John Dvorak - a Good Example of Why Many Media Companies Deserve to go Bankrupt

John Dvorak wrote what is perhaps one of the more ignorant articles about SEO I have seen in quite a while.

Search engine optimization (SEO) has turned into a big business, and from what I can tell it's the modern version of snake oil. The unproven nonsense spewed by so-called "SEO experts" simply doesn't work. And worse, it's screwing up the elegance of the Web.

How did John come to these results? Well he changed his URLs based on "free" advice, and he got what he paid for. People who expect the world handed to them for free are always disappointed with the results, and expect a steady paycheck for bitching about and externalizing their own character flaws & ignorance.

A person can claim that SEO is ineffective if they are clueless about it, but if it were actually ineffective snake oil would...

  • Many of the media outlets that publicly dismiss SEO have an in house SEO team? (On multiple ocassions I have been called or emailed - the same day - with questions from an in house SEO at a publishing company that just published a piece denouncing SEO)
  • I still be writing this blog for over 5 years?
  • My income have doubled (or more) every year?
  • People have spent over $1,000,000 buying my ebook?
  • A headhunter working for Microsoft try to offer me a job paying 6 figures a year?
  • Google have hired more than 10,000 remote quality raters?
  • Google's Matt Cutts spend so much time going to SEO conferences?
  • Yahoo! have a patent for automating SEO based on their proprietary user data?

As I mentioned to Chris Crum from Web Pro News:

"It is not surprising that search engines know the value of SEO. The only thing I find surprising is them openly admitting it," Aaron Wall of SEOBook tells me. "Google always tries to shape, control, and minimize the scope of the field of SEO. And here Yahoo! is trying to expand it. Exciting stuff!"

Now SEO is constantly changing. Search engine crawlers are getting more sophisticated. Mechanical SEO is practiced by many people, and so it may not offer a sustainable competitive advantage. But SEO is not just a mechanical process as it draws upon market research, psychology, sociology, public relations, branding, advertising, and both online and offline marketing.

Outbound links show up in referral logs and act as a marketing tool. Plus they help establish & develop social relationships, such that when you have important news to share, some of those people might be willing to reference your works. There is a cumulative advantage effect.

Getting just an extra little bit of coverage on a few more channels leads to many additional citations (hey everyone is talking about this, so it must be important). For every publisher that is an original thinker there are dozens (maybe hundreds?) of followers. Many of those followers also write blogs, bookmark resources on Delicious, use Twitter, promote stories on social news sites. Some latent links come from ignorant journalists that are too lazy to do real research and just quote from whatever sources are easily accessible via a Google search.

When you get new links into key parts of your site, they not only pass PageRank, but also pass anchor text. Having inlinks from a variety of trusted domains with targeted anchor text pointing at relevant pages is MUCH more valuable than raw PageRank score.

When people link at you in editorial channels, they not only link, but in many cases leave behind an endorsement. Assuming they are writing to a relevant targeted audience then you just gained a bunch of social proof of value and reached a wider audience in a means that is much cheaper and more effective than traditional advertising.

Unlike John Dvorak, professional SEOs do not need to lie and pull sleazy tricks to get "hits"... we rank for high value keywords and turn that traffic stream into real business. His publishing strategy is so inauthentic and cheesy that he writes by number:

One Youtube comment on the above video says "What a clown. Journalist? Snake oil salesman more like." Funny, that sounds familiar.

Published: February 10, 2009 by Aaron Wall in publishing & media


February 10, 2009 - 9:10pm

Yea, I think the blogger you mention is quite opinionated and bit ignorant. For example, descriptive URL's are easy to link at, regardless of whether or they actually increase a page's authority to rank, and I think easy to link at URL's alone are a pretty big benefit especially as a site scales up in size.

February 10, 2009 - 9:20pm

Yup. Not only are they easier to link to, but they are more likely to get clicked on in the search results, and when some people use the URL as the anchor text then descriptive URLs gain yet another advantage.

Peter Wyspianski
February 10, 2009 - 9:33pm

Dvorak asks "So why is everyone doing it, and why does everyone think it works?"

Because it's 2009 and everyone is tracking, analysing and taking action

"I can almost imagine some goofball at Google telling people at a party that this is a good idea just to see how many people would do it."

should be

"I can almost imagine some goofball developer telling Dvorak at a party that this is a bad idea just to see what Dvorak would do."

what a..

February 10, 2009 - 9:46pm

When will Dvorak go away? It's a shame that people can't post comments directly to that PCMag post.

February 10, 2009 - 9:51pm

His publishing strategy relies on a lack of ability to give direct feedback and people syndicating his garbage misinformation across the web. He even admits to it here

February 10, 2009 - 11:12pm

Hey Aaron,

I completely agree with you. This guy is the "Annoying Jiggling Banner Ad" of Journalism. Worthless, distracting, and purely in the business of generating page-views.

I just hope we aren't supporting another one of his "Draw the ire of a community" strategies that he talks about in the video above. Could he be doing this just to attract attention?

February 10, 2009 - 11:47pm

I was fairly certain he is doing that...I just wanted to point it out mid-stream, that way when he comes around and says "gee I was wrong" people can point links at this page, and it will hopefully be part of his resume in the SERPs when he tries to attack other industries/communities with his nonsensical garbage.

February 10, 2009 - 11:41pm

Dvorak has a column in leading croatian computer magazine ( but has always had some "bright" ideas, like advising Apple to quit iPod (yes, he got that one correctly).

I think it is time for him to leave, but unfortunately, these mastodont companies keep the ones that they can get to... (thats why M$ offered you 6 figure paycheck)

This referes to one story i heard about one of those "big" companies... manager tried to get AdWords tracking code on one of the new websites... well... developers told him it will be on next release - in 2 months...

Thats why big companies (telecoms, oil, government), especially in Europe, will take at least one decade to be as fast as enterprenuers on web.

Thats why they ask SEOs what to do - because they see SEO works

February 11, 2009 - 3:34am

John really shows what he 'knows' when he is referring to the 'long' URLs that we use for friendly self description when he says:

"I think it's because these long URLs are just crap and stupid. They are impossible to post anywhere or send in an e-mail because they get concatenated."

Last time I checked, a long string that isn't able to fit on one single line in an email program or another text area is called a line wrap and isn't by any means 'concatenation' ;)

but hey, what do I know? Oh wait, hey John, I did SEO for a top 30 internet site - oh wait, big companies don't pay attention to that, right?

:) spider_templar

February 11, 2009 - 3:53am

He clearly uses these tactics to drive traffic to his articles - he certainly doesn't bother with fact-checking or truth to build a rapport with readers. The articles themselves have no comment areas specifically because they're written to antagonize members of an industry, incite the fury of the bloggers in that industry and drive traffic to the article.

And it's worked like a charm. I've read blog post after blog post about his asinine comments today. I'm guessing he didn't count on SEOs linking to the article using anchor text like "ignorance" - as in my post, - and "one of the more ignorant articles", like this one. DOH! Too bad he doesn't know jack about SEO - maybe he'd have seen that one coming. ;)

February 11, 2009 - 5:04am

Nice anchor text Alysson. I was hoping not only to send beautiful anchor text, but also to help get a bit of exposure on brand related queries as well. This page currently ranks #11 for John Dvorak...would have loved to have got it in the top 5!

February 11, 2009 - 5:43am

John Dvorak badly needs his share of G bombing and bowling to understand SEO.

February 11, 2009 - 7:36am

Is this ignorance or a piss poor attempt for linkbait? I guess hawaiian shirts aren't enough to spawn controversy anymore.

February 11, 2009 - 11:38am

it's certainly not a piss poor attempt at link baiting as he's got a link from Aaron!

He spells out exactly what he's doing here in the video at the end of Aarons post.

February 11, 2009 - 10:58am

SEO doesn't work? Hmmm

I wonder what it was that took me to No.3 in the uk for the term "google expert uk". Must have been luck :)

The guy is simply fueling the fire to cause buzz, unfortunately he just looks like a jerk.

ah well never mind :)

February 11, 2009 - 11:42am

No.2 now!

February 11, 2009 - 11:12am

sometimes G algos seem to show miracles such as this one now...well you have got it and thats it...make money when you are in top and that will let you find someone
Also ______ is the site i was wondering has all the locations listed in it and according to the geo area, all seos not supposedly companies can likst in it...hmm a uk company tho..

February 11, 2009 - 12:34pm

John Dvorak doesn't know what he's saying. It's funny that for him, SEO is epitomized as merely having long url structure and inserting tags. I don't even think he knows the term 'permalinking'. :P

Clearly, he didn't give his point well enough to impugn SEO's efficacy in general.OTOH, he created a real buzz with his sham article.

February 11, 2009 - 3:14pm

Linkbait for sure. The post is optimized for SEO and search engine optimization :)

February 11, 2009 - 4:42pm

Before I were to write an article on advanced astrophysics, I would at least read some trusted information. Dvorak failed to even read the Google Webmaster Guidelines before dismantling the entire SEO industry due to not using 301's. I really don't care to read anything this guy writes again.

February 11, 2009 - 6:39pm

Yup. Not only are they easier to link to, but they are more likely to get clicked on in the search results, and when some people use the URL as the anchor text then descriptive URLs gain yet another advantage.

Umph! I tend to think otherwise. Some of these descriptive URIs have crossed the line in usability and SEO friendliness as they say.

And for archiving, I might go here...

It really isn't worth the effort to go down this "descriptive" URI path. You can still be descriptive by using succinct naming conventions targeting top level keywords. Don't go after the long tail of search in your URIs.

Feed me Seymour!

Oh, and Dvorak solicited exactly the response he was expecting from everyone. He is a professional linkbaiter. He got ya Aaron, look how much time and energy you put into this excellent post. And, look at how much time and energy all the others have expended. Dvorak won. ;)

February 11, 2009 - 8:22pm

meh, guess "the cranky geek" wasn't just a clever name he thought of...

As much as the negative publicity sucks for people like us who are passionate about melding what we do with the user experience (via "SEO") or trying to pitch client service, it will eventually come down on our side even if people aren't believers at this moment.

In the meantime, maybe we should just go with it. "You're right, Johnny D - this is snake oil" and in the meantime enjoy the wild west days, taking in that free land until it gets fenced in.

February 11, 2009 - 10:08pm

I created an account just so I could comment on this post...

Completely from a website visitor's perspective, and not from a blogger's perspective: Dvorak is an absolute idiot. When I do a Google search, I look at the url as one way to tell if the link is relevant to what I am looking for. It tells me all sorts of information that may not be included the title Google gave the webpage. Having the "long url" is also useful when it includes the date because often I am searching for information or news from a specific time period.

Another way I--as an internet user--use "long url" information is when I am about to click on a link. I have my browser set up to show the url name in the bottom toolbar when I hover over a link. Often times people use anchor text that isn't helpful in describing what I am about to click on. If the website in the link uses "long urls" then I can decide from the url whether or not I want to click.

Regarding the truncated url problem. Is that really a problem, or is it a total straw man argument? I send and receive urls via email all the time. It has been at least a decade since I've received a truncated url (it was only a problem when I used AOL, waaaay back in the day). Furthermore, a long url is helpful when it is emailed because it tells me what I am about to click on. I won't visit a website someone emailed me unless I know the person emailing me pretty well or I can tell from the url that it appears to be a legit website and about a topic that is of interest to me.

Dvorak should give PC Magazine back his salary/fee for that article. No one should have to pay to publish such absolute crap.

February 12, 2009 - 1:35am

"Regarding the truncated url problem. Is that really a problem, or is it a total straw man argument?"

Depends on which angle you look at it. I process over 300+ emails per day and a portion of them are plain text and yes, the truncation is a major problem because I have to reassemble the URIs.

"I send and receive urls via email all the time. It has been at least a decade since I've received a truncated url (it was only a problem when I used AOL, waaaay back in the day)."

Good for you.

"Furthermore, a long url is helpful when it is emailed because it tells me what I am about to click on."

Not exactly the most elegant argument for long URIs. Imagine if the general public thought that way. There would be a 10 fold increase in infected machines.

I posted a link above that weighs the pros and cons of long URIs. I've also provided complete backup to the RFCs for URIs and other supporting references. I'm expecting the Fat Ugly URI crowd to come crashing down on me so I am prepared. I developed that article because of this Dvorak rant. Ya see, he got me too but I'm going about it a different way. I can actually see some of his points.

February 12, 2009 - 9:08am

I don't really get upset by sad old men that don't understand the world around them. Sad but not a problem to me :)

No matter how many stupid people that try to promote the idea that SEO dosn't work there will be more than plenty left that knows different.

And if Dvorak don't want to compete thats fine - it just makes it easier for the rest of us to rank for his keywords :)

February 12, 2009 - 3:24pm

God !! Dvorak really gets my back up, he needs a good G-smack then he might change his tune.

February 12, 2009 - 4:53pm

"Not exactly the most elegant argument for long URIs. Imagine if the general public thought that way. There would be a 10 fold increase in infected machines."

I'm not sure why you picked my comment to use as a platform for your snarky responses, but I'll bite. Why in the world would looking at the url before clicking on it, and thinking about whether that url is from a site you recognize, whether it appears to be what the sender says it is, etc increase infections?

Considering that some estimates suggest that as much as 60% of the PC world is infected with some sort of malware your suggestion that making urls more descriptive and thinking before clicking would increase the number of infections is highly suspect.

Furthermore, I find it really hard to believe that you receive any significant amount of truncated urls considering that I literally can't remember the last time I received one. I am sure that it has been years and years.

Carlos o
February 12, 2009 - 6:50pm

Guys, there is no need to worry about his opinions. At one point he was making fun of youtube, saying that they were burning through a million dollars of bandwidth per month and were destined for failure....... And look what happened with Youtube!!

February 13, 2009 - 1:22am

It is not an issue of is one of highlighting misinformation. :)

I was simply pointing out that his publishing style relies on stating ignorant stuff that he knows is not true in order to try to get pageviews.

February 12, 2009 - 9:11pm

I remember when I read the printed edition of PC Magazine and read Dvorak's column a couple of decades ago. He could say whatever he wanted as we did not have the Net to find more reliable sources. Now most of us, avid Internet users, know who we can trust and who is just talking to get noticed. Dvorak seems to be in this last group.

I was reading a few articles yesterday about how SEO will be even more important during crisis time and you know what? I think it will be so, that's why I'm back here to read the always useful articles by Aaron.

Cheers everybody.

February 12, 2009 - 10:20pm

I was originally searching online for some news I heard about regarding yahoo, when I saw that PCMAG article. I was appalled when I read it. I shrugged it off and came over here to use your keyword tool when I came across this posting and couldn't help but register on here to leave you this message.

Right on. People like that shouldn't be allowed to fool other people who know nothing about what SEO can do for anyones business/personal space online. Several of the things he talked about are just so far off. Anyone who has published a blog/press release/content and wants other people to access it knows that a dedicated url is much better than numbers and characters.

Furthermore, why in the hell would a developer at google tell him anything about seo, when google barely says anything to us about their intentions with seo. It just wouldn't happen.

February 13, 2009 - 1:25am

What annoys me is not just that Dvorak wrote a bunch of ignorant garbage, but that he did so from a platform with intent to deceive, and that some knuckleheads are losing business because they trusted the clown.

He should have his credibility eroded if he abuses his distribution to spread misinformation...simple as that really.
February 14, 2009 - 4:17am

Thank you so much for this very good and rewarding article. including the link he paid for! Such great intel.

I can't express my gratitude!!! Keep rockin' Aaron!

February 20, 2009 - 5:42pm

I used to read John's columns when I was like 12 or 14 years old when my parents bought me a subscription to PC Magazine.

The guy must be at least 60 by now.

His columns were my favorite, and even his first web television shows were good info at the age of 16. But, things changed alot since his time. And they changed almost before everyone's eyes.

That youtube movie "The machine is us/ing us" explains it all.. Truth is, John's just out of date. He no longer understands the web. His memory of the web probably consists of excalibur BBSes' and AOL trial disks. LOL.

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