Practical Ecommerce

Survey of The Month: SEO is Both Important and Misunderstood

Ecommerce merchants overwhelming said that search engine optimization (SEO) was an active part of their marketing efforts and that they believed it accounted for a significant portion of their web traffic, but many of those same merchants identified black hat SEO tactics, like purchasing links, as an effective way to boost their pages’ performance.

The survey was conducted over the entire month of January 2009, and had 117 qualified ecommerce merchants respond. Collectively, 94 percent of the merchants said that SEO was part of their current marketing efforts. And 62.4 percent believed that their SEO efforts accounted for 50 percent or more of their site traffic.


When asked about effective SEO tactics, the majority of merchants correctly identified forthright, effective, and ethical SEO practices like keyword-focused content, internal linking, and siloing.

Unfortunately, it was also clear that many of the merchants surveyed did not understand the difference between good SEO tactics and questionable, even unethical, practices. For example, 69.5 percent of respondents said that purchasing paid links was at a somewhat effective SEO tactic. But paid links that transfer PageRank are really an attempt to trick a search engine into displaying less qualified results. Moreover, 53.9 percent of those surveyed said that keyword stuffing, another poor and potentially unethical practice, was at least somewhat effective.

“Those are some shudder-worthy statistics. I think findings like these highlight the importance of reliable training. Years into the development of the SEO industry, there are still snake oil salesmen promising number 1 rankings through shady techniques like purchasing links and keyword stuffing,” said Virginia Nussey of Bruce Clay Inc., a leading SEO consultancy. “While the majority of thought leaders and industry professionals understand the messy consequences of such tactics, a few vocal spammers taint the knowledge pool for those searching the Internet for DIY guides. Reputable training programs and industry conferences like Search Marketing Expo and Search Engine Strategies are an educational gold mine, worlds apart from the fool’s gold that can sometimes be mistaken for sound marketing advice. Receiving training from a reputable white hat program helps Internet marketers move past simple spam tactics into a greater understanding of ranking factors and SEO best practices.”

Only 25.6 percent of the merchants surveyed had ever hired a paid SEO professional to help them. Many of the respondents said that SEO services were just too expensive for their company or that they believe there was enough information available for free to do a good job without professional help or training.

Armando Roggio

Armando Roggio

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  1. annamarie February 9, 2009 Reply

    Great article, Nice survey.
    It is true that most of the professional seo do not know the exact way of effective SEO techniques, as many of them use software’s such as web SEO, elite SEO software.
    For an effective marketing of site to rank: keywords in content, and a good title tag is very necessary and because of which the site would generate more traffic.
    In all great survey done, i truly appreciate the writter for taking his time and doing this survey of SEO. It would be great importance for many companies on knowing about proper SEO tactics other than using the black hat techniques.

  2. RichApps February 10, 2009 Reply

    Great insight, would be interested in knowing ‘how to differentiate between good and un-ethical SEO tactics"….

  3. James King February 10, 2009 Reply

    The assumptions in the article are wrong. I took part in the survey and do think buying links can be effective. It clearly is or it wouldn’t be such a hot topic. I don’t do it but the question was not is it ethical or do you do it but is it effective.

    If you ask ‘can you get home faster if you speed?’ the answer is yes. However, that doesn’t mean that I do it or that I think it’s right.

    As always, asking the right question is the key to getting the information you’re looking for.

  4. Armando Roggio February 10, 2009 Reply

    If you speed, you might get home faster once or twice, but when you get caught you’ll be really late. The same is true for SEO and the survey. A black hat tactic, like buying links, is never "effective" (which is what the survey asked) because it does not work in the long run.

  5. Steele03 March 3, 2009 Reply

    Do you still have the survey questions? I’d love to look at it as a follow up to my blog post:

    I was really curious about the way the questions were phrased and if the folks that took it were led to answer a certain way.