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There's (obviously) nothing wrong with SEO. The search engines' objective is to help people find what they're looking for.
If you create something that people are looking for, and complete their search, you're all on the same side. Optimising that is good for us all.
But, as with all human things, scarcity and competition naturally set in. If there are only three places on the winners podium, people start to obsess about how to get the edge.
The simplest argument suggests that you just double down on creating really great stuff that satisfies what people are looking (searching) for.
But to do so in a way that's substantially better than the competition is hard. And the more superficial it is, the easier it probably is to copy.
By contrast, if you could find tricks and shortcuts that had as big or bigger impact, wouldn't you just take those?
And in fact, if you started to weave that magic for those who really needed it, maybe even as part of the recipe for those already upping their game on their core content, why wouldn't you do that?
Black and white
There's a lot to be said for taking a search-informed perspective on strategic marketing decisions.
Indeed, I'd argue that it's increasingly this route of search-savvy knowledge being applied in other marketing disciplines, one that seems an organic and natural future for those with the skills and experience.
Like journalists sucked up into the PR machine for their writing experience.
However, something about this culture of shortcuts seems to have bred a seedy underbelly as a ying to the yang. What you could now probably describe as the 'black hat' crew and tactics.
Perhaps it's the instinct to take on the challenge of Google's ever mysterious algorithms and feel like you've got one over on them at their own game.
Or maybe it's the opportunity to offer clients a magic box and not worry about them asking how the sausages are really made.
It’s a difficult one to call, but I think an almost ‘get rich quick’ culture has propagated in certain corners.
Hide and search
Meanwhile, search has changed. It's becoming so hard to just play the game that you end up with half the discussion revolving around really sensible smart strategy, things like using content to gain attention and stand out online or semantic markup and metadata to genuinely clarify the definition of your entities.
The downside of this is that it potentially disenfranchises and creates a fleet of ex-”search experts” whose previous toolkit is no longer fit for purpose, and they’re prepping up to turn their questionable intentions and gaze this way.
They all want to write content and perform outreach to make sure they're with the curve.
And just in the way they cluttered, confused and abused search in ways that have damaged the experience, now they're coming for the good stuff.
It’s really important to re-emphasise that I’m not talking about all SEO people here, or all SEO strategies. In fact, I’m literally in the process of looking for a great, experienced, top quality search consultant to collaborate with.
But in surveying the landscape, it feels like there’s a more distasteful element out there feeling the pressure of increasingly idle hands.
So let me finish with the reassuring bit. I don't think they can do it. I don't think one of these bad guys can actually breed brilliant content without paying someone who can.
They’ll end up moving on or relying on people who can actually do a good job to get there. Or maybe they’ll even turn over a new leaf in the process and join a process of creating real value.
Over the next 12 months or so, we’re going to find out together.