Working in the SEO/SEM industry can be very
rewarding. Many times a problem can be solved simply with a
little online research, and posts on a few forums. All to
often, however, some people put too much stock in the posts they
see, ultimately negatively impacting their SEO efforts.
In this article I look at some of the positives and negatives of
online SEM forums and attending SEM and SEO conferences.
As part of my daily routine I visit a few of the search engine
forums out there to see what people are talking about and what
some have noticed.
Sometimes I come across real gems stuff I can put away for
later, or use with a client I’m currently stuck on. But more
often than not, the information you see is really mis-information
in some cases. As such, one must be extremely careful in
relying what is said on one forum.
A good example is when the Google Dance used to
happen. It was at this time that webmasters would watch Google
and begin to sweat when their rankings dropped one or many
positions. Some webmasters literally didn’t sleep during the
days of the dance. And many times you would visit some of the
popular forums and see all kinds of conjecture and speculation
as to what Google was doing.
My favorite posts were “on my website this
happened, so this HAS to be what Google is doing.” Yet all to
often this poor soul was basing his ideas on the effects he
witnessed on only one website. And that is a flaw with these
forums. It’s not that the forums themselves are flawed, it’s
that in some cases people posting on them make bold statements
about the current state of the engines with little or no
evidence. They base their “fact” on observations made on one or
two websites over the course of one or two days.
Generally, these types of posts
are quickly debunked as myth, but sometimes they do more damage
than good. That’s because there are others out there who know
even less and read these posts and take them as the truth when
in fact they are mere speculation. And it’s not just forums
where this happens.
Many of the big forums now have
events planned conferences and the like - where you can now go
hear those that post regularly also speak. But it’s not the
speaking engagements I have a problem with, it’s the speculation
that happens before and after the presentations that worries me.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had clients come back from
Webmasterworld conferences or Search Engine Strategies with
their heads full of ideas on how to move forward, even though I
know many of these “theories” to be false, or at least flawed.
You see, there’s lots of
socializing that happens at these events. You may be sitting
down to their lovely boxed lunches and strike up a conversation
with the person next to you. Before you know it you are sharing
ideas, and the next thing you know he’s solved all your
problems. Or at least you think he has.
But how well do you know the guy
you’ve just been talking to? And how can you be sure that what
he’s told you is correct? This is what I’ve dealt with in the
past and many times it’s the forums and conferences that can
undo over 3 or 4 days what it has taken you to build over months
and years - that is an appreciation from your clients that you
do indeed know what you are talking about.
Here’s an example:
We once had a client from a major
University. Things were sailing along quite nicely, changes
were getting made and the site was beginning to rank quite well.
The client thought it would be a good idea to attend a webmaster
conference. We recommended that she attend, but try not to
place too much emphasis on what she had heard. This was because
the conference she was attending wasn’t one of the “big” ones
like WMW or SES, but more of a regional one put on by a local
Yet she came back full of ideas on
how to “help” me do my job better. Things like turning off
her URL rewriter because “search engines index dynamic content
just fine.” and removing optimized meta tags because “search
engines don’t use those things anyways” and halting all link
building efforts because “building links can get you banned.”
Well you can guess what happened
next the site stalled in the search engines, and didn’t
improve much after that. We pleaded with her to let us get back
on track, but she was unwilling. In the end, the client canceled
unhappy with the results, but would never allow us to do the job
we were hired to do. All because she took what she had heard
sometime during the conference as the truth to end all truths.
Now I’m not saying that what she
was told at the conference was wrong. In fact, I’m inclined to
believe that what she was told was mostly right. However
somehow between attending the conference and coming back to work
with us she had determined that she somehow knew more that I did
about SEO. Chances are she likely distorted what she had
heard. Instead of “search engines don’t use meta tags” she
probably heard “most search engines don’t look at meta keyword
And instead of “link building will
harm your rankings” she probably really heard “improper link
building can hurt your rankings.” I feel she misinterpreted or
otherwise twisted what she had heard into something else. So if
you are site owner, please don’t assume everything you read/hear
in the industry spaces is correct. If anything I’ve found that
you must question everything.
Even if it’s something that a well
known industry expert has said, you still owe it to yourself to
question it. After all, if the “expert” is wrong, and you’ve
based your online marketing decisions on what they’ve said,
there’s only one person to blame and it isn’t necessarily the
Similarly, if you’ve read
something in a forum, be sure to double and triple check it
against a few other reliable sources. For example, if you’ve
read something at the
Webmasterworld forums, don’t be afraid to question the
ability in the
Searchenginewatch forums. Go a step further and question it
in a few more places until you get a satisfactory answer.
Because while there is a whole lot of gray in our industry in
terms of what works and what doesn’t there are some hard and fast
rules to SEO. Ones that will help and ones that will hurt when
applied to your site.