Earlier this week I wrote a short article on the Oyster Web site about the SEOMoz quiz, If by some chance you aren’t an SEO and don’t know about this, it contained 75 multiple choice questions relating to our dark and mysterious art. After we’d torn the answers apart we enjoyed reading Danny Sullivan and Vanessa Fox doing the same the following day. They seemed to agree that some of the questions were vague, or had multiple possible answers, or were just wrong. It was of course a great bit of link bait and bound to attract endless comment, but it was also a salutary reminder that there are very few hard and fast rules in our business and what is regarded as a certainty by one expert may be only a possibility to another.
SEO as an empirical art…
A lot of what we do is based on our own experience of what has worked for us in the (usually recent) past and observation of what is or isn’t working on sites we are asked to look at. Google occasionally feed us the odd crumb of information amongst a sea of generalities, Yahoo and MSN/Live don’t even go that far. What worked last week may have less effect this week after the filters have been adjusted. That is why there is unlikely to be a useful academic course in SEO in the forseeable future – there is no standards body, and any examination would be out of date before it was set. Whenever you read any book or article about optimisation the first thing you do is check how old it is to find out how much suspicion you should have about whether it’s still true.
…with a commercial twist
Those of us at the sharp end of the business have to constantly rethink our opinions and check what is working, while still maintaining our faith in the fundamentals of structural web coding, good writing, and semantic markup. Those from a marketing background may tend towards one style of working, perhaps emphasising links and social networking solutions a little more, while those from a web design background may tend towards another, emphasising technical considerations.
Some theorists try to conduct experiments (if that isn’t a contradiction!) to determine what really works and what doesn’t, but it means having an isolated site that has no commercial importance – you can’t do that with a client’s site. With so many variables involved it’s also notoriously difficult to isolate definite effects and one of the problems with having an isolated site is that it’s the very connectedness that causes some of the effects.
This constant change of core knowledge is part of what makes SEO so interesting, but it has a high price in terms of research, and is part of the reason that good optimisers are hard to find and worth paying for.