Have you heard? SEO has a major reputation problem and it’s only getting worse.

It’s been hard to miss lately. Between SEOs publicly eating their young, mainstream media’s difficulty getting the story straight, and negative SEO press splashed across major newspapers – we’re in a swell of badness. The longer we stay there, the more hits we take as an industry.

Last week Shari Thurow authored a post for Search Engine Land about why SEO needs some reputation management. I don’t agree with everything in the article, but I did think there were some good truths to be found. Shari attributes SEO’s reputation problem to four main things:

  1. Blackhat Techniques & Search Engine Spam
  2. SEO Fairies & Magical Pixie Dust
  3. Journalists & Mainstream Media
  4. Search Engines

I want to talk about that third one.

It’s hard to deny that one reason SEO has such a bad reputation is because of those who inaccurately report on it. When people spread false information, especially when it’s coming from large media outlets, it puts dings in our armor. In journalism school, they teach you that to tell a story, you have to talk to the people who live it. But that doesn’t seem to happen when journalists (or bloggers) write about the search engine optimization industry. Instead, they just make it up, report on what they think they know or misconstrue truths until they’re barely recognizable.

In doing so, they perpetuate long-held and damaging SEO myths, preventing the conversation from ever moving beyond pixie dust and magic tricks.

Last week Forbes published a post sharing one CEO’s experience with accidentally hiring a black hat SEO. The CEO in question, Joe Silverman, details how “unbeknownst to him” he hired a black hat SEO who got his site penalized in Google for exchanging links with non-related Web sites. Silverman maintains he had no clue what his SEO firm was up to until the site’s rankings suddenly dropped and that it took a white hat SEO company years to clean up the mess.

Was the SEO company really “black hat”? Or were they just crappy SEOs who could only pull in low quality links? Who knows. None of that is addressed. Instead, the article moves on to allowing Silverman to share tips for finding a legitimate SEO. Ready?

  1. Google [SEO firms] and pick the top five (or ten)
  2. Get customer references
  3. Ask Google because “they’re really there to help”

Yeah.

Right on the heels of J.C. Penney’s SEO fail being splashed across the New Times, this is what’s printed. As business owners, the C-suite and executives are wondering if they, too, may have hired a bad SEO and what they should do, this is in the information they’ve given by Forbes. This is what they’ll hold on to the next time they need to hire an SEO.

It’s laughable. And it makes SEO look laughable.

But we can’t just pick on Forbes.

Every few months it’s a new article. And every few months, we take a hit.

You have to ask yourself – why?

Why are journalists unable to find accurate sources when writing about SEO?

Can they not find them? I completely understand how difficult it is for someone outside our industry to pinpoint who knows what they’re talking about and who doesn’t. I know because we do it for clients when pitching their industries But as a journalist, that’s your job. Ask your contacts for recommendations. Ask Twitter for recommendations and research the top 20 people they give you until you find one or two you trust. Get the names of people speaking at SEO conferences on the topics you’re interested in and look into them. Find the most subscribed to SEO blogs. Look for recommended SEO lists. Yeah, it takes legwork. It’s also your responsibility to spread truthful information.

Do they think SEOs won’t help? I have yet to meet an SEO who will turn down a link and/or mention from a credible news source. Sorry. SEOs are shameless.

Do the news publications want the links? Does Forbes really need a link from Outspoken Media calling out their mistakes? I have to think not. These inaccurate articles not only ding SEOs armor, they ding the news sources as well.

With those out of the way – the only answer I have left is that they’re not asking. They don’t want to reach out. Either because of fear, laziness or some other ailment. And that’s not okay.
Someone I have a huge amount of respect for? ZDNet’s Stephen Chapman.

I came across Stephen’s name when he took the initiative to introduce himself to the Sphinn community during a Discussion of the Week. Stephen let everyone know who he was, who he wrote for, and his desire to be included in the conversation so that he could use his influence for good.

Attention journalists – that’s how it’s done.

If you’re writing about SEO and you don’t know anything about SEO – find someone who does. Talk to people, get the real story, and then share THAT story with your audience. If you need help, email me at lisa [at] outspokenmedia [dot] com and I’ll put you in touch with someone who knows what they’re talking about. I won’t even pimp Outspoken Media because it’s not about us. It’s about spreading accurate information about SEO to help debunk some of the myths and bullshit that currently exist to move the conversation in the right direction. Tell me what you’re looking for, the angle you’re seeking, and I’ll give you a few names of people you should talk to. I attend a lot of conferences, read a lot of news, and talk to a lot of people. I know whose going to give you the right story.

It’s easy to get angry, but the truth is people need to be educated, especially people whose work it is to inform others. Should the responsibility be on them to reach out, make connections, and get the correct information? Yeah, it should be. But when they don’t it puts a stain on all of us. What can we all do to help?


About the Author

Lisa Barone

Lisa Barone co-founded Outspoken Media in 2009 and served as Chief Branding Officer until April 2012.


53 thoughts on “Big Media: Need an SEO Source? I’ll Help


  • Hugo Guzman on said:

    Admirable effort, Lisa, but I think that a lot of mainstream journalists actually think that they’re already taking the necessary steps.

    My suspicion is that a lot of them are going to “expert” sources that they think are reputable, even though often times that’s simply not the case.

    Still, I like the idea in general here and I hope that some folks in traditional media do find you and reach out.


    • Lisa Barone on said:

      I read that Forbes post last week and my head about exploded. The information being shared wasn’t just wrong, it was dangerous and laughable. It seems inconceivable to me that it was even put on Forbes. Did anyone check into that CEO’s history to understand what really happened or did they just want to tell a story of fear and pirate SEOs? And the tips offered? Really?

      If you don’t understand, you need to seek out qualified people who do. I have a hard time believing that a lot of these mainstream news outlets really feel they’ve done that. I get the rush of a deadline but…we need to do better. You’re talking about people’s businesses here. It’s noteworthy that when Google wanted to break the Bing/cheating story – they didn’t go to a “major” news outlet. They went to Danny Sullivan because they knew he’s properly report on it. That says a lot for Danny, but doesn’t say much for the major news outlets people are supposed to trust.

      Aaaand I’m done ranting. :)


  • Naomi Niles on said:

    I’m sorry. It must be incredibly frustrating. I always thought the outside perception of web designers was totally inaccurate and unfair, but it has to be way worse for SEO professionals.

    Good on you for caring so much about making your industry better! Everyone benefits from people like you.


    • Lisa Barone on said:

      It is frustrating, but I imagine it’s equally frustrating as a small business owner who can’t find the correct information/help they need. Something has to be done, I’m not sure what, to be honest.


  • bluephoenixnyc on said:

    The problem appears deeper than that–too much of online reporting divides itself between those who knowingly print inaccurate stories about SEO–because it’s going to get the pageviews (readers love the big company tech fail news angles)–or because the writer truly has no clue about what they’re reporting on, but are able to pass it off anyway with minimal effort. Reporters in tech love the “sexy side” and the only way to make SEO “sexy” for readers? Paint it as the bad guy because it still remains an enigma to enough casual internet users that that kind of misrepresentation would work.

    A fix to this? That more SEO/advocates call out journalists who are spreading inaccurate information. Nothing will get a misbehaving reporter to stop what they’re doing wrong sooner than calling them out–which is actually what this post doing very well.


    • Lisa Barone on said:

      Thanks for that comment. I fear there’s a lot of truth to it – needing to tackle the “good vs evil”, the amount of noise making it hard to find the signal, and the ability to sound believable when you’re not – it’s just so disheartening. My degree is in print & multimedia journalism and I hope i haven’t fallen too far off the cliff. As someone who’s NOT an SEO, but reports on SEO, I’m always bugging people to clarify things for me or to read something to make sure I’m saying something that’s not made up. It’s about accountability, really.


      • bluephoenixnyc on said:

        Accountability is becoming so elusive with the phenomenon of internet journalism–where everyone is suddenly an “expert” on everything. But it could be just as simple as the NYT, Forbes, and WSJ online, for example, realizing that while they quote knowledgeable SEOs on big stories like the J.C.Penney’s fiasco, there’s no other running narrative about how SEO works, to make the layperson understand it–even Mashable’s missing that kind of coverage.

        Another way to look at it: Google placements have a very huge bearing on the livelihoods of many businesses. SEO has never been more critical to the internet ecosystem. I’m surprised that SEO coverage remains so insidery as it does.

        Basically: No, you haven’t fallen too far off. Tech journalism needs to be recalibrated, basically.


        • Scott Golembiewski on said:

          To me the easiest way to understand something at a high level is to watch someone do it. The only problem with that is the results of doing SEO can take time, the results that can be attributed specifically that is.

          If thats the case, then perhaps some basic videos might illustrate the fundamentals?

          What would be the “aha” moment, and how can people sit and watch as this is accomplished?

          I can see starting with the basics like title and description tag analysis, but if you show the HTML source its beyond comprehension?


        • Lisa Barone on said:

          What do you mean by a running narrative? Like an every day look at what an SEO would do and how rankings are affected? If so, you’re right that’s not out there. I wonder if there’s another way to convey it other than case studies that most people don’t seem too interested in reading.

          How do you think tech journalism needs to change? Or, I guess, how would you like to see it change?


          • bluephoenixnyc on said:

            This is a great question, Lisa.

            I suppose by “running narrative,” I mean something like a contonuous presence in tech journalism of SEO and SEO-based initiatives that just doesn’t appear when there’s a big scandal like J.C. Penney’s snafu. Internet users need to learn about what happens when SEO goes right, too. Otherwise all we end up with are shortsighted Slate and Forbes trend pieces.

            I’m thinking Wired and Mashable as the biggest culprits–tech/SMO/internet marketing is a big, complicated jumble of developments in any given moment.

            Honestly, it seems like tech/SMO/internet marketing is stratified into soft vs. hard news and SEO definitely falls in the latter. You can’t have someone whose specialty is talking about how to get over your ex on Facebook commenting on how Google page rankings work.

            (Unless the writer is THAT good…but that rarely is the case.)


  • Julie Kosbab on said:

    The whole “google SEO firms and look at the top 5 or so” is a dangerous belief that is hugely common. To most people, it makes sense: “If you’re so good, why don’t you rank for SEO, huh?”

    People don’t know that they don’t know. Unfortunately, a bunch of media writers have lost sight of journalism, which is about asking the questions and trying to figure out what answers are correct, rather than just repeating the answers they hear.

    And to stick with this single example, it’s a hard one for SEOs to shoot down. “You just say that because you don’t rank in the top 10 for SEO firm and aren’t that good!” It’s the kind of myth that “common sense” can make self-sustaining.


    • Lisa Barone on said:

      Yeah, I hear that. In some fictional world, it makes sense that the best SEOs would rank for all those types of phrases, but most really don’t focus on them. Because they don’t NEED to rank for them to get clients. Trying to rank for [search engine optimization] is like the local shoe retailer trying to rank for [shoes]. In most cases, it’s a vanity term.


  • Rebecca L. on said:

    Last year at the height of the BP oil spill fervor, Howard Fineman went on Keith Olbermann’s program and told everyone that BP was buying organic links. Really. It seemed pretty obvious to me that he was using flawed search logic and getting caught in a personalization net, but hey, what do I know? I’m only an SEO, but if a Newsweek bigwig like Fineman says it, it must be true!


    • Lisa Barone on said:

      …and then of the thousands that caught that segment, a few hundred went into work the next day and repeated it to someone. That’s the danger.

      There’s a comment down below that says the responsibility is on us to pitch the types of SEO stories we want to see or the information we want out — perhaps that’s all we can do, other than sending inflamed emails correcting journalists missteps when they happen.


  • Le Juge SEO on said:

    I understand your frustration.

    It’s hard to see all the effort we put in our blogs to educate the world about SEO good practice getting blast by one poorly documented article.


  • Dimitry from Advicegraphics Marketing on said:

    Hi Lisa,
    I would like to speak about small business owner and SEO issues.
    Pick up five or ten top SEO companies it is a good idea. But the question is…
    How a small company can afford the professional SEO costs? $2000-$5000 per month… Ouch! I don’t think so…
    Plus the mental barrier. If I pay, I need the guarantee and result. Sometimes it’s very hard to explain that Ethical SEO Strategies and Marketing takes a time, smart thinking, persistence. This why a majority of small businesses turn into black hat SEO strategies. Go..go..go I need it for yesterday.
    I don’t think that top ten in Google the best solution. For my business the word of mouth and references are the best approach to find a new prospects, even if you are not at top ten for the most popular keywords.


    • Lisa Barone on said:

      The top ten Google results are DEFINITELY not the best solution for HIRING an SEO, but performing searches on SEO-related terms or concepts may help you find news outlets or sources you can speak to. The Forbes article suggested people looking for SEOs search for [SEO] in Google, which I think is a pretty laughable strategy.

      I definitely agree with you that WOM is often the best way to find a vendor, which is how many SEOs get their clients and why they’re less worried about vanity terms.


  • Adam Riemer on said:

    The story I am waiting to hear is the one that the person gets screwed because they type best medical doctor for life threatening surgery and random sites pop up recommending doctors that aren’t good and the person dies. All of the sudden Google is an SEO scam and all of the sudden Google dies because it is a game….ohh wait that has started to happen. People need to realize they cannot always rely on Google, they also have to do their own research after finding a few firms. #headtodesk. Great post!


  • netmeg on said:

    It’s a noble effort you put forth, but I don’t think it’ll work. Journalists seem to already have the story angle in mind whether or not they seek out the expert, and they’re not gonna change it, no matter what.

    In the old dinosaur days, when there were very few women online (and even fewer with high visibility) one of the big Detroit papers wanted to interview me about, well, being one of the few visible women online. I gave an extensive interview, all full of geek stuff about how I was running email servers for the entire town and news feeds, and disk stepping rates blah blah blah, and I pointed them to a few other women who were kicking. (Mind you, this was back before some of you were BORN) Then this huge front page story comes out and… it’s about online DATING! The only comment I’d even made on that was that the internet was a terrible place to meet men (which didn’t make the article) It was dreadful. I didn’t even wanna leave the house.

    I figured it was a fluke, and gave several more interviews on other tech topics, and similar things happened – the story obviously had a slant going in that I wasn’t even aware of.

    So I stopped giving interviews to MSM. Never will again. Cause if it doesn’t fit in their little pre-packaged box, they don’t wanna write it. Or quote it.


    • Lisa Barone on said:

      That’s really sad to hear. It’s unfortunate when a journalist comes in with the story already written and just looking for a few quotes to pop in. I’ve been a victim of that myself, not typically in search-related stories. There’s definitely not much you can do about those.


  • Michael Dorausch on said:

    It’s a darned good thing I’m not as much an SEO as I am a Chiropractor, an industry that’s not had any bias, no misleading reporting, and has long maintained a stellar reputation. /sarcasm


    • Michael Dorausch on said:

      Was one of the primary reasons I started my site in the 90s… Education. Been quite a ride. Long overdue for a post on the similarities I see to SEO. Nothing has my profession back more than infighting, hoping SEO industry doesn’t go down same path.


  • Arienne on said:

    I was a mainstream media journalist for 10 years. Guess what? There are great journalists. There are good journalists. And there are mediocre journalists. I have worked with all of them.

    Not every story gets the same attention by reporter or editor, not even at Forbes. There are a million reasons, but despite everyone’s best efforts—and I know from experience that even mediocre journalists are putting forth best efforts—sometimes that means an average, less-than-accurate or even wrong story is published.

    Want to set the story straight? It’s classic reputation management that should start before a problem. Reach out to the technology journalists at your local newspapers and magazines (if there are any left—so many have been laid off). If you can’t find a tech journalist, get to know the Business editor/reporters or the Life editor/reporters. Pitch them business success stories—especially weird success stories—or before-and-after examples. Offer to be a source, as Lisa has, on ANY tech topic for which you’re qualified to speak, or to help find qualified sources. Get yourself listed on sites like HARO or any of the other (or online public relations directories that Dan Bischoff dug up.)

    Bottom line: if you want to see other kinds of SEO stories, pitch them.


    • Lisa Barone on said:

      I really appreciate you’re chiming in and I definitely think you’re right. If we want to see different types of tech stories, we have to pitch them. Typically, we don’t think about it until we’re reading something horribly inaccurate and want to strangle the reporter that wrote it. I do make it a habit of reaching out to journalists and offering myself as a source should they ever need anything, even if its to point them to someone else. I’ve only ever had one reporter take me up on it.


  • Arienne on said:

    Netmeg, I know those peeps in Detroit. That’s horrible (and a teeny bit hysterical—now I wanna find the story! Ha!) For future reference everyone: ask the reporter, “What’s the angle so I know how to direct my comments?” and “Are you in the early or late stage of your reporting? I want to be sure to give you what you need.” Saves everybody some time and frustration.


  • Scott Golembiewski on said:

    I think the answers to this lie in having local SEO groups who meet and discuss how to address these types of issues.

    This is where journalists could drop in and learn too, and ask questions and get good information.


    • Lisa Barone on said:

      If a journalist can’t be bothered to do some research from their home, I’m not so convinced they’re going to attend a local SEO meetup. But…maybe. ;)


  • Stephen Chapman on said:

    Humbled.

    That’s what I am right now! Thanks so much for your kind words, Lisa. It’s certainly a major confidence-booster and it really helps me with gauging the perception of others where I’m concerned in this industry. I still consider myself a relative “newby” to the mainstream media SEO crowd and the last thing I want to do is disappoint, so it’s really healthy for me to see things like this. Thanks. =)

    It’s great to read your perspective on this. I, too, have been following this mainstream media wave of negativity befalling the SEO industry as of late and I’ve been struggling with formulating coherent conclusions on the topic in some ways. No longer, thanks to your post!

    In part, it’s interesting and entertaining for me to read how some of these larger media venues perceive SEO and relay it to others for them to digest. It’s like SEO has become the trump card for use to blame all things “bad search” on and is afforded nothing else. I guess as with so many other things, all is mostly quiet when things are going well. Perhaps SEO enjoys no exemptions from that — especially with no one wanting to say word-one about how well they’re doing when they are.

    With that in mind, I theorize that happy customers being more vocal might help. I understand the grab there with customers either not wanting to be vocal and journalists not seeming to care about fleshing out people like that to write a story on, but I can’t help but think an article with a format of something like “happy customer made a lot of money implementing white hat SEO” would help — especially in abundance, with reputable companies, and being presented via major media outlets. After all, if the J.C. Penney fiasco had instead been Jane Jill’s Party Favors or whatever, the story most certainly would not have had the reach that it did — in my opinion, at least. Perhaps the same reach can be achieved via a positively-spun SEO story involving a big brand?

    Anyway, I feel like I’m rambling on now, so I’ll conclude with noting that the respect is mutual — if not even more so on my end since I’ve been keeping up with your work (and Outspoken Media as a whole) for far longer. =)

    -Stephen


    • Lisa Barone on said:

      Thanks for chiming in Stephen. All BS aside, I was really impressed when you hopped into that Sphinn discussion and laid it on the line – “I want you to keep me in the discussion so that I can influence people correctly”. That’s how you got on my radar and we’ve had a lot of great conversations (or at least I think so ;)) since then.

      You make a good point in that people “happy” with their SEO are less likely to want to share and let everyone else know what they’re doing. I’m starting to think maybe the SEO industry just needs to be more proactive about pitching the right kind of stories. If Mohamed won’t come to the mountain… ;)


  • JadedTLC on said:

    I fear that journalism as researchers has gone the way of the dinosaurs. The MSM doesn’t care to research facts – look how Fox News misconstrues things every day. Unfortunately, the masses who don’t consume their news online don’t know this. I believe that after time, (call me an optimist), these myths will die as surely as Paul Bunyan did.

    I look to the future when Google makes my breakfast before I search the fridge for it.


  • Rand Fishkin on said:

    Lisa – I’m in total agreement here. The more stories I read in the press that cover SEO, the more I become doubtful of journalistic accuracy and quality across the board. If they can’t get SEO right, how can they cover truly complex, political situations with worldwide implications, players and multiple layers?

    As for a solution, it seems systemic across the journalism industry… Feels like a fix could only come from that side of the aisle – competition, like those from industry-insider publications, over the long term might help. Or, perhaps, one or several “old-school” publications upping their game dramatically and building a reputation of accuracy, quality, depth and perspective.

    Not saying there’s “nothing” the SEO community can do, but if journalists aren’t willing to connect with a wide swath of professionals, nor vet the information independently (or learn it themselves), it seems nearly impossible to scale education far enough to have an impact.


    • Lisa Barone on said:

      So what you’re saying is that the SEO industry needs to pool its resources to create an old school-type publication and give these journalists a run for their money? I can get on board with that. ;)


  • Kevin on said:

    Few things. Did you read the NYT article? They asked Danny and Matt for their take on the situation. It’s not like these writers don’t know how to find someone to add some credibility to their work. Whether most are too lazy, well, that’s another story and it’s not like the SEO world is the only victim of journalistic inaccuracies. Not to mention that there are more important stories to write than who’s gaming the great Google. 

    If you read through the comments in The Times you’ll see that they ranged from “who shops there anyway” to “good for them, who is google to set all the rules.” So even after the 500 page article the general public still could care less about a company disrespecting the webmaster guidelines.  What does that tell you? Should the writer have gone into a tirade about good SEO vs. bad? It seems that the public could care less.  The author picked up on that and made a provocative article out of a pretty boring industry. 

    Most clients I talk to want the fastest results for the least investment, and that article did a few things to stir those people up: it let people know that if you’re willing to take some risks you can still game the results for a certain amount of time and it even went into how to do it.  That’s provocative stuff. 

    I think that SEO is even getting press is a good thing, regardless of quality of content or factual correctness. You guys should be happy too. 

    As strong personalities in the business, your proverbial soapbox gives you the opportunity to be the mouthpiece of the industry. Instead of complaining about this you should take advantage of your social network and get your views and opinions out to the MSM. 


    • Lisa Barone on said:

      As strong personalities in the business, your proverbial soapbox gives you the opportunity to be the mouthpiece of the industry. Instead of complaining about this you should take advantage of your social network and get your views and opinions out to the MSM.

      Trouble is, they have to be willing to correct their mistruths and be open to a new angle. As many commenters have shared above, they’re very often now. I have reached out to many of the news outlets lately that have published things of little sense. They’re not willing to correct the information.


  • Doc Sheldon on said:

    Great post, Lisa. While I agree with your frustration, I don’t think it’s realistic to expect SEOs to be able to counter negative press on SEOs. Arienne makes a great point. I worked as a journalist for several years, and it’s just like any other industry…. there are diamonds in the rough, and clinkers in the coal bin. And if the editor isn’t demanding (or the owners are panicky over sliding market share), the quality will fall off. Some journalists will dig for weeks, to be sure they have their facts right, while others will slap a story together with spit and some hope. Your idea of offering yourself up as an OMBUDSMAN of sorts is great, and if you reach out(how many journalists do you think really read OSM?), you could make a difference.
    Don’t get too frustrated yet, though… it only gets tougher. ;)


  • Jackson Lo on said:

    Great article Lisa! A lot has to be said about the language journalists and writers use when they talk about SEO. The accuracy part is very important and a lot fail to understand the technicalities behind SEO, rather they read a couple blog posts and come to a conclusion with what they think works.

    I also agree that with the fact that influence is an aspect for how information is disseminated across the web, and that it’s important to find those who know what they’re talking about, and follow them.

    At the end of the day, I think one might conclude that it’s a timely process. Some have been conditioned that results could be delivered over night, not a chance. As a result, they are thinking less about building a long-term strategy and growing their brand. I always say, no matter where you are placing yourself (online or offline) stay true to yourself, make sure you are creating some type of value with content, and the results will come.


  • Brian Ussery on said:

    Honestly, I don’t get it either and always thought journalist were supposed to be the very folks most on top of their game when it comes to fact checking. This epidemic seems to go pretty high, well I guess that is all depending on who you ask. I missed that Forbes post but, it’s pretty ironic considering their little issue last week.

    Did you see the Glenn Beck / Bill O’Reilly interview ? They both admit to having “other people do whatever has to be done” when it comes to computing but, go on to make silly claims about Google working with the US Government to overthrow the Egyptians.

    I almost expect the problem to get worse before it gets better, great post either way! :)


  • Joshua Ansell-McKinon on said:

    Excellent Post! I think that the key to helping the SEO community grow is educating others. Often I talk with prospects who have developed preconceived notion of SEO. Once people start to understand the depth of knowledge, amount of work, and vast skill set that quality SEO’s have people understand our value.

    The media is always looking for negative news. Right now SEO is getting put in the spot light. From a stoic prospective: SEO’s who are good at what they do will benefit and rise above from all of the press.

    In one of the proposals I sent recently I used the current SEO news to warn my potential client of what can happen if they go with a black hat shop. Building my value from the negative SEO news and giving prospective to the amount of work that is needed.


  • Tom Aikins on said:

    Absolutely agree with what you’ve said. Being so far inside the SEO world I sometimes forget how little the average person even knows about what we do. That makes it very easy for the mainstream media to paint us in a bad light. We need more education for people to understand what it is that we actually do.


  • Gil on said:

    It’s a wider problem IMO. As experienced internet users we’re not surprised that there’s incorrect information on the internet, or that Google’s top results are sometimes poor. But we often maintain an idealized view of journalism that is sadly out of touch with reality. Usually when I see a story that I know anything about I’m shocked by how misleading the coverage is. I hear the same complaint from many others. Journalism’s coverage of SEO isn’t the exception, it’s the rule. And with the increased economic pressure on journalism I expect this to get worse.

    So I agree with your entire post except for 2 things:
    1) It’s not just about SEO, it’s about most topics
    2) “Attention journalists – that’s how it’s done.” Sadly not. But yes, that’s how it should be done.

    Sorry for my cynicism. But journalism, like consulting, is often the art of sounding like you know what you’re talking about. Many stop there. Which may be one reason many journalists project these traits onto SEOs. Of course, as with SEOs, there are plenty of journalists that are better than this. But also as with SEOs, your first assumption should usually be skepticism.


  • Gabriele Maidecchi on said:

    The fact journalists make up stories from scratch doesn’t surprise me, in fact from my personal experience a good amount of the stories we read every day are totally made up from scratch, while the remaining ones are inflated beyond hope.
    You ask: “Why are journalists unable to find accurate sources when writing about SEO?”
    My question is more like: “Why are journalists unable to find accurate sources when writing?”
    The answer is pretty simple: they just don’t even try.
    I guess finding a source isn’t the trend anymore, now it’s just about making a story and shock the audience.


  • Ryan Jones on said:

    I think a bigger part of the problem is that if you actually Google “seo company” or “seo firm” the results you get aren’t the reputable people who know what they’re doing.

    If I didn’t know anything about SEO, I would instantly assume that the person ranking first for “seo company” must really know their shit. Seems logical right?


    • Lisa Barone on said:

      Which is why that’s perhaps where you START but you don’t finish there. Journalists are never going to find an already organized list of sources. You have to make it yourself and that means putting in some legwork. If you don’t know where else to start, then go to Google and do a search. Get some names — and then RESEARCH them. Where have they spoken? Do they have a blog? Do people seem to respond well to it? What’s their social authority like? What are they an expert in? You have to start somewhere. If it’s not the search engines and you don’t have anyone else to ASK to get WOM opinion, then where are you starting? Phone book.


  • Amber on said:

    I read a great article last week about how businesses need to take responsibility for what is happening within their company. When companies pay for offensive advertising, they don’t claim they didn’t know and point a finger at the ad agency that designed it. So, why no take responsibility for their SEO mistake. They should have hired someone to keep an eye on it, if they didn’t understand it. JCP just wanted to shift the blame. But Ryan has a point, when you google SEO companies the most reputable companies don’t always pop up. No wonder journalists are confused.


  • theGypsy on said:

    Hiya Lisa, I am a bit late to the game here, but I thought I’d take a few moments to discuss what I have experienced.

    During the whole WSJ experience (Overstock) I went to great lenghts in trying to educate them on search (and SEO). It was most certainly like pulling teeth (or hair out). I am so close to it that I had no idea how little they actually knew about how things work. To their credit (the reporter and his editor) kept asking questions and did attempt to get their heads around it.

    What seems to be also in play here is the ‘angle’. WHY is it that they are suddenly interested in SEO? Sadly the angle was more about big brands ‘cheating’ as it was anything else. So, were they REALLY trying to understand SEO? Not entirely.

    What is more troubling, is that both the JCP and OS stories (NYT and WSJ respectively) were started by SEOs (seemingly seeking to bring down a competitor). I doubt that has helped the perception of us among the media. It is a troubling trend that has made me uneasy, the more I learned about what was going on behind the scenes.

    Anyway… just passing through and thought to add that in… have a great weekend!


  • Topher on said:

    Great writing as always.

    Once again to say that “All journalist” are doing this (as soem of the commentaries have said) is just wrong.

    I know of at least one news site that tries to get a SEO’s to comment and talk about things that they are writing about. Why is that people in our industry like to say broad absolut things that are never true and just make them and other SEO’s look stupid?

    Again good stuff as always, Your Fan Topher!


  • Jesse Green on said:

    I too am a little late to the dance here – but would submit that there are two factors at work here…an uneducated (I don’t mean ignorance, but few fully get SEO to begin with) public, and a number of grey hat/black hat players that are spoiling this unregulated industry for the masses that are all white hat. The public relations industry has experienced similar pains over it’s many decades of history (and continues to suffer some of these challenges today). It’s ironic that both industries could use a healthy dose of the others’ expertise, but the fact remains is that in the absence of regulation, we must regulate ourselves. Much like SEO – this will be a marathon, not a race, but the more we self-regulate, the likelier our reputation will improve.


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