Remember that old phrase: “The more things change, the more they stay the same”?
In the SEO world it’s more like, “The more things change, the more they change.”
At least that seemed to be the overriding consensus when SEO professionals on Twitter were asked, “What are some realities about SEO that too many SEOs are reluctant to admit or deal with?”
More than 30 SEO practitioners responded, and their answers were diverse.
However, most of them centered around the difficulties of dealing with change and uncertainty, whether from search engines, their clients, or in their own ways of thinking about SEO.
Responses fell into five general areas of struggle as we move into 2020:
- SEO is complex and constantly changing.
- Can we believe/trust Google?
- SEOs have themselves to blame.
- Explaining SEO to clients or superiors is hard.
- SEO alone is a non-starter.
1. SEO Is Complex & Constantly Changing
Will King summed up the existential angst of accelerating change:
Google’s technology moves faster than we can keep up with. Many methods that used to work are most likely redundant
— will king (@kingwill829) October 21, 2019
Most crafts have a set of accepted best practices handed down from generation to generation.
While it’s true that there are some SEO “must-dos” that haven’t changed, practitioners worry there may be things they continue to do that search engines have made obsolete.
The biggest problem is never being certain what those things are.
Some SEO pros believe nothing from the past can be held to with any certainty.
As Joe Youngblood put it: “Everything changes. What we used to know and built reputations on will eventually be wrong.”
Jesse MacDonald agreed:
I’d agree with Joe. The phrase “it was so much easier back in the day” is still thrown around a lot and I feel like that sentiment comes with a desire for the landscape of SEO to have not changed. Yet, change in this industry is a guarantee.
— Jesse McDonald 🎃👻🧛🏻♂️ (@jesseseogeek) October 25, 2019
Jairus Mitchell thinks it’s even worse, adding “Things that work might not work for the reasons we think.”
Search engine algorithms are complex, and the variables at play in any algorithmic changes approach the infinite.
Ignoring that complexity can lead to trouble if an SEO has too much confidence that a single thing they did was responsible for a certain result.
Peter Mindenhall took that a step further:
The level of poor interpretation/understanding/explanation (both in and outside the industry) Example – A googler will say something at a conference, and 3 people will live tweet it with 3 different interpretations of what was said/meant by the speaker
— Peter Mindenhall (@PeterMindenhall) October 21, 2019
Personal interpretations and pet theories, whether they come from one’s own testing or what someone else said, can spread misinformation like a game of telephone.
As with many “true facts” on the internet, something can become “true” just because it’s been repeated enough times.
Finally, Jason Landry reminded us that the complexity of SEO is relational as well as informational (more on that in another section below):
We all serve 3 masters. Google, our client, and the client’s customers. None of these people want the same thing and some of them never even speak to us.
— Jason Landry (@TheJasonLandry) October 21, 2019
2. Can We Believe/Trust Google?
There has always been a kind of cold war between SEO professionals and Google, with varying degrees of detente over time.
But that distrust seems to be at an all-time high.
Mary Bowling stated it quite directly, asserting SEO pros have a hard time “believing that Google spokespeople are telling the whole truth OR that they even really know what the truth is.”
Jeff Ferguson was a bit more sympathetic toward Google, but ultimately blames the vagueness of remarks from the search engine’s representatives for confusion in the industry:
I think most SEOs really don’t want to deal with how little we truly understand the environment we’re working in day to day. Most statements from Google are intentionally and rightfully broad, which makes most of our honest answers start with, “As far as we understand…”
— Jeff Ferguson (@CountXero) October 25, 2019
But Shawn Cohen reminded us:
Google isn’t a democracy and can do whatever it wants to with search results.
— Shawn Cohen (@shawnccohen) October 25, 2019
According to Becky Lehman, “position 10 today is more like position 50 after you factor in how many ads and clickable things are above you.”
Adam Singer spelled out the implications of that reality:
Google owes you nothing and likely will continue to put more paid in front of organic results (so you better get good at SEM too – it’s an opportunity to grow your practice, stop complaining).
— Adam Singer (@AdamSinger) October 21, 2019
3. SEO Pros Have Only Themselves to Blame
In contrast to those who laid the blame for SEO confusion at the feet of Google, some SEO professionals see four fingers pointing back at themselves for every one they point at search engine spokespersons.
For example, Brian Harnish thought that, “most SEOs don’t want to go through the hard and tedious process of cleaning up their own bad link profiles,” while Grant Simmons worried that SEOs “don’t want to deal with the realities of building bridges to development resources. Most projects go awry & descend into finger pointing when devs & SEOs can’t (or don’t want to) talk.”
Gianluca Fiorelli pointed at those who want to believe there is a magical silver bullet to solve their SEO problems:
Industry peers embracing shining gold objects and go crazy for them, when no evidence of benefit is out there 🙄🙄
— Gianluca Fiorelli (@gfiorelli1) October 21, 2019
…while FP Marcil complained that SEOs waste time on trivial matters, spending “way too much time/energy on the 1000 less important ‘changes’.”
John Doherty worried…
It moves so fast that it’s addictive and that is unhealthy for the industry.
— John Doherty 🤓 Denver entrepreneur (@dohertyjf) October 21, 2019
Joe Hall added to the angst about accelerating change with the simple but hard-hitting observation: “At the end of the day, we don’t really have any control.”
Kevin Mullett, though, was willing to give SEOs some benefit of the doubt:
While the work done by other SEOs, or even yourself, may not be perfect or optimal, it still may, in fact, be helpful and valuable to the site owner. And that the SEOs probably didn’t receive an unlimited budget and complete buy-in from the client either.
— Kevin Mullett (@kmullett) October 25, 2019