A ‘Crash Course’ on SEO Ethics and Responsibility
Ian Lurie Mar 11 2008
When you go to a conference and present, you have a responsibility to give accurate advice or admit you can’t. That’s called professional responsibility. Especially in a relatively new field like search engine optimization.
I really enjoyed SEMPDX, and recommend it to everyone. All of the presentations were great.
With one exception.
What Went Wrong
The day started with a one-hour ‘SEO Crash Course’. The audience included total beginners as well as experts. Many folks were clearly hanging on the presenter’s every word, writing and typing frantically as she spoke.
With that attention comes responsibility: The presenter agreed, implicitly, that she wouldn’t lead the crowd careening off a cliff to be impaled on search engine rules.
Unfortunately, that’s exactly what she did.
Slow 301 Redirects? Wha?
The presenter made a few statements that were less-than-great about keyword meta tags and such: Bad advice, but nothing catastrophic.
But I was horrified when she discussed redirection: She stated that, when you redirect from an old site to a new one, or an old page to a new one, you should ‘slow down the redirect’ so that visitors see a message like “We will redirect you in 15 seconds” or some such. She said this in the context of search engine optimization, and stated that search engines preferred this.
She’s describing a client-side redirect, like a META REFRESH tag. Search engines don’t reliably follow redirects through a refresh. Using one can be disastrous for SEO.
Then, someone raised their hand and asked about 301 redirects. 301 redirects are the only way to redirect browsers and search engine spiders alike, hand off all the link happiness and not suffer penalties.
The presenter answered “As far as I know you should slow those down, too.”
All the SEO beginners in the crowd immediately scribbled that comment down, too. And threw themselves off a cliff.
Her answer arcs past totally wrong and soars straight to an SEO disaster. If I were a beginner sitting in this session, I would’ve immediately noted “Slow down redirects”. Then I’d go ask my webmaster to set this up. When the webmaster said “we can’t slow down a 301 redirect”, I’d switch to a META REFRESH statement.
Which effectively hides my new content from the search engines (at best) or gets you flagged as a potential spammer (at worst).
Why I’m Upset
If this presenter had stood up and said “I’m new at this, so please correct me if I’m wrong”, then these misstatements would’ve been fine.
If she’d said “I don’t know”, that would’ve been fine, too.
But she stood up there as a trainer from the Search Engine Academy of Oregon. The title and organization imply that She Is An Expert.
She had a large audience hanging on her every word.
She needed to do her homework, and stay away from topics of which she was unsure. Instead, she gave very, very bad advice to people who can’t yet judge for themselves.
The beginners in the audience will implement her recommendations. And get horrible results.
That gives Steve Rubel more ammunition for one-sided diatribes against the entire profession.
It forces me to spend time un-doing damage with new clients who think we should somehow slow down 301 redirects.
And it’s disappointing to those who put a great deal of time into researching best practices. It’s disappointing because these kinds of gaffes reflect on everyone in spite of years of hard work.
When you present yourself to any group as an expert, you must do your homework. You’re taking responsibility for giving good advice. And your audience is trusting you to do so.
Research your topics. Fact-check your presentations. Then make a great contribution to your profession.
I have to insert a note here. I’m normally a sarcastic, edgy blogger, particularly when I’m making fun of major companies as they stagger onto the internet marketing stage. I’m not going to indulge here. While what I heard in this session infuriated me, to some extent, it points out serious issues in our industry. Plus the organization in question is a small one, and I know what it’s like trying to run a small business. I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings or livelihood, or get anyone in trouble. But we have to police our own profession.
Ian Lurie is CEO and founder of Portent Inc. He's recorded training for Lynda.com, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Forbes.com and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, SIC and ad:Tech. Follow him on Twitter at portentint. He also just published a book about strategy for services businesses: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle. Read More