This morning, an article by Paul Boag was published on Smashing Magazine that got a few SEOs, including myself, all riled up. As Bill Slawski pointed out in the comments, Paul has written articles on SEO before. Paul, whom I respect tremendously for his web development work, obviously doesn’t “get” SEO and has evidently had some bad experiences with the snake oil side of our trade over the years. Luckily he’s shown himself to be willing to learn and I hope to be part of that learning experience. But I also wanted to write about this as I think it’s important for our industry.

His main argument, after you remove the link-bait title and the weird introduction, is that what we SEO’s call SEO these days, shouldn’t be called SEO as it should be called (decent) web development. I agree in large part with that statement. But here’s the kicker: if a web developer or web development agency fails (and they do, very often, very miserably), the client often doesn’t notice. The web developer often delivers a shiny new website with all the bells and whistles that the management asked about. The fact that technically, information structurally and architecturally, the entire site is a mess, will not be noticed by 99% of clients. At least…

Not until they notice their analytics, or rather, the fact that their phone stops ringing. And they notice one specific thing: a big hole in their traffic, where organic traffic from search engines used to be. That’s when they call an SEO, because those are the people that know about search engines, right? That, Paul, is why we’re still called SEO’s. It’s a demand driven thing: the client wants more search traffic, so he / she searches for someone that delivers that to them. They don’t know that their web developer did a lousy job, it’s our job to tell that to them.

In our website reviews we encounter, on a daily basis, websites that have been redesigned where the web developer / designer deemed it “not necessary” to do 301 redirects from the old URL structure to the new one. Where development environments are left open for Google to index and a few wrong links in the content mistakenly go to that development environment, causing havoc for the website in question. Websites where a fancy new faceted based search system causes 4.5 billion URLs (actual example), to be created and Google slowly indexes all of them, leaving the websites ranking in dust. I can go on for hours.

My buddy Richard commented:

But what if they call it “inbound marketing”?

To which Paul said:

I much prefer that. It does not apply that sites should be optimised for search engines over users.

Sigh. First of all, if SEO means anything, it’s that we optimize the search engine, not the site. The term is a weird acronym, but people know it now, so we stick with it. You see, even when BMW wants to sell “mobility”, in the end they sell cars. We all want to sell website optimization, but in the end, people come to us for SEO. That we’ll give them website optimization as a result doesn’t matter.

Also in the comments, Bill Slawski said:

A person who uses things like keyword density and gateway pages is not an SEO, and never has been.

But, if you need help with hreflang, canonical link elements, parameter handling, rel prev and next values for pagination, XML sitemaps for pages and images and videos and news, Google Plus authorship markup, Facebook’s Open Graph meta data, schema.org implementation, and many other issues that great content alone will not solve, an SEO can help you with those.

To his credit, Paul responded to that thanking Bill and stating that these:

… are not things I would expect any half decent web designers to do as part of their job.

Well to be honest Paul, I do expect a decent web designer to know that stuff and if he doesn’t, I expect him, and thus you, to stop commenting about SEO until you do know about that stuff. You obviously don’t, because If I take your article from 2010, linked above, as an example:

  1. you haven’t implemented rel=”author”;
  2. I can’t find an XML sitemap;
  3. most of the pages on his site except for singular posts and pages lack a decent rel=”canonical” link element;
  4. there is no rel=”prev” / rel=”next” implementation on his archives;
  5. in fact, there is no decent pagination on those archives at all, and lastly;
  6. there is no schema.org markup.

I could go on. So, Paul, you say in your article that SEO should be decent web development, but you obviously haven’t kept up to date with what decent web development is then. I have an easy fix for you though. If you install my (100% free as in beer) WordPress SEO plugin and take 2 minutes to configure it, 1 through 4 will be taken care of for you by that plugin, automatically. But if you do that I will take that as an acceptance that there is a very convenient truth about SEO. I trust I’ll get to convince you that SEO is worth while, but I think the world deserves more than just a comment on your post as a counter argument to your headline, which I know you now regret.

Let this be the first step in me, and others, convincing you of the value in SEO. I very much hope to see an article from your hand in 6 to 12 months time stating you were wrong.

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