I've asked some professors this questions and none of them have seemed to been able to give an answer that didn't lead to both them and me having more questions.

To put into context:

I have my B.S in Marketing and have been working in the marketing industry for just under 4 years. Of all the jobs I have had and been interviewed for having a strong knowledge of SEO (Search Engine Optimization) was required to even be considered. In order to market using anything digitally based you need to understand SEO and in some cases ASO.

Never in any of my textbooks was SEO talked about even though it's not a new topic and my textbooks were 2011-2013 publications. SEO was mentioned but never talked in a sense of someone would know what it is and how to use it.

For a concept so important in the marketing industry today why don't textbooks talk about it? I've looked through half a dozen of my marketing books and I've even asked to look through the new 2015 editions my professors were given.

Are their limitations to what goes into a textbook? This sounds silly even to me but anyone who works in marketing knows how important SEO is and when a textbook is written by people who have worked in the marketing field it only makes sense that they would want to include to most important industry topics to-date so that a new 2015 textbook doesn't seem outdated.

  • 8
    "Are their limitations to what goes into a textbook?": Yes, there are! Commented Jul 22, 2015 at 19:55
  • 11
    Because you haven't written a textbook yet.
    – JeffE
    Commented Jul 22, 2015 at 20:26
  • Related: Approach the professors about making the course more “relevant”
    – ff524
    Commented Jul 22, 2015 at 23:10
  • 2
    I find a little naive the assumption that everything should be on plate in a textbook, especially such time sensitive topics like SEO. Do you trash Marketing 101 textbook after each Panda update? Frankly, if it were in the textbook, that would be much more disturbing.
    – Greg
    Commented Jul 23, 2015 at 22:43
  • I searched Amazon for "search engine optimization" and got a page of SEO books. I would rather buy a ten dollar paper back on such a rapidly changing subject than have it included in a hundred dollar marketing text. Commented Oct 3, 2016 at 0:16

4 Answers 4


An important distinction that needs to be considered, in the design of any course, is the timescale over which the knowledge is expected to be applied.

  • At one end of the spectrum are courses where the knowledge is expected to become obsolete only on a time scale of centuries, such as calculus or Newtonian physics (yes, they change: try reading a calculus text from 100 years ago and the notation is likely to be somewhat confusing), but are generally about fundamental knowledge and core principles and thus often rather removed from immediate applicability.
  • At the other end of the spectrum are courses where the knowledge is immediately applicable, but where it may become obsolete quite quickly, such as training in particular software systems or laboratory equipment.

Institutions then tend to organize themselves along this spectrum according to their goals:

  • Strong universities tend to focus much more on the long-term end of the spectrum, because they are trying to give their students skills to last a life-time, and indeed to help those students become the ones who create new systems and applications that render the shorter-term knowledge obsolete.

  • Vocational schools tend to have a mix that aims to give the students both immediately applicable skills but also enough foundations that they won't need major significant retraining for a number of years.

  • Professional development and other "on the job" training tends to be much shorter and focuses on the short-term skills that are needed now and where it's OK if you need to train again on the new system in six months.

Now, let's consider your example of search engine optimization: this is a rapidly moving target, since it's based on adapting to the current methods that the current search providers happen to be providing how the internet happens to be organized right now. Cutting edge SEO techniques are being invented and destroyed constantly. Pretty much any SEO technique from five years ago is totally useless today, and SEO didn't really even exist as a field ten years ago.

As such, you should expect a marketing textbook or course at a good university to pay little attention to SEO, but instead to focus on more foundational principles. On the other hand, if you search for SEO textbooks and courses online, you'll find a lot of more vocational or corporate resources available.

In short: educational resources adapt to the timespan over which they are intended to apply. The longer a timespan an education is intended to cover, the less it will focus on "hot topics," and a good undergraduate degree is intended to last your whole life.

  • 4
    Good answer. Though I do remember Search Engine Optimisation being a thing ("it's all about the meta tags, kids!") in the late 1990s, so nearly 20 years ago now.
    – 410 gone
    Commented Jul 23, 2015 at 6:42
  • This is a reasonable answer, but I am honestly not sure this is the reason why SEO isn't taught in a Marketing course.
    – xLeitix
    Commented Jul 24, 2015 at 6:35
  • 1
    @xLeitix, also EnergyNumbers: Maybe we should first establish what it means to "teach" SEO. Does it refer to hands-on knowledge how to concretely optimize a website for search engines? If so, this answer seems perfectly valid even for a marketing course, as such knowledge would, by its very nature, we somewhat technical and also become obsolete rather quickly. Or are we talking about just referring to doing SEO, without looking into how it works? If so, I'm not sure whether much more than "Use up-to-date SEO methods to stay on top of the search results." could possibly be said about the ... Commented Jul 24, 2015 at 12:49
  • ... topic, i.e. a single mention of the word SEO. This, however, is already fulfilled by the textbooks; as the OP wrote, "SEO was mentioned". Commented Jul 24, 2015 at 12:50
  • Just a side remark: 101 classes (by force) are designed more around "fundamental ideas that will still be relevant in 5-15 years" (consider time until you graduate, and then to step into a position where you use that actively) than "this hot idea came up a couple of years ago, it might be gone/completely reworked before you graduate".
    – vonbrand
    Commented Feb 20, 2016 at 2:02

I am going to offer a bit of a diverging view here. In his answer, Jake offers the explanation that SEO is just too much of a "moving target" to be of value as a university course. I strongly disagree. Just because a topic isn't "static" does not mean that you can't have good, university-level courses on it. A prime example of this is security, specifically malware detection: the entire field is basically an ongoing race between people finding ways to detect malware, and others finding ways to prevent detection. The state-of-the-art tools change literally every month. By the time you even know about a given concrete threat, it's probably already not the most dangerous thing out there anymore. However, clearly there is method to the madness - there are principles and techniques that can be taught, which remain useful for a long time even if the concrete tools change. In the case of malware detection, this would be knowing about honey pots and sandboxing (to find and analyze real malware), malware signatures (both exact and fuzzy), heuristic methods, behavior-based methods, and so on.

For SEO, the same thing holds true. In a nutshell, SEO is a race between search engine makers wanting to show the best content to its users, and "optimizers" trying to figure out ways to trick the search engine into thinking that their mediocre stuff is the most relevant content to a given search query. How you do this concretely changes all the time, but the fundamentals have, to the best of my knowledge, remained relatively stable.

So, why is SEO then not routinely taught in marketing?

Likely, because for understanding how SEO actually works "under the hood" you should have:

  • Reasonably advanced knowledge about mathematical graphs and algorithms on graphs
  • Knowledge about the theory of recommender systems
  • At least basic knowledge about computational linguistics
  • And of course you should know how crawling and indexing actually works on Web-scale

All of these are not topics typically taught to marketing students. That is, in order to properly teach SEO (basically a computer science topic, after all) you would need to go onto a pretty significant tangent. If you don't, you will end up teaching a course that boils down to "you have to use these kinds of words using these frequency in these tags" without giving students a chance to understand why, and then you are back to Jake's answer.

(but yes, many computer science degrees, especially those with a focus on information retrieval, actually do teach SEO or a variant of it)

  • 2
    I think you misunderstood the question. The OP is not missing a lecture about how search engines work or how to create one, the OP is looking to learn SEO itself, how to use it.
    – Greg
    Commented Jul 24, 2015 at 7:10
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    @Greg Yes, and if you want to understand SEO properly you'll have to know quite detailedly how a search engine works. Otherwise you'll be back to memorizing concrete techniques and parameters and learning tools, and that will indeed be invalid a year later.
    – xLeitix
    Commented Jul 24, 2015 at 8:22
  • xLetix, in my experience the recommendations you make sound nice but demonstrate you've probably never done SEO. The degree to which you need to learn "mathematical graphs and algorithms on graphs" takes about a day, because SEO is not about optimizing your site for mathematical graphing algorithms. Recommendor systems do play a role but it's not really all that useful for SEO to say "get your site recommended by thousands of trusted users".
    – virmaior
    Commented Jul 24, 2015 at 12:09
  • The last two are more on point. Everyone wants to understand google's crawling algorithm, but google refuses to disclose it and massively punishes anyone who they think manipulates result based on the crawling algorithm... Computational linguistics knowledge would I am sure help in a certain way, but if you are modulating your copy against a computational linguistics function, then you probably are big enough (traffic and budget wise) that you don't need that to show up at the top for google.
    – virmaior
    Commented Jul 24, 2015 at 12:11
  • 2
    @xLeitix You most probably never done SEO or ever even tried to learn it. It is a very naive, academic view on what you need to learn and what not. It is like telling Usain Bolt he needs to learn more differential equations, because running is mechanics, and the better he gets in solving complex mathematical problem the better runner he will be.
    – Greg
    Commented Jul 25, 2015 at 5:24

To put it simply, I think what you're facing is the difference between the purpose of courses that contribute to a university degree, the practical needs of companies that hire, and the desire of search engine companies to erect barriers to engineered SEO.

To restructure what you're asking, companies want SEO experts to help raise their online profiles (relative to the online profiles of similar competitors). Google, Bing, Baidu, etc. want to rank sites based on quality of content and ease of parsing pages rather than give into these SEO machinations.

It's hard to see how a university course could really help here. It could begin with a cursory and theoretical account of what SEO is and what it seeks to accomplish, but this would tell you little more than you can learn from a day of sleuthing about on the Internet.

After that, the problem is that Google, etc. won't tell you specifically what you need to do to accomplish SEO. Thus, there's a bit of a dark art of guessing and figuring out how to manipulate pages to raise the profile of a site. How does one construct a university course around industry secrets relative to companies that don't want people to know the exact means of optimizing?

It would seem you would need someone in the industry rather than a CS or marketing professor to teach it. But anyone who can do it well enough is gainfully employed and employed specifically to use that skill for their employer. The precise methods are changing so fast that the techniques I used in 2011 were outdated (meaning no longer provided an advantage) the last time I looked at in 2013.

To give an analogy, it's roughly like offering a course in contemporary street art where contemporary means -- drawn during the semester the course is taught. Sure, we can talk about in the classroom, but the experts are mostly criminals so how we do get access to fresh work and understand it?

  • I am not buying into most of your arguments, to be honest. That Google doesn't want students to know about SEO has likely very little to do with whether it's taught or not. That it's a moving field where the concrete tools and approaches change fast is also not very uncommon. Usually, there are still guiding principles and methods that you can teach students that endure even if the concrete tools change. Just think about security and malware detection, which is still often taught on university level.
    – xLeitix
    Commented Jul 24, 2015 at 6:34
  • 1
    This is exactly what adjunct positions are for: bringing people from industry into teaching. It may be not so easy to find one willing to take the pay cut, but some people do love teaching.
    – Davidmh
    Commented Jul 24, 2015 at 11:38
  • 2
    @xLeitix have you tried googling Google's advice about SEO ... they say "make a good site" which is fine and dandy but the entire point of SEO as an industry is to figure out what currently floats google's boat beyond that -- which they generally don't disclose. This is more akin to say having your random university offer a course in "trade secrets of Coca-cola" than a rapidly moving technology of the normal sort.
    – virmaior
    Commented Jul 24, 2015 at 12:04
  • 1
    @Davidmh overall, I would agree. But it's not quite finding a synthetic chemist to teach advanced organic chemistry.
    – virmaior
    Commented Jul 24, 2015 at 12:05
  • Here I've googled it for you: support.google.com/webmasters/answer/40349?hl=en / static.googleusercontent.com/media/www.google.com/en//… / If that's all you can do as an SEO strategist, you're not worth hiring.
    – virmaior
    Commented Jul 24, 2015 at 12:13

I was teaching last year at a university and was really disappointed to see that the techniques they were teaching (in statistics) were very different from what I had been using in real-world problems. I have spent a lot of time pondering the reasons for this:

  • There seems to be a lot of inertia in academia, perhaps because once people have written the lecture notes for a class, they don't want to change it, even if they wrote the notes fifty years ago. My current boss, for example, told me the story of a professor who was still, at the turn of the century, inverting matrices by hand.
  • Academic classes have to prepare people for many different career paths at the same time. The things that need to be taught for people who are going to publish academic papers are going to be very different to the things that people need to know in the real world. In my case, there was a lot of teaching of t-tests, anova etc. but not much programming or messy data sets. In your case, people who are going to be marketing professors probably don't need to know about SEO, because it won't help them to get their papers published. And then of course they end up thinking it isn't important, and the problem percolates to the next generation of academia.
  • In some subjects (perhaps marketing is an example, I don't know) the people who know the most about it aren't working in academia. For example, the best footballers don't teach classes in sport science; they are too busy playing football.
  • OK, but the way to invert a matrix hasn't changed in the last century... yes, there are new tools, but using them sounds trivial, but isn't. Just get you class to use some computer algebra system consistently.
    – vonbrand
    Commented Feb 20, 2016 at 2:09

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