Big Media: Need an SEO Source? I’ll Help

February 22, 2011
By Lisa Barone in SEO

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”


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.

  • What about Slate’s recent article claiming SEO won’t work forever?
  • Or when PR exec Steve Rubel declared SEO “irrelevant” with Google Instant?
  • Or when Ad Age “analyzed” the rankings of five major brands, completely massacring it?

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?

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