Critical, cynical Verge article blames SEOs for ruining the internet

Amanda Chicago Lewis thinks SEO pirates have ruined Google Search and the internet. And she’s going to force that negative narrative on us. No matter what.

Yes, SEOs went beyond the world wide web – where you’ve optimized websites and content for nearly 30 years – and wrecked the whole internet. How? That’s still not quite clear. (Lewis hasn’t yet figured out that the world wide web is basically just an application that runs on the internet. But that’s an issue for another day.)

This is just one of many bold assertions in a hate-spewing 8,000-word extravaganza published on the Verge that tries to tie SEO to bad Google Search results, excess behavior (from lavish dinners to late-night drug parties) and even human trafficking.

The key points. It all starts with an “alligator party” (because, Florida) that actually seems to be more in the affiliate marketing world, not the SEO world. And we’re off:

  • Lewis expects SEOs to be horrible human beings, is surprised when they aren’t.
  • Lewis characterizes SEOs as exploitative people making lots of money without any power.
  • We revisit well-trampled ground – the “Google Search is terrible” narrative – with links to four articles complaining about a search engine used by 3.2 billion people every month.

Smearing people. We’re all just amoral, megalomaniacal, rule-breaking hustlers and nihilists, who manipulate search algorithms for profit. And many of us are pirates. We’re also supposedly flooding Google with AI-written drivel that Google can’t keep up with.

  • But it’s not just a broad brush, Lewis also characterizes some people in the most cynical ways possible – especially Google’s Danny Sullivan: “I find him angry and defensive,” for starters.
  • Sullivan has now shared some thoughts on the Verge article on his personal blog, which in part corrects Lewis’ historical inaccuracy confusing Search Engine Watch, which started in the late 1990s, with Search Engine Land, which was founded in 2006.

Does anybody look good? From my reading, the only three people who came out fairly unscathed would be our own unbelievably fast-talking Barry Schwartz (who writes for this very “trade rag” as Lewis put it), who was quoted saying:

  • “The search community is filled with hard-working individuals working to help their clients’ websites succeed in Google Search. That success is not done through dark, corrupt or shady tactics but rather hard, smart and thorough work.”

Matt Cutts, who has always been a voice of sanity, nuance and empathy, and was quoted as saying:

  • “There were so many true believers at Google in the early days. As companies get big, it gets harder to get things done. Inevitably, people start to think about profit or quarterly numbers.” 

Lily Ray is portrayed as the “most reasonable person” of the article, despite some perhaps envious jabs about her jet-setting lifestyle and calling herself a “thought leader.” She does provide her usual voice of sanity when it comes to the nuance of discussing tactics that go against Google guidelines. She’s quoted as saying:

  • “SEO that goes against Google’s guidelines, it’s not new. If people have a problem with Google’s results, they have to ask themselves, is it the fault of the SEOs? Or is this Google behaving differently than it used to?”

The problem. So much of this article is all such a dated, fringey view of SEO – the Wild West porn, pills and gambling days. Much of the focus here is on days gone by (we’re even digging up Cutts, who has been out of Google for nearly a decade). Some big personalities brag and reminisce about the past.

It’s not really about SEO in 2023. And it ignores all the good work most SEOs do to make Search and the user experience better.

SEO is no longer a “cottage industry” – many companies employ entire teams dedicated to SEO. SEO is discussed on earnings calls. SEO is a legit part of most organizations – from small businesses to the biggest brands and corporations on the planet.

  • In short, The Verge’s article is classic clickbait – the kind the author supposedly rails against. It’s basically the new “SEO is dead.”

Here’s yer classic clickbait, matey. The people who ruined the internet.

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