It’s not just the weather that has been hot and stormy this week in the UK; thunderbolts and lightning have been flying about over the SEO is Dead article published on The Guardian website.
I had a chance to meet up with the author of the article, Tim Anderson, and over a cup of coffee had the chance to dig a bit deeper into his thinking and why he wrote the article.
Setting the Scene
If you haven’t seen it already, start by reading through his article published in The Guardian, Search Engine Optimisation is Dead. Long live social media optimisation.
My colleague Laura Hampton has already done a controlled demolition of the logic underpinning the article, and I recommend you read her post together with Martin McDonald’s excellent analysis of the data used in the article.
The article has stirred deep controversy and quite a social media storm, primarily as a result of some of the provocative statements in the post:
"Search engine optimisation (SEO) was always a flawed concept." "... Google search may display only 13% organic results; 'the rest is ads and junk'. " ".. how consumers found websites in 2012 shows that social media is catching up with search" "Recommendations from friends count for more than a search engine algorithm will ever achieve."
I had the chance to spend an hour with the article author, Tim Anderson, and we had the chance talk through some of the bigger issues the SEO is Dead article raises.
I had three questions I wanted to ask:
- Does Tim really think SEO is dead?
- Does his article fairly represent the importance of SEO for business owners?
- Is the article factually correct?
Does Tim Think SEO is Dead?
He firmly points his finger at the editorial team for writing the “SEO is Dead” headline that stirs up the controversy.
As it turns out, that bit of editorial mischief ended up producing a keyword rich article that is more than likely, and most ironically, getting a huge amount of SEO traffic.
Tim may not think SEO is dead, but I suspect he wishes it were dead. I detected in our conversation a certain antipathy towards Google that is also signalled in the posts he writes on his personal blog. His own site has suffered a fall in organic Google traffic due to the Panda update. Google has penalised one of his favourite technical support websites. He thinks the influence of artificial link building undermines quality search results, and is an algorithmic mess open to abuse. He’s suspicious of Google’s attitude towards personalisation and privacy. And he hates the whole idea of optimising for the search engines robots rather than optimising for humans.
Nevertheless, the issue remains that the main point of the article is SEO is Dead. Perhaps he tried to address to complex a topic in too short piece? Was his definition of SEO lacking? It was here that I found a chink in Tim’s logical armour. Yes, indeed, Tim admits that he doesn’t always get things right, and sometimes gets things wrong.
But he wasn’t offering an apology for writing the piece, and really we only got as far as agreeing the tone was wrong. Update: please see Tim’s comment below where he does indeed apologise for causing any offense.
Does his article fairly represent the importance of SEO for business owners?
My main concern is that Guardian readers are going to trust this “SEO is Dead” nonsense, stop doing SEO for their businesses, and decide to put all their eggs into the social media marketing basket.
Tim’s recommendation could put businesses at huge risk, and dropping SEO as a strategy could severely impact some businesses viability.
Doesn’t Tim have a responsiblity to write about the topic fairly and objectively? Given the authority of The Guardian website, should this kind of misleading content be published?
Tim made two important points:
First, his article appears in the Social Media section of The Guardian, where it is published as editorial designed to be opinionated and thought provoking. As an aside, this section is sponsored by Salesforce.com, who in addition to sponsoring the editorial also have a Partner Zone where they can put their own advertising content. Tim’s article was written independently, and Salesforce did not come up either the topic or the offending headline.
And secondly he made the point that if you read his article very carefully, in each of the paragraphs he does recommend what most of us consider to be good SEO practice:
- good SEO is about making a high quality website destination
- organic search traffic to many sites is still a large numbers but as a proportion is in decline
- the new model of social media is about being customer centric
But the issue is about the spin on the article designed to be read by the general public. The problem is with the spirit or original intention of the article. I think the damage is done with the headline and opening paragraph. Readers aren’t going to unpack these issues in detail. And with his conclusion of “SEO won’t be missed” (which wouldn’t have been written by the mischievous editorial team) I think he is laying his cards on the table.
Mike Essex from Koozai got in touch and wanted me to ask if Tim felt SEO was a force for good, or has it just made the web worse. Tim wasn’t really going to be drawn on the topic, saying both good and bad have happened, and we can draw from examples of both.
Is the article factually correct?
This is where Tim and I fundamentally have to disagree.
Even after spending a very pleasant and engaging hour with Tim and seeing how engaged he is with search marketing, I feel he has written an article that is misleading and sensational, and really not worthy of publication in The Guardian. It’s not just the headline, it’s the whole spirit of the article.
And it is for this reason I think the article shouldn’t have been published.
What a shame, because The Guardian has been doing such a good job educating its readers about digital marketing and more specifically SEO, and this one article has just blown a large chunk of credibility.
It is not just not the spirit of article; the facts used as a supporting argument just don’t hold water.
SEO isn’t dying. Year on year search engine traffic has gone up 18% (Hitwise data)
It is simply not true that only 13% of the Google search results contain organic results. I know Tim included the magic “may” word, but…
SEO isn’t just about text and links. The fundamental definition of SEO in this article is flawed.
It is not a simple choice of SEO or Social. Social has been in the SEO algorithmic mix for years. They are converging. Business do not have the choice of doing either one or the other.