Dumbass of the Week: Derek Powazek

DuhIt’s been a long time since we’ve had a candidate sitting on the Dumbass throne. But this month, we’ve had two. I couldn’t decide which to blog first, so I decided to go with the one who made me the angriest. That, my friends, was Derek Powazek who has decided that Search Engine Optimization ( SEO ) is worthless.

Let me start by saying that I’m familiar with Derek’s many years in the industry. I know he’s worked at Blogger and Technorati and has been on the web a year longer than me. I know he works with Internet start ups and big names like Hewlett Packard.  I also know that Derek was named one of the top 40 “Industry Influencers” of 2007.

I’ve even heard Derek speak at Webstock about community driven websites and live-blogged his crowd-sourcing wisdom so others could learn from it.

All this just makes his anti SEO rant this week all the more frightening in its ignorance. Derek claims:

“Search Engine Optimization is not a legitimate form of marketing. It should not be undertaken by people with brains or souls. If someone charges you for SEO, you have been conned.

In fact, Derek has some pretty strong opinions about those of us who practice SEO. Apart from calling us brainless, soul-less con-artists, he says:

  • we’re spammers
  • we’re evildoers
  • we’re opportunists
  • we’re scammers
  • we’re not to be trusted
  • we’re poisoning the web
  • what we do can result in a lifetime ban in Google (which doesn’t even exist BTW)
  • we’re cockroaches
  • we employ botnets, third-world labor, and zombie computers
  • we’re bastards
  • we’re hackers planting worm viruses
  • we create programs to grab expired domain names
  • we create web pages filled with content stolen from RSS feeds
  • we’re jerkwads with disreputable clients
  • we encourage people to dumb down their content for Google instead of for their readers

I’m not paraphrasing here, his post actually says this stuff.

When his rant was pointed out to me and I first read it, I was sure it was just link bait and I ignored it. But after a day or two of seeing his responses to industry commentators and his replies via comments, it became obvious he meant every single word.

The vitriol even spilled over into his Twitter feed:

“There is no such thing as honest SEO. There’s only making good websites.”

“The term “SEO” sounds inoffensive but it covers a spectrum of practices that are ineffective at best, and destructive at worst.”

“So I guess SEO creeps exist because bad web designers exist. Crap begets crap.”

“What a great rallying cry for an industry: SEO! We fix other people’s crap! Every ecosystem needs bottom-feeders, I guess.”

A few people have responded directly to Derek’s outburst, including Danny Sullivan, who wrote a restrained, intelligent response to the original post and a detailed deconstruction of Derek’s own follow up post.

Derek apparently thought Danny’s post was a personal attack and tweeted as such:

“I may have stirred up a hornets nest, but I didn’t attack anyone personally. too bad @dannysullivan can’t pay me the same respect.”

At this point my bullshit radar couldn’t take any more and I tweeted in response. Here’s the exchange that followed:

Me: @fraying I would say that calling SEOs bottom feeders qualifies as an attack.

Derek: @kalena I attacked an industry, not a person. There’s a difference.

Me: @fraying No, you attacked people who work in an industry. So a whole slew of people.

I’m not going to attempt my own deconstruction of Derek’s anti SEO rant, because Danny has done a great job of this already and Derek still doesn’t get it.  But I’m not going to stand by and let Derek’s ignorance go unchecked.

Yes, the SEO industry has a dodgy reputation. Yes, some SEO firms are trying to push silly ideas on clients. Yes, the industry has some scam artists. But I bet you’ll find many more SEO firms that are providing an honest, valuable service. Even Google agrees:

“If you’re thinking about hiring an SEO, the earlier the better. A great time to hire is when you’re considering a site redesign, or planning to launch a new site. That way, you and your SEO can ensure that your site is designed to be search engine-friendly from the bottom up. However, a good SEO can also help improve an existing site.”

What really yanks my chain is that unenlightened posts from someone as influential as Derek do even more damage to an already unfairly scorned industry. Making sweeping statements about all SEO’s being “snake oil salesmen” and “bottom feeders” just prove that you don’t understand SEO.

Search Engine College was born out of questions I was constantly bombarded with about SEO. Webmasters would write to me with the idea that SEO was black magic and beyond their ability. This is CRAP. Anyone can SEO a web site. I know some in this industry scorn us for providing non-technical courses in a subject that can be highly technical. But to me, that’s the God.Damn.Point. Taking what can be a highly complex subject and de-jargonizing it for the masses. Taking SEO back to basics and making it accessible.

In my experience, the only people claiming SEO is smoke and mirrors are the media or those who are trying to hide something from clients. I get the sense that Derek (and others) think that all SEOs are pretending to perform rocket science or trick clients into thinking as much. That’s ignorant. Any professional SEO will educate their client along the way and provide a fully transparent and quantifiable service. And there are plenty of them out there.

SEOs aren’t scam artists and SEO isn’t rocket science. Anyone telling clients what they do is magic is not an SEO. Just an asshole. And guess what Derek? Assholes aren’t limited to the SEO industry.

Update 1: Oh and Derek, you might like to know that your employer HP doesn’t think SEOs are scammers. At least they didn’t when they hired me to perform search engine optimization on their Asia Pacific sites some years back.

Update 2: Before I published this post, Derek had approved a comment I left on his follow up post but has since decided to remove it and many others that criticize his stance. Yet he claims SEOs are defensive? Pot, meet kettle.

For what it’s worth, here’s my comment:

Derek,  I heard you speak at Webstock earlier this year about the power of crowd sourcing and was inspired by your passion for building community driven websites. I’m bewildered that you would choose to isolate an entire community by attacking them with an ignorant and uninformed rant. Disappointed.

Update 3: In his original post, Derek boasted about ranking for his own name on Google. Now I can boast about the same thing. Still think SEO is ineffective?

Update 4: It seems Derek has had second thoughts about his rant and has posted an apology of sorts on his blog. This is to be commended and I’m pleased he finally seems to understand why he was wrong to isolate an industry. BUT, he kind of negates the apology by accusing us of being too defensive. I’ve submitted a comment to the thread, hopefully it will be published rather than deleted this time. The comment was rather long, so I’ve turned it into a blog post.

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