If you’re not in this business names like Rand Fishkin and Matt Cutts may not ring any bells.

If you’re not in this business Screaming Frog may sound like a painful Pilates move and “no follow” is just bad grammar.

And if you’re not in this business, explaining what search engine optimization is and why your business needs it may prove challenging if not impossible.

Contrary to the daily “SEO is dead” posts, SEO is alive and well, and more important than ever. Google is still around, I think, and so is the Internet. The issue that Rand brings to light in his latest post on SEOmoz is about how much you know about what we really do from the term “SEO”. Why do many people equate SEO to something Google frowns upon even though they encourage it?

Search engine optimization as a process has not really changed a lot over the years, but SEO as a brand needs some reputation management. And it’s probably our fault. SEOs have been awesome at sharing knowledge with each other, but we fail at explaining what we do to you. And we’re sorry and we would like to right that wrong right away.

A Peek Behind the SEO Curtain

The relationship between SEOs is both strange and complex. I won’t pretend to know a lot about other industries, but it seemed weird to me how open SEOs are with each other. Competitors linking to each other, helping each other on Twitter, respecting each other’s opinions – I thought I was in the Twilight Zone. I mean, who does that? Well, SEOs do.

So, what gives?

To me, the most obvious reason that SEOs share knowledge so freely is because SEO is not an exact science and no one, except Google, has the key to search engine domination. Even with hard data and proven results, SEOs still can’t give exact weights to anything that influences SERP placement. The closest we have to measuring the impact of specific on-page and off-site SEO techniques is with Open Site Explorer by SEOmoz.

Unlike many SEO tools, OSE does not rely on Google for its data. OSE is powered by Linkscape, a completely separate index of the Web. If I’ve lost you, think of each web page on the Internet as a piece of paper. Google and Linkscape collect as many pieces of paper as possible and store them neatly in the world’s biggest filing cabinet. What makes OSE stand out from other tools is that it tries to mimic the way Google chooses a specific piece of paper from the filing cabinet to determine why.

The best SEOs also know that more than just their reputation is at stake. I’m relatively new in this sphere, but it’s easy to see the need for solid relationships between firms and professionals. Learning, growing, meeting new people and being successful are just some of the perks this industry offers.

Just How White is Your SEOs Hat?

SEO at its core is the process of trying to figure out why Google chooses one web page over another and then making changes, both on-site and off-site, to a web page based on research. The only thing that has changed is what works and what doesn’t. The terms “black hat” and “white hat” seem misleading to me. Hardcore white hat enthusiasts will tell you that anything you do to manipulate the algorithm (trick Google) is black hat. In reality, white hat techniques are just black hat techniques that Google currently says are OK to employ via the Google Webmaster Guidelines.

Optimizing page titles to include your keywords? Are you doing that to improve the user’s experience or because you know it’s important to Google? Building high quality, relevant links to your web pages? Because it will make the web a better place or because you know that Google will treat it as a “vote” for your website? Even with the best intentions and while following the rules, the goal remains the same: manipulate Google to display the pages you want it to display. Sounds black-hattish to me.

However, under no circumstances, should your SEO recommend doing things for your campaign that violate Google’s guidelines. At the end of the day Google owns the game we play and will enforce their rules without hesitation. Much of what we see in Google’s guidelines pertains to excess. Too many links, too many keywords, too many ads, too many pages with similar names, etc. Not only can these practices hurt your website’s rank, it could even get your site removed from the Google filing cabinet and tossed in the trash. That’s right, they won’t even recycle it.

The reason that websites like SEOmoz, Search Engine Land and a ton of respected SEOs don’t provide “black hat” tips is because they’re trying to protect you from our tendency toward instant gratification that may result in lost business.

Google’s Role in SEO

Groundskeeper Willie said it best:

“It won’t last. Brothers and sisters are natural enemies! Like Englishmen and Scots! Or Welshmen and Scots! Or Japanese and Scots! Or Scots and other Scots! Damn Scots! They ruined Scotland!”

The relationship between Google and SEOs is volatile, but necessary. Unless you’re in the industry, many of Google’s algorithm changes may have gone unnoticed. Thankfully, Google has embraced the SEO community by attending conferences, providing updates and even engaging SEOs on topics like search quality. The problem is that much of this warm-fuzziness does not reach out beyond the bubble of the SEO community.

And the news is not always good. Sometimes Google changes the game in a way that doesn’t seem fair (but that’s another story and will be told another time).

But why would Google even care what a bunch of search geeks think? And why keep us in the loop about algorithm changes? The good SEOs, the people and firms who create quality content, faster websites and reliable sources, help Google provide better customer service. (Psst, if you search Google.com, you’re a customer.) SEOs need Google to exist and now Google needs us to help clean up the mess the Web has become.

SEO doesn’t need a name change. We just need to do a better job at explaining what it is and why it’s important. Help us make SEO a household name.

  • http://www.directorymaximizer.com Robins

    Excellent perspective there Chris. First of all, its a misconception that SEO is against Google, whereas Google and other search engines promote it. Take the recent example of Schema launch. As you rightly said SEOs are needed to put things in place in this chaotic online world.

    • http://www.webimax.com Chris Countey

      Thanks for your comment! It will be interesting to see how quickly the industry adapts to the latest round of Google updates.