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Why I’ve Stopped Defending SEO

Yesterday I attended a fascinating lecture by Ben Hammersley, organised by the British council, about the future of the internet. Read my write-up of the lecture on The Tomorrow Lab blog here.

There was one small blemish on this otherwise superb evening. At one point an audience member – probably not coincidentally a grey-haired man wearing a checked shirt – in the course of asking a question, referred to SEO (with venom dripping from his voice as he pronounced the acronym) as “snake-oil” and the embodiment of all that was wrong with the corporatisation of the internet.

At that time I thought to myself, ‘I need to have a chat with this guy after the lecture and set him straight.’ But then, as I contemplated it a little, I changed my mind. No, I was not going to set this guy straight. I don’t need to.

This was, after all, a member of a self-selected audience. This was a lecture about the internet, about digital technologies and what they can bring us. This talk was the sort of thing that would only be of interest to digital natives, to people who immerse themselves in all things digital. Because this man was part of this audience, it was exceptionally unlikely he was anything but a most avid user of the internet.

Here is a man who probably types queries in to Google several times of day. Here is a man who, every time he clicks on a link on a search engine results page, reaps the outcomes of SEO again and again and again. If there was ever a type of man who should not need to be explained what SEO really is and what it can do for him, it’s this man right here.

The fact that he so obviously loathed SEO and what he perceived it to stand for, can only be a symptom of a much greater ailment than a misunderstanding of what SEO is. That ailment is, of course, wilful ignorance.

I don’t need to defend SEO. Its virtues and usage are demonstrated millions of times a day, every single time someone types a query in to a search box.

And those who, even now, still don’t understand it – especially those who actively engage with the internet on a daily basis – are beyond redemption. If there was ever an apt time to use the phrase “not seeing the woods for the trees”, this would be it.

SEO doesn’t need to be explained, or defended, or educated on. SEO simply is. It doesn’t care whether you ‘believe’ in it or not. You either use it, or you perish.

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