SEO is a Craft not a Science

a running bumblebee on pink flowers


There has been a backlash in the search engine optimization industry against what is deemed to be a non-scientific approach when it comes to SEO testing or collecting statistical data.

Some people argue that you have to treat SEO as part of computer science

and be very strict about it. Following this logic you are basically forbidden to do any SEO testing yourself unless you have some actual scientists doing the research.

While I am not sure why some people attempt to push in this direction I can only say it won’t work.

SEO is a craft not a science. First off there are far too many variables to determine in SEO to be able to treat it scientifically.


Science or social science?

Additionally SEO would have to be a social science as most things in search depend on human behavior:

  • People writing algorithms
  • people linking
  • people creating content

What is the subject of this science? It’s a black box company not telling what is below the hood of its magical engine.

We know by now that there are at least 200+ signals aka ranking factors that determine whether you end up on number 1 or not. These are shifting permanently.

Google tells us that there are hundreds of tweaks to these algorithms per year.

Even in case you would be able to single out one of the ranking factors to test without the interference of all the others you still can’t assume the situation your test stays unchanged during the test.


The weather forecast meets real weather

It’s like a weather forecast: science can compute based on data and tell you that you can expect sunshine tomorrow. Yet I strongly advise you to look out of your window before going out.

Yet I strongly advise you to look out of your window before going out. Otherwise you might get wet.

In case it rains you have to rely on your own eyes and react, wear a waterproof jacket and rubber boots.

That’s how SEO works. No matter what Google employees tell you or what some computer scientists have computed.


What’s the purpose of your scientific experiment?

Last but not least science always serves a purpose. Depending on who pays for a study you get different results. Different expectations, even different backgrounds of the scientists lead to bias.

Scientists were trying to prove the existence of God for ages. Now they look for a God particle at CERN/LHC. Science is more similar to religion than you think.

Of course I love the scientists and geeks in the SEO industry.

The people who can prove that something works or doesn’t work or even better tell me why. On the other hand I don’t care what others tell me as long I see results.

When I implement SEO tests myself and I notice that something works or doesn’t I don’t care for it being scientific as long as I can replicate the results more than once.


On real life results

The results in

  • rankings
  • visitors
  • conversions
  • sales

are proof enough. I also don’t believe Google employees when what they say “is not working” in reality works.

The purpose of SEO testing is finding out what works

not proving you are right in front of some kind of scientific authority.When it works for you and it’s ethical, keep doing it.

The people who try to tell us that we have to be scientific are in many cases self-proclaimed authorities. or do not even practice SEO.

Some of the people who call for science do not even practice search engine optimization! They only theorize.

The purpose of publishing your SEO test results is not peer review in the sense of being bashed for not being scientific. It’s about finding out what works for others so they can test themselves.


Computers vs people

SEO these days is not about computing. It’s about soft skills. You can’t compute human behavior. You can just to some extent, just like the weather.

Practicing SEO is like

  • knitting
  • baking bread
  • writing poetry:

When people love it means it works.

Also remember the scientist who stated that the bumblebee can’t fly due to poor aerodynamics. He later found out that he erred.

He forgot to take the wing movement into account assuming bumblebees behave like airplanes. SEO is not just computing.

Scientists should keep trying to explain the world not telling the world how it should behave.

That’s exactly what some SEO science advocates are trying to achieve now: “Don’t do this, don’t do that it’s not scientific.”

Your task is to explain why something works or not. You are not entitled to give me orders. SEO is a craft not a science so please don’t try to tell the bumblebee it can’t fly.

* (CC BY 2.0) Creative Commons image by William Warby