1. Home
  2. tech
  3. news
  4. The SEO world is up in arms after a story said they're 'ruining the internet.' Here's the spicy drama.

The SEO world is up in arms after a story said they're 'ruining the internet.' Here's the spicy drama.

Katie Notopoulos   

The SEO world is up in arms after a story said they're 'ruining the internet.' Here's the spicy drama.
  • The Verge published "The people who ruined the internet" about the world of SEO marketers.
  • The SEO community, including people interviewed for the article, were not pleased. At all.

Are your Google search results increasingly irrelevant — worthless, even? Blame "the people who ruined the internet," a recent story in The Verge suggests. Those would be the SEO gurus, who perhaps unsurprisingly aren't taking kindly to the headline.

I never thought I'd say these words, but, friends: The SEO drama is spicy.

The Verge article, written by Amanda Chicago Lewis, is 8,000 words and starts with an anecdote about attending a search-engine optimization industry event that featured a live alligator. It seeks to answer a question many of us have thought: Why does it seem like Google search sucks now?

For the last few years, social platforms have been more at the forefront of what we blame for ruining the internet. There's no shortage of analysis and reporting on why Facebook sucks, Instagram sucks, YouTube sucks, and so on.

Google Search, meanwhile, is something we sort of take for granted as just the backdrop to the internet — the white paint on the gallery walls. But it's not: It's also a bajillion dollar business for Alphabet, which makes money from ads that run in search — and it's a huge industry for people and companies who make lots of money finessing those searches.

A lot of what we see on the internet on a daily basis (this news site included) is shaped by efforts to appeal to Google's search algorithms. Add in the additional layer that we're on the brink of AI reshaping the whole thing. So SEO is a topic that's well worth looking into!

The Verge story is very long (read it!), so I'll sum it up for you:

  • Some of us think of "SEO experts" as scammers because their job is to somehow game some fair system for profit.

  • But it turns out, they're nice people — not scammers — and perform a worthwhile service connecting websites to customers within a framework that Google has constructed.

  • Google has consistently said that it rewards good quality, and most SEOs have learned this is true. (This helps weed out bad apples, although of course some still get through.)

  • What if Google search results aren't actually so bad, and the internet is messed up for other reasons that are maybe vaguely related to Google search, but definitely not only because of SEO?

Search Engine Land, a popular site devoted to news about SEO, wrote an article in response to the Verge story: "Bitter, cynical Verge article blames SEOs for ruining the internet." Touché.

For Search Engine Land, Danny Goodwin writes,

"So much of this article is all such a dated, fringey view of SEO — the Wild West porn, pills and gambling days. Much of the focus here is on days gone by … Some big personalities brag and reminisce about the past.
It's not really about SEO in 2023. And it ignores all the good work most SEOs do to make search and the user experience better."

Danny Sullivan, a former journalist and the founder of Search Engine Land — who's also a current Google employee — was also displeased. He was quoted extensively in the Verge story, and wrote a rebuttal on his personal blog: "Some thoughts about The Verge article on SEO"

Sullivan points out some minor errors (he had left Search Engine Land before he joined Google; The Verge story makes this more ambiguous). He also takes umbrage at being referred to as "mad" and "pissed" in the story, having not used the actual words "I'm mad!" in his interview. Which feels very:

It's not unusual for a source to be unhappy with the way they were described in a story; the story does refer to him as a "corporate stooge," which isn't typically a compliment. But Sullivan is in a unique position in the story: He actually has a high-powered position at Google.

One point Lewis makes that stuck with me is that there's a lot of people in SEO who have earned a lot of money, but unlike in other areas of the tech world, they don't have a lot of power. They're not masters of the universe, shaping our future; they're always chasing the tailwinds of Google — the followers, not the leaders.

The reaction on Twitter and Threads among other SEOs was also, uh, pissed. One thing that's usually true is that subcultures of people, whether it's furries, pro-natalists, or Dimes Square reactionaries, don't like being written about as a group. It's not a huge shock that treating SEOs as a subculture doesn't make them pleased — especially when the headlines calls them the people who ruined the internet (even though the story doesn't really say that).

People on Threads pointed out that The Verge also — gasp — uses SEO techniques on its site. It's giving, "You say we should improve society somewhat, and yet you participate in it!" (You may be shocked to learn that Insider also uses SEO techniques on this very website.)

Despite The Verge's headline (which, as far as I can tell, isn't even good SEO), Lewis doesn't really say that SEO experts ruined the internet. In fact, a lot of them come off quite well and do a good job of clearing up the common idea that SEO is inherently scammy or bad.

SEO is perhaps kind of like toupées: You only notice them when they're really bad. Spammy and misleading SEO are noticeable; good SEO, the kind the people in this article do, is unseen.

Popular Right Now