There has been a lot of chat in the past about whether SEO’s should read research papers around information retrieval and search. I think it is important, but perhaps not for all of the SEO’s out there. We don’t approach the business in the same way necessarily so for some it would be indeed a bit of a waste of time. This is a short list of reasons why SEO’s don’t need to know about how search engines work in any depth.
Give yourself 1 point for each one that applies. If it’s high, then you should ignore all research papers and posts about them.
1 – You don’t use the notion of LSA in any of your posts, articles or in your work
2 – You don’t refer to PageRank in any of your posts, articles or in your work
3 – You use link building and internal link structure based on rules proven to work in SEO alone
4 – You do not seek to improve your techniques as such but prefer to rely on those trusted ones which provide a clear ROI
5 – You would rather change your methods once they have been tested by other SEO’s rather than expect them in advance and try them yourself
6 – You have a family member on the board at Google (thank you David Harry)
7 – You find that organic search is just a side line to your PPC specialism
8 – You already know everything
9- You don’t use or refer to keyword density in any of your posts, articles or in your work
10 – You don’t write posts, articles or give tutorials on how search engines work (unless you focus on SEO techniques specifically)
11 - You don’t use or refer to “semantic” in any of your posts, articles or in your work
12 – You don’t refer to yourself as a “search engineer”
13 – You don’t use or refer to the “invisible web” in any of your posts, articles or in your work
14 – You are not passionate about search in particular (as opposed to SEO alone)
15 – You don’t think knowing how search engines work is important in the field of search engine optimization
16 – You don’t use or refer to web 2.0 or web 3.0 and so on in any of your posts, articles or in your work
This list is obviously biased to a degree because you know that I regard being in touch with the research world as important, but at the same time I acknowledge the fact that not everyone else will have this view. I do think however that if you are in the business of making fertilizer for plant growth, you should know about plants. You wouldn’t need to be a professor in plant biology but you would need to be a very experienced gardener with some knowledge of fertilizers.
The term “search engine optimization” has the words “search engine” in it. I would therefore assume that one would have to know about search engines. I don’t think that knowing about them in huge depth is needed, but discussing LSA for example requires a degree of understanding that goes beyond the world of marketing for example.
You thankfully do not need to plough through tons of papers, which is very confusing when you’re new to the field and just want to understand rather than build your own search engine. You are fortunate enough to have places like Seo by the sea, Huomah, SeoMoz, Geeking with Greg, and many others to go to. They cut through all the maths and complicated bits that are superfluous and give you the goods straight up.
On the flip side, it also doesn’t make sense to work in SEO and not have any notion of marketing. It goes without saying that you need to be well versed in that too. But that’s for another post.