Richard Gere on Arbitage - Might as well be talking about SEO
or “5 Reasons why SEO and Hedge Fund Management are The Same and Panda / Penguin was SEO’s Financial Crisis”
Listening to this weeks Wittertainment podcast, I was enjoying Simon Mayo’s interview with Richard Gere about his new film Arbitage when I was struck by how, when talking about the life and work of his character, a hedge fund manager caught up in family and financial crisis, he could just as easily be talking about some us in the SEO industry.
"It’s a shill game, basically… people believe there are experts that know how to make enormous amounts of money, and you will get a piece of that. The reality is, they don’t know any more than anyone else."
Now, of course I don’t believe SEO is a shill game, any more than I imagine most hedge fund managers believe the same of their profession. But this accusation has been levelled at SEO many times over the years, and I understand why. SEO is often as much about best guesses as it is best practices and most of us outside of certain clandestine organisations cannot claim to necessarily know any more than anyone else on the subject, as the information and help required to perform effective SEO is freely available in abundance. Experience in the field is invaluable, of course. But success in the SEO industry is not generally determined by technical or even creative skill, but by the drive to succeed.
This is why we’ve seen so many young entrepreneurs thrive in this sector - these are the people that can convince clients that no matter what, they can make a lot of money, and they will get a piece of that. But none of us control Google, and thanks to the Panda and Penguin updates of the over the last couple of years, the link building and content tricks we used to be able to pull to help “influence” Google are becoming less and less advisable as time wears on. It used to be that, with sufficient “link budget”, a business could be bought to the top of Google (and it would not take a genius to do this), and it would live and die by those rankings. Those sites are rapidly finding that those rankings are built on shaky ground, with some high profile casualties. While we might identify and sympathise with these companies (there but for the grace, and all that…), hopefully this will force a sea change in how we do things in SEO, so we’re focussing on building websites and content that people genuinely want to use, and promoting them in legitimate ways.
"He is a shark. He’s in motion. Everything about him is motion. That’s a lot of what these guys do, it’s all in motion. They don’t stop long enough for us to evaluate them or their lives. They never stop long enough to evaluate themselves."
From an SEO’s point of view, they have been commissioned to improve their client’s rankings, which generally requires links and content. So, they might suggest to the client that they build hundreds of nearly identical location-based “landing pages”, or buy or trade products for links as. Despite going against Google’s guideines, these techniques generally work extremely well to improve those rankings and traffic from natural search, so long as they’re done “properly”. By “properly” they mean “the way they do it”, as they’ve not been caught out… yet.
From the client’s point of view, they are paying for the expertise and advice of the SEO, and expect them to do what is best for their website, improving their rankings and generating a positive ROI as they do so. So, trusting the SEO knows what’s best, they give the go ahead and enjoy watching their rankings and conversions flourish. Then, one day, months or maybe even years later, the money suddenly just stops rolling in.
SEO casualties often come about because neither the client nor the SEO has really stopped to seriously evaluate what they’re doing. Perhaps if they had, they’d have taken the longer, safer route. Perhaps not.
"There’s some emotional transition that never happened with a lot of these guys. They’re gamblers. But it’s very boyish… it’s about playing games, and winning the game. In the end it’s not about the money. It’s about winning."
Who amongst us hasn’t experienced that rush upon getting to number 1, that feeling of “beating” Google, and the poor suckers sat there below your client’s site. In some thorough research, I’ve just found that the words “SEO” and “game” appear together on 172,000,000 web pages. Just look how packed out most “black hat” conference seminars are, everyone keen to collect some new ways to gain an unfair advantage, and to indulge their rebellious side. And then of course there are reports of an inordinate amount of “booth babes” at industry events, presumably hired to appeal to the same perma-adolescents who read Nuts magazine and wear Lynx Africa, and act inappropriately towards women at the post-conference parties. When it comes to making our industry look “grown up”, we really don’t do ourselves any favours.
"I think he’s a mirror in many ways. I’m sure there’s a certain amount of admiration when we see guys like this. There’s certainly a built in distrust and anger toward them with their success. "
When it comes to admiration, we SEO folk are in no short supply. Entire careers have been built off the back of “rockstar” status, often earned through blogging, networking and being an all round good egg. But there’s always the question - “what do they know that I don’t”, and the nagging suspicion that, in some cases, the answer is “not a whole lot”. This can lead to misplaced resentment from those who have lacked the opportunity or drive to earn a “rockstar” reputation for themselves.
"Our assumption of them is that they’re greedy, they couldn’t have been successful unless they’d been incredibly greedy and cut corners somehow. So we admire their success, but we want them to fail, we basically want to beat them up. They’re the punching bags of the moment."
The sad thing is that, in SEO, the suspicion that corners have been cut when building links or content will turn out to be true in the vast majority of cases. And yet we’re constantly told by other SEOs not to cut these corners. Clearly, some of us are not practising what we preach, so while we admire them while they are succeeding, we are like vultures when they fall, taking great pleasure in pulling them apart.