Does SEO Make You Sick?



A recent survey has yielded shocking results: one in ten Americans considers HTML to be a sexually transmitted disease.

This sounds funny, doesn’t it? Now consider one of the other survey questions. It also asked what SEO means. Here is the response:

  1. Safe Energy Optimisation – 41%
  2. Standard Engine Output – 36%
  3. Search Engine Optimisation – 23%

A whopping “77% of respondents could not identify what SEO means.” the Sun Sentinel writes.

You could now argue that Americans are stupid or uneducated as some popular prejudice goes. Some have questioned the survey itself too. I can assure you: it’s true.

I have seen similar surveys already at least twice and the results were almost as bad in that more than two thirds of people had no clue what SEO means.


Who’s to blame for SEO?

To be honest it’s a failure of the SEO industry as a whole.

No wonder in recent years many people try to jump ship and to retire their SEO and to rebrand themselves as some kind of marketers usually following the latest hype.

As far as I know the term Search Engine Optimization which later would be more commonly used as the acronym SEO has been coined by Adam Audette in 1997.

Some people disagree about it but I’m not here today to decide whether it’s true or not.

I do not want to blame Mr. Audette here, one of the most respected individuals in the industry even after so many years.

HTML is even a more clumsy acronym if you ask me so no wonder average people think it’s contagious. Yet, HTML is so popular by now that almost 80% know what it means.

One of the reasons why my push to reform SEO as a “2.0” version of it never got far is simply that almost nobody even knows what the first version is about.



By now we witness at least once per year a serious attempt to rename SEO itself. Usually some new and “better” acronym is hailed as the new SEO.

Just during the week I wrote this piece here originally there were three new acronyms coined and suggested to replace SEO:

  1. DPO
  2. KGO
  3. OC/DC

No, it wasn’t DPA, KGB and AC/DC! It wasn’t even OAO (Over And Out!) like a year earlier. The list could go on.


LOL is the new SEO!

You see I have dealt with the question of “SEO is dead” and how to replace it with a new acronym for a while now and I can assure it’s a fruitless endeavor.

True, this time the articles announcing the death or renaming of SEO weren’t as far off as the other ones last year or the year before.

There is a growing distaste even within the SEO industry itself with the acronym but also with the seemingly growing reputation problem of search engine optimization.

I think we can agree that the SEO acronym is not a good name for what we do by now. It also rather muddles the water instead of giving the public a clear message about our trade.

In 1997 it was probably the perfect thing to come up with the term Search Engine Optimization and later to abbreviate it with SEO.

Otherwise it wouldn’t have spread that wide until today. More than 20 years later the term and the acronym are like a straitjacket.

Whenever we use the acronym we obstruct ourselves and others view us accordingly as raving maniacs. What can we do about it then?

Fortunately there is already a solution for our problems and there is no need to come up with ridiculous acronyms nobody can explain or even memorize.


Findability and optimization

In 2005 and 2008 two distinguished authors sought to establish a different term describing the things we deal with in SEO but also adjacent disciplines by calling it findability.

The industry quickly repelled this “attack” in 2008 when the time seemed to be about right to get

  • information architects
  • usability experts
  • web developers

on board by connecting SEO with these other disciplines and redefining it. It was the perfect opportunity to broaden our horizons and become ripe for the mass market.

In recent years I have seen whole private and public sectors embrace the term findability.

The SEO industry was not one of them of course. Our colleagues were busy rebranding themselves as inbound, content or digital marketers and lately even as so called growth hackers.

This step is understandable but pretty short-sighted. As a marketer you effectively disappear in a fuzzy mass of millions of other marketers.

Optimization is not “just” marketing either. It’s much more than that. In fact marketing is just a small subset of optimization. You simply don’t always optimize things to sell them.

You can optimize, improve and fix almost everything but you can’t market, advertise and sell all of it.


Learn from the Poles

You know that I have a Polish background, I have been born and partly raised in Poland during the late years of the crumbling “communist” dictatorship.

I still speak Polish somewhat fluently and am pretty fond of the Polish language and culture. In Poland you don’t say SEO like yo say in the US, UK or even Germany.

In Poland you just say optymalizacja i pozycjonowanie or translated literally optimization and positioning.

Both words mean SEO and you can use them interchangeably. That’s also why one of my former blogging clients, a SEO software maker from Poland is called Positionly.

Polish language has been warped quite a few times during its more recent history but in the case the poles got it right. They use comparatively simple terms that are more or less self-explanatory too.

Findability is even better than optimization or positioning you have to admit though.

You intuitively grasp the meaning even without having to know what SEO is all about. You don’t have to confuse or scare your audience with your severe case of acronymia.

There is no black hat findability of course either. Why would someone become unethical in the process of making something findable? To hide it? Impossible. Findability is virtuous by definition.


Does SEO make you sick? It’s not lethal!

I understand that SEO makes you sick. It sometimes make me sick too. Over the years I have also been bashed a lot for calling me an SEO.

Some people have treated me as if I’d had the plague! I even had difficulties to get office space because of my trade.

Luckily SEO is not contagious!

SEO has also nothing to do with death despite all the articles claiming there is not only a connection but that SEO actually equals death hence “SEO is dead”.


Don’t talk shop in public

Nonetheless I strongly advise you to use the word findability when dealing with general public. Don’t try to impress people with insider lingo only experts understand. Most

  1. librarians
  2. educators
  3. government officials

use the term already just like the aforementioned web developers, user experience designers and information architects.

Findability is luckily not just a synonym for SEO but also encompasses all kinds of other techniques to get found online be it via search or not.

So there is no reason not to embrace the term finally and for good before all pothers do it and the SEO industry will be the last one to follow suit.

Please face the facts and acknowledge the reality of the Web: use words people understand no just a few nerds like me and you.

Don’t talk shop, make some sense in public. Keep the acronyms for your next meeting with your colleagues.

Last updated: May 28th, 2018.

* Image courtesy of Dina Davis