Ignorant Do-It-Yourselfers & Their SEO Fiascoes: The Real Trouble With Search Engine Optimization

A recent rant by John Dvorak at PCMag.com, “SEO Fiascoes: The Trouble with Search Engine Optimization“, has thrown me for quite a loop. Considering the amount of time I’ve spent learning SEO and small business website design, I will be the first to admit that there are a slew of companies in operation today that take advantage of the ignorance surrounding search engine optimization in order to turn a quick buck – the inspiration for this blog came as a result of such charlatans, after all. I do, however, take exception to virtually every word of Mr. Dvorak’s rant, which is based entirely upon his own ignorance – without a shred of fact or truth.

The advice he was given, particularly with regard to the permalink structure of the URLs of his blog, was absolutely CORRECT. The problem lies, not with the suggestion his unnamed “SEO Maven” friend offered, but that this individual gave him only part of the information necessary in order to make the changes properly. Mr. Dvorak elected to run with this partial information and tackle the task of changing the URL structure of his blog without fully understanding the appropriate process for doing so, nor the necessary steps required to do it properly.

Therein lies the problem with search engine optimization: do-it-yourselfers armed with partial information and the over-reaching egos that lead them to believe a massive undertaking – like changing the URL structure of an entire site or blog – can be properly carried out based on the limited information provided during an IM conversation.  I’d really encourage those who want to learn a little more about SEO to start with the basics – like, say…META tags.  Here’s a good overview from my friend, Josh:  “META Tags and SEO“.  See, part of the problem with many who know something about SEO is that they neglect to understand that sharing tidbits of information, like “…you should be using long URLs…” (which, if quoted by Mr. Dvorak correctly is NOT the appropriate explanation), doesn’t provide whomever they’re speaking to with a realistic picture of what is involved in making such a massive change to an existing site or blog.

What Mr. Dvorak’s SEO pal neglected to mention was that before even considering making such a change, he should think long and hard about what the new URLs should be and that simply changing the URL structure in the permalinks settings of WordPress would not be enough. Nor was he properly advised to use the custom permalink structure /%postname%/, as to include only the title of the post in the URL – not the date.

Furthermore, Mr. Dvorak also neglected to edit the individual permalinks to include only the most pertinent information regarding the post’s topic and the applicable keywords. Like this post, for instance, whose URL is not http://www.seoaly.com/ignorant-do-it-yourselfers-and-their-seo-fiascoes-the-real-trouble-with-search-engine-optimization, but the more search engine friendly and user-friendly http://www.seoaly.com/real-trouble-with-search-engine-optimization instead.

Another thing not taken into account when Mr. Dvorak changed his URLs was: what will happen to any existing links to the old post URLs? You see, when permalinks are changed it will break the existing links to the old URL. Someone who fully understands SEO, rather than thinking they can glean all of the information needed from a brief IM conversation, would have understood that installing a plugin – like Redirection – would be necessary in order create a 301 redirect and to prevent any existing links from breaking as a result of the changes to the post URLs. Immediately creating a new sitemap and submitting it to Google would help to make them aware of the changes to the URL structure of the blog, as well – but I doubt that step was taken into consideration either.

Again, having a partial understanding of the process and not being aware of all that occurs when a post URL is changed was your undoing, Mr. Dvorak – not the advice that adjustments to the URLs would increase the optimization of the individual posts on your blog. This is no “trick”, as you claim – this is an accepted and effective SEO strategy that is not only employed by reputable SEOs, but actually recommended by Google and documented at the Official Google Webmaster Central Blog. Here are two of the many posts that give some insight into Google’s recommendations for URL structure: Dynamic URLs vs. Static URLs and Google’s SEO Starter Guide.

A further claim was made that making changes to the URLs “…does nothing” and that “…long URLs are crap and stupid.” Again, I question the use of the term “long URLs” and tend to believe the use of this improper terminology as further proof that he was not provided with the appropriate information initially. Nevertheless, this claim is based purely on ignorance, rather than being based in fact. Creating URLs that contain keywords, rather than simply the domain and “?p=3100″, as is the WordPress default format for URLs, DOES – in fact – have an impact on the ranking of the post in the search results. In much the same way that having a keyword in the domain itself helps to improve ranking, so does having the post’s main keywords in the URL string of the individual page or post. This is a fact and it is undisputed, as illustrated by the aforementioned posts at Google’s official webmaster blog.

You see, Mr. Dvorak, search engine optimization and learning all that is involved with it is a full time undertaking. Those of us involved in the industry do this all day, every day and – unlike you – have a complete understanding of the far-reaching implications and potential problems with changing the URL structure of a blog. Unlike you, we understand the big picture of the overall optimization of a site or blog. SEO is not something that should be tackled by just anyone completing task after task on a universal checklist. Your claim that SEO is snake oil speaks more to your ignorance than to fact. Making such a claim is the imbecilic equivalent of diagnosing someone with Appendicitis and attempting to remove their appendix based on the information available at WebMD, then proceeding to hold WebMD accountable when the patient dies on the table.


  1. says

    Excellent Aly,

    You nailed the points home to a T. Too many times people go off half cocked about things they really don’t understand nor take the time to learn. Unfortunately I think Mr Dvorak’s Blog might actually be part LINK BAIT. He can’t actually be that STUPID? or could he :)

    Eric Gehlers last blog post..Help Send a Twit Frend to IM Spring Break

  2. says

    The guy is a numbnut. If you read any of his other posts, he’s pretty good at throwing fud to support his position. In fact, a number of his post titles themselves take on a negative slant right out the gate. So what does that say about his approach to blogging? Controvertial for the sake of link baiting.

    But what I really enjoy about both his personal blog, as well as this post he made, there’s never a way to comment. Again, a nice telling statement about how he treats the whole concept of blogging itself.

    My advice: nofollow your links to him and don’t feed the troll :p

    SEO Honolulus last blog post..10 Questions With Rae Hoffman… Again

  3. says

    I kinda hope he is looking for link bait…the links back to him, like mine above, are all going to use words like “ignorance”. ;) HAHA! Serves him right!

  4. says

    Oh, I’m gonna feed the troll alright…with a link that says “ignorance”. ;) I think that pretty much sums it up! HAHA!

    • says

      I read your post and have one thing to say: well done! :)

      Don’t forget, though…we bloggers are a pretty smart lot, too. Using the potential exposure of a wildly negative and ignorant post like that isn’t a bad way to draw some attention to a blog that doesn’t get nearly as much traffic as PCMag.com, you know. ;)

  5. says

    Everyone is in agreement that these long hyphenated sentence structure URIs are SEO friendly? Well, they are not and there are protocols that explain why. They are an absolute nightmare from a variety of perspectives. Dvorak was dead on with some of his observations even though he was missing pieces of the puzzle.

    WordPress and all the wacky plugins have created an absolute SEO tag soup dilemma that isn’t going to go away anytime soon.

    Title Slugs = FAIL

    pageoneresultss last blog post..you can choose what link to display here.

    • says

      I don’t think it is the length of the URLs that is the issue here, but what is included within them.

      Whether having a keyword in the URL impacts ranking or not, from a user-friendly perspective, having a URL that includes keywords makes it more evident in the SERPs that the page is about what they’re looking for – rather than having a bunch of numbers and parameters that are meaningless to them.

  6. says


    Shall we deconstruct the above URI as an example? Do you see anything inherently wrong with the above?

    First thing, it has a trailing forward slash which indicates that it is a directory level and there are additional documents underneath (usually). I know why you are doing it. But, it is incorrect usage.

    There are 5 hyphens in that string in one directory level. There have been numerous topics over the years where that hyphen has been the hot topic of discussion. The general consensus is that too many of them may cause some challenges. From a usability perspective, they are a nightmare.

    Now, what happens if you need to change the title of this post? These types of URIs are highly volatile and have very little “evergreen” value. Don’t you think? ;)

    • says

      I actually have changed the title of the post already without concern. Because the permalink is set manually, only to contain the most important words to indicate the post’s topic, there are no changes to the URL going forward.

      Look, I know you have a ton more time in this industry and experience than I do – but the fact remains that my observations are based on the research that I’ve done and my own experience. The bottom line is that I believe these URLs, when constructed properly and aren’t a million characters long, tell the search engines more about the topic of the page. And, more importantly, they tell search users more about the page topic when they appear in the search results. In fact, based on these SERPs, I think the URL being shown in my result tells the search user more than most of the other URLs being shown on that page. Not to mention that my tiny little blog is ranking among big dogs like PCMag.com, Techmeme, WebmasterWorld, and Mixx.

      I have never had an issue ranking well or seen any indication that hyphens are an issue based on my experience. There has been plenty of disagreement over the use of hyphens. In fact, much of what I’ve read and my experience indicates that hyphens don’t have any negative impact on ranking or usability.

      I really appreciate you taking the time to comment. If you have any links to documentation that supports your position, please share the them. Myself and anyone reading this post would certainly love to learn more about the topics. I learn more about SEO everyday and don’t believe that anyone knows it all. The only way I will continue to learn is through people like you taking the time to share your experiences, as well as the documentation that supports your position.

      Thanks again for taking the time to comment. I may disagree with you at this point, but I appreciate you taking the time to weigh in! :)

  7. says

    “I really appreciate you taking the time to comment. If you have any links to documentation that supports your position, please share the them.”

    Alysson, I find myself perusing your Blog occasionally and I don’t mind taking the time to comment on something that I am extremely passionate about. In fact, when I first read your Blog Post, it prompted me to write my own article on this because I knew there would be disagreement from many in this area, especially Bloggers.

    So, without further ado…


    ^ Wait until you read the bit from Google News Publishers Help. It may not apply 100% in this instance but it does refute what many say about using numbers in URI strings. Pay special attention to what I call the “Google 3/4 Digit Rule”. ;)

  8. says

    I agree, I get clients every so often that decide they don’t need me and call me three months later asking why their website has been unindexed, usually from one of those amazing looking deals for $49.99 with guarantees coming out of their ears.

    • says

      Yeah, unfortunately that happens a lot. I wish people would just stop and think before jumping into something so stupid. That’s like believing a car dealer when he tells you he’s got a “2007 – like brand new…” car for $2,000. Uh, really? So, what lake did you fish it out of, buddy?

      If people would just keep in mind that if it sounds too good to be true, IT IS TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE…that would solve SOOOO many problems and save a lot of headaches.

  9. says

    The part about the date stamp is a bit off. Although his article was a pile of crap and he probably doesn’t know it, including the date stamp is about the only way to get into Google News. So if you’re shooting for that then it needs to be in there.

    But I agree, he has no clue what the hell he’s talking about. I’m dumbfounded it made pc mag.

    TheMadHats last blog post..2008 Top 1 Person Who Sucks (a lot)

    • says

      You’re absolutely right about Google News. That is something I wasn’t aware of until Edward pointed it out. I hadn’t taken Google News into consideration.

    • says

      It’s important to note that Google has since eliminated the necessity of including date stamps within URLs in order to be included within Google News searches.
      .-= Alysson´s last blog ..Search Engine Optimization Jacksonville – Hometown Scams =-.

    • says

      Yeah, I didn’t take Google News into account when I suggested not including the date. I’ve since been educated on that. :)

  10. says

    It’s like the old story about the electrician, he doesn’t charge for jiggling the wire but for the knowledge of the right wire to jiggle.

    I did setup my blog using the date in the URL since the objective was to follow news trends. For newer niche blogs I only use /%postname%/ or /%category%/%postname%/

    Frank Carrs last blog post..Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T77 Review

    • says

      All of my sites and blogs are niche, which is why I wasn’t aware of the requirements for Google News. I’m certainly glad I know now, as that’s clearly very valuable information to have moving forward – particularly for a not-for-profit charity site that I’m in the process of launching as we speak. :)

  11. says

    Hey, SEO Aly, I caught the link to this from Twitter – Good stuff! Unfortunately people like Mr. Dvorak are in the majority out there. They boldly go where no man has gone before (no man in his right mind, anyway). Combine “a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing” with “to err is human, but if you really want to screw things up use a computer” and combine them with SEO and boy have you got a wing-ding of a nightmare brewing.

    Clients sometimes get the idea they can do it all better (usually the ones I have to fight tooth and nail, the same ones who say “I don’t want to hear anything technical, I don’t understand any of that stuff”) and when they do I just smile slyly and say “Suuuuure – hand them the keys to the Web site and watch them fly it off into a wild blue crash and burn total flaming disaster.

    Why is it that these PC Magazine A+ certified hardware types think do-it-yourself One Minute SEO Training Courses are going to work? This is grown up stuff, not 1990’s keyword stuffing in it’s infancy.

    SEO today REQUIRES years of serious study, trial and error, TALENT, a scientific mind, plus the right mix of paid and unpaid tools and services.

    Without every single one of those ingredients people like Mr. Dvorak aren’t even qualified to comment, let alone write articles to influence the rest of the seriously challenged masses. What I have written may not be nice, but putting it more diplomatically than that doesn’t work. When it comes to SEO, Mr. Dvorak is a “user” and a limited one at that – AKA L-User.

    • says

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. And I totally agree with you! While there are certainly some on-site SEO tasks that site owners can undertake on their own with out too much technical knowledge, for the most part they have no business trying to optimize their own sites.

      And thanks for the link to the setup instructions for Redirection. I’m sure some people will find that very useful. :)

  12. says

    I am pretty new to the SEO game (2 years) and even I can tell the article was way off base, pretty sad.

    Great blog post Alysson

  13. says

    This was a good post Alysson. It really points out that SEO needs to have a plan. Its not as simple as throwing darts at a wall. It also goes to show that if a site is built with SEO in mind, it should do relatively well for a while to come. None of this SEO friendly stuff in wordpress is new and it really should be the default on new installations just to keep people from whining about it when they move to it.

    • says

      I completely agree, Alex. SEO certainly does need to be approached with a well thought out plan initially, so sites are launched initially with that strategy in mind.

      WordPress continues to improve with each release and I believe more and more basic SEO issues will continue to be taken into account as they develop future releases.

      Alyssons last blog post..Ignorant Do-It-Yourselfers & Their SEO Fiascoes: The Real Trouble With Search Engine Optimization

  14. says

    I admire your post. This is really very interesting! But I think that SEO should be done from the creation of your site to getting traffic and making money from it. I agree with Alysson, SEO should be well planned to reap its rewards.

    Thanks for this post.

    • says

      I’m glad you liked the post, Justin. You’re right…approaching SEO without a concrete plan and just jumping in head first without an understanding of the big picture can be worse than not optimizing at all.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. :)

      Alyssons last blog post..Ignorant Do-It-Yourselfers & Their SEO Fiascoes: The Real Trouble With Search Engine Optimization

  15. says

    Alysson, most people learned the lesson, due to the ignorance of didn’t believe to the professional SEO practitioners! At least, it’s still a best lesson for them, where it will awake them up that “Don’t even tried to mess with SEO, or you might get burned with it!”

    In my opinion, it’s always a safe play to hire the SEO specialists to get the deal with SEO stuffs!

    • says

      I completely agree, but it’s a tough lesson to learn the hard way – and losing visibility in the search engines can bankrupt a small business in a fairly short period of time.

  16. says

    Creating URLs that contain keywords … DOES – in fact – have an impact on the ranking of the post in the search results. In much the same way that having a keyword in the domain itself helps to improve ranking, so does having the post’s main keywords in the URL string of the individual page or post. This is a fact and it is undisputed, as illustrated by the aforementioned posts at Google’s official webmaster blog.

    I have to disagree, I’m afraid, so it’s not undisputed ;-)

    I think if you read Google’s official webmaster blog, you should reach the opposite conclusion. I explain more here: http://www.malcolmcoles.co.uk/blog/seo-friendly-urls-myth-and-fact/

    You should use keyword-rick URLs, but to help humans. They won’t affect your search engine rankings one little bit (except through secondary factors like people using the full URL as a link, and the linktext then containing relevant keywords).

    • says

      My first paragraph is a quote from higher up, sorry if that’s not clear. I’m not just having an argument with myself as it might appear …!

      • says

        I must respectfully disagree with you, Malcolm. Even if the impact of using keywords in a URL is minuscule, based on my experience it exists.

        Google’s SEO Starter Guide seems to confirm my position. While you state in your post that “it doesn’t at any point say that keywords in your URLs will help you rank better for those keywords…”, it is Google’s “SEO guide” – not a guide to improved usability, improving the user’s experience or increasing click through rates. That, in and of itself, leads me to believe that keyword usage in a URL is indeed factored into Google’s algorithm somehow.

        I think we’re just going to have to agree to disagree on this one. :)

        • says

          Have to confess I’ve never gone so far as to test it by flipping URLs from friendly to non-friendly and watching the results (mainly as they’d be too minor to observe realiably). But the main source I was relying on is SEOmoz:
          where the consensus seems to be that they affect click through rates but not ranking.

          I would still 100% definitely use ‘SEO friendly URLs’ – but for CTR not ranking.

          Anyway, let’s disagree – there wouldn’t be an SEO indistry if everyone agreed AND knew everyting!

  17. says

    You’re right, Malcolm…there wouldn’t be much of an industry if we all agreed. I’m glad we can respectfully disagree. :)

    I’ve read that SEOmoz article, too – and wasn’t completely convinced when they said it either. ;)

  18. g1smd says

    Good analysis and write-up.

    My least favourite job is one like: “We just got our new site online last week, can you do the SEO stuff on it?”

    The time to start SEO was *before* the new site went live; and one of the first jobs would have been to analyse the URL structure for both the old and new site, and set up the redirects – as well as ensure that you have analytics in place so you can see the effects on traffic before and after the change.

    • says

      Oh. My. God. I got a little bit sick to my stomach just thinking of the times I’ve gotten that inquiry. And I, of course, asked, “Whomever developed the site took care of the 301 redirects from old urls to the new ones, right?” Response…crickets. NICE!
      .-= Alysson´s last blog ..Choosing The Website Audit That Is Best For YOUR Needs =-.

  19. Chrisile from Search Engine Optimisation says

    I wonder where lies the difference between what an SEO Company and SEO freelance do…

    • says

      The services provided by agencies vs. freelancers vary widely. For some businesses, going with an agency is the best solution. For others, freelancers are a more cost effective and advantageous solution.

      Just keep in mind you’ll often pay more for SEO agency services simply because of the amount of overhead involved with running an agency.
      .-= Alysson´s last blog ..Making Friends & Building Rapport =-.