algorithm that decides their place in Google – and even the deliberate obfuscation that the search engines puts in place – is staggering in it’s depth and complexity. Witness…


    Serious money and effort made – not to create content – not to create relationships, not to better understand how visitors and search engines might access a site, but to ascertain what factors influence algorithm positions. The purpose of this is pretty obvious. “Know thine enemy”
    I have come to believe that spammy SEO will never go away. While there is a method – there will be those who look to “game” it. No matter what level of abstraction is added, those that look to benefit from “black hat” SEO will decode sufficient of it to make profit.
    The parting on the left becomes a parting on the right..
    “Here comes the new boss…same as the old boss”

    Dr Paul Rone-Clarke


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