What Showtime’s Dexter Can Teach Us About SEO’s Image Problem

What Showtime’s Dexter Can Teach Us About SEO’s Image Problem

A common sentiment in the digital marketing world is that SEO is invariably portrayed in media as either spamming or hacking. There is a suspicion towards SEO among people who are only vaguely familiar with how it works. What accounts for this image problem?

On Showtime’s Dexter, there is a telling moment in Season 6, where an intern instructs Dexter to use a fictional search engine called Elliot rather than Google, because it uses a “targeted algorithmn to aggregate content without getting tripped up by sneaky SEO bullsh*t.”

First, let’s fact check the intern’s assumptions here. What seems to be implied by the “tripped up” comment is that SEO is something that fires on the search engine results page, like HTML or Javascript, and can slow down or somehow alter Google’s results. Just to be clear: this is incorrect. It is a mistake to think of SEO as having direct control over the search engine results page. Google has a number of ranking factors that they use to determine ranking positions on the results page. SEO simply tries and improve these factors in order to gain better ranks.

So what accounts for the suspicion surrounding SEO? Consider its history: Part of the reason why people may be suspicious about SEO is that, in the past, it was much easier to get terrible websites to rank well. If you remember from say, ten years ago, Google was not as good as they are now at keeping bad results off the search engine results page. Therefore, it was easier to game the system. You had countless websites manipulating Google’s ranking factors in order to gain favorable ranks that they didn’t “deserve.”

This is where SEO gets its negative reputation. Back then, a number of incredibly annoying techniques could be used to manipulate Google’s ranks, including repeating the same keyword dozens of times on one page, or spamming blog comments with links back to their website. These methods provide a negative web experience for everyone, and since they were so prevalent at one point, people still associate SEO with these outdated and ineffective tactics. Of course, now Google is extremely good at weeding out undesirable results from the search page. By using a number of factors – such as bounce rate and link data – Google can easily determine if users are getting what they were looking for when they land on your page. Therefore, Google can actually penalize you if they catch you trying to manipulate them.

Misperception is key to any growing industry, and SEO is no different. The key to shaking this sentiment – that SEO uses manipulative and questionable tactics – lies in messaging and education. It is our job as the purveyors of this relatively new service to be the messengers for what SEO is – and what SEO is not.

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