Illustration of Derek Powazek by Adam Ellis


So yesterday I had a bit of a rant about SEO and I’ve gotten a few common questions so I thought I’d try to answer them. Here goes.

Gosh you seem angry.
Damn right. I publish a magazine and I know a lot of magazine publishers. And they are forking over embarrassing sums of money to charlatans who say they can raise their search engine rankings. These magazines can barely pay their writers. That’s wrong and it has to stop.

If you’re a company that’s about to pay some SEO expert, please, I beg you, take that money and hand it to a talented writer or competent web developer instead. It’ll be much better spent.

Did you just quit smoking or something?

But I use SEO for good.
Then you’re called a Web Developer. Good web development includes using proper formatting (like putting headlines in H tags) and understanding how the web works, search engines included. Valid code also has the side-effect of making your pages more accessible for your users, which is the point. Making your pages more accessible to robots is for robots.

You shouldn’t call people names.
You should read more Hunter S. Thompson.

This article is linkbait/SEO.
Just because something attracts a lot of links doesn’t mean it was linkbait. This is my personal site, where I talk about things I’m passionate about. That’s all I did here.

[Insert irate defense of SEO here.]
You sell SEO, right?

If you’re so smart, prove it.
I’m not that smart. But I can say that I am Google’s third result for “Derek” (I was number one until Wikipedia came around). And after less than 24 hours, my post about SEO is the ninth Google result for “SEO”. (Logged out, so no personalization. I’m not counting the indented sub-results or the Google in-site promotions.)

How did I accomplish these magic SEO feats? Exactly how I said I did: Make something great. Tell people about it. Do it again. I’ve been doing that (or at least trying to) since 1995.

In this case, I wrote a passionate post. I posted it to Twitter and Facebook. And I sent one email to a friend about it. That’s it!

I’ve done this thousands of times. Usually the only thing that happens is I feel happy to have written something that my dozens of readers might enjoy. This time, it blew up. Guess I struck a nerve.

SEO is needed because of bad web design.
Wouldn’t it be better to make competent websites in the first place?

It’s easy for you – you’re an expert.
I’m using WordPress (which is free software) and the DePo Skinny theme (which I designed and released for free). You can download both of those and have a site just like this in a few minutes. No need to pay anyone for SEO.

Then comes the hard part: Spend over a decade making things. If you do that, you’ll be an expert, too.

[Insert personal attack here.]
I may have tarred a so-called “industry” but I didn’t attack anyone personally. I don’t allow personal attacks in my comments, especially when they’re attacking me.

This may be obvious to you, but it’s not to everyone.
You’re right. I regret saying that this stuff was obvious without explaining what I meant. Here’s what I meant: Good SEO techniques are just good web development techniques. They should be obvious to anyone who makes websites for a living. If they’re not obvious to you, and you make websites, you need to get informed. If you’re a client, make sure you hire an informed web develper.

You’re just looking for work/promotion/love.
Please, God, no. I’ve got two clients that keep me busy full time right now, and I work on Fray when I should be sleeping. I have no reason to promote this site. I make no money from it. And I’m married, thanks.

So what’s your suggestion?
I’m so glad you asked.

CLIENTS: If someone approaches you about optimizing your search engine placement, they’re running a scam. Ignore them. If your site isn’t showing up in Google, fire whoever is making your web pages and hire someone better. Sign up for social media services (Twitter, Facebook, etc) and participate there. Pay for quality writers and designers – that’s what will actually raise your ranking in the long term.

WEB DESIGNERS: Learn to code your own pages. If you can’t, hire someone who can, and listen to them when they tell you why putting all that text in an image is a bad idea.

WEB DEVELOPERS: Educate your designers about proper web development. Educate your clients about how the web works. Follow Google’s advice. Read A List Apart. Writing good code won’t just help your Google rank, it’ll make certain your site is accessible to screen readers, mobile devices, and all the browsers out there.

SEO SPECIALISTS: If all you do is SEO, you need to expand. Hire a visual designer and some kickass coders and become a real web agency. Start making sites good from the get-go instead of cleaning up other people’s messes. Besides, if all you do is SEO, your days are numbered. Social media is rapidly becoming much more important than Google. (Number one referrer to my site this week? Twitter.)

GOOGLE: Would you look at all the crazy you’ve created? You could fix this by making your engine more inclusive of websites with common mistakes, introducing some randomness to the order of results (why should everyone’s results be in the same order?), and unforgivingly punishing the businesses that have sprung up to exploit your popularity. Get on it.


One more thing: I’m not going to allow my comments to become ad space for SEO providers. If you link to an SEO business from your comment, it will be deleted. Unfair, I know. But it’s my site. I get to decide what’s fair. And, in case you haven’t noticed, I think what you’re doing is evil and wrong. I’m not going to allow you to use my site to promote it.


UPDATE: The Green Hair Theory

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Hi, I’m Derek. I used to make websites. Now I grow flowers and know things. I’m mostly harmless. More.