SEO is a Craft not a Science
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
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
- 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
Couldn’t agree more. As someone new to this field I’ve come to see that “SEO” is not merely an acronymn for search engine optimization. To me SEO is the sum of all the parts, the art and the science. And, as you pointed out, “soft skills” are critical. These might be the key component to success (in a business sense), as they are with most any endeavor. That being said, I’m looking forward to hiring some scientists at some point.
I love your statement that “science is more like religion as you might think.”
This is so darn true. I really understood it when I saw how the high end of physics works: There is a group of theoretical physicists that ‘postulate’ a new particle. Then the experimental physicists go to work, lobby politicians to to steal more money from the population so they can build a new accelerator (like the LHC at Cern) so that they can find that postulated particle. And usually they do – how, otherwise, would they get the money for the next generation of LHC?
What I realized, once I had my masters in physics in my pocket, was that this is exactly as religion works. Somebody does something that nobody else understands and comes up with the idea there is a God. Then a horde of second-in-charge get to work to prove that God exists. It does not matter if, initially, there was a god or not – he certainly will be created by the agreement of all the people who will believe in his existence. (or her ;-)
[…] Auch ein netter Artikel, der das Thema trifft hat Tadeusz Szewczyk geschrieben „SEO is a Craft not a Science“. […]
I always had a tough time looking at SEO as a science. Specifically b/c most SEOs aren’t trained scientists (although there are a bunch out there that are).
To be a science you have to have a control. Which cannot be done with so many fluctuating factors such as Google’s algorithm as well as competitive factors. You’re competition isn’t going to stand still while you run your tests.
So to call SEO a science is a stretch.
I wholeheartedly agree, I look at it a step further than just a craft but an art. Anyone can take paint and put it on a canvas but it takes someone with vision to make it a piece of art. I think the same goes for SEO, and code development for that matter, it needs to be pushed, tweaked, and developed beyond the science.
Yeah Bill, science is an ingredient but not the dominating factor. My definition of art is different though. Art serves no purpose.
It’s l’art pour l’art.
SEO serves a purpose. That’s why SEO is rather like a craft than art.
Of course you need an artful set skills to work in SEO, no doubt. Still you’re like an artisan not an artist.
Merlin: Glad to hear that there are some physicists outside the status quo who have an opinion of their own.
I was appalled by the attacks of CERN supporters all over the Web wherever someone dared to criticize the holy grail LHC.
Noel: See above for the definition of art IMHO. Of course some of the most renowned scientists weren’t scientists at all. Think Edison for example. The tested non-scientifically.
Marc: Also there is no need for science in most cases. Statisticians and the likes do make sense in our field but unless you build a search engine yourself the whole reverse-engineering is futile.
Focusing on common sense is more often successful in the long term than trying to guess and prove some volatile ranking factors that have just a tiny effect.
As I said in the comments on that ‘SEO science quackery’ post on Sphinn, I agree with you on this one.
I’ve written about the problems with ‘scientific’ testing in SEO before on State of Search:
Craft says it well. I have heretofore referred to it as both an art and a science when I work with fellow do it yourselfers. I just may adopt your description.
All the available tools are based on mathematical formulas which report the actual and past history. I see flaws in almost all of them. The secret is adding a human factor which the algorithms cannot account for. I try to add the intuition and creative thinking.
Find the gaps, what is missing, determine if there is opportunity and market it. If it fails, try again. But when it works, strengthen the marketing efforts and launch into new areas.
Thanks for your insightfullness.
It’s a strong argument and I agree wholeheartedly. SEO is not a one size/ strategy fits all concept. I keep on using the term “natural” with clients of late and last time I checked Science and Nature were never the best bed fellows. You could probably achieve a certain level of results looking at SEO from a scientific perspective, but you’d get much further by looking at it organically.
As a student, I always think SEO as a science. For it is a step by step process and it is systematized. SEO will never work if you don’t follow its procedures properly.
The fact that the algorithms being used by search engines are constantly changing really makes it hard to single out a factors affect on rankings.
I think this is mostly a semantic debate; words like ‘science’ are used too broadly to make for a good bogeyman.
I think the most important thing you said is that SEO is like looking at a big black box and trying to figure out what’s inside. Scientists have developed a lot of really great formal processes for doing exactly that, but the processes are often implemented incorrectly and assumptions are made — of course those attempts fall apart.
There’s a lot to be said for going with your gut and trail and error, but the people who have the most success at going with their instincts have developed those instincts with repetition and study.
Formal processes and informal techniques both have a place, and the people who use all the tools appropriately will always have an advantage over the people who throw away half the toolbox.
[…] SEO is a Craft not a Science – looks beyond the technical aspects of SEO and into the realm of creativity. Is SEO an artform? A craft? A science? Most certainly to me there is an element of ‘art’. […]
Good points. For me, I’d agree that SEO is entirely a craft — and that it’s an applied behavioral science.
My thought is, that the algorithms (created by people) are built to mime the hundreds of “human decision-making factors” — things like “authority” and “trust”. Humans base decisions in part on a person’s or brand’s name — SE’s weight results on keyword inclusion or CTR (influenced by brand equity). SEO is more a craft than science — totally — but it (like advertising) is understood through social science and behavioral science — just sometimes through the lens of computer science.
What about saying SEO as skill and not as rocket science??
Whatever your opinion… SEO still fall under SCIENCE… If you make a broad research on their definitions.
I agree SEO is a craft, this means a skill which you have dedicated time to improve and develop and it has a quality of workmanship, all of which fits, unlike science for which you have a formula and stick to it rigidly.
SEO is a craft. Considering how search engine works and what people search for.
‘SEO is not just computing’ absolutely right. If you don’t have passion on SEO, you will not gain.
You are totally correct to say that SEO tends towards craft and not science. BUT, as results can only be ascertained by measurement, and then adjustment to approach made subsequently, it is obvious that some scientific elements remain. Is it not therefore an aspiration to become scientific rather than an artiste? Science implies building on knowledge through inquisitiveness which is the route to success – and is success not the defining element that provides genuine satisfaction?