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There’s No Such Thing as SEO

Online marketing information can change quickly This article is 15 years and 144 days old, and the facts and opinions contained in it may be out of date.

*Note to new readers…this post may contain heavy doses of sarcasm.

“Whole areas of knowledge and information have been defined into nonexistence because the system cannot know, understand, control, or measure them.”

  • -Anne Wilson Schaef
  • There’s no such thing as sandbox (besides the Google keyword tool) – and there’s no such thing as SEO. Search engine optimization is the figment of the collective imagination of thousands of ambitious marketers chasing the new media dollars. It is based on the hype of search engine’s who are overvalued *ahem* leeches pimping aggregate content of others on a bad day. It is a cottage industry that has sprung up due to market inefficiencies created by a marketing industry who hasn’t yet stopped to figure out how new media works.

    If some can say that the sandbox doesn’t exist, then I can say search engine optimization does not exist. Search engine marketing, and search engine manipulation certainly exist though. Sometimes there is no forest and there is no trees, and there is no sound in the woods. There’s no such thing as SEO! It’s a term that is only endearing to the folks who consider themselves to be an “SEO”, the same way that “geek” is endearing to those that fit the role, while to others it’s just a “quality indicator” of social retardation. It is a nice fun catchphrase that was used to label a bunch of early adopters who found market inefficiences in the world of new media marketing. The term has been used and abused in the same ways that “blackhat/ whitehat”, “spam”, and “sandbox” have been abused by being adopted by incredibly diverse audiences.

    When I hear the word “spam” or “sandbox” on a general news site, I don’t give it the same level of credibility as I do when hearing the words from one of my favorite SEO bloggers that eat and breath this vocabulary on a daily basis. While there is certainly valid news in businessweek to a general reader, has a specific audience that they write to (they know their audience), and it is generally not the 5 year SEO veteran. When I hear a 10 year veteran of the search space chuckling about “search spam” at 1 AM in a pub, I don’t vilify those actions the same way that someone hearing “spam” on the street associating it with e-mail would. I understand the major differences, and that to search marketer’s “spam” is often a laughing matter, whereas to consumers (who associate it with e-mail) it is not. The definition of these words is broadly defined by different audiences. To most, SEO is some magic hoodoo voodoo, and we’re a bunch of shady, worthless criminals. While within the industry SEO is an endearing term used to say, “you are one of us”, outside the industry, it is used to say, “Oh…you are one of THEM”. Rather than fight the negative connotations any further, I hereby vow to deny the existence of SEO as much as possible in the future, and swear myself to be a member of the “marketing industry”.

    So what is this space of “non-existence” that we work in?

    The marketing department doesn’t get it yet. How could search be marketing? I don’t like the people who do search marketing. SEO is snakeoil. We’ll stick with paid search and PPC.

    Science/Tech/Programming – We’ll just work on the computer part. You don’t want other programmers or techies hacking you do you? We don’t like suits or people, so how could we think like normal people? Just set the mountain dew down and we’ll fix your computer in a little while, now leave us alone.

    We’ve been writing persuasive copy for years. If we just talk to people they will read it all understand everything perfectly. Hey, I’ve got a journalism degree, of course people will listen and buy when I brilliantly elegant writing.

    It’s the visual draw of a website that makes it successful. If we make it appeal to their eyes they will listen to what we’re saying visually. Why do we need search engines? This site should be on display…and what do you mean Quark is no good for designing websites?

    You can grow money on the web. So if we give you ten grand, will you magically triple that for us? Model…whaaa?

    So…there’s really no SEO industry. There is a bunch of internet people searching for the related terms, but it is marketing, design, science, business, or language applied. SEO is a team sport. It’s like hearding cats that all enjoy a different cuisine. Even if you do it by yourself you have to get the different areas yourself to cordinate for a value proposition that works. There is a whole bunch of folks filling a marketplace with quality information and horrible disinformation about how to grab a piece of the organic search traffic that is available through search engines. This traffic isn’t going away anytime soon. Users of search engines want quality relevant results, and while PPC results are good, the bias introduced by accepting money for advertising still discourages some search engine users from using those listings.

    SEO is the mythological hydra that has spread its tentacles to all areas of business that benefit from search and the internet. You don’t LEARN SEO. You learn about the different disciplines associated with ranking a website and developing it into a profitable proposition in order claim to be in pursuit of the fictitious title of “being an SEO”. Kinda like being a Zen master ya know? There’s no such thing as Zen either.

    Every Zen master knows though that the answer is “in” the question. There is no such thing as an impossible problem or enigma. The only thing that makes a solution “impossible” is the route used to find it. If you’re going off on circuitous paths that lead nowhere, then nowhere is where you’ll end up.

    *Note to self – perhaps late night Spike TV Kung-fu binges are not a great idea.

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    • Jim

      Hey, don’t knock SEO too much…keep in mind that we’re #1 for “SEO Services” in Google ;)
      You’re Boss ;)

    • webprofessor

      Sounds like AJAX speak all over again…. lol

    • Andy

      “You’re Boss”?


      You’re is the contraction for “You Are.” I guess stuntdubl is boss now.

    • Chris Boggs

      spelling policework aside, I want to comment this is one of the best posts I have read regarding this subject of defining what we do in a long time. Todd you are on a roll, man…

    • kid disco

      I agree with Mr. Boggs. Great post!

      I never agreed with the terms “Search Engine Optimization” or “Optimizer.” Shouldn’t it be more towards something like “Internet Marketing” or “Website Optimization?”

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    • dorje shugden

      Interesting post. I agree that SEO is just marketing. In marketing, those who have the most knowledge and work the hardest often get the best results. SEO is no different.

    • DougieFresh

      Hey Andy? Get a Job.

    • c

      “There is a bunch of internet people searching for the related terms, but it is marketing, design, science, business, or language applied.”

      Your explanation is identical to every other profession….a collection of talents. If there is no SEO then there are no job titles of any kind.
      If there is no “sandbox” then there is no “First page results”. There is no “Traffic”. No “Paid Traffic” or “Organic Traffic or …..

    • http://na rs

      There are meta tags, which Google apparent ignores and headings for divs. Hooray SEO is solved. Problem is that is all there really is and content of course. Now millions of suits can persuade people about SEO, but that doesn’t mean they can really do anything.

      I don’t think the hype about SEO and the fact it even has an abbreviation justifies the small amount of real factors that affect Google.