It’s a sad but true fact that SEO isn’t mainstream enough for the wider media. Most of us have jokes about what our families think we do versus what we actually do, and it’s not the easiest job to explain.

Saying that, we were surprised to discover that SEO has been referenced in mainstream media more than once. The question is: How accurate is television’s representation of this industry?

The Good Wife – Two Courts (2011)

If you want an example of SEO being demonised, look no further than The Good Wife. In the 2011 episode ‘Two Courts’, a man is accused of killing his father and, for some reason, believes that his job in SEO will go against him.

A lawyer misinterprets the defendant’s job as “spam”, and the jury is informed that any references to his profession in relation to the crime would be prejudicial and therefore not admissible in court.

SEO can be interpreted as spam if black hat methods such as keyword stuffing, cloaking, link schemes, and link farms are used to manipulate rankings.

Any SEO worth their salt uses only ethical techniques to improve search rankings, ensuring that Google’s guidelines for best practices are followed to the letter. Credible SEOs focus on quality content and user experience over finding loopholes in Google’s algorithms to boost rankings.

Black hat SEO does happen, but it’s rarely effective in the long-term as Google is constantly updating its search algorithms and becoming more savvy to sneaky shortcuts.

We can’t see why black hat SEO would raise suspicion in a murder trial, but that’s CBS courtroom drama for you.

FOX 61 – Search Engine Optimization for Business (2018)

In this FOX 61 news broadcast, we saw an interview with Develomark CEO Ruan M. Marinho, which was all about SEO. Develomark is a US-based internet marketing agency that offers SEO solutions as well as web design and social media marketing.

In his interview, Ruan explains SEO in simple terms. Whenever anything is over-simplified there’s room for error, but his explanation of reverse-engineering Google’s algorithms “to figure out how a website ranks at the top” is certainly correct.

When asked how to go about improving your chances of ranking at the top, Ruan says: “The first thing that you would probably want to do is get a lot of pictures, maybe some video and stuff that is seen as good content online.”

This is true enough, though he could have mentioned the importance of quality content and researching the best keywords to use on the site.

He also said it would take six months to a year to see results, but we’d disagree and say improvements can be seen in as little as three months in many cases.

Finally, his analogy that SEO and advertising is the difference between “planting a seed and growing a tree” and “filling water in a bucket with a hole” is perfectly true. SEO is all about making small changes, which ultimately yield big results. Advertising is simply about pushing a product or service regardless of the quality.

The Apprentice: Martha Stewart – David Karandish (2005)

The youngest contestant in the iconic spin-off The Apprentice: Martha Stewart was 22-year-old David Karandish. He was labelled an Internet Company Owner, because “SEO” is probably a bit much for prime-time television. Ultimately, he was sent home in week six, but not before he tried to pitch his talents to Martha Stewart.

“Your internet site is great, but if I search for recipes, I don’t find,” he told her. “When I get to the website, I do not get the full Martha experience. I want to take your company and make it the staple of the internet.”

Of course, knowing that his lack of business experience was probably about to send him home, he didn’t have much time to generate a persuasive plug. If he did, he wouldn’t have said “staple of the internet”. We hope.

We suspect what he was trying to say is that he can make her site the go-to for recipes — like Wikipedia is the go-to for information, for words, and Amazon for online shopping.

This is The Apprentice so exaggeration is the order of the day. Realistically, however, you can’t make outlandish promises like that when it comes to SEO. Ranking has so many factors, and if we knew exactly what it took to land on page one every time, we wouldn’t have to work very hard.

The Apprentice – Mark Wright (2014)

Listed as a Sales Manager in Digital Marketing, then 24-year-old Aussie entrepreneur Mark Wright was the winner of series 10 of The Apprentice UK, and for a very good reason. He offered a fantastic service with his business plan for Climb Online.

He wanted to build a marketing agency that dealt with both paid and organic search, promising advanced lead tracking and bespoke campaigns — and Climb Online is still going strong today.

Alan Sugar’s summary of “it gets people’s websites up the pecking order on the major search engines” was certainly succinct and accurate for SEO, but Mark’s more elegantly put analogy is the focus here.

In his pitch, he said: “If you’ve got the best shop on the high street full of all the best goods and the best prices but you don’t have a front door, you’re not going to do very well at all. Let me be your front door.”

It’s a great metaphor — but is it a correct interpretation of SEO?

If you consider Google to be a high street, and the search results as front doors, then it’s not far wrong. An SEO’s job is to optimise sites to enable users to access them through search engines.

Of course, just because a site isn’t visible on Google doesn’t mean it’s non-existent. There are other ways to attract traffic, SEO is just one of the most effective.

Joe Lycett’s Got Your Back – Email scammers (2019)

Joe Lycett’s comedy pièce de résistance is his ability to respond to email scammers with hilarious results. In one episode of Joe Lycett’s Got Your Back, he unveiled a scam email from an alleged SEO company.

In the email the company wrote: “Would you like to Get First Page Ranking in [sic] Google? We generate unique traffic based on your business with our latest updated Google techniques.”

Joe Lycett explained: “This is an SEO scam. These are people who get money out of businesses by promising to improve their results on search engines. Lots of them are fake, they prey on people who don’t know much about IT to try and make money for nothing.”

Judging by the poorly written email, it seems Joe is right — this is most likely a scam email. He is also correct on how SEOs make money, but we do wish he’d added a caveat that SEO is a legitimate B2B service, so as not to perpetuate this idea that SEOs are scammers.

Still, Joe’s response is brilliant. He goes on to request help to remove a questionable video from the top results for “the joe show”. In response to SEO Solutions offering a premium package that “targets 40 keywords for $550 a month”, Joe explains: “The main keywords we must stop being linked with our brand are “wipeclean”, “shove” and “gnome”.

As SEOs, we tend to focus on improving websites’ rankings on search engines, rather than de-optimising for unwanted keywords. But Joe’s misinterpretation of SEO here is likely intentional.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt – Kimmy Googles the Internet! (2017)

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt starring Ellie Kemper is a Netflix sitcom about a perpetually positive woman adjusting to life after being freed from a doomsday cult.

She spent 15 years underground but is determined to leave her past behind, so avoids telling people who she really is. In the episode ‘Kimmy Googles the Internet!’, Kimmy realises that her past as a “Mole Woman” isn’t as secret as she thought, thanks to Google. She soon finds a way to push her story down on search results.

In a bid to stop her friend Perry embarrassing himself on the internet with his terrible “philosophy rap”, which is being filmed by classmates, Kimmy joins in with gusto. The video goes viral, and she’s delighted to find it has overtaken her kidnap story on Google.

“My name is in the title,” she explains. “Now it’s the first thing that comes up when you Google me.

“As long as I keep doing stuff, one day all the Mole Woman stories will be on page two of my search results. And then when I’m President of America, page three!”

Sorry, Kimmy, but that isn’t how Google works. Search engines strive to return the most relevant results to any given query. It’s unlikely one amusing video would come out on top among the sea of articles, forums and videos relating to her story, which was headline news across the world. Even if it did, it wouldn’t stay there too long.

On the other hand, if she was President of America, that might just do the trick.

Wer weiß denn sowas (2021)

Tech SEO personality Izzi Smith discovered that German game show Wer weiß denn sowas had a question about SEO.

Translated, the question and possible answers were:

An SEO manager ensures that:

  • a) Working hours are adhered to in companies
  • b) Guests get a table in a restaurant
  • c) Internet pages can be found more easily in search engines

The answer was, of course, C — though the contestants answered incorrectly. In this case, the producers researched this question well enough that we can’t argue with the correct answer here.

It’s clear that, while we do find basic explanations of SEO in mainstream media, there’s definitely room for improvement. As the industry becomes more recognised, we hope to see more examples of SEO expertise, and certainly fewer associations with spam.