Are SEOs the New Telemarketers?

A few days ago, I was catching up on episodes of The Good Wife – a great show, if you’re into legal/political dramas. At the start of the “Two Courts”, we’re introduced to the defendant, a man who has been accused of killing his father. His main concern (other than the fact that he’s being accused of murder, of course), is that the jury will be biased against him because of his profession. The first few jobs that popped into my head at this point were along the lines of the MOD Squad: tobacco, alcohol and gun lobbyist. The usual. But the dialogue was as follows:

First Lawyer: .. But the judge will see your occupation as irrelevant to the crime.
Client: It’s just… people hate what I do.
First Lawyer: Spam.
Client: Search engine optimization.
Second Lawyer: Don’t worry ..

Wait, what? He’s worried that the jury will rule him guilty of murder because he’s an SEO? Honestly, he had that whole jury bias bit covered, due to his penchant for dressing up as a Nazi and re-enacting WWII scenes. But I digress.

Since when did search engine optimization become the new telemarketing – a job category that immediately generates distaste and distrust? Over the past month, the topics of search and SEO have been getting a lot of facetime with articles about the morality of SEO and Google’s pitfalls. More and more people from outside the industry are commenting on the crap that often shows up in the results of common search queries.

A recent post at SEOmoz talks about “how organized crime is taking control of Google’s search results”. The points in the article are valid – a search for a product like “nike dunks” will give you a page full of counterfeit shoe venders. The same often happens when you search for full length tv shows online – a bunch of sites pop up in the results, ready to attack your poor computer with annoying pop-up ads as soon as you click that link. Or a slightly more benign situation, where you search for how-to instructions and get bombarded with Demand Media results. Which Blekko has apparently taken care of. Yes, these spammy results are indeed from the (minimal) efforts of search engine optimization in not-so-great hands.

However, does it mean all SEOs are immoral? As many have pointed out in this Quora thread, SEO is like any other tool. It depends on the user and website in question. Many in the industry work to optimize relevant websites for targeted search terms, ones that can bring in high quality traffic. They aren’t trying to hook visitors in for any malicious intent. In some cases, people are spending a ton of effort optimizing relevant websites in order to rank above the unhelpful spam that dominates in certain industries.

While it’s clear that some use underhanded tactics to push crap to the top of search engine results pages, labeling SEO immoral as a whole is shortsighted. And no, I’m not just defending SEO because it’s what I do for a living right now, hah.

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CSR, a Fabled Creature Indeed

Recently, Apple announced that during a check-up on their overseas factories they found a number of factories using child labor. Rather than try to hide this unsavory discovery, Apple decided to admit to the public that yes, a 10 year old probably helped make the very MacBook Pro you’re using right now. At first glance, this action seemed like the socially responsible thing to do. Let the public know, remind them that this is not something the company condones, and assure them that this is not Apple’s fault, not at all. Damn those sneaky production centers. This course of action has produced commentators like the one quoted here:

Please name any other tech company that is actually working to ensure that the working conditions in the factories where these components are made are at least tolerable and the workers are not exploited? Please list what Nokia or Palm or HTC are doing to ensure the parts that go into their phones are not fabricated by exploited workers or child labourers?

Really? Just like anyone else, I too want to believe that companies are adopting these so-called “corporate social responsibility” measures for the good of the world. But when it really comes down to it, why does a corporation spend the extra time and money to go through these steps? It’s all about the bottom line, baby. The media is ready to pounce on any company with Ecuadorian factories that hire five-year olds or managers who lock-in employees overnight. Customers become defiant, refuse to buy products from these evil evil corporate monsters, and then what? Profitability drops, investors become worried and disgruntled, and executives run around scrambling to come up with a half-decent damage control plan.

Although this specific example only looks at Apple (and yes, I do use a Macbook Pro), they’re not alone in this practice. Most companies, no matter how much they try to deny it, practice CSR to make customers happy. If customers are happy, then they’ll continue to support the company and buy more products and pay for more services, which means mo’ money. It is so easy for a consumer to simply exit if he or she doesn’t like the current options, so it is in the best interest of a company to use CSR as a component of its competitive strategy. After all, if everyone else is doing it, there’s really no other option. And if no one else in the industry does it, well hey, the first mover has a lot more to gain than to lose.

Here’s what Fake Steve has to say about this issue, since no piece of Apple news is complete without him.

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Let’s Just Get This Over With, Hm?

With less than 48 hours to go, the web is buzzing about the unveiling of Apple’s shiniest new toy. To be honest, though, when I see my RSS feed filled with posts containing the words “Apple” and “tablet”, I purse my lips and shift my eyes to the right a la Miranda Priestley in The Devil Wears Prada. I know, I know, technically I’m just adding on to the plethora of blog posts – feel free to point fingers at me and exclaim “Hypocrite!”

Admittedly, Apple has done an excellent job in generating a crap ton of hype for the tablet, but it’s burning out. Fortunately for them, the product is finally (and that’s a “finally” with the i and y drawn out) being revealed this Wednesday, so we won’t have to endure any more “Apple Tablet Has Been Spotted!11one1” posts. I mean, it’s great that people are speculating, but by this point do we really need confirmation on the product via web analytics? On the other hand, there will instead be an influx of “AMAZINGEST PRODUCT EVAR” and “Ew, this sux so much lyk lolwut” review posts.

I don’t doubt that the tablet will be anything short of revolutionary in the tech world, as Apple seems to have a knack for taking on the First Mover role and succeeding. I’m sure that when it’s officially released in stores, I’ll be right there elbowing my way past thirty-something tech execs and thirteen year olds to get my hands on a demo. And then I’ll walk away after ten minutes of fiddling, with my curiosity satiated. If anything, what I’m really looking forward to is Lenovo’s Ideapad U1, which has the best of both worlds.

Anyways, it’s time to sit back and await The Big Event. I have to say, it’ll be pretty funny if they don’t end up announcing the tablet. However, I sincerely hope this doesn’t happen, as it would subject us all to another X months of rumors and speculation.

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