Encouraging SEO Research

Unusually for the blog this isn’t a post about a niche SEO concept. As some of you know, I am not the most positive person. The first thing my partner and I did when we moved into our flat was tear down the ‘live, laugh, love‘ signs. Please keep this in mind when reading.


This post falls into the trap of being a ‘we *need* to do better as an industry‘ post which can have the side effect of eliciting clap emojis and ‘THIS’ retweets. Please only indulge in these behaviours after careful consideration.


I can attribute at most a single percentage to my understanding of “SEO” as coming from my own research. I think the research I do is mostly interesting, but incredibly lazy. Others do it much better.

SEOs seem to want more experiments to be happening. I’d say the industry benefits from this and can only reasonably only expect increase it’s knowledge from doing research happening, rather than patiently waiting for true-ish pronouncements from Google. We can continue to do things semi-privately, but it’s a lot slower to have to wait for things to filter through the conference bar circuit.

I work on my own and my main interactions with the industry are via Twitter, occasional conference attendance, and a couple of Slack groups. With Twitter especially (wow, how unexpected), there’s a problem. There are a few ingrained community habits which piss on the desire to innovate and share work. I think this mostly boils down to:

Fear of looking ignorant.

And this makes sense. Most of the industry is either sensibly sequestered inhouse, trying to get out of working agency-side, or consulting. If your social media presence as a knowledge worker is valuable (and it is), then publicly revealing some ignorance by saying “I did not know this” while simultaneously promoting the work of a potential competitor seems like a bad move.

I understand.

Not Being Discouraging

I’m going to run through some of the more common tropes. Most of us have at some point complained about ‘Egos’ in the industry. Here are a few of the ways these surfacing might stifle innovation.

I have known this for many years, I am very smart

Privately I’ve expressed concern about this behaviour. Publicly I’ve expressed concerns of this behaviour. I’ve moaned about it enough that friends make fun of me on twitter for it whenever I publish a new post.

Imagine you’re a fresh-faced SEO sharing a post you’ve written for the first time. You’re eagerly watching your twitter mentions:

“SEO Celebrity has retweeted your post.”

Amazing! You read the inevitable quote tweet:

“This is really nothing new. I’ve been saying this for a long time.
read: Googlebot doesn’t pass pagerank through internal links using the Cyrillic o.”

Do you think you’d be excited to share your findings again in a hurry? More likely to keep things to yourself?

There are two main flavours of this behaviour.

  • When they are telling the truth and have been saying this for many years.
  • Disgusting self promotion where they are clearly lying.

Although the latter group is especially deserving of vilification, in terms of discouraging people sharing the results of their tests, the two are essentially equivalent.

In either case I think it boils down to:

“This is great. Let’s make it about how good I am instead.”

This is closely related to using someone else’s post to promote some of your existing work. This also boils down to:

“This is great. Let’s make it about how good I am instead.”

These are all pretty discouraging to be on the other side of, regardless of whether the person is bullshitting. The issue is extensive enough that this post will is always going to seem to be directed at a particular tweet.

It’s not, it’s just how the industry is.

THIS.

Quote retweeting with an ambiguous statement of support (sometimes an emoji like 👇) is an interesting one:

I read it like my uncharitable tweet – it’s a way of implying that you’re already all over whatever they’re writing about, without going as far as making a statement that could be challenged. As you’d expect, this still isn’t very encouraging for the recipient. I’ll readily admit this is a low quality opinion and most of these retweets are innocent (if lazy) promotion.

This was actually my idea, I am very smart

Occasionally someone will outright steal an idea:

Intentionally or unintentionally, it sucks. Here are some things to remember:

  • The sum of facts ideas we’re working with isn’t huge, so it’s fairly common that people will independently develop an idea.
  • People are forgetful.
  • In trying to grow their own reputations, some people actively won’t cite where they first encountered an idea.

You see this sometimes at conferences. In the minds of the audience, the presenter now discovered this. Great. People “steal” ideas because they forget where they first read them (innocent), or  because they can get the benefit of the doubt (guilty). As always, people don’t want to cite their indirect competitors.

As with “I’ve known this for ages, I am very smart“, they equally dampen research efforts. I don’t think there is a neat solution here.

Please remember to remember to cite (link). Please don’t steal.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

This is cool but it doesn’t matter compared to having a good product / working for a well functioning business

This style of comment comes up fairly often when discussing the minutiae of what we do, or techniques that are applicable to some sites but not all. You know, the space where most research findings take place. I don’t think anyone disagrees with the sentiment.

If you own a company that does this, congratulations.

If you are merely employed by one, please consider that people aren’t inclined to respect advice on a game from someone playing on the easiest possible difficulty setting (even if you are right). Very few SEOs have influence on product or business structure. Thankfully it is not the only thing that works and our industry can exist.

What causes you to chime in with this? Are you in need of comfort?

Slaying the Gatekeeper “You must learn X to be a good SEO!”

We’re overly-fond of gatekeeping, which makes us appear insecure (“we’re a real discipline with standards, honest!”). The topics that spring to mind are:

  • JavaScript
  • Information Retrieval
  • Information Architecture
  • Backend Programming

Presenting skills as requirements seems to only be put forward by people who already possess these skills, especially those that have recently come to possess them.

“I only listen to SEOs who have handed-coded their own web crawler. Mine is garbage, but that’s not the point.”

🤔

It’s almost as if they’re trying massage their egos.


👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏
I hope this applause soothes you.
👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏


I’ve seen the pendulum swing the other way (“there is no point learning X“), often from people who don’t possess skills.

🤔

It’s almost as if they’re trying soothe their egos.


👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏
I hope this applause massages you.
👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏


In most of these instances something like the following holds:

You probably don’t need to learn {X} to be considered world class at SEO, but anything beyond surface level understanding of {X} can make communicating with people smoother, and will probably save you time in the long run. It may give you new ideas.

There are lots of skills which are very useful for the general task of ‘making websites rank higher in Google‘. Very few seem to be necessary, but are great artificial hurdles to distract people just starting out. I’d prefer if you didn’t do this. No True SEO would act this way. ( ͡~ ͜ʖ ͡°).

Language Patrol

Lifehack – telling people in public they are using words wrong is easymode to appearing smarter than them.

Soulhack – it’s usually a shitty thing to do to someone in a public context, even when they’re wrong.

If everyone knows what someone means, it’s probably not helpful to try to correct their choice of words. The obvious examples include:

  • dofollow links
  • indexation
  • tag when they mean attribute
  • link juice
  • domain authority
  • blog when you mean blog post (well actually, blog is short for web log so when someone says blog to refer to an individual entry…)

Try waiting a while until the urge to correct goes away. This is a choice between:

  • Dying a little inside.
  • Dying a little inside and dying a little inside everyone else as you fall in their estimation by demonstrating you are a petty human.

If you think they’re using one word when they mean a completely different word (e.g. ‘indexing’ when they mean ‘crawling’), you might consider contacting them privately. If you understand what they meant to say, probably best to leave it.

I’m mostly concerned with the discouragement aspect of having your language jumped on. We enjoy being technically correct (the best kind of correct).

Imagine you’re nervous about publishing a new blog post / speaking at a conference for the first time, and you see people on Twitter not critiquing your method but jumping on ‘there’s no such thing as a dofollow link‘.

A reasonable response is ‘Fuck these people, I’m keeping this to myself’.

If everyone could free Barry Adams from his obligation to respond to indexation-baiting, that would be great. He is trapped by this meme and we are not letting him go (I am guilty of frequently shitposting here). I’ll stop and I hope you join me.

So You Would Like to Encourage Research

Rather than just generally yelling at Twitter I’d like to make some more positive suggestions.


Imagine you’re an SEO enthusiast (wow) who wants to encourage research in the industry. You’ve just read the sort of thing you’d like to see more of. Here are some suggestions:

  • Avoid quote tweets – people can still see that you retweeted it and it raises the author’s visibility. You want your followers to read and retweet them and not youIf you do quote tweet, try genuine praise. Careful, it’s difficult to do well.
  • Tweet a reply after retweeting.
  • Even better, comment on the actual post itself. This is far more encouraging for people running blogs – “wow, {industry expert} read this post and took the time to comment”.
  • If you learned something, but want to appear like you didn’t because you are very smart, consider what kind of person you want to be, and if you really want to see more of this sort of thing. It’s OK to do nothing.

You’re an SEO enthusiast who wants to encourage research. You’ve just read the something you actually already knew, but it was high quality:

  • If you think it’s worth sharing, retweet it. Don’t quote retweet as the temptation to be smug will be too great here. 99% of the time it reads like “useful refresher for morons“.
  • Comment on a novel idea from the post you enjoyed. It’s still easy to veer into smug territory.
  • Ignore it, scroll on.

You don’t have a particular post in mind but just generally want to encourage research:

  • Publish research yourself, on your own blog or someone else’s (mine). Being the first to share a new idea (usually) gives you much more competitive advantage than holding on to it. These things always eventually leak. If you come in later, people will either think you are lying or sniveling.
  • Try to cite others whenever possible!
  • Contribute prizes for actual calls for SEO research. Put up calls for research.
  • Ask people to share cool posts they’ve read recently.
  • Avoid contributing to expert roundups unless they are asking novel questions or you will respond with new ideas.
  • If someone’s post helped you in the past or taught you something, consider sharing it. Even if lots of other people have shared it already. Especially if it’s old. There is little more encouraging than having an old post of yours shared….just make sure to “by @username” them.
  • Contact authors to say if their work helped you with something. You can do this privately if you have “Fear of looking ignorant“.

I’ll give it a go now. I still think this is my favourite SEO article of all time, and I love this recent article for its novelty, and the author for continuing to challenge its veracity: An out there theory about Latent Intent. I’ll continue to prioritise talks with an interesting angle at ohgmcon (speaking of ego).

Please peer beyond my negativity and comment with other positive suggestions.

tl;dr

If you’d like for there to be more SEO research, try to be encouraging to those making the effort. Join them.

If you were on the other end of your tweet, would you think “fuck this person“?

If so, try again.

The End

I hope this rant has been somewhat constructive.

To sum up: this industry is my hole.

This is my hole, it was made for me.
The Enigma of Amigara Fault

It was made for me.

💀🖤


P.S. I am aware I am a hypocrite but will hopefully do better in future.

P.P.S This blog post is not research nor is it to be encouraged. Go Nuts. You’ve been saying this forever. This is entry level stuff. Actually, the origin of blog is not web-log but web-blog

P.P.P.S I’ll probably keep updating this one as a form of therapy.

P.P.P.P.S It is ok to be upset.

12 thoughts on “Encouraging SEO Research”

  1. Brilliant post!

    Definitely see much of this ego-tweeting in the wild, and I have been guilty of some of it myself (especially the part about not leaving comments…)

    A couple things I’d like to add, with my belief that MOST PEOPLE ARE KINDA BAD AT TWEETING.

    1. Oftentimes, a thoughtfully composed tweet is better than a retweet. Many people offering positive perspectives on the same article can carry more weight—and offer broader exposure—than a single tweet retweeted many times. I think it’s our job as marketers to present an article to our readers in the best possible light.

    2. To a lesser extent, I feel the same about Quote Tweets. Yes, Quote Tweets can be lazy, but sometimes a well-pulled quote can highlight the relevance/importance of an article better than the original title, if it is unclear.

    3. To be honest, I don’t even feel bad about “This” tweets. To your point (and I agree with you 100% on this) they are annoying and egotistic and a simple RT would have almost worked better. On the other hand, I try to keep in mind that the most successful content is content that helps make *other* people look smart. So if someone wants to share content with a lazy “This.” tweet because they want to insert themselves into the process, so be it :)

    Regardless, thank you for encouraging an environment where more people are encouraged to share their knowledge. Actual, original content is a precious resource in an SEO world where 97% is rehashed bull.

    1. Thanks again for taking the time to comment.

      This post leans a little too heavily on my own pet-hates (your point on 3 especially).

      I agree with each of your points – well composed tweets/quote tweets of an article are much better than straight retweets. However, as you say, most of us are pretty bad at it. It’s risk-reward; there’s more chance of a positive or mildly negative outcome vs a mildly positive thing so I’m hesitant to recommend something people struggle with. I hope to update this post soon to more clearly reflect the idea (“Do it, but carefully”).

  2. I enjoyed this read. I’ve spent less time on Twitter lately for a variety of reasons, but I admire what you’ve written here because I think it’s a genuine attempt to make the state of social media and Twitter in particular a better, healthier place.

    Nice work and I look forward to seeing more work like this, both from you and anyone else you may have inspired by writing this.

  3. I was going to quote-RT this by saying you’ve written the post that I’ve wanted to write for ages, but I didn’t want to fall into the “This is great. Let’s make it about how good I am instead” category… Seriously.

    I’ve fallen out of love with our industry a bit recently. The perfect example is how pissed off I was with the whole “they’re follow links, not dofollow links” commentary – not only because I still call them dofollow links, but because does it really f*cking matter?!

    I also think there’s less SEO research these days because people are terrified of being wrong and being shown up. The Medic update is a great example – a few years ago, I think we would’ve been all over this as an industry. And yet – as Cyrus tweeted recently, who I can see has also dropped a comment here – months on we don’t really know what’s behind it. I miss the SEO industry that used to figure this stuff out together.

    (I know I’m one to talk – I’ve blogged less and conducted less experiments over the last 1-2 years compared to previous years.)

    1. Hey Steve,

      I’ve also felt pretty guilty with my output so I’m trying to force some drafts through. I hope we’re not reminiscing on a ‘good old days’ that never actually existed.

      1. Ha, fair point! Although I’ve seen your posts and experiments in recent years and I think you’re being too hard on yourself there – your output is fab, better than most.

        Me? My last ‘experiment’ was a goddamn Gaston meme… It’s me who should try a little harder, haha…

  4. Something something, do you even know anything about binary code to be posting stuff like this?

    Just kidding :)

    Problem is, first you have talks and posts about “building your personal brand”, “promoting your personal brand” with a bunch of stuff done at others’ expense advised, then we get this. We fed our own monster. That said, my huge pet peeve is people trying to look smarter at others’ expense. This is not just about this industry, I’m afraid it’s human nature in general.

    But that said, let it not stop research (yeah, says someone who only posts once a year) – but yeah, in our industry you can only really learn by doing your own research, then sharing it with your peers and comparing notes. Let’s not let the selfish twats stop that from happening.

  5. Did have a manager and team members refer to the cache as the “caché” for the next couple days after an email exchange, but yeah, dying inside was better than calling them out, ultimately.

    1. Haha I’ve come across this as well. And you’d be amazed the number of times I’ve come across someone referring to SEO as “CEO,” or getting the two mixed up. I even came across someone try to mansplain to an SEO that she actually meant “CEO,” not SEO, when… she was actually talking about SEO. I was dying.

  6. I like this post and agree with the sentiment. I’ve had similar experiences, my favourite was at a conference where a speaker presented my article as “something we do at XXX* too”

    *XXX – redacted agency name.

    If they did it too; why didn’t they have any evidence of this process prior to my write up?

    I call it taking credit by proxy.

    Anyway cheers mate will be sure to share with a suitably controversial statement ✓

  7. Reading this only made me realize why I’m glad I don’t dofollow (pun intended, missed that one completely) too much of the Twitter crowd, or at least not checking up on the feed too frequently.

    Since you’ve really done some hc elaborating here, I’ll also go out on a limb and share my main roadblocks for sharing more, in hope it’s at least marginally valuable anyone stumbling upon this post (I’ll also try to append them with some Beckettian ramblings on what I suppose could be the solutions to those roadblocks):

    a) fearing there’s a lack of value in terms of quantity, i.e. drafts or the “little things” we’ve learned aren’t really world-wide-web-log-post (wink wink) material. Like I dunno, finding what types of dash symbol formatting Google can differentiate. :D
    This could be however solved with categorizing these posts to let would-be readers know it’s just “bits of information” or “work-in-progress”.

    b) fearing there’s a lack of value in terms of quality, i.e. not being good enough or fresh enough or simply being old news for a lot of people reading it. Like I dunno, that presentation from April on getting a bit more value out of native campaigns just by taking care of some SEO details.
    A solution here would be simply using the skills in information retrieval (that allegedly should be inherent to SEOs) to find out if someone wrote about similar topics in a similar fashion and how much…and then making a brave call. Or not even caring and just publishing it, since it’s better than sitting on 100 drafts. Also get rid of imposter syndrome.

    c) not having anywhere GOOD to publish them. I think a lot of people (myself included) initially go full-perfectionist mode when it comes to putting up a website, even if it’s a simple blog. On the lines of “if I’m a shoemaker, I better have perfect shoes”. Sure, but even the shoemaker needs to do it layer by layer (not sure if “layer” is technically correct shoemaker vocab, sorry SEO Twitter!).
    Solution that I’ve come to is just get a template on a static web builder, or even use Github pages and start from there. Guilty here tho, for finding the solution but not yet really doing it (keyword being “yet”).
    Ofc there’s also guest posting on blogs like this, but if you suffer from a) or b) you most likely won’t feel like you want to taint it with your silly little cases (you probably should try it anyway, since the pitch is I presume private so at least you’ll get feedback in that case).

    d) not sure what else, but to avoid the risk of this becoming another draft, Imma hit POST COMMENT.

    Cheers

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