My SEO Confession

By: Dave Pasternack - February 22, 2013

I have a confession to make. My views on SEO have changed.

Were I a politician, I would surely be accused of flip-flopping, waffling, and “being against something before I was for it” by pundits. But I am a business person, and I believe that businesses that fail to adjust course when presented with new facts will ultimately fail.

I famously claimed back in 2006 that “SEO isn’t Rocket Science.” By that I meant that most firms could obtain most of the benefits of SEO by simply following the guidelines posted by Google without the need to resort to obscure and expensive SEO tactics. Many disagreed, the debate about the proper role of SEO produced a lot of commentary, and ultimately an SEO competition for SERP domination using the keywords “Dave Pasternack.” (The competition resulted in a SERP draw between myself and the famous seafood chef).

2006 was eons ago in Internet time and I think most people would agree with me that the SEO landscape has changed radically. Google polices its SERP real estate much more methodically than it did in 2006 and its penalties for violation of certain of its rules — especially related to content and linking policies — are severe and unforgiving. The Wild West Days are over — civilization — for better or worse — has tamed the Frontier.

Part of me wants to gloat because the Google Guidelines really do rule the Frontier now. At the same time, however, the claim that “SEO Isn’t Rocket Science” may no longer be true.

Why? Because everything we do now — in this era of big data — is rocket science. The level of complexity that’s required to run multi-channel, multi-device, geo-targeted campaigns requires more human and computation power than a 1968 Moon Launch. Many firms (including my own) are required to hire Data Scientists to make sense of all of the volume, velocity and variety of data.

So what’s ahead for SEO? Well, take a look at what’s happened in the past two years. Panda and Penguin have forced the SEO industry into a completely new, very healthy course heading — toward quality content creation/curation and general competitive webmastering. “Gaming the system” is still part of the DNA of SEO, but the focus is on sustainable results — not quick ranking bumps. Consequently, within Corporate America, SEO is increasingly being appreciated strategically — in terms of where it fits into the total paid/earned/owned media mix environment. For the first time, expectations – and budgets — for SEO are being set correctly — as something that every firm must concern itself with if it wants online visibility. SEO careers — because they are multi-disciplinary, multi-skill, and team-based, will continue to thrive.

So call me a flip-flopper, but I’m as bullish on the future of SEO as anyone. SEO has a great future. (And by the way, if I didn’t believe in SEO I wouldn’t have agreed to acquire an SEO firm last year).

About the Author

Dave PasternackDave co-founded Didit with Kevin Lee in 1996. Prior to this, he launched the United States Information Corporation, which became one of the largest electronic publishers of Federal Government bidding and contract information in the United States. Dave’s first technological direct marketing company, Logicsoft, was founded in 1980 and was named by Inc. Magazine as the 4th fastest growing private company of 1984. Dave earned his MBA from New York University.

View all posts by Dave Pasternack
  • branding

    Nothing much has changed if you look at things closer. You simply have to a little more careful with what you do. Just because panda and penguin came along doesn’t change anything except unique content and dont over optimize.

  • Nathan

    It still isn’t rocket science! The rules were always laid out clearly by Google except any webmaster that played by those rules previously got no results. Now that’s all changed and they are finally being rewarded as they should have been eons ago.

  • Eilidh MacRae

    Brilliant post Dave! It is true that SEO is becoming ever more complex. It looks as though in the near future even more emphasis will be put on relevance of content and sites.

  • Andrew C

    This is a good, thought-inspiring post. I have to admit though, I feel the scope is a bit misconstrued – for SEO firms and individuals in a consulting role(which, admittedly is where I assume you’re coming from) big data rules the land and that certainly can be considered rocket science. However, for the little guy, it’s still basic SEO, focusing on quality content and the long tail that wins the day.

    Some basic keyword research and Analytics, combined with white hat SEO fueled by hard work will still put the little guy on top without the need for big data analysis.

  • Nick Stamoulis

    I’d say the fundamentals of a good SEO program still aren’t rocket science, but what the fundamentals include is getting more and more involved. It’s not enough to throw up a couple thinks wherever you can find them and call it a day. You actually have to think and evaluate and plan ahead for your SEO now. When you want to take your SEO program even farther is gets more and more involved… maybe not rocket science level just yet…maybe we’re at organic chemistry level instead!

  • Charles Woods

    I agree. There are more moving parts in the equation that need more human attention than before. Firms now have to pay closer attention to content quality and strategically plan how it will engage target audiences. I think this is less true, with regard to effecting SERP’s in years past. A simplistic approach – “fix tags and outsource backlinking building” – which many SEO’s had success with before will not work now. This is, as you say, a very healthy event and Google’s moves to penalize the “short cut takers” only helps SEO’s committed to the overall message – make great contributions to your audience and be good at disseminating those contributions, and site authority will follow.