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SEM Charlatanism - Charlatans in SEO

Ammon Johns

I wrote about a New Model of SEO Client in a blog post at SEOmoz a couple of days back. The piece was something I saw as likely being a 'wake-up' call to some SEO companies. Well, today I find myself looking at the exact opposite side of this shifting pattern of awareness - the blinkered and blind SEM company still attempting to use fear and straw-man arguments to sell a second-rate service. Although this is a follow-up, because it looks at a negative example, I chose not to place this on SEOmoz and instead post my opinion here.

Sadly, while the positive example of the new breed of SEO-savvy customer was a leading and high-profile UK mobile phones supplier, the negative example of an unaware and bigotted SEM company is also relatively high-profile, and was once regarded as a leader too.

There's a guy named David Pasternack who wrote what I consider to be a very foolish and woefully uneducated post about SEO a while back. It recieved widespread derision and correction from real SEO providers, such as here, here, or here. So, in the typical response of the unwise but pompous, Dave figured he could just post a bombastic and blustering reply to those criticisms and it would justify everything. We call this 'compounding a mistake'.

Now Dave is the President of a PPC SEM company in New York. He thought that since more and more businesses are realising how much cheaper 'organic' or 'natural' search engine results are to gain than paid or sponsored search listings, he needed to take an aggressive marketing stance and try to frighten companies into avoiding his dealiest business competitors - the SEO companies.

That in itself is nothing new - fear-based marketing and setting up staw-man arguments is one of the oldest sales tactics around. However, so poorly did he execute this, and so little does he understand the market he is in, that all he really managed to achieve was to make his inadequate knowledge and poor awareness of his own marketplace visible to all. 

David apparently forgot all about the New Model of SEO Aware client, companies who are investing heavily in taking in full-time SEO staff and resources. He suggested that all these companies hiring in-house SEO specialists are idiots for taking in full-time employees to do what he thinks is a one-time fix.  He expects people to believe that stupidity, because he is apparently that stupid himself when it comes to SEO. After all, this is the guy who believes, according to his latest post, that promoting a business is akin to treating acne.  Yup, really.

Did David really miss that has such an ongoing commitment to SEO/SEM that they hired Jessica Bowman as their Director of SEO? Has David not heard that Allan Dick of Vintage Tub and Bath goes to all the major SEO conferences to keep up on the latest? Did David somhow miss that even Yahoo, who own the second-largest PPC engine and all its sub-properties, and can run all the free PPC search it likes if desired, has hired Laura Lippay as the full-time manager of their SEO Program? Did he miss these smart, savvy companies apparently hiring full-time staff for what he supposes in his ignorance to be a 'one-shot' effort?

Of course not. David only missed that the customers are not as stupid as he appears to have thought.

It would be tempting to try to attribute a bit more wisdom to David and It would be tempting to be kind and assume that they were well aware that the new and growing breed of SEO-smart companies usually take PPC in-house as a first-step (with software to handle bid-management, day-parting, keyword research, and CPA analysis, even an amatuer can run SEM campaigns almost immediately, and with practice can perform every bit as successfully as the pros within weeks). I could suppose that David knew he was not insulting potential customers, because he knew full well that SEO-aware companies are never going to hire his company anyway.

I don't believe that though. Personally, I think David is just simply so locked into the old school of broadcast marketing, of the captive audience, of the customer that simply believes what they are told, and doesn't instantly research and compare, that he can't adapt. David has never read, or never understood the Cluetrain Manifesto. He forgets that in this networked world, his market are engaged in active conversations, and know more about his product and company, for good and ill, than he himself does.

Already, just as I have debunked the FUD that Mr Pasternack has attempted here, others are doing so too, such as at Search Engine Journal and at Search Engine Watch.  David's been caught with his pants down, and with unclean underwear. That is what his future prospects will see when looking up the background to him and to

This then, is the SEM charlatan. Prescribing his snake-oil treatments with no knowledge of the real state of things to anyone who may be fooled by a bombastic confident approach. While I believe many of the charlatans actually believe in their potions, (and the nonsense and old-wives tales they base them on), to my mind that only makes it all the worse in terms of how little they know, and what idiotic harm they can bring both to our industry, and to their poor, ill-informed clients. The sooner such dinosaurs dissapear into the tar-pit of their own misguided mire, the sooner companies can find only honest and educated assistance awaiting them from SEM vendors.

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