Making a Living in BS

We’re talking to an SEO consultant. The thing that bugs me is that it’s a legitimate discipline, but filled with a combination of people who give contradictory advice and people who make used car salesman with bad hairdos look like charming people.

It reminds me of something I find fascinating, though: the spread of completely false “advice.” Sometimes it’s just in the form of chain emails, which are always bogus anyway. One that was debunked by Snopes suggested that placing cut onions on plates around your home would help “soak up” swine flu to keep you safe. It turns out that onions do not have a magical ability to attract flu germs, and that placing halved onions on plates around your home does nothing but make you a lunatic with halved onions placed around your home. But those are just lame emails.

What fascinates me is when people who should know better do it. As an example, around Christmas, there’s always a barrage of warnings on the news about how you should be careful with Poinsettias because they’re highly toxic. The problem with spreading this warning is that it turns out they’re not really toxic, though they’re not really edible. People just hear that poinsettias are highly toxic, so they spread the news, despite the fact that they’re a reputable news agency but took no time to look into whether the reports were true or not.

This is how I feel about all of SEO. There’s so much crazy advice. Some contradicts what others say. Some just doesn’t make sense. Some is impossible to prove, since there are too many variables involved and no search engine wants to reveal exactly how it ranks results. A lot of people suggest loading up your meta tags with all sorts of marginally-relevant keywords, for example, even though Google has said it doesn’t even use keywords for ranking, and many people have pointed to anecdotal evidence that keyword-bombing can actually hurt your rankings. There are probably whole books written about “link juice,” and then some experts who say that the whole concept is fallacious.

And then there’s some advice that seems like it might be valid; for example, “fresh” content is ranked more highly. But I have so many questions about that, but since the whole thing is a pseudoscience, no one can answer them. Does this mean adding new pages will help your whole site? Does this mean that a comment on an old blog post will help rank that page more highly? Does this mean that editing copy will help a page stay on top? There’s not much support for this.

And then people just pick up whatever questionable advice they hear and start repeating it. And then they hang out their “SEO Expert” shingle and people assume their nonsense is valid advice.

There are, of course, people who do actually understand SEO, and who aren’t total sleazeballs that just spam links all over the place. But some days I feel like these people amount to an incredibly small minority.

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