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SEO gets no respect from John Dvorak

I think when you write a blog long enough, it’s possible to start to repeat yourself, and I am knowingly doing that today, but it’s not my fault. The reason is that John Dvorak keeps repeating himself, and he is still wrong. Very wrong. John just doesn’t understand what SEO is and he insists on tarring all search engine optimization pros with the same brush. I’ve always had a lot of respect for John, but his cluelessness (I can’t think of a more charitable word) on SEO is grating.

Computer columnist John C. Dvorak.

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A little over a year ago, I wrote “Being Cranky for a Living,” where I took John to task on his denigration of Google for its poor search results. He’s at it again this week, with his “Search Engine Cold Wars and SEO” post, where he takes dead aim at SEO pros.
The problem with John is not that he is wrong about the problems he points out. Those problems certainly exist. Yes, there are spammers out there that will do anything, regardless of the impact on the poor searcher, just to get their products in front of eyeballs. I wish they wouldn’t do it, but it’s up to Google to stop them, not me.
And just because a few people bend or break the rules is no reason to condemn an entire industry. I don’t attack John because some PC columnists might take a few free products, skew their reviews, or do other not-so-nice-stuff. I’d criticize those specific people, not all PC columnists.
The painful part, though, is that anything John does say that has merit is drowned out by his over-the-top tone. I mean, he writes for a magazine full of ads, but he’s complaining about the fact that search results are done by marketers. Huh?
And, honestly, he says, “The process is called ‘search engine optimization’ and is commonly referred to as SEO. It’s killing the Internet if it hasn’t already. I’ve complained about it before but it’s too late to do anything about it except moan more.”
It’s hard to know where to start with that statement. I mean, how overblown can you be? let’s assume for a second that he is right about how bad SEO is for the Internet (which he’s not). Does anyone think the Internet is dead? Dying? Fading? On the wane? I mean, get a grip, John: “killing the Internet if it hasn’t already”?
It’s this kind of crazy talk that makes it harder for more reasoned voices who can appreciate a little nuance to really complain about the bad apples who create the very problems that he describes.
But it’s the second part of that quote that bothers me more: “I’ve complained about it before but it’s too late to do anything about it except moan more.” John has complained about it already, and had hundreds of people let him know how far off he is. And yet he stubbornly clings to his black-and-white assessment. It’s not that there is nothing to except moan more, it’s that there is nothing he wants to do except moan more.
And I can’t help but cynically conclude that the reason is that moaning makes for an easy column. I moan sometimes. It feels good. It is easy to write. It gets attention. And sometimes, moaning is OK. But when you keep moaning about something and the blowback you get in response is something you just write off, then you’re not listening.
There is more that John could do. He could try to learn something about SEO. He could try to see that there might be some value in what SEO pros do. He might try to be part of the solution instead of just moaning, like the vast majority of SEO pros are. But that doesn’t make for a flashy column—and it’s hard.
When someone is ignorant, I try to be charitable, because I am ignorant about a lot of things, too. But when the ignorance become willful, it’s hard to be so sweet about. John Dvorak seems to be crossing that line, and I needed to moan about it. And yes, this was an easy column. 🙂
Time to catch my plane and go help a Fortune 100 company do search marketing the right way. Notwithstanding what John says, companies this big can’t possibly try to “reverse engineer” the search ranking algorithm, even if that was something I was willing to help them do, which I am not. They can’t change their Web pages the way they change their underwear—that kind of quickness is for small companies. What big companies really need to do is to find out what their customers are searching for and to provide good content that helps their customers find them. Their customers will appreciate being able to find them more easily, even if John thinks I am a trickster.
I was once hopeful that John would be chastened by his initial few disastrous forays into SEO commentary, but it doesn’t seem to be the case. It might be time for me to ignore him rather than respond, because he doesn’t seem to be listening anymore. It’s a shame, because I spent a lot of years hanging on his every word and I am sorry to see what his words have become.

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is an expert in digital marketing, search technology, social media, text analytics, web personalization, and web metrics, who, as a Certified Speaking Professional, regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide. Mike serves as a senior strategist for Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website, ibm.com, most recently as the Manager of ibm.com Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He is a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. Mike worked at ibm.com from 1998 through 2006, pioneering IBM’s successful search marketing program. IBM’s website of over two million pages was a classic “big company” website that has traditionally been difficult to optimize for search marketing. Mike, working with Bill Hunt, developed a strategy for search engine marketing that works for any business, large or small. Moran and Hunt spearheaded IBM’s content improvement that has resulted in dramatic gains in traffic from Google and other internet portals.

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