Give Up the Term “SEO”?

Craing Johnston and Josepha Haden

At dinner one evening at Google Camp in Rome, Craig Johnston of Sudjam (that’s him at right with Josepha) suggested that the term “search engine optimization” should be dumped.

In the first place, he reasons, optimizing web content for search engines, which is what we do here at Haden Interactive, is not the same thing as search engine optimization. Properly speaking, optimizing search engines as Google’s engineers do would be search engine optimization. What we do would be website optimization. This would remove the distinctions among search engine optimization (optimizing for findability), conversion optimization, and usability optimization and ensure that website optimization simply made all sites as optimum as they can possibly get.

In the second place, he continued, the term “SEO” is now so strongly associated with black hat practitioners that respectable folks like us shouldn’t want to use it.

“Write good stuff that other people will want to link to,” Craig said. That may not be a direct quote, since I wasn’t taking notes and our party went on to visit the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps before I got back to thinking about what he had said. I think words like “scumsucking” were involved. But this was the gist of his claim: high quality content is the center of white hat SEO, so we should just say that and leave the term “SEO” to the black hat scumsuckers.

Here at Haden Interactive, we focus on quality content. We say this, to get real specific: “Haden Interactive is a content focused web firm specializing in SEO, social media, and web content. In fact we believe that SEO is all about web content: the content at your website and the content that affects the success of your website.” Social media, linkbuilding, website building, and web content on your site or linking to your site — it’s all quality content. That’s what we do.

Craig’s point that search engines are now sophisticated enough that they don’t need special writing is only partially true. It’s certainly true that keyword density is no longer the point of SEO writing. It’s not true that search engines are capable of understanding content as well as humans do. Writing for humans and search engines at the same time continues to be a specialized skill.

Should we give up the term SEO? I think not. Here’s why:

  • A wider audience is just beginning to use and at least partially understand the term. People look for the phrase now, along with phrases like “online marketing” and “website ROI.” Part of SEO is being where people are likely to look.
  • “Search engine optimization” doesn’t really mean “building better search engines” because that isn’t how people use it. As a trained linguist, I can tell you for sure that words mean what people use them for, not what you might logically imagine they ought to mean. Look at “awesome.”
  • SEO may indeed be at the point where medicine was a century ago, with snake oil peddlers outnumbering those who offer valuable business services. That always happens on the frontier. In time, business owners will become savvy enough to recognize that a well built site with quality content is what they need, not submissions to 5,000 search engines.

Besides, if we give the term up and let the black hats have it, we’re just letting the scumsuckers win.

One thought on “Give Up the Term “SEO”?

  1. Pingback: Best of copywriting blogs: Week ending 30/10/11 | Thoughts on copywriting

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