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February 20, 2011

Stirring Up SEO Trouble

Hi, my name is Jill, and I’m a %#@$ stirrer!

When you’ve been in any industry as long as I’ve been in the search marketing industry (going on 16 years now), it’s easy to get bored occasionally. At those times I find myself stirring up the sh… stuff on Twitter or in comments on others’ blogs, forums, etc. You’d think at my age (I’ll be 50 this summer) I’d know better. And yet, I continue to do it. I’m not sure if it’s a conscious choice, or just a crazy compunction, but no matter the reason, I’ve been on a roll the last few weeks.

As part of my stirring, I often write what appear to be outrageous tweets and comments on a subject near and dear to SEO hearts (a few still do have hearts, you know ;). The funny part is how quickly people will jump on a comment that seems a little “off” to them. I imagine it’s partly their own boredom or perhaps they’re trying to find the next interesting thing to blog about. Others surely just enjoy saying, “Jill Whalen has finally lost her marbles!” 😉

It’s Hard to Argue With Logic

But I love it when they challenge me on my little points of outrageousness because every seemingly nutty comment I write is backed up by a well-reasoned, logical message for which I’ve spent ages preparing — usually in the form of an article I’ve written in the past. While they can challenge the kooky sound byte by using it out of context or saying it’s so stupid or how it’s finally time to lock me up in a mental institution, they can rarely refute my actual reasoning – if and when they read it. It’s much more fun to trash what they *think* I mean.

This week’s bit of fun came when someone mentioned “doing SEO for long-tail traffic” in a blog comment and I corrected them by saying, “Optimizing for the long-tail isn’t SEO” BAM, take that!

Of course, long-tail keywords are very near and dear to every SEO’s heart because they make up (in aggregate) a huge percentage of website traffic, so my comment was taken with amazement by some of those reading the blog.

Let’s face it, you can rarely convey everything you mean in a single comment or tweet. Even though I further explained my reasoning when asked, it didn’t matter at that point. The original sentence was set in stone, with my meaning left to be interpreted by others however they wanted.

And interpret they did.

The chance to call me out was too great for many to resist, especially since I’ve been tearing into certain SEOs through my recent rants on link spam. Some Twitter comments were truly golden, such as, “Comment o’ the day to disagree with ‘Longtail traffic isn’t SEO’ uttered by @jillwhalen.” And “Jill, you can’t seriously mean that long-tail keywords can’t bring more than a few visits/month?”

Even more amusing was the flurry of articles saying things like “Jill Whalen has clearly lost touch with reality. SEO is all about the long tail.”

While I may have lost touch with reality (that happened after my first child was born!), anyone — other than a company such as Demand Media — who believes SEO is “ALL about the long tail” is either an incompetent SEO or hasn’t been in the industry long enough to know what SEO for a business website is all about.

Instead of embarrassing themselves, they could have read my article from October, “The Great Misconception of Long-tail Keywords,” which explains what long tail is and isn’t, as well as the value it brings to most websites. But where’s the fun in that?

A Question of Semantics

The irony of this whole situation is that, aside from the snide remarks, I agree with much of what was written about the long tail by others. My main beef is with how some people were defining long-tail keywords.

Because there is no formal training in SEO, we often have different definitions for the same industry terms. But using search marketing terms correctly has been a pet peeve of mine for a while, because not doing so has many consequences. This is why I try to use the original definitions of words — those that haven’t been bastardized by others who never quite grasped the original meaning. For instance, in the case of the term “long tail,” I use Chris Anderson’s interpretation of it because he’s the one who originally coined the term.

Because I can’t seem to come up with a clever ending to this article, let me leave you with the following takeaways:

* SEOs get bored easily.
* SEOs love to call other SEOs out.
* SEOs need some standardized industry definitions, but it’s likely to be an impossible task.
* I’m a nut job who doesn’t know anything about SEO 😉

Catch you next time from the funny farm!

Jill Whalen is the CEO of High Rankings, an SEO Services Company in the Boston, MA area since 1995. Follow her on Twitter @JillWhalen.