Pasternack’s at it Again

David Pasternack of Did-It is decidedly unrepentant in his campaign against SEO. He’s at it again in a Q&A on DM News. At this point, it’s beyond intellectual debate and seems to be all about generating a storm of activity, with himself at the center. As Danny Sullivan said  “It’s all getting pretty tired”. David continues to insist that you would be a fool not to bring SEO in-house, as anybody can do it, but apparently with paid search (Did-It’s business model) the opposite is true, as only a fool would try to manage their paid search in house.

You know, I was one of the ones that did see some logic (albeit a little convoluted) in David’s original column, and Kevin Lee’s subsequent columns to try to further clarify. There are two sides (or more) to every argument and I usually try the view from both sides before commenting. But I have to say Pasternack is going beyond the reasonable here. The fact is, with many of our clients, it’s organic search they seek consulting help with and it’s paid search that they keep in house. I frankly don’t see a big difference in the level of sophistication required in both channels. In fact, I would say there are more dimensions, and more potential traps, on the organic side. Here are some other reasons why you’re most definitely not a fool if you’re looking for a partner on the SEO side:

SEO Touches Everything

Sometime ago, I wrote a column about why an effective SEO campaign is so difficult to launch within an organization. The biggest reason is that an effective SEO campaign touches many aspects of the business. It’s embedded in content, which generally involves at least marketing and often includes legal, management, product groups and virtually every aspect of the business. And buy in of the IT department is absolutely essential. SEO doesn’t live it one place. To be effective it has to overarch everything. A partner can help make that happen. Talk to many in-house SEO practitioners and they’ll tell you one of their biggest challenges was selling SEO internally. It’s one of the most common immediate pains we solve when we partner with a company.

Nobody is Helping You With SEO

Right now I’m at a Summit hosted at Microsoft aimed at helping people use AdCenter more effectively. Microsoft is most decidedly not telling us how to rank higher on Live Search’s algorithmic results. Neither is Google or Yahoo! Other than the rather thin Webmaster Guidelines (according to Pasternack, all you need to know), there’s very little effort on the part of the search engines to help you understand algorithmic ranking. Why should they? They don’t make money from it. So you have to cobble your information together from various forums and blogs. There’s no official answer source for algorithmic problems. That’s why Search Engine Strategies attendance continues to grow. It’s also why SEMPO is introducing a organic optimization training program.

Nobody is Investing in Making SEO Easier

According to Pasternack, Did-It has “killer technology”. They do have a proprietary bid management tool, and it’s okay, as are many others. I’m not sure I’d call it “killer technology”, as that implies that it kills the competition. That’s just not true. Maestro is just another flavor of  bid management, with some cool features, and some noticeable gaps when you compare it to some of their competitors. But the fact is, there’s a market for building tools to help manage PPC campaigns. Driving this are the engines themselves, who are dedicated to taking the pain out of managing paid search, and are likely the ones who will be introducing “killer technology”, as there’s a strong economic win in it for them and they have substantially more resources than a company like Did-It. The engines are not dedicated in the same way to making SEO easier. The landscape is too messy and the division between white and black is too vague. It’s more open than it used to be, with the efforts of a few individuals (i.e. Matt Cutts, Jeremy Zawodny, Tim Mayer) and the odd tool (i.e. Google’s Webmaster Tools) but it’s nowhere near the scale of development on the paid side, and it never will be.

The Damage Can Be Long Lasting

If you screw up on a PPC campaign, it can be turned off while you figure out what went wrong. It can cost some lost budget, but that’s about it. Screw up on your SEO and it can take months, or even years, to fix the damage. And every day, you’re missing out on traffic that you’ll never get back. It’s all about risk, and there’s substantially more risk on the SEO side. Ask anyone who inadvertently got their URL banned.

SEO is More Difficult to Manage and Control

Paid search keeps you in control. You can measure campaign performance, adjust bids, turn off individual keyphrases or entire campaigns and introduce robust testing frameworks. While this increases the complexity of campaign management, it does leave you in control. With organic optimization, you have to throw your best guess against the algorithm and hope for the best. You surrender control the minute your site is spidered.

The Returns Can Blow PPC Away

Frankly, you’ve be a fool not to fully leverage the potential of organic, because if you do it right, your returns will blow anything you’re getting from the paid side out of the water. There’s a lot at stake, and the returns can continue for a long time, whereas the best managed paid campaign’s benefits end the minute you turn off the tap on the funds. Why wouldn’t you want to make sure you’re exploring every opportunity available to gain better organic visibility?

More of Pasternack’s Wisdom

In the interview, Pasternack made a number of observations that I wanted to deal with individually:

Everybody’s not angry: only a small percentage of readers with an inferiority complex who happen to call themselves SEO experts

Apparently, Pasternack’s brush only paints in black and white, which probably simplifies his world greatly. His one sided comments rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, myself included. I’d argue whether I’m an SEO expert, and I don’t believe I have an inferiority complex. I do travel in those circles however and talk to a wide number of people and generally find that we’re developing a similar attitude to Mr. Pasternack’s credibility in the industry.

I wonder what percentage of Danny’s (Sullivan) show attendees are there to find the “magic SEO elixir.” I would guess a very high percentage. I suppose we all have to cater to our audience.

I happened to be sitting next to Danny as he first read the above quote. “Harrump” would be the diplomatic term for the response. The fact is, SES attendees are not looking for the magic SEO elixir. They’re looking for answers because there’s precious few places they can find them. They’re generally not going to get them through the engines, at least through the official channels. Organic optimization can be complicated, depending on the challenges present. Ironically, many of the attendees are the very same in-house tacticians that Pasternack says should be more than adequate to optimize the site. In many cases, they’re lost and desperately looking for guidance. If SEO is so simple, where is there such a demand for answers? There’s a reason why attendence continues to grow at shows like SES and PubCon. There’s a reason why SEO oriented sites are amongst the most highly trafficked sites on the web (according to Alexa), including Matt Cutts Blog (#1256), Searchenginewatch (#811), Searchengineland (#3963 and growing) and Webmasterworld (#226). People are looking for answers to complicated questions. Not rocket science perhaps, but not a lead pipe cinch either. By the way, Did-It and their Frog Blog are not quite at the same level (#63,244) as these sites that deal with the supposedly artificial “mystique” around SEO.

I would do a Google search for the term “search engine optimization” and run away from any company which can’t even get themselves into the top five organic results. Doctor, heal thyself! And don’t believe for a second that these firms are not trying to get themselves to this coveted position. If they did, they’d win every sale. Maybe I would even hire them.

Okay, let’s apply Pasternack’s logic to himself. Do a search for paid search management in Google and see if Did-It has presence. Here, I’ll save you the trouble:


Hmm, don’t see Did-It there. Should we assume that Did-It isn’t very good at what they do? Is it because the return isn’t worth the investment? It could be a number of reasons. And unlike Pasternack, I would hate to make assumptions about their lack of presence because I don’t have all the facts. Carrying this further, let’s look at some of the top SEO agencies, according to Advertising Age’s recent survey in their Search Fact Pack. Of the top 20, none of them are currently ranking in the top 5 for “search engine optimization”. Does that mean you should run from them? No, there’s probably other reasons for it.

Obviously, there is no such thing as the final word in an internet based debate. But a word of advice to Dave Pasternack here. At some point stirring the pot turns into flogging a dead horse.

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