No, SEO is Not Evil

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It was a sunny late-fall Sunday, and it was off for dim sum with a friend of mine and his good friend. Shortly before our arrival, we got the call letting us know that two extras would be coming along.

“Oh, man,” my friend, who had met the additions previously, said. “These people… when you see them, you just know they’re boring.”

As a scruffy-bearded, hooded-sweatshirt wearing slacker, I’m in no position to judge anyone. But we arrived, and it was apparent – immediately – just how right my friend was. Right before my eyes, two scruffy-bearded, hooded-sweatshirt wearing slackers, except they had proper posture, messenger bags, early-onset male-pattern baldness, and thick-framed black glasses. Indeed, the Twin Cities liberal cognoscenti.

The cast:

  • My friend, a pediatric resident
  • His friend, also a pediatric resident
  • Her boyfriend, a public defender
  • His friend, a Green building consultant
  • Me, a mere PPC project manager

And, though I’ll never understand the allure of sharing plates with people you’ve never met, it was time to eat. Also, to make the requisite small talk.

“I save small children on a daily basis.”
“So do I, and I help them make healthy living choices.”
“I protect the less-fortunate from a corrupt and confusing legal system.”
“I encourage the development of sustainable energy, reducing the carbon footprint of the greater Twin Cities.” Slurp. “And, Andrew, what do you do?”

“I work for a web marketing company in Northern Michigan.”


Onto my stock answer: “Basically, I write Google ads for a living,” I said, making my top-of-the-screen-right-column-of-the-screen gesture.

“So, wait,” said the Green building consultant, “you work for a company that writes Google ads? That’s it?”

“No, I mean, that’s not it. In addition to those Sponsored Links you see, there’s another department that focuses on the main search results, on making our clients show up higher in what we refer to as the ‘natural’ results.”

“Ahh, yes,” he interrupted, taking a drag of his clove cigarette. “Search. Engine. Optimization.”

Then he turned to the rest of the table. “Basically, his company tricks the search engines,” he said, stroking his beard. “They send spam all over the internet, forcing us to wade through a bunch of garbage when we’re looking for information.” He turned. He glared.

“Hold on,” I said. “That’s not at all what we do. Not even close. And, actually, the things that that department does are pretty amazing.

“They talk to their client. They determine the audience that client is targeting, and, based on that information, they do some pretty extensive research into keywords – what people are searching, what areas are competitive, where our client can make an impact.

“And then they build content. Relevant, relevant content, focusing on the client’s keywords, and focusing on the audience the client serves. Based on this highly-relevant, highly-focused content, the client builds trust online. They draw links, from others who have determined this content to be valuable.

“And, over time, yes, there’s our client, atop the Google listings. It’s not dishonest — the search engines are too smart for that. It’s certainly not evil. It’s just what happens. And it makes your search experience better.”

“Wait, so you’re not evil?”

“Not at all. I’m not saving the environment, and I’m not saving small children, and I’m not protecting the underserved, but I’m saving you some time, and that’s got to be worth something.”

“Wow, that’s amazing. Thanks for explaining that. Let’s be friends.”


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