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September 15, 2014:  He’s known for his dry, sardonic take on the SEO profession. Can SEO’s reputation be salvaged? Is it really a “profession” or just a vocation that’s somewhere between used car salesman and plumber?  Clayburn — who can be found online at http://www.clayburngriffin.com and @clayburn on Twitter — has plenty to say on the matter.

Didit: Where did the whole “from an SEO perspective” thing first start?

Don’t shoot yourself in the foot. Don’t belittle your recommendations by saying they only count “from an SEO perspective.”

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Clayburn Griffin: It’s a phrase I kept hearing over and over again and it always struck me funny because it was so meaningless.  We’re SEOs.  Of course this is an SEO perspective!  Then I realized the greater damage it’s doing and that SEOs tend to use it as a way to suggest their recommendations aren’t important.  “It’s just SEO.”  It’s cowardly and I felt SEOs needed to be called out.  Don’t shoot yourself in the foot.  Don’t belittle your recommendations by saying they only count “from an SEO perspective.”  So, I had to write out my argument against it and that essay became fromanseoperspective.com

Didit: What is your favorite Lame Marketing Phrase?

Clayburn Griffin: High Level.  I think this is just a nice way of saying “lazy.”  “I’ll give you a high level overview” means I don’t have time to go into details.  “I did a high level review” means I didn’t bother reading any of this shit.  I’ll take care of the high level stuff, and you can do the actual work.  Nobody wants to be “in the weeds,” another horrible phrase, so the first to call dibs on the “high level” stuff gets to effectively do nothing.

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Didit: What can be done to elevate the standing of the SEO trade?

To elevate our standing, we have to be more about marketing and fitting into a larger purpose for our brands.

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Clayburn Griffin: There’s a legitimate divide in the SEO industry.  You have SEO as marketing and you have SEO as a tactic.  To elevate our standing, we have to be more about marketing and fitting into a larger purpose for our brands.  On the tactical side, it’s just about getting traffic, rankings and conversions.  There’s nothing wrong with that approach, but it doesn’t work if you’re part of Old Spice’s digital marketing mix.  SEO has to learn to be comfortable in the backseat and know when to speak up, and how.  But if you’re just babyclothes dot com or something, then SEO is likely your end all be all, so it’s perfectly acceptable to toss ethics aside and go with what works.  Those SEOs don’t care about elevating their standing because they’re just in it to win it, whatever the cost.  It’s cut-throat.

Didit: It seems that as Google and other search engines remove more and more technical tools (not provided and so on), the role of the SEO is moving more towards being that of a content manager and curator, especially because social media and content are becoming more and more important in the SEO role. Thoughts?

The system can still be gamed, but Google is not helping us anymore.

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Clayburn Griffin: I think this is a good thing, and Google’s doing it for a reason.  It forces SEOs to focus on creating good content and being engaging rather than gaming the system.  The system can still be gamed, but Google’s not helping us anymore.

Didit: Do you think that social community outreach (Twitter,Reddit, G+, etc) and monitoring is more of a social media or SEO role, considering how important content is?

Clayburn Griffin: I don’t think SEO can work in a vacuum.  It has to be integrated with an overall digital strategy that includes social.  Then it doesn’t matter who on the team is doing it and what their title is, just that it’s getting done and the data’s available and the outreach is happening.  The specific process depends on your team’s setup.

Didit: Tell me how important you think that graphic design and visuals are in successful SEO practice.

SEOs have to understand that a site needs to look good and not just be technically sound to be worth a view.

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Clayburn Griffin: I think images are really powerful.  They certainly help with content engagement, but we often forget their importance in search.  Google indexes images and displays them in results.  They work really hard to figure out what an image is of, and having good images on your content is going to help it rank.  Also, on a related note, there’s no reason your website should have a crappy or non-existent thumbnail pulled into Facebook, Twitter, etc. when its links are being shared.  This is a no-brainer and easy fix, but often overlooked.

On the issue of overall design, I think there’s a significant opportunity if you can get the SEO and design people to compromise.  It’s hard enough to get them to talk to each other, let alone concede anything to the other.  But the truth is, and designers have to admit, that there are intuitive expectations and technical necessities that will make the website work for users and search engines.  And SEOs have to understand that a site needs to look good and not just be technically sound to be worth a view.

Didit: I’m sure that you have an opinion on the death of authorship and author_rel at Google. C’mon,spill.

I don’t know about your social circle, but I don’t want my friends influencing my search results.

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Clayburn Griffin: It’s disappointing, but maybe for the best.  I like the idea of social search and AgentRank, but when it comes down to it, people are stupid and full of ego.  The reason the Reddit model works so well is that for the most part people don’t matter and the content has to succeed or fail on its own.  I don’t know about your social circle, but I don’t want my friends influencing my search results.  If I search for Genghis Kahn, I want legit sources, not some idiotic crap my friend wrote on his blog.  I don’t think this is the death of social search and AgentRank, but I do think it’s a realization by Google that it’s not very accurate in terms of quality and relevancy.

Of course, as a narcissist I hate that people don’t see my face in their search results anymore.

Didit: You know, that’s really tweetable. *smiles* So, native advertising – awesome relevant content that merely suggests a useful purchase, or linkbait black hat scamming that’s disguised advertorial crap?

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I hate it, as a user.  I’m automatically distrusting of anything that’s paying for my attention.  But it’s highly effective, partly because people are stupid and partly because companies like Facebook are incredibly good at psychological manipulation.

They know that once we realize where the ads go, we’ll ignore them

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They work really hard to prevent ad blindness, which is the real reason there’s a New Facebook or New New Twitter every couple of months.  They know that once we realize where the ads go, we’ll ignore them.  As far as it being “awesome content” and great targeting, I doubt it.  I think it works because people aren’t very particular.  People are willing to click on anything, so if you can get in front of them then you win.  So it’s great for click-bait, but can even work for the right kind of ecommerce products.

Didit: Share with us what is really ticking you off in SEO right now.

Clayburn Griffin: Enthusiastic amateurs.  I like that they care, but I feel like their enthusiasm is so misguided.  I want to take them aside and explain how the world works.  They naively waste their time discussing Matt Cutts and Google Penguins and Pandas, and they think that’s going to improve their traffic.  Doing SEO isn’t the same as talking about SEO.

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Summary
A Candid Interview with SEO Iconoclast Clayburn Griffin
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A Candid Interview with SEO Iconoclast Clayburn Griffin
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Didit interviews Clayburn Griffin, an outspoken SEO expert and iconoclast.
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