SEO – What’s in a Name?

In the Friends episode The Contest, Ross creates a quiz as part of a bet to see which housemates (Chandler and Joey vs. Monica and Rachel) know each other best. The question that stumps Rachel and Monica seems to be a very simple one – what is Chandler Bing’s job? – but neither of them can remember (Rachel desperately guesses “Transponster” as time runs out. Chandler in fact works in Statistical Analysis and Data Reconfiguration, but of course you knew that).

For years, I’ve had a similar experience – none of my friends or family could remember what I did either. “Something with computers” they might say, or “web design?”. The acronym S.E.O. was especially off-putting, and the mouthful “Search Engine Optimiser” wasn’t much better (and is it Optimiser or Optimizer?)

I applied for my first search job at the (then) fledgling agency Greenlight in 2003. Warren explained I’d made it to the phone interview stage because I was the only applicant who knew what the acronym S.E.O. actually meant.

More recently, people had begun to nod knowingly when I mention what I do. Increasingly though, there’s a slight recoiling, something I imagine divorce lawyers and traffic wardens must experience. People might not know everything about search engine optimisation, but they have a hunch it’s a little untoward. I try and put them at ease: I enjoy working with ethical companies, SEO isn’t a dark art but one grounded in good usability – but the black clouds still linger. Only Google seems to make the clouds part again. Oh Google, they say smiling. You work for Google? With them, I reply, not completely disingenuously, and that finally seems to put them at ease.

As search marketing continues to appear on people’s radar, the industry is going through a makeover, especially when it comes to link building – always the most ghettoised of SEO techniques. It’s much better in polite conversation these days to discuss “inbound marketing” instead (Of course many of the folk pushing inbound or content marketing will be furiously old skool link building when they hope no one’s looking). There are other changes too. SEO is being absorbed into PR and more traditional marketing, while the search engines push on with glasses and global updates and push against the usurping social media giants. As they say here on the Underground: it’s “all change”.

So why The New Ethical? I’m talking to a lot of clients who seem worn down by Google’s monopoly. How do you work ethically and effectively without being left behind by your less than ethical competitors? Is link building really dead or is it just being given a new lick of paint? And why isn’t paid search more of an even playing field? I want to explore these questions, and others as they come up, and use this blog as a repository for my adventures in corporate responsibility and social enterprise (but no preaching, I promise).

Of course, you could argue I only wrote this post so it included a healthy frequency of digital marketing keywords, ensuring its well optimised (or optimized?) – but I only have one thing to say to that, or rather Chandler does: could you be any more cynical?