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Friday, March 31st, 2006

"Responstability" in Writing and SEO

 

It has been an interesting and rather heady month here at StepForth’s news desk. Several times this month, we had the cursed blessing of realizing the absurd, awesome reach of our column, newsletter and blog.

One story we covered (or miscovered, depending on how one looks at it) led to the delisting of INewswire from Google News. Another, written eighteen months ago, was introduced as Exhibit G in the Motion for Dismissal filed as part of Traffic Power vs. BatteryFuel Suit. Lots of stuff we wrote about Google was quoted and reprinted in literally too many other places to bother trying to keep up with. The weirdest one though, the one even my mother probably wouldn’t believe is that someone at Cambridge University (the one in England) liked an article enough to reprint a hardcopy in their quarterly tech-mag.

March has been a truly bizarre experience, one that shouldn’t pass without public comment. My 15-year old nephew has been bunking at my place for the past few weeks. If any single word could be used to describe the moral of the month it would be: responsibility.

In light of the absolutely incredible footprint of our News Desk, and the fact I have been cast in the role of instant father-figure to a 15-year old, I’ve been taking a long, hard look at my notions of responsibility in relation to my personal and professional lives. In all cases, I am fairly happy with what I see but also see some room for improvements.

First of all, the News department is working to find the balance between being well educated but geeky bloggers (as we see ourselves) and being trusted journalists (as others seem to see us). Finding the right tone and balance is not easy, especially as the firm prides itself on honesty, openness and high quality content.

The rules of engagement with readers are similar for journalists and bloggers but the checks, balances and most importantly, backgrounds are obviously different. Like most bloggers I have no formal training as a journalist. I try to get by on values I think to be fair, accurate and reasonably objective. The safety net for bloggers who wish to appear open, honest and reasonably objective is the comments section. I’ve been called on a couple of things over the past month and the tone of the responses tells me that when readers have something to say, they have no inhibitions saying it. Thank goodness for that. Over the past year, the blog, newsletter and general column are moving in a positive direction and, at least from where I am sitting, getting better. StepForth News is a team effort and I owe a deep debt of thanks to Bill, Ross, Mark and Scott for their efforts.

On the production front, our working systems are fairly tight. There is a tremendous amount of communication between the sales department and the SEO department, leaving virtually no space for things to fall through the cracks. We made internal communications a priority issue over the past six months as our office has moved and our staff is growing. The goal of our weekly Sr. Staff meetings and more frequent intra-staff conferences is to ensure that all files receive prompt attention and those fielding the files are as up to date as possible.

On the visioning and future-tech front, we have developed and implemented a new design focused division, Pure Ignition in order to offer our clients a stronger stable of search friendly services. This is going to become one of the most important facets of our operation, moving into the future where SEO and site redesign necessarily merge.

Growth is good and over the past year we’ve seen more than our share of it but with the greatness of growth comes greater responsibilities. We are doing our best to live up to them and, judging by our inboxes and the comments section of our Blog, we can rely on the general community to hold us to them.

As for my personal life and the shock of becoming the primary caregiver to a teenager, that’s another story for another blog entry. Suffice it to say I wasn’t as well behaved when I was a kid but I am learning how to behave now that I am a certifiable adult. Responsibilty is a two-way street.

On SEO and Responsibility

Search engine optimization is a clearly established industry, one that exercises both direct and indirect influence on the Internet experience of countless millions of people. SEO is a growth sector with amazing potential however, that potential remains limited as long as the mainstream marketing world misunderstands the role SEOs play in website marketing.

It is easy to see why the major, non-tech news organizations almost always get it wrong. Good SEO is often boring. There is little drama to grab the attention of anyone but another SEO. For the most part, the SEO sector toils away doing extremely repetitious tasks. There are frequent technical riddles to be solved and fresh copy to be written but after the rush of research and discovery recedes, there is still a lot of basic hard work to do. In other words, there are no words to make the daily grind of the practice appear sexy because it isn’t.

Drama gets attention. When a SEO gets a Top10 ranking, nobody but the SEO and the client gets to hear about it. When a firm manages to get a client list banned from a search engine, that becomes interesting news. The only sexy way to write about SEO is to make dull work seem somewhat murky, like a spy novel. It attracts readers but misrepresents and taints the real work of SEO by painting a bleak picture of unethical practices. It must be said however, the murky work and unethical practices written about are often all too real.

Some of the practices outlined in evidence presented in BatteryFuel’s motion for dismissal, while focused on the behaviour of one specific firm, are seen being used by dozens of other SEO firms. When they get in trouble for it, as happened to another very large firm last year, the mainstream media hears and writes about it. They rarely mention the fact that most SEOs are honest and ethical but that’s as much the fault of the subject matter as it is the writers. Again, it is very hard to make the reality of SEO work interesting to anyone other than a geek.

I get frustrated reading about how nasty the SEO sector is and then go to work trying to dispel a multitude of myths. I am even more frustrated seeing others who call themselves SEOs using similar methods and techniques as those mentioned in the Traffic Power vs. BatteryFuel motion. I receive countless unsolicited emails offering me a magic solution to get the StepForth site placed in the Top10, (a position it has enjoyed for more than three years now). There are still reports of cold-call sales techniques and even reports of sales people using threats of Google displacement as technical extortion.

This is the stuff that gets written about in the mainstream press and that’s the impression potential clients have when warily approaching a legitimate SEO vendor. As we do a lot of work with small businesses, we hear from a growing number who know they need their websites optimized in order to compete in their sector but don’t know who to trust.

Engendering trust in anyone’s business is a responsibility, especially for SEOs. It is one we need to share with clients and one those of us working in the SEO sector owe each other. The backhand of responsibility is accountability. That’s sort of how I see the bad press the SEO sector is getting, as a form of accountability. The problem I have with it is we are all too often tarred with the same bleak brush.

As a service sector, the SEO community is, for the most part, honest, ethical and responsible. The problem is, nobody writes very much about honest, ethical, responsible work. It lacks drama. When some spectacularly fall from that path, bad press happens, almost instantly.

My nephew and I were talking about responsibility the other night and we came up with a new word, one that fits a lot of situations, including that faced by the world of SEO.

I have a hard time believeing that nobody else has yet used the word but if the major search enignes and a prestigious American University are to be believed, the word only exists as a spelling error. I checked the word through Google, Yahoo, Ask and the Princeton collection of every dictionary imaginable and couldn’t find a reference for it so I am going to try to coin it, if only to teach myself and my nephew a lesson about idea propagation and mass media.

Responstability. A loose definition might read: Actions or decisions of a responsible nature that lead to greater stability in one’s life or community.


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