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