Good SEO/Bad SEO, Good Designer/ Bad Designer – A Generalization Problem

Greetings from inside the SEOigloo!

Within the SEO community, a general groan goes up every time someone announces that Search Engine Optimizers are crooks, snakeoil salesmen, spammers, scammers, etc. This problem seems to arise repeatedly because of:

1)The genuine ignorance of the author, very often excusable
2)A wish to show off
3)A legitimate complaint against a bad company misrepresenting itself as a legitimate SEO firm

This last item is a serious concern within our industry as we watch trusting people get ripped off by unethical companies that have no right to be billing themselves as SEOs. So, there is certainly truth in such complaints, and there is also good reason for legitimate SEOs to cry foul when they see themselves being lumped in with the bad guys. We know the up-til-3-in-the-morning work we put in every week, and the measurable benefits our clients see in their profits because of what we do. So, on the one hand, we’ve got the Good SEO/Bad SEO debate that rears its head again and again in our line of work.

On the other hand, we’ve got similar generalizations going on about web designers, but I haven’t seen as much talk about this, so I thought it would be worth posting about.

I just read such an enjoyable Search Marketing Standard interview with two of my favorite and most respected people – Bill Slawski and Kim Krause Berg. I can’t think of any two better people to talk to about understanding search engines and human users. Joe Whyte asks a few well-chosen questions and my favorite response was Bill saying that, “the web isn’t TV.”

Both Bill and Kim beautifully get the point across that you’ve got to build websites that search engines understand and that humans can use, and Bill and Kim are speaking from positions of long experience when they talk about the horrors of Flash-based websites that kill chances of either rankings or conversions. Yet, I’d like to wave a small and humble flag here. In the interview, Joe Whyte says:

It seems that designers typically have a hard time working with SEOs. They do not realize that things like Flash simply don’t work for SEO reasons.

I agree with Joe that this is typical…but I also want to point out that this is a generalization of the same nature as, “SEOs typically spam search engines”. Do some Google searches for SEOs or web designers, and chances are, you will be overwhelmed with the atrociously bad options in both fields. SEOs who submit your site to 5000 search engines and web designers who think design means building splash pages. Yuck, on both counts.

But, we’re not all like that!
I wouldn’t take on a client who wanted a Flash-based website and couldn’t be educated away from such a bad choice. I wouldn’t build a site with navigation that runs away from the user instead of letting them click the darned link they are supposed to click. What I’m saying here is that there are very legitimate SEOs who truly know their stuff and very legitimate web designers who know that SEO and Usability IS what web design is all about; we design WEB sites, meant to be found by search engines and used on computers by humans. I can talk for hours about colors, graphics, emotions, and presentation, but when it comes down to it, I’d rather build a white website with big blue links with correct anchor text than a useless collection of images with no chance of success.

It’s been a puzzle for my husband and I over the past couple of years, attempting to coin a term that describes what we do. I don’t want people to hear that I’m an SEO or a web designer and think, “oh so you spam Google with movies of dancing penguins”. I think lumping everyone together with broad generalizations is hurting both the SEO and Web Design industries. My firm has ended up describing our work as ‘building SEO-based websites’ but I have my doubts as to whether this means much to the general public. At the very least, though, I’d like it to mean something within my industry.

SEOs haven’t been terribly successful so far at drawing a line in the sand between themselves and the hoodwinkers, as far as the public is concerned. Until…of course…they show the individual client just what they are going to do and the client comes out of the arrangement with a 200% increase in their bottom line. Further indoctrination is really not needed at that point. I experience the same thing with web design, once I’m working with an individual client, especially in the case of redesign work where the outcome of my input is a more competitive, more usable, more profitable website. But in the public eye – to strangers – we often find ourselves getting a bad rap. Inside the industry, SEOs can spot a bad company a mile off, and a Social Media site like Sphinn is proof that hundreds of SEOs can get together without anyone suggesting building a links page as a good ranking strategy. I’d like to see that same kind of unspoken agreement within the design community, but I guess we’re just not there yet.

In the meantime, I can console myself profusely with the fact that someone as adamant about Usability as Kim has my web design firm, building our ‘SEO-based websites’, on her recommend list. It’s both an honor and a much appreciated, good-feeling recognition of the fact that, as is the case with SEOs, there are many categories of web designers and that some of us are working like crazy to educate our clients about the vital, ground-level role both SEO and Usability play in designing for the web.

4 Responses to “Good SEO/Bad SEO, Good Designer/ Bad Designer – A Generalization Problem”

  1. on 10 Sep 2007 at 3:47 pm Jennifer Laycock

    SEOs Hate Generalizations and Yet…We Genearalize

    How many times have you seen a search engine marketer cringe at a business talking about how our industry is nothing but smoke and mirrors run by slimey practioners? I know I’ve seen it (and done the cringing) more than a few times in my life. What ma…

  2. on 11 Sep 2007 at 9:25 pm davidmihm

    Miriam, as usual, we’re in the same boat here. I’m not quite sure what to call myself either, because working for small businesses we wear so many different hats!

    But to me the interesting part of this post is not the semantics, but your astute assessment that the immediate connotations (some might even say prejudice) conjured by the terms “SEO” and “Web Designer” can cause problems on both sides. Even “Usability” and “Accessibility” are associated with extreme polarization.

    It’s great to have at least a few friends (or better yet, clients) who understand that none of these terms is mutually exclusive!! :D

  3. on 13 Sep 2007 at 1:32 pm admin

    Hi David!
    I agree, it is a type of prejudice…not with the uglier connotations of prejudice, of course, but with the stereotyping elements.

    And, ah yes, THOSE kinds of clients. I love those! That moment comes in the first phone conversation when you suddenly realize they know what SEO is and you want to send them flowers. Haha.

    Thanks for stopping by!
    Miriam


  4. […] How many times have you seen a search engine marketer cringe at a business talking about how our industry is nothing but smoke and mirrors run by slimey practioners? I know I’ve seen it (and done the cringing) more than a few times in my life. What many in the industry seem to forget is that we often do the same type of generalizations and mud-slinging at other industries. That’s exactly the line of thinking Miriam Ellis at SEO Igloo Blog explored yesterday. […]

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