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White Coat SEO resolutions for the New Year

Written by David Harry   
Monday, 14 December 2009 14:17

My challenge to the community for 2010

This post has been a long time coming. This is a topic that dives me mad to no end. Can you imagine a web developer that didn’t know HTML? A conversion expert that doesn’t know what Google Analytics is? How about a social media marketer that’s never heard of Twitter?

Well, to me, that’s what an SEO professional who doesn’t understand a search engine is.

And I am not talking about understanding search engines in the sense of having a grip on the difference between a regular SERP and a Universal one. We’re talking about actually digging into the nuts and bolts of Information Retrieval and related sciences (linguistics, NLP, machine learning etc..). 

Let us bear in mind that ‘search’ and ‘engine’ make up 2/3rds of the job title…. It seems almost intuitive that this is an area of study.

A new goal for 2010

SEO Higher Learning

Waaaay back at the beginning of the year I wrote a post called SEO Higher Learning because I wanted ’09 to be a year where people in this biz learned more about search engines beyond the usual regurgitation. We then took it even further by starting a IR Patent and Research Paper library.. and ultimately an entire SEO Community where people could take things to the next level.

All of this because of a hope to bring SEO practitioners knowledge of search (engines) to new levels.

This year (as with most) I’ve been watching one of the more amusing (and never ending) industry conversations; SEO standards. And it seems almost exclusive that each effort made rarely deals with elements beyond the usual ‘basic’ understanding of search engines and is more about the known elements we’re all fond of regurgitating. NEVER do we see any element of understanding search engines in the mix. Most ‘SEO courses’ are no different. Each time I read them, I have to wonder; WTF?

People are quick to tell me that it really isn’t important. That SEO can be done without learning about this stuff. While that is certainly (somewhat) true; it does us no justice. Very few of the educational systems/courses out there neither encourage nor teach much about how search engines work either… I’ll repeat it again; WTF?

Sure, it’s not the sexiest topic and can be a bit of a snooze fest at times, but this is IMPORTANT stuff.

How can you optimize for search engines if you’ve no idea how they work? It’s beyond me…I am talking about the pro’s, not the ‘just make great content’ crowd. Being able to build systemic models for maxing out an SEO program is what makes one a professional.

Getting geeky with your SEO

The SEO Crystal Ball

And what about the future? How do you future proof your SEO?  One of the most important aspects of staying on top of information retrieval happenings is that you get a glimpse at where they’re going; not just where they’ve been.

Recent events (such as social search, personalized search and more) highlight just how far off we are as an industry. So many of these developments are ‘meh’ and shouldn’t be big news nor unexpected. For those ‘skilled in the art’.  

Many of these elements are things I’ve been writing about for many years…. Why? Over time you will notice the interest for a given topic in the IR world. From there we can see where we’re (potentially) headed. The same can be said for patents. Over time one becomes a part of the never ending stream of them. While all may not see implementation, a historical perspective allows you to better see the evolution.

But no… people would rather be a ‘Googler watcher’ and adapt methods based on the latest press release from the folks at the ‘Plex.

Testing 1-2-3; is this thing on?

And what about testing? I just LOVE this one. I read posts out in the sphere that are doing ‘so-called’ testing on search engines. This is one serious WTF? How in the world can these people test anything when they haven’t a clue about the elements in involved? Did you know most, if not ALL, testing from SEOs is complete and utter bullshit? Seriously…

We recently had ‘testing’ as one of the topics in our Friday Chat Sessions (in the Dojo) and I essentially told the membership as much… It is ALL CRAP. Even my own. In reality, we can only ever get anecdotal evidence; nothing more. Let us consider this;

  1. We don’t know ALL the 2-300 signals
  2. Even if we did; we don’t know the weighting
  3. We are unaware of dampening factors in place
  4. New sites perform different than older ones
  5. …on and on…

You get the idea. If we cannot isolate most, if not all, of the other elements, we cannot isolate a given signal.

Does this mean we shouldn’t test? Of course not, it is more about how we relate the data. And if you’re not well versed in how search engines operate, how can one even begin to set up testing that limits these issues? It says here that; YOU CAN’T.

Is SEO ar tor science?

Sorry Charlie

I can already hear the moaning from SEOs far and wide; “you don’t need to know IR to do SEO”. While this is somewhat true, I can guarantee that if you do this thing of ours based on what others write. Not on a definitive knowledge of the topic. You will not have a mind of your own and you will NOT be fluid and adaptive to future technologies.

If there is one thing that I advise for the New Year, it is that you start to take your knowledge beyond the blogosphere. I don’t need standards to tell the real SEOs from the fakers. It’s in their knowledge level – it’s easy.

And if you are running training courses, conventions or other places of learning; please start to look at this problem. Because to me, if you don’t have at least a rudimentary understanding of how search engines work; you’re no SEO to me.


SEO Training



0 # @steveplunkett 2009-12-14 14:32
Did you know most, if not ALL, testing from SEOs is complete and utter bullshit? Seriously…

Did you actually write that?

if we don't test, we don't learn, if we don't learn, we don't change, if we don't change we stay stagnant....

So Test, Change, Test again, change, test again..

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0 # JMorris 2009-12-14 14:52
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+2 # Ryan 2009-12-14 15:02
The problem is that most of the SEOs running the training sessions and conferences. The big names from all the conventions - are the same ones who don't know HTML, and have never actually designed or coded a website.

They're salesmen. Skilled talkers who are great at selling SEO, but with no computer science or academic background.
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0 # Dave 2009-12-14 15:15
@Steve - he he... well I also said;

Does this mean we shouldn’t test? Of course not, it is more about how we relate the data. And if you’re not well versed in how search engines operate, how can one even begin to set up testing that limits these issues? It says here that; YOU CAN’T.

As you know I like poking around and testing as much as the next fella. Problem is that if people don't have an intimate knowledge of how search engines work, then how can they set up proper tests? Never mind being able to understand the data and interpret it.

@Ryan - well, I don't really 'DO' the conference circuit, but I do know that many of the folks at them are actually fairly well versed in IR. But yes, there are plenty of marketing types (hype merchants I call 'em) in the industry. And I don't want people to get completely obsessed about IR as I do. But I'd like to see more courses out there start to cover some of the core elements. This should be added to the mix IMO.

At the end of the day, it is often shocking how some SEOs believe that search engines work - an entire mythology. If we were learning these things early one, the profession as a whole would be better of IMHO
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0 # CrankyDave 2009-12-14 15:25
Hey David!

Had to comment on the testing thang...

To me, it's not the testing that's utter bullshit, but the conclusions that get drawn and inevitably, get purported to be 'absolute fact'.

Observations from even the most rudimentary of 'tests' can provide insight. It's a matter of what one does with those observations.

I agree, a better understanding of IR, where's its been and where it's potentially going should be high on the list of knowledge building. But also high on my list is common sense coupled with a better ability to look through 'eyes' not your own. =)

A very joyous holiday season to you and yours!

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+1 # Dave 2009-12-14 15:30
@Kevin - nice, I like the analogy. That is bang on though; without knowing the other shades and colors it is next to impossible to understand. How can know what they're looking for?

@ Tyler - hard to say, once more, not a conference guy. I do know that I am often shocked at the lack of formal/technical knowledge of a lot of people in the realm. I was once one of them... then realized learning more about IR and CS might be a good idea considering the job title... Who knew?

@ m' boy Paisley - well like many Trail readers, you are likely in the top percentile of SEOs that DO understand search engines beyond a cursory knowledge. I haven't done any testing with ye yet, but I'd say you probably are able to set up and do analysis better than most... So we'll let U off... hehe

@ Peter - well U have me. I've no 'formal' education in IS or CS. Mine has mostly come over the years self learning and hanging out with some groovy CS peeps I know. But yes, it is VERY hard to understand tactics, strategies and of course test data, without understanding the concepts search engines are built upon.
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0 # Dave 2009-12-14 15:40
Yo ho CD - nice to cya as always. Well, my point is really that how can one test or even have 'common sense' when the topic is 'uncommon' to them? As you know being a forum hound, the average knowledge of the inner workings of SEs with that crowd is near 0%. Thus we see so many dumbass theories/questions.

For me these areas of interest are what allow one to have the ability to look through the eyes of the engineers.

Anyway, the more we learn about it, the more we realize how little we know. I have tried on many an occasion to start listing all the possible elements involved (known or unknown) in the indexing, retrieval, ranking process. In doing this, one inevitably realizes this (testing) is next to impossible as far as getting clean data is concerned. We can get a glimpse, but nothing more - ya know?
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0 # Kevin Spence 2009-12-14 15:45
Good points.

I liken the whole SEO research game to looking at a black and white photograph and trying to guess what the colors are. You can make some educated guesses based on observations you've made during a lifetime of living in a world of color (the sky is probably blue), and you can identify black and white, but the inbetween colors -- the colors that are most influential in shaping our perception -- are difficult to interpret.
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+1 # Tyler 2009-12-14 16:05
This is so true... A few of the SEO "elite" I have met at conferences are so lacking it's pathetic. They have self promoted themselves as "experts" for so long that people actually believe it.
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0 # @steveplunkett 2009-12-14 16:15
sorry.. i just like the smiley... no intent..

i guess i missed the flawed tests...

I'm not a "SEO blogger" i am an SEO that sometimes blogs.. but usually NEVER about SEO.. so when i do tests, i collect data, solicit input from others and file my own conclusions away to apply to other tests.. in MY HEAD... then on to next test...

FYI.. data open for interpretation..
#whitecoatseo search on google.. can u tell why some tweets were omitted?
(looking for some validation on a theory i have
that works so far on how to "omit" tweets from google search. )
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+2 # Pete Hollier 2009-12-14 18:43
Well said

With a background and degree in Information Sciences I do consider I have an in-depth understanding of the inner workings of Search Engines.

At a bare minimum some basic SQL and an understanding of Database creation and indexing is absolutely necessary to understand the inner workings of Search.

All to often I visit a LInkedin profile of a competing SEO only to find a work and educational background in anything but computer sciences. Therefore, the understanding of the problems and solutions is unlikely to be comprehended by such individuals.

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0 # cheap website design services 2009-12-15 00:40
I do agree with you... Most educational institutions do not actually emphasize enormously topics related to SEO. In fact, SEO professionals become experts to this field by constant practices and worthwhile experiences on SEO.
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0 # seo melbourne 2009-12-15 09:38
I think if you stick to the basics you cant go to far wrong, just don't try and fool the the big G or other engines and your'll fair out better in the long run.
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0 # Rafael Montilla 2009-12-15 15:12
Everyone should read your post SEO Higher Learning, it has great knowledge. =)
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0 # Jake 2009-12-16 06:18
I am kind of new to this field, so have been delighted to come across your blog and viewpoint. The SEO Higher Learning was a real eye opener. 2010 is going to be all about going deep, beyond the Google did this, did that so this is what we will do kind of SEO. Thanks a ton.
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0 # Erin 2009-12-23 14:32
Neuro Linguistic Programming? Really?
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