Parrots In The SEO Echo Chamber

 Posted by on April 30, 2014
May 26, 2016

Why it is hard to find good information about SEO…

A new client asked me today, “I’ve been reading all these SEO articles and it seems like there are so many contradictory opinions about everything. Are there any SEO sites you recommend?”  After a long pause, I could only think of a few that I could comfortably recommend. I do read or at least skim most of the well known digital marketing resources regularly, and I know exactly what he meant. There is a seemingly endless supply of bad advice, myths, misinformation, distortions, outdated info and just plain lies. This is not just on the run of the mill “buy this get rich quick e-book” or affiliate marketing sites, but even many of the more mainstream blogs pass along bad info on a daily basis. Maybe I have just outgrown the oversimplified advice many of them give, or maybe I have just acquired enough of my own knowledge to know bullshit when I see it. But the average website owner who is not totally immersed in online marketing is not as likely to recognize the differences between good, bad, and ridiculous.

Why are so many SEO and inbound marketing blogs so full of myths and misinformation?

I have some ideas…

Parrots In The Echo Chamber

seo expert parrotAll it takes is one reasonably well known blogger to present something as “fact” and it can and will be repeated as if it is a truth set in stone. Why?

Lazy Writers & “Me Too/Me First”

Bloggers and other writers want to chime in on a trending topic. Some hope to rank for the related keywords and gain traffic, while others simply want to appear to be knowledgeable on the cutting edge of online marketing – or both. They search the trending topic, find an article on a high profile site and paraphrase it. If their paraphrased article gains any traction,  you can safely bet another layer of copycats will do the same. Eventually, whatever the initial theory was will be spouted as absolute truth by thousands of SEO “experts”.

A few examples of how this has happened include:

The idea that you must blog constantly in order to have the freshly updated content Google wants.
Once upon a time, someone at Google mentioned that Google prefers sites that are not stale and are regularly updated. This has been echoed and distorted to the point where people generated (or bought) huge amounts of spun and recycled articles that use a lot of words but don’t say much.  Needing to publish every day is important if you are trying to be a news site, or are covering a topic that has things worth writing about on a daily basis – but it is not for everyone. How much can you write about something like pipe fittings and still have worthwhile content?

Rumors like the Google Zebra Algorithm update.
I have already mocked this in an earlier article in an attempt to hijack the conversation and point out the absurdity. To sum it up, one guy wrote a somehwhat tongue in cheek article pondering what other animals Google might use when naming algorithm updates, and what such an update would involve. Dozens of other bloggers ran with it and kept running. In a short time, “Beware of Zebra” advice was everywhere. A couple of months after I made light of it, someone at Search Engine Journal (not among my favorites due to their repeated use of sensational headlines with no basis in fact) wrote yet another article claiming Zebra was coming. She then came here to thank me for calling attention to this important news story she broke. Yes, the parrots are sometimes so clueless that they forget they lifted the idea from elsewhere, and they sometimes don’t even realize when they are commenting on an article that made fun of them BEFORE they even wrote their piece.

Irrational Beliefs
“Google hates small businesses”
“Google wants you to stop doing SEO and buy Adwords”
“You rank better/worse if you use adwords”
“Anyone can just go to Fiverr and kill your site with negative SEO”
(I don’t really  need to get into this one again, do I?)

There are more, but those are some of the worst. This is where it drifts from innocent confusion, to lies and conspiracy theories.

Everyone says it, so I should say it too
“Ethical SEO”, “100% white hat”, “Penguin Safe”, “we do inbound marketing, not SEO”, “content is king”, “your keywords must come at the front of the title”, “you can’t rank without lots of links to your site”, “infographics/press releases/guest blogging/content marketing/insert-next-overblown-trend-here is the way to go”…

Some of these are just jargon phrases that SEOs say because their competitors say them. Others are things that were accepted as fact years ago, but nobody bothered to check if they are still true. There are also those who repeat something even though they don’t understand what it means and don’t practice it (link earning, topics instead of keywords, etc). There are real thought leaders, and copycat parrots in any field, but it seems to be out of control in online marketing.

Hey SEO writers: If your content strategy is read your competitors’ blogs and rehash the same thing weeks later, you are doing it wrong. Tweet this

Google’s Matt Cutts addressed this issue in a recent video, and I really liked what he had to say about SEO group-think:

So with group think, lazy writers, and everyone and their brother feeling this need to be seen as an authority on SEO, we end up with thousands of blogs full of distortions, misinformation, and just plain lies.

Lies, I almost forgot about the lies!

Some of the things I mentioned above are not just innocent mistakes from would be experts with good intentions. Some people in the SEO space know better, but perpetuate myths for their own gain. Like the idea that negative SEO is widespread, easy to do and a threat to all of the internet. There are very few cases of someone link bombing a competitors site and it actually working on a site that did not already have a significant number of reasons for Google to penalize it. So few in fact, that I have never seen one, no matter how many times I have looked, or asked “victims” for more info about their problem – all I got was more spam links aimed at this site from people who felt a desperate need to prove it to me.

Why would people lie about SEO, Google being out to destroy small businesses, or the Biggest Lie About Search: “Google will change the rules and what is white hat today will be banned tomorrow”?
That last one is another one where if you ask “what did Google change?”, you will be attacked since there is no legitimate answer. Google has not really changed the rules very much at all. What some SEO’s thought was permitted, was in fact not OK with Google. Those SEO’s may have been hurt by listening to their own parrot squawks in the echo chamber.
But back to the question – why do people lie about this stuff:  Because they think they have to. A huge number of these SEO experts make money from Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD). Shady SEO’s want you to think Google could flip a switch on a good site at any time for no good reason. When their questionable tactics fail, they can blame a Google algorithm update or negative SEO coming from your competition. Some may be trying to cover their own butts after failure has already happened – if enough people spread the FUD, it is easier to make excuses: “I didn’t spam! Google went too far!”
Bloggers who aren’t necessarily selling a service or tool may want you to be fearful and confused because headlines like “Negative SEO Case Study Proves It Is Real” or “Google Changes the Rules Again” get a lot more clicks than “Still No Proof That Negative SEO Works”, or “Google Is Now Better At Enforcing Existing Rules”.  Even when the facts in the article say the truth, the headlines are deceptive – but they get the traffic. Unfortunately, parrots are among the readers and the lies become accepted as facts.

Back to my client’s question about where one might find good information about SEO:

There are a few blogs and other sources that can be trusted, since they are very careful to not state anything as fact without doing the homework first. They may not always be groundbreaking, but they are about as FUD and BS-free as it gets. When they get it wrong, they make it right. My short list includes but is not limited to (in no particular order): (and MarketingLand or just about anywhere else Danny Sullivan writes. I don’t always agree with him, but he is very trustworthy) (the official Moz blog, not YouMoz which is user generated and sometimes contains some FUD) – Barry Schwartz reports the SEO news with little commentary. But be careful, the comments from readers are infested with parrots and true believers in SEO mythology. You can usually find me there debunking nonsense, and generally upsetting people who don’t know what they are talking about.

A couple of analytics sites that have blogs aimed mostly at the SEO crowd, and don’t push their own tools on you too much:

Matt Cutts’ videos, tweets & blog – he’s Google’s Webspam Czar.

Google itself – the Webmaster Guidelines and SEO Starter Guide are great ways to get SEO information straight from the people who call the shots. If you really want to start at the beginning, check out How Search Works. Many “professional” SEOs would benefit from viewing those three Google resources which may help them stop believing everything they read elsewhere.

There are also some individuals who write for a variety of sites. Again, I hate to leave any out, so I am not going to attempt to list everyone I follow on Google+,, or elsewhere.  Instead, here are a few who have also recently written or ranted on a similar train of thought:

David Amerland wrote a nice one about the most recent parrot echo chamber surrounding Google+.
Kevin Raposo. I don’t know much about him, but his rant, “I can’t read the same SEO content over and over again” reinforced my idea that I wanted to write something about SEOs repeating other SEO’s BS. Good discussion on, too.
Michael Martinez. I don’t always agree with him, but he is a straight shooter and seems to share my penchant for debunking myths.

I am sure I left many out and may come back to add more. If there are any clearly top-notch SEO or Inbound Marketing blogs I missed, who consistently present fresh, well-researched info with a minimum of BS, let me know in the comments. Keep in mind if you try to drop your own up-and-coming blog and I find it to be full of FUD and/or repetition – I am going to call you out on it.

There are many brilliant, creative people in the SEO business. Creativity, originality and innovation are essential to making a website not just appear to be the best thing Google can show in the search results, but to help it actually be the best. Unfortunately, this does not always show in the blogs that the average website owner finds.

Now, let’s see if anything in this article gets parroted… 

  • Jerry

    Very timely considering this came at the same time as that debate about Google’s ethics.
    One thing I’d like to add is that many SEO writers don’t do any SEO work anymore. They just write about it. If they haven’t worked in a few years, they may be repeating things that are not true anymore or have been bulkshitting so long they have forgotten what was fact and what was just tossed out there with “truthiness”.

    • Yes! Writing about it vs actually doing it is another major issue. Plenty of writers do know what they are talking about. But what about serial guest-blogging “experts” who tend to recycle ideas throughout their articles? How long ago did they stop learning and just start rehashing the same ideas without confirming that they are still valid or ever were?

  • Wendy Kirwan

    Couple of names I’d add to your list: Ian Lurie (@portentint) and AJ Kohn (Blind Five Year Old). And Bill Slawski (seo by the sea), whose tweet led me to this post to begin with.

    • Absolutely agree on all three of those! Y’know, this is why I hesitated to name names – I kind of feel bad because I do read and agree with just about everything those guys write. Just didn’t want this to become a huge name-drop post.
      I also left out Tad Chef who is also a very good source of independent thought.