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SEO Website Audit

Stirring Up SEO Trouble

February 16, 2011


Hi, my name is Jill, and I’m a %#@$ stirrer!

When you've been in any industry as long as I've been in the search marketing industry Photo Credit: fauxto_digit(going on 16 years now), it's easy to get bored occasionally. At those times I find myself stirring up the sh… stuff on Twitter or in comments on others' blogs, forums, etc. You'd think at my age (I'll be 50 this summer) I'd know better. And yet, I continue to do it. I'm not sure if it's a conscious choice, or just a crazy compunction, but no matter the reason, I've been on a roll the last few weeks.

As part of my stirring, I often write what appear to be outrageous tweets and comments on a subject near and dear to SEO hearts (a few still do have hearts, you know ;). The funny part is how quickly people will jump on a comment that seems a little "off" to them. I imagine it's partly their own boredom or perhaps they're trying to find the next interesting thing to blog about. Others surely just enjoy saying, "Jill Whalen has finally lost her marbles!" ;)

It's Hard to Argue With Logic

But I love it when they challenge me on my little points of outrageousness because every seemingly nutty comment I write is backed up by a well-reasoned, logical message for which I've spent ages preparing -- usually in the form of an article I've written in the past. While they can challenge the kooky sound byte by using it out of context or saying it's so stupid or how it's finally time to lock me up in a mental institution, they can rarely refute my actual reasoning – if and when they read it. It's much more fun to trash what they *think* I mean.

This week's bit of fun came when someone mentioned "doing SEO for long-tail traffic" in a blog comment and I corrected them by saying, "Optimizing for the long-tail isn't SEO." BAM, take that!

Of course, long-tail keywords are very near and dear to every SEO's heart because they make up (in aggregate) a huge percentage of website traffic, so my comment was taken with amazement by some of those reading the blog.

Let's face it, you can rarely convey everything you mean in a single comment or tweet. Even though I further explained my reasoning when asked, it didn't matter at that point. The original sentence was set in stone, with my meaning left to be interpreted by others however they wanted.

And interpret they did.

The chance to call me out was too great for many to resist, especially since I've been tearing into certain SEOs through my recent rants on link spam. Some Twitter comments were truly golden, such as, "Comment o' the day to disagree with 'Longtail traffic isn’t SEO' uttered by @jillwhalen." And "Jill, you can't seriously mean that long-tail keywords can't bring more than a few visits/month?"

Even more amusing was the flurry of articles saying things like "Jill Whalen has clearly lost touch with reality. SEO is all about the long tail."

While I may have lost touch with reality (that happened after my first child was born!), anyone -- other than a company such as Demand Media -- who believes SEO is "ALL about the long tail" is either an incompetent SEO or hasn't been in the industry long enough to know what SEO for a business website is all about.

Instead of embarrassing themselves, they could have read my article from October, "The Great Misconception of Long-tail Keywords," which explains what long tail is and isn't, as well as the value it brings to most websites. But where's the fun in that?

A Question of Semantics

The irony of this whole situation is that, aside from the snide remarks, I agree with much of what was written about the long tail by others. My main beef is with how some people were defining long-tail keywords.

Because there is no formal training in SEO, we often have different definitions for the same industry terms. But using search marketing terms correctly has been a pet peeve of mine for a while, because not doing so has many consequences. This is why I try to use the original definitions of words -- those that haven't been bastardized by others who never quite grasped the original meaning. For instance, in the case of the term "long tail," I use Chris Anderson's interpretation of it because he's the one who originally coined the term.

Because I can't seem to come up with a clever ending to this article, let me leave you with the following takeaways:
  • SEOs get bored easily.
  • SEOs love to call other SEOs out.
  • SEOs need some standardized industry definitions, but it's likely to be an impossible task.
  • I'm a nut job who doesn't know anything about SEO ;)
Catch you next time from the funny farm!

Jill Whalen is the CEO of High Rankings, an SEO Consulting company in the Boston, MA area since 1995. Follow her on Twitter @JillWhalenJill Whalen

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Post Comment

 Mary Kay Lofurno said:
Yes...definitely agree with the "lost touch" thing after the birth of one's first child...I guess we all cannot just "get along".

Congrats on the rat out your competitor site...
 Steve Greenwood said:
Hi Jill,

Really like your comments. As far as I'm concerned visitors come from long-tailed searches from multiple content pages built up over time, roughly concentrated over a central theme via a platform such as a blog.

I can think of much better things to do with my time than optimising for a certain long-tailed keyword which might bring ... a couple of visitors to my website each month.

Now that's proper SEO that is.
 James Svoboda said:
Really good response Jill! I do think it a little funny how those 26 characters could lead to so many long posts. I really do not like the whole "SEOs love to call other SEOs out" thing. Google and Bing just went through the same type of scenario with #Copygate and came off looking more tarnished than before...
 Don Rhoades said:
Thanks for the post Jill,

I'll admit - I have exclaimed WTF quite a few times at your recent comments. I understand your frustration, but I prefer to fly below the radar on my opinions of what is ethical (or not). The fact is though you've got 10 years experience on me in this game, and for me to dismiss your recent views as bitterness, is somewhat hasty of me. I have read HR for some time now and I always come away at least seeing another's POV. I will say that you are on the money when it comes to the semantics of search marketing terms (esp to the non-SEO). I'll continue to read HR as I have come to the conclusion that you, like me, are a very critical fan. I can't tell you the number of times I've cursed and slagged Bruce Bochy's management of the San Francisco Giants for many years... until he brought home a Series trophy this year.
 Barb said:
Jill, just read your article "Stirring Up SEO Trouble". You are my hero. Like you, one of my BIGGEST pet peeves is people not using the correct terms for this industry. The confusion it causes by laymen who really don't know what the heck they are doing is absolutely unbelievable.

 Mindy said:
You know, we have trainees who read leading blogs and follow known industry names on Twitter who don't get when you're shit-stirring and when you're serious. So they see some random aside on a blog - made entirely out of context - and they assume they've been delivered a nugget of wisdom. SEOMoz offering the joyful advice regarding not using robots.txt to block spiders is one such gem, your out-of-context remark about long tail keywords being another. People, and resources, which set themselves up as offering knowledge and teaching to the SEO community should deliver on that promise, rather than spending time trying to linkbait and piss off other experienced SEOs.

We have trainees and interns working for us who don't yet have the context or the knowledge to determine when someone's making half-statements and when they're providing a revelation and then we have to spend time explaining what was actually meant - and they don't always have the in-depth understanding to grasp the nuances anyway. This is assuming we realise they've read something confusing in the first place because they've asked about it. The first we may grasp they've misunderstood something they read is when they deliver a piece of work in entirely the wrong way.

You want to redefine "long tail" - fine - but then explain that when you make random statements. Do you really think that most people who see a random remark on Twitter or a comment on a blog are going to remember that once you wrote a blog post where you insisted you should get to redefine an industry-standard term?

There's been far too much linkbaiting going on using misleading remarks targeted at those of us with experience and enough understanding to interpret things. People should say what they mean - because most people out there reading up on SEO are learning, many of them are learning in a vacuum apart from what they glean on the internet and when you drop half-truths about, they will not know this, and bang, you've created another cowboy offering bad advice to small busineses. Think I'm exaggerating? Come help me interview candidates for senior SEO roles.

I'm all for challenging the canon of knowledge where it's going to advance the industry, but deliberately starting an argument by making misleading remarks with no context, assuming people will dig around and find your context and then going "na na na I was only joking ha ha you took the bait" is not advancing anyone's knowledge of anything - it's pointless quibbling over minor details when everyone's in agreement about best practice in regards to keywords anyway - whatever they choose to call them.
 Leah Rae said:
Jill you crack me up! Keep looking for the troubles! I think that people are waaaaaay to quick to leap to a conclusion. Especially with only 140 characters... you can infer anything from that lack of substance.

Honestly... if a person is following you on Twitter... surely that person has some knowledge of your writing style & personality. I guess people like a good controversy, even if it is a tempest in a teacup.

Keep 'em thinkin!
 Jill Whalen said:
Leah, we SEOs do get bored easily!