2009 Top SEO Smackdowns: Barone v Scoble

… top SEO Smackdowns of 2009 … the countdown continues …

#2. Barone v Scoble: The year SEO isn’t important anymore?

The provocation:

Robert Scoble
Robert Scoble

“SEO is getting dramatically less important and that SEM should be renamed to “OM” for “Online Marketing” since small businesses need to take a much more holistic approach to marketing than just worrying about search results.” — Robert Scoble, 2010: The year SEO isn’t important anymore?

The counterattack:

Lisa Barone led the counterattack:

Lisa Barone
Lisa Barone

“As a small business owner, search engine optimization will remain important to your site until the days that people stop searching. And if Google has anything to say about it (and I think they own the world at this point, so, they get a say), the importance of search and optimizing that search will always take center stage.

Yeah, SEO now means incorporating a lot of marketing aspects. It’s about building a brand. It’s about building a community. It’s about showing up in blogs and articles and video (all stuff that can be, what’s the word, “optimized”, BTW). But that doesn’t cancel the rest of it out.”

— Lisa Barone, Ignore the Silly Man, SEO Still Matters for Small Businesses

Regarding the suggested name change to Online Marketing, Lisa writes “I guess the term ‘Internet marketing’ we’ve all been using for a gazillion years wasn’t encompassing enough.”

Getting Ugly:

IMO she went way overboard leading with a picture of an ugly half-naked man in a dunce cap along with the “Ignore the silly man” headline. And when Robert cried foul Lisa smacked him with

“I did not attack you. Let’s not make the post more about you than it really was.”

Then it got colder. Scoble lost his cool, and appeared to call one of her commenters an idiot (upon further review, that’s not what he was saying).

Lisa fanned the flames with some fake apologies like:

Apologies to Robert is he felt “attacked”, I really don’t feel as though it was that hard in the post, but, we all have different levels.


Again, apologies if you felt “attacked”

Ouch. If you want to calm things down Lisa, don’t use the words “if” or “felt” and don’t put the word “attacked” in quotes. And the “but we all have different levels.” Wow. Cold.

Several times Robert defended himself with

“my headline was a question, not a statement”

Sorry, but this is disingenuous since:

  1. He repeats the central point that “SEO is getting dramatically less important” several times in the article
  2. Wording a provocative charge as a headline doesn’t dilute the charge, as the headline authors presumably know. It just gives them a fig-leaf of deniability. If I posted headlines like “Heart attacks: a government conspiracy?” or “”Is [XYZ] a charlatan and a fraud?” and wrote articles mostly justifying those points, could I then turn around and say that I was just asking a question? Would anybody respect me or my writing afterwards? I had to use [XYZ] instead of a person’s name in that second question, since even in this context putting anybody’s name there would be inflammatory. How much more so if it’s a headline on a well read site, backed up by a long article?

A bit of background:

In a previous post Lisa Barone used “scoble” as a verb (I’ll let her define it, but it didn’t seem to be positive) and her blog has a tag scoble mocking which doesn’t even include this last post.

Robert Scoble for his part has been blasting SEOs for a while, for example in this video where he projects that Mahalo will defeat Google because Calacanis will keep those evil SEOs out.

This is part of a larger battle. For the most part, the social media and SEO camps overlap. In fact, Lisa’s profession and expertise is probably more social than search. Search conferences generally include tracks on social media, which SEOs recognize as important. But for various reasons, some members of the social community, most prominently Scoble and Jason Calacanis, sometimes lash out at the SEOs. In Calacanis’ case, it appears to be part of a calculated pattern of picking fights to gain publicity and links. I don’t know about the others. From the SEOs, I’ve only seen the anger directed at the individuals who attack their profession. Please correct me if I’m missing things. But there’s a lot of anger the other way. Social gets all the love and attention, but the SEOs may deliver more traffic and revenue. As Lawrence Coburn says, Sharing is Caring but Google is King.

The calm reply:

A lot less fun, but short and to the point was Danny Sullivan, whose comment on Scoble’s blog was essentially:

  1. SEO is not likely to get less important anytime soon
  2. For the past decade SEO focus has been far broader than Scoble implies
  3. “There’s always been online marketing, which is the umbrella term of marketing — well — online. It includes thing like social media marketing, link building, email marketing, virtual worlds marketing and yes, search marketing. Some online marketers can do all these thing. Many specialize, just as in the real world …”

The final blow:

Scoble’s post started with a video of 2 SEO’s, George Revutsky and Dustin Kittelson. The post implies that the conclusions reflect their views. But Revutsky cries foul on Scoble and sides with Lisa, Danny and the other critics:

“Hi Danny – we take no responsibility for that headline. I think Robert is (successfully) practicing linkbait here.

I want to be clear that in no part of this interview did we say that SEO is not going to be important, or is any less important than before.

Thank you (as always) for speaking up for the industry. Most of us would not be here without you.”


“Let me say this for the 27th time: our interview itself does not agree with Robert’s post – and neither do we.

The whole idea was to have a general talk about search and SMBs, and let folks know MyNextCustomer is coming soon. That’s it. Robert decided to be provocative all on his own.”

One last point: kudos to both Robert Scoble and Lisa Barone for leaving their comments section open for the whole thing, for engaging their users. Scoble really stands out in this area. There’s a reason Dave Winer has Scoble on his shortlist of Natural Born Bloggers. The man does his thinking out loud, in public, and with tremendous energy and enthusiasm.

Postscript: I don’t know if these posts are connected, but the same day there was a post 2010: The year marketing dies …. First I expected this to be a spoof of Scoble’s post, similar to Ari Ozick’s excellent spoof of Derek Powazek’s anti-SEO rant a few months ago. But no, it was an unrelated piece, with the same title as Scoble’s except the word “SEO” replaced with “marketing.” But the marketing post was subtitled “or at least marketing as we know it.” And its last line was “Marketing is dead. Long live marketing!” It was written by a marketer who was calling on his colleagues to understand how their field was changing. Scoble’s piece was about how his rivals’ industry was collapsing and getting subsumed into Scoble’s industry.

Previous: #3: Rand v Whalen

Next: #1: Sullivan v Powazek