Chad pointed me to some of the recent recaps from SEOMoz and Matt Cutts describing the more interesting PubCon 2009 sessions. Rand had a great summary of a panel presented by Matt Cutts where they did some live analysis on a few websites to break down the reasons for good or bad rankings. The issues were the usual ones. Get good links. Writer good content. Take your time because good SEO link profiles are built in months and years not days or weeks. But what was interesting was what Chad latched onto. Among these 10 or 15 different SEO issues was one that stated that, and I'm paraphrasing here, "if you have a site that has been banned or penalized heavily in the search engines, you are probably better off ditching the domain name than trying to rescue it with further SEO." This is because once it has been labeled bad by Google it is very hard to get off the bad list." The main reason for this happening was attributed to a bad SEO link profile.
Chad found this to be the most interesting of the bunch and he sent it over to me as we try to keep current on these SEO discussions. But I found it to be much more of the same. But it made me wonder why this one caught Chad's attention. What dynamic was at work here? I think the answer is obvious. Fear. People respond to fear in a very basic way. This is true in business and in life, and definitely in SEO. This is why fear tactics are so effective, especially in advertising. There is a ton of psychological research behind this idea. For example, researchers have shown that the intensity of negative feelings behind losing $1,000 in the stock market is much higher than the intensity of positive emotions related to gaining $1,000 in the stock market. Why is this? The economists rely on the theory of a rational consumer and you would, therefore, think that the intensity of emotion for a $1,000 swing in a portfolio should be the same either way. But it is not. It is well documented that the loss hurts much more than the gain helps.
I was thinking about the SEO observations and thinking that the same dynamic was at work here. The idea of gaining rankings is certainly pleasing - much like the idea of gaining $1,000 in the stock market. But the idea of being penalized or banned is downright disturbing. You can see the analogy. I reminded Chad that we have never had a client banned at Semify. Our reactions to fear and negative events in SEO are no different than any other walk of life. And in search engine optimization, the ground is particularly fertile. That leads me to part II of my psycho babel on this topic.
Fear tends to be higher in situations where people A) feel out of control and B) don't understand the situation. You could probably make all sorts of parallels to evolution here, but we have all experienced this first hand. When you feel like you are not in control of the outcome of a situation it produces anxiety. Likewise, confusing situations can be very scary. A small percentage of the population actually seek these experiences (we call them thrill-seekers) for kicks. But the vast majority of humans steer clear because they don't want to experience the anxiety. Thinking about SEO, we have a very new field in which the rules are extremely confusing and you can't seem to get a straight answer. Additionally, you try things thinking they are helpful and the right thing to do and they may very well cause a bad outcome for your website (so it seems).
Perception is reality here, and people feel out of control and lack understanding when it comes to SEO. Thus, this topic can naturally lead people to be on-edge and scared. If you put all this together, this explains why SEO is still generating a great deal of fear and people respond so strongly to those aspects of SEO that can "get you in trouble," even if these are not really the important aspects of SEO to study. It need not be this way, but with so much miss-information out there and such high stakes, it is a natural outcome. And one last point, which I will phrase as a question as to not be too inflammatory. Who exactly do you think benefits from this industry remaining in this state of confusion and fear ??? Think about that a bit.