SEO Industry Image
James Challis

SEO Industry Image: Perception vs. Reality

10th Feb 2015 SEO Blog 5 minutes to read

SEO Industry Image: Perception vs. Reality

For some SMEs and local businesses, the idea of optimising a website to rank higher in Google’s SERPs might sound like witchcraft or something really dodgy – probably not helped by countless phone calls from salesmen offering the world and delivering anything but. They might also have heard of bad encounters from colleagues, friends, even competitors. However SEO isn’t like this – at least not what I know as modern day SEO.

The Causes Of SEO Perceptions

The Early Days Of Search Engines

Search engines produced a mass market platform that could make or break a business; and to start with (in the real early days) gaining exposure from search engines became a dirty business. Multinational and SMEs alike were competing for the same real estate on the search results page and the search engines had no measures in place to stop websites from building spam loaded links that were of benefit.

Tactics such as link wheels and reciprocal linking were the only ways to survive online, especially in highly competitive search results, and very quickly this process became automated, allowing poor quality links to be built at an insane rate. It was quite probable that the majority of external links on the entire web were built for SEO purposes, and the majority probably still remain.

Old Tactics & Client Acquisition

The tactics that used to work for SEO often featured a large amount of automation, this lead to links and pages being laden with incomprehensible text usually with little relevance to the original page where it was posted. This also ties in with the way many individuals and agencies used to attract customers, through endless cold calls and automated emails that appeared in the inboxes of marketing directors, assistants, CEOs, web developers and the company dog which helped contribute to giving the industry a spam-heavy look.

Fury At Acquisition Emails

Media Portrayal

It’s true that the mainstream media doesn’t regularly feature SEO in the news. However, when they do, it often tends to be related to stories where SEO has been used in a negative way such as propelling results for celebrities to the top of the page and replacing the top results with a spammy result. One of the most famous stories included a search for “miserable failure” returning search results for the White House when George Bush was President. A more recent example in the UK is the recent trolling of football club Tottenham Hotspur where phrases such as “lackadaisical” and “dodgy” have shown a Google answer box including definitions of Tottenham’s defending capabilities.

lackadasical dodgy

Technical Complexity

Search Engine Optimisation has always had the perception that it is very technical and requires an in-depth knowledge of coding, analysis, algorithms and more. This perception has been abused by people looking for a quick buck by trying to mystify clients with poor explanations and technical jargon without undertaking useful technical SEO.

What’s Changed Since?

Search Engine Algorithms & Quality Control

Simply put, the algorithms have improved drastically! An SEO strategy to compete online no longer involves building automated links, it’s much more technical and involved in site design as well producing information and content that web users actually want or need. The clean up by search engines and enforcement through penalties has led to a need for more technical skills and a higher barrier of entry to be successful.

Black & White Hat

White Hat SEO

The industry has been split down the middle, with two spheres of SEO emerging. Black hat is typically known for finding gaps and manipulating search engines, similar to the original version of SEO; and involves finding innovative linking methods and alternative ways to “game” search results. This type of SEO has become much more difficult with companies such as Google investing in spam detection and employing humans to quality review any suspect changes in rankings and websites. It’s predominately used as a short term tactic as websites often end up with penalties.

White hat is primarily known for working to improve a site technically, encouraging sharing through social networks and acquiring backlinks from other websites by providing content that is of use to a particular industry or the wider public.

How Can The Image Be Further Improved?

Increased Transparency & Better Explanations

I’m always amazed at the amount of clients that say how amazed they are with the amount of detailed information we supply when working on an account, because everything we discuss with clients is vital information that they need to be on board with. The hidden nature of the industry allows businesses to create a viewpoint that doesn’t exist and is so easily resolved by explaining what and why a certain piece of work has been carried out.

Promoting Good Experiences

It’s rare to hear about the details of success stories from Search Engine Optimisation. I guess it rarely makes for good reading as people look to guard against showing their competitors, and the  world, how they have achieved an increase in profits.

Greater Professionalism

The SEO industry has become associated by some business leaders as quite a unprofessional and relaxed. Past experiences with unscrupulous third parties and a lack of transparency have worked against the image of SEO. The tactics used for client acquisition by poor agencies have also tainted the industry although the actual truth inside SEO is that the vast majority of employees are working long hours and working hard to keep up with an ever changing industry.


The industry has benefited from multiple changes in terms of how it’s seen from the wider business community. This is ongoing, as other changes are beginning to be introduced by a more mature SEO market that now involves SMEs and large multinational companies. The technical capabilities are becoming more understood by businesses although there are still ways that the industry could better help itself by providing more transparency and better promotion of the work that goes into Search Engine Optimisation.

I really want to know what you think. Are you a small business who have had their fingers burnt, or have considered SEO but weren’t sure because of hearing all kinds of myths? Let me know your experiences in the comments section below, through twitter @JamesaChallisc or give one of us a call, today.

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