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Friday, August 11, 2006

Google on links at SES San Jose 2006

Over at Spider-Food I wrote that the whole article just needs to be encased in glass and put up on everyone's wall in summarizing my impression of S.E. Roundtable's report on the Search Engine Q&A On Links.

This marks, I think, the first time that Adam Lasnik (affectionately called MiniMatt -- love the name), Matt Cutts' new assistant, has represented Google in front of the SEO world in a formal capacity.

Adam's opening remarks are summarized thus:
We are all interested in having webmasters make links that are useful for their users. It is not a numbers game, he said. He said the optimal number of links is 42, of course he is joking. It is not a numbers game. It is about making your links relevant. A garden site with links to mortgages, is not relevant. Do your links pass the "smell test" or the "common sense test." He then said if all the links say the same thing about you, then something is a bit sketchy.
I love that: "It's not a number game." It never has been, but thousands of SEOs around the world try to fit that square peg into the round hole of search engine optimization every day. Unfortunately, they've been spoon-fed bad information by the most popular SEO forums: Search Engine Watch, WebmasterWorld, SEOChat, and others that are high traffic, high visibility sites. These forums have been home to some of the lamest SEO gurus in the world for many, many years. The people who really know the score seldom speak up and when they do they are often ignored or shouted down.

Now, no one is right all the time on any subject. Some of the people whose opinions I've long respected say things occasionally that make me cringe. And I am challenged on an hourly basis to back up what I say on just about any topic, so the rule of thumb (among the SEO CrapMasters and many good SEOs) seems to be that they usually don't agree with anything I say.

Still, I think the answers people got from the search engine reps on this panel were eye-openers for the crowd. The only problem is, every time the voices of authority shoot down the B.S. that permeates SEO thinking, the SEOs immediately go on the defensive and accuse the search engine reps of being liars. I have no doubt that if anyone points to this Q&A session in various SEO forums, there will be hemming, hawing, and people looking down as they say, "Wellll, that's really not the case."


Like, we're supposed to get the facts from people who don't know any better than a drunken homeless man which way is up in the search engine world.

People often ask, "Michael, why do you bother reading the SEO forums if you so disapprove of what they say?"

There are three reasons for everyone interested in search engine placement to read active SEO forums.

  1. Search engine representatives speak up in a couple of them (they should speak out in more forums, actually)
  2. The crescendo of whining that erupts every time a major update occurs is the best indicator of an update process on the Internet
  3. You occasionally see links to valuable articles, new services, and other things
Just because most SEOs don't know their heads from a hole in the ground doesn't mean they don't occasionally say something worthwhile. Even I occasionally say something worthwhile. I just put my foot in my mouth more often than most of you, so I look like I average more successful hits than many people but the truth is that I'm just doing it on volume.

No one who works outside a search engine is qualified to be telling people what the search engines are really doing. I mean no one. Not Michael Martinez. Not Danny Sullivan. Not Shari Thurow. Not Dan Thies. Not Eddie Lopez the Houston Salsa dance instructor (who, so far as I know, has no interest in this field).

I think Rand Fishkin is a creative genius and he'll probably dominate this industry in about 10 years if he doesn't derail himself in some catastrophic way. But Rand goes off the deep end sometimes, and like the rest of us he's shooting in the dark.

So every time a search engine representative makes a definitive statement about how search engines work, I sit up and take notice. I have to, because inevitably I'll find myself involved in an online discussion where some offended SEO who doesn't appreciate what I have to say will insist, "Prove that. Show us where X said Q-Z-Y."

Offended people often attempt to be clever by demanding that you produce specific language. You cannot be right about anything if you cannot back up what you say with unanticipated words, in their illogical thinking. That's taking an emotional approach to disagreements. Frankly, I couldn't care less what people think of me personally. If they are going to promote themselves as involved and active in a community that engages with all levels of the business world, I'm going to hold them to some very high standards of performance. Those are the same standards of performance that the business community has held me to through three decades of technical service.

So the point of this blog is that you don't need to agree with anything I say about the search engines and what they may be doing. What you do need to do is let go of your ego, stop insisting you have a point when all you're doing is blowing smoke, and pay attention when the search engine reps speak. They have all the financial incentive in the marketplace to help us place good content in their results. Lying to the SEO community and misleading the SEO community are not successful strategies.

I am sure the search engines retain strong reservations about the SEO industry in general because it's so closely tied to search engine spamming. That close correlation will never go away, since spammers inevitably take whatever works well and beat it to death.

Nonetheless, when a Googler speaks, I listen. The SEO community would do well to listen more to the Googlers, Yahoo!s, MSNers, and Askers than to their whiny friends who demand proof after proof and then pretend it doesn't exist after you link to it a dozen times.

If SEOs want to consider themselves to be professional, they had better earn the recognition by acting professional. So far, a lot of them have failed to make the grade in my book.

How they treat the technical revelations from search engine reps like Matt Cutts, Adam Lasnik, and their peers both at Google and other search engines will go a long way toward revealing just how much SEOs really know about what they are doing. The usual pattern is: applaud these guys when they speak (or post something), and then go back to repeating the same debunked crap almost immediately.

Those who don't learn from the search engines are doomed to be the targets of my endless rantings against idiot SEOs. And this is why I think Google, Ask, MSN, and Yahoo! should all give serious consideration to certifying search professionals. They are the only organizations really in a position to know who is right and who is wrong, and what the acceptable standards of performance should be.


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