I recently wrote a column for Search Engine Land stating that SEO best practices are (basically) bogus. Actually, I didn't say exactly that (see, even I misquote myself); what I said is that SEO best practices represent everything that is a "given" about marketing in search, but offer absolutely no competitive advantage.
The comments are probably the best part of the article. Some great points are made, and I'd like to highlight a few of the more salient ones here.
Debate and Insight from Rockin' SEOs
Jill Whalen commented,
My fear with an article such as this, and saying that there’s no need for SEO best practices is that we’ll lose all ground we’ve made through the years when it comes to have a crawler friendly site architecture, actual information contained within your pages, etc.
A fair point, and in my defense I actually wrote that there IS a place for SEO best practices, but that they're just the starting point. I wrote in response to Jill, and others in the thread,
So if we must have best practices… can we agree that they’re essential but offer zero competitive advantage? And in an arena as competitive as SEO (in the enterprise, not at Joe’s Machine Shop or Dr Rick’s podiatry clinic), doesn’t that pose a significant problem?
No, because there are still so many sites that aren’t even doing the bare minimum or doing it incorrectly that using the fundamental building blocks of best practice SEO is a competitive advantage.
Jonathan Hochman wrote,
I think there are different elements to SEO, some of which definitely have best practices. For instance, if the site has tons of broken links, unspiderable menus, or duplicate urls leading to the same pages, those are obvious problems to fix. Failure to do so would be a mistake, plain and simple. SEO also involves promotion and targeting. Those areas involve a higher degree of art, judgment and experience, and may not be amenable to a formulaic approach.
I was happy to see Mike Moran comment,
To me, trying things, seeing whether they work, and then doing more of it (or trying something else) is the essence of what we need to be doing. When we do, we’ll find the best practices for each of us–and we’ll also discover when those best practices might need to become better (or abandoned completely) as the situation changes.
To me “best practices” are something that helps us to make the first stab at what might work in a situation. It’s the feedback loop that tells us if we are on the right track or not.
Andrew Goodman wrote a great comment, the best part (for me) being this bit,
Like you I want people to understand what those strategic directions *might* look like – because at the end of the day “best practices” are boring. But at the end of the day no one hiring us is going to be too happy if we freelance past the boundaries of our contractual relationships, or make up our own job descriptions as we go along.
The king of link building, Eric Ward, also chimed in,
Our industry is still so new that many well meaning content creators are making mistakes with regards to their SEO vendor selection, tactic selection, etc., and are paying dearly for those mistakes. Some of those vendors will swear they are following “best practices”, and truly believe that they are, but in fact, to me, by my compass, they are not. I believe in best practices, but they must be written in pencil.
There were other great comments as well, but for me these stood out - probably because they're from some good old friends and experienced SEOs. I'm probably a little bit biased that way.
In Conclusion... the Debate Continues
If we think about best practices as fundamental, as the 'ante' that Arthur Coleman mentioned in the comments, then I think that's accurate. Which opens up a whole world above and beyond that, a world of continuous change, creativity, and open strategy. This is where we aim to be, and where we aim to take our clients. It's beyond SEO, at least SEO as it's typically understood.
Head on over and give it a read, would love to hear your thoughts, too.