Public Perception of SEO

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It appears that Mary Hodder is at the MSN Search Champs jobbie. What caught my eye was her comment about the Search Engine Optimizers invited...

of the 32 or so people.. there are about six search engine optimization people here. Kind of like being at the FBI and having criminals helping out in the room.

Funny, not entirely surprising, and just a tad sad...



It suprises me to read that, honestly. Wasn't there some famous SEO consultant that helped MSN a few years ago...?

Besides that, way, way back in the day, Microsoft hired Avenue A to do SEO for their Bcentral product. Avenue A then contracted the work to (I worked there then, it was for algorithmic search spam), and the work probably went to other Algo search spammers like TrafficLeader, Website Results, etc - none of these firms do this now, but back in the day...well, another story. ;)

It's not like hiring SEO folks is "news" with Microsoft...this was 4+ years ago now that they hired Avenue A. Perhaps people need to get out more & realize that SEO = just another way to generate qualified traffic.


what is the "MSN Search Champs jobbie" ? Some kind of competition?

Just another case

of the pot calling the kettle black:

like being at the FBI and having criminals helping out in the room


I don't think the general public realizes we exist. I still have to explain to people what it is I do, and I always get the same 'eyes glazed over' response.


As long as certain SEOs [cough]Boser, Mikkel, Oilman et al[/cough]keep promoting themselves and the entire SEO industry as spammers , what would you expect the rest of the world to think?

excellent point

People love the cloak and dagger stuff, and the higher profile guys standing at the podium declaring "I am a spammer" don't help. But I digress...

his should be a big PR blunder for MS. It is such poor taste, incorrect, and disrespects their invited guests.

I'm glad I didn't accept an invitation ;-)


those who are aggressive are often results oriented (think that is RCjordans line). they usually explain much of the risk as well.

>what would you expect the rest of the world to think?

that those who do not promote themselves as being aggressive would still provide valuable services. unfortunately that is not the feedback I got from a person who called me up today talking about a couple well known seo firms that promoted "legal" & "ethical" techniques.

to me the real criminals in the industry are not the $49 SEO service shops, but the ones that charge 10s of thousand of dollars then do not do any useful legitimate work for their clients.

Not that I am the best SEO who provides the best value, but I get many many calls about firms that did nothing but deposit the check.


to me the real criminals in the industry are not the $49 SEO service shops, but the ones that charge 10s of thousand of dollars then do not do any useful legitimate work for their clients.

They're both crooks. But that happens in any industry. We have the additional black eye of somehow doing tricky/nasty/illegal/unethical stuff that goes beyond the normal take the money and run approach.


If they can get more money for themselves at speaking or consulting gigs by calling themselves spammers, more power to them. It's all in the story you are trying to sell, I think you'll get a bigger audience for a "black hat bad boy spammer" as opposed to an "aggressive internet marketing expert".

It's an ongoing pattern

First comes the church; then the demonization of non-believers, heathens, etc.; then the witchhunts; and finally, with progressing decadence, the self-confessed "satanists" making a fast buck by catering to contrarian sentiment. Different cloaks (he he), same mechanism.


Guess we'll all just have to burn in hell then. Oh well...see you all there one day! ;) At least we'll have fun.

Far more interesting company

there, I would expect, yeah.

Let's not get into that again

SEO is a service that people are willing to pay for. Differentiate, position, brand, publicise but most of all promise and over-deliver on that promise. If a client agrees to your offering, knows what they ought to be getting and gets what has been promised it doesn't matter what colour your hat is (white, black, octarine) nor how much you charged them.



er... my dog has 3 legs...

The real issue: Ethical vs. Unethical SEO firms

Honestly, I don't think the ethical SEO firms define our industry.

seobook's comment is right on the mark ("the real criminals in the industry are not the $49 SEO service shops, but the ones that charge 10s of thousand of dollars then do not do any useful legitimate work for their clients.")

There's thousands of SEO companies, and many go so far as to "guarantee" #1 placement. Then there are those that don't guarantee placement, and don't do anything. Finally, there's those that do the deep blackhat stuff, spamming (irrelevant) links all over the web.

It's a harder path for the ethical SEO company. Clients want to be #1 in Yahoo and Google for very general search terms. That's really what they ask for, and what they judge success by. In this respect, educating clients is hard.

With so many non-web-saavy consumers, it's an easy market for unethical firms (seobook's "criminals") to come in and cash in on these unrealistic expectations.

I've been working on an consumer warning/article about this very issue in my free time. I'll post here to Threadwatch for review when done.

Obviously not

Honestly, I don't think the ethical SEO firms define our industry.

Which is why we are still, and probably always will be, known as the used car salesmen of the Internet.

Glad the rest of you are good with that because it's not going to change any time in the near future.

SEO is not 'ethical' or 'unethical'

SEO just 'is'.

The whole black hat/ white hat labeling system harms us all because it is divisive to the industry as a whole.

Those labels make us come off as a bunch of screaming idiots who point fingers at each other instead of as the professionals we really are.


>bunch of screaming idiots

You just leave me out of this dammit!


The public don't give a shit about us

We are no different than PR-experts - we try to get the best possible exposure in search engines for our clients. We understand search engines. PR-experts understand other medias. We are both aggresive hunters with a mixed reputation to the small part of the public that knows about us. We ARE preditors - why run away from that? We do stuff - manipulate search and newspapers, in ways that most normal people would not like if they knew - not even in your white hat way, Jill. People want to think that journalists allways dig up all these interesting objective stories and search engines only find quality for them. The fact is that a large degree of both is manipulated by the media or outsider (like us) to some degree. People don't like that - but they generally don't know.

Let's look at the worst black hat spammers of PR: The political spin doctors. What kind of reputation do they have (with the limited part if the public that knows about their trade and work)? Definately not good! Does this mean the PR-business is suffering from this? No. They've been around for a long time, despite the fact that much of what they do is far more black hat than anything I would ever do in SEO. SEO will survive as well with some of us being more aggresive (sometimes, when we have to) and others not.

Yes, we are PR (more or less) but public perception is different

I agree with the analogy that we are PR agents (although I like the full-service marketing agency analogy better).

The point is that the general public perception is that SEO experts in general are snake oil salesmen. It is the unethical SEO people that define this industry perception.

I suppose this is not going to change anytime soon. Lawyers seem to be doing alright with the stigma thing though.


there is a bucket load of techniques, and people can call just about anything SEO. SEO as a whole garners hate for the actions of some. I think Mikkel is dead on though. Nobody likes being deceived. Sure we may help search engines find content and provide better search results, but most of us like to go a bit further. To try to provide better value. To be exceptinally relevant. To get the clients as much valuable exposure as possible. If one is not aggressive in their goals why even hire an SEO in the first place?

The reason SEO works so well is that we are placing ads that people do not realize we are placing. That type of business is not something most should look favorably on, especially when you compare it to other people who manipulate other information systems in other ways.

You can stretch the issue out and even compare it to political or war related disinformation and propaganda. Its hard to paint it in a good light.

spot on Mikkel

>>We are no different than PR-experts

seo is PR pure and simple, slightly different skillsets but the principals are exactly the same. I'm always quite surprised actually, given how often 'related links' are mentioned that so few SEO companies appear to specialise in certain industries.


One main dif between "PR" companies etc. and SEO: PR is "in your face" - you cannot miss it, and you are at liberty to page by the ads or switch off the sound, or change the channel. To some extent in SEO (ahhhh.... this is from a long time "user" perspective, in case anyone becomes confused here....), the "user" is handcuffed. [[Here I am certainly not discussing the "savvy" - I'm talking about the soccer mom who uses the 'net like she used to use Martha Stewart Living and Vogue, or Desperate Housewives and Survivor.]] If the user has no "protections" (SEO condoms, anyone? *laughing*) in place, she is at the mercy of whatever the particular SEO company chooses to "do" to her. Yes, there are SEO companies which do not take advantage of that "innocence" - and there are the opposite.

The line in the sand is that one can dump junk snail mail without even looking at it; one can change the tv channel; one can turn down the sound; one can flip past dreck in the mags and newspapers. However, unless one is a very clever, savvy, up to the second person online (TEENSY tiny percentage) one is captive to the worst the SEO breed can produce. Which can be very very bad indeed....

[[Disclaimer: This is a personal opinion only; others' opinions may and quite probably will vary. Others are certainly entitled to their own opinions and may express them fully with my complete approbation and cooperation - and while I will be interested in those opinions, I reserve the right to maintain my own in the face of any opposition or coercion.

In other words: "I disapprove of what you do, but I will defend to the death your right to do it." -- Voltaire. Or something of that nature (and yes, I am QUITE well aware that it's a slight misquote).]]

Would it were so ...

i. e. that users, consumers or "victims" of PR really had that much leverage. True, very often it's actually the case. However, consider politics and its subset political propaganda, a particularly murky field with lots and lots of spin being doled out all the time.

Here, you'll have governments, politicians, political parties and their spinmeisters (PR people) lying and inventing stuff around the clock. Purported conspiracies by any group not currently in favor, bogus accusations, distortion of facts, disinformation, false denials, etc. etc. (No need to outline recent or current examples, I think.)

No way even a more-than-average "consumer" will be able to discern what's true, what's half-true and what's downright false - simple lack of reliable (insider) information will prevent certainty, even though overall mistrust and skepticism may arise to the point of total disgust.

I'm not saying SEO is all that - but not only can it be, it's most certainly part and parcel of the overall mechanics at work here.

PR that can be missed is quite prevalent once you know what to look for. Which, again, is quite similar to SEO: with some experience, you'll easily pick out search optimized sites on the SERPs whereas the average clueless searcher won't and may not even be aware of the fact that there is such a thing.


Well, all true fanto. But I leave politics out of anything I address - I'm apolitical to a fault (religion too, most of the time, excuse my bitty post in the "pope" thread). In this case I was simply addressing observations of my own as regards people I know (those who now use the 'net instead of print media or tv at least a great proportion of the time).

I do my best to address only what I personally can deal with (that leaves politics and dieties out of it completely!) I would like to believe that my "housewife brigade" can figure out when they're dealing with politico-religio spin doctors, and trash both in an economical manner (as I myself do). Probably air-dreaming on my part....

Politics is ...

Politics = show business for ugly people

Funny I blogged on this too

I was rather amazed at the selections, so created my own list.

The Real Champs I want


I know how Mary must feel.... I once went to an event organised by a major international publisher. It was a real publishing event, and there were lots of real jounalists there. But there were also some bloggers. I know that the bloggers were only just 'helping out in the room' (you know - cleaning up the tables, bringing drinks & stuff) but just having the bloggers there made me feel kind of icky.....


Reality is the reality of description

It is the unethical SEO people that define this industry perception.

"Unethical" SEO people (whoever they may be exactly - usually it's the other guy ranking better than myself, right?) are doing nothing of the sort. They're far too busy making money, heh!

So better make that:

It is the self-declared "ethical" SEO people harping on what they deem to be the "unethical" ones that define this industry perception.

In any case, conflicting general perceptions of public perception seem to abound within this industry: on the one hand you'll find those who say that the "general public" is hardly aware of the SEO industry's mere existence (and personally I subscribe to this view), on the other you'll have lots of people claiming to be worried about the industry's "bad public image".

Whereas IMV it's really just another case of industry narcism (which most all trades, crafts and closed shop outfits tend to develop) with all its tautological antics: while it may contribute a lot of fuzziness to a fundamental sense of self-importance, it only ever describes those flogging their own descriptions. Bah.

No wonder the neighbors won't talk to me!

I suppose this is not going to change anytime soon. Lawyers seem to be doing alright with the stigma thing though.

Heheh...between my husband the lawyer and me the SEO, we're doomed, I tell ya! :)

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