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Hey, Hey, My, My, SEO Will Never Die

May 30th, 2011 2 comments

I’ve been working in the Search engine optimization business for over seven years now. And while it is not a complicated business, I am amazed at how much it has continued to grow and also, how often I have heard the phrase “SEO is dead.” Let me say a bunch of things about that.

First, some history…
When I went to my first Search Engine Strategies conference in Toronto in 2005, the Keynote Speaker was Danny Sullivan. He talked about how he was one of the first people to take search seriously. He was critical to the organization of many of the first SES conferences and he was told as early as the late 1990′s that “search engine optimization probably has about three to five years.” Well, by then it was already eight or more years later, he noted, and the crowd at that conference was the biggest yet, as were crowds at all conferences. That was over five years ago. In 2007, Jakob Nielsen said, “I am pessimistic about the long-term prospects for SEO jobs…. but maybe I am wrong.”

And then there’s the old saw, “SEO is dead.” An extremely prophetic fellow from 2008 gets number one ranking for a search for the phrase; according to his post, the industry will be dead by November of this year (right after the rapture?) Recently this other prophet said it again. When Google Caffeine was announced, other (in this case, remarkably badly informed) soothsayers said that this was ‘it’ for SEO; ditto for this year’s Panda I’m sure, although I may have grown blind to seeing the phrase by now, so I don’t remember seeing it in print anywhere. Clickz published this “SEO is Dead” post in 2007 and then went on to proclaim the value of SEO in another article, three years later. The latter article (predictably perhaps) generated more comments, interest and agreement.

Every one of these sage prophets of doom (like all prophets of doom, we might add) has been dead wrong. (Of course, though, being wrong is no reason to stop saying the very same thing again.)

Is SEO here to stay?
Probably, people.

In early 2010, SEMPO announced that companies predicted an SEO spend of 14% increase over what they’d spent in 2009 (long after SEO should have been long dead).

And later in the year, Rand Fishkin released details of his 2010 survey of the industry. The reason it was a bit late was because he got more responses than he ever bargained for. The industry was growing much more than even he realized. One survey question discussed spending and survey results told that even in the US (where outsourcing and a weakened economy should have taken a big bite out of the market), over 70% of respondents indicated an increase in demand for SEO services.

Rust Never SleepsAll forecasts for the year 2011 show that search engine optimization and search marketing budgets rule the day for any company serious about getting found on the web. Budgets for SEO (and its close sister SEM) are growing and show no signs whatsoever of slowing down. SEMPO predicts that 2011′s increase over 2010 will be greater again – not just in money but in percentage of growth (16% this time).

In other words, the search engine marketing and search engine optimization industries are still vectoring! After all this time. So where, O death is now thy sting?

Like Rock and Roll, SEO will never die. And here’s why.
All of this reminds me of a feature article I wrote in graduate school about rock and roll music. In the essay I discussed how rock music had been declared ‘dead’ throughout its history (by Don McLean, by The Who and by a lot of other people no one should remember, including Lenny Kravitz). But like Neil Young rebutted, rock and roll will never die. I argued that the reason for this is simple. It’s because the idea is timeless: rebellion, anger, and crashing away on drums and guitars will never, ever go out of vogue permanently. It might change, it might go through some valleys but by the nature of the beast, there will always be a way to renew it. It’s not necessarily tied to a form but to an idea with staying power.

The same holds true for SEO.

Why? Simple: because search will always be done by machines, based on algorithms and there will always be a gap in the logic of the algorithm. And if we’ve learned anything from the Terminator movies, the Matrix and every other movie that explores the Frankenstein complex it is that people are more resilient and adaptable than machines. There will always be a way to game search results for profit. And of course if you didn’t know this, search is never going to go away, either, because people will always be looking for new information.

And when they do they will use a machine that is using an algorithm to search for that information and that algorithm will give privilege to certain qualities of the information and someone somewhere will be gaming that algorithm in order to be seen as the source for that information… because there will be money in it.

And I’ll bet that 20 years from now… 30, 40, 50 years from now, people will be listening to rock music as they use a search engine (I’ll even bet Google, in some form), and someone somewhere will be listening to Neil Young as they do so, and they will be singing along “…There’s more to the picture than meets the eye…”

Update:  Embarrassingly, Leo Laporte said it at PubCon 2011.

 

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New in Search… and SEO?

November 13th, 2009 No comments

The last few weeks have seen a small flurry of news in search.

Google Caffeine
The buzz is that this is the biggest change to Google’s algorithm since late 2003 (aka the Florida update/dance). It has been in beta for some time and is going live right now. I didn’t like the beta version (now retired) because it was only available for google.com.

Social Search

Google rolled out social search, which integrates your results with listings from friends in your various social networks. It’s been met with some criticism and it even gives some people the creeps. But expect Google to keep tweaking things. Maybe it’ll be a good Google product in the end; maybe it’ll be useless to most of us.

There is smaller news of course, such as the way Google’s local business results have really taken off in the past few months, squeezing publishers of directories and other local marketing and inciting SEOs to get pissed off about Google hogging search results. Twitter’s real time search was old news from late in 2008 but Twitter has continued to improve its search and overall functionality. Most importantly, Twitter is an undeniable Force-to-be-Reckoned-With when anyone discusses Internet marketing (if not SEO) today. Finally, also, Google dropped PageRank in Webmaster Tools, possibly in favor of Trustrank, one might wonder.

For all that, there is very little news in mainstream search engine optimization (SEO), as should perhaps be expected at this point in the game. A list of top 50 SEO tips from this week’s pubcon confirms it: not much new in the world of actual day-to-day SEO. That may bode poorly for professional SEOs, only because people may think that all they need to do is pick up an SEO starter guide from Google or an SEO primer from a third party SEM company or any of the other hundreds of sources of basic SEO information and think that that is all they need. I say ‘I don’t really think so’ because not one of these tools will match the value of having a professional SEO in charge. From Google’s to every other guide I’ve seen I see mainly dodgy tips, teasers only and flat-out red herrings (people who even mention ‘meta tag keywords,’ I’m looking at you.)

Search engine optimization may get rocked by Google Caffeine but SEOs will still be the best qualified to handle this and any other news in Search. Bits of news and occasional flurries of news are best understood in the context of the last five to ten years of changes at Google and other search engines.

Is the Best SEO Strategy Today Still The Long Tail?

October 6th, 2009 1 comment

In the world of SEO, links are still considered the bread and butter of most SEOs and linkbuilding is the most espoused strategy by the SEO industry. There is no doubt that inlinks will always be seen as critical to the importance of a site in search engine algorithms. However, as an SEO strategy, the practice of linkbuilding has come under increasing fire and indeed becomes more questionable all the time, as a primary SEO strategy for websites.

Long gone are the days when you could cajole naive webmasters into giving you a link for free. Everybody knows the value of a link now and webmasters routinely request a return backlink or they ask “how much is it worth to you?”

On the other side, Google threatens to penalize people who buy links or sell links. You can get away with it, until someone rats you out and then you have a long climb out of the rat hole you’re in. So as an SEO, you’ve blown some money on link buying and then actually lost traffic. What kind of a reputation does that give you, and the industry?

Today, many SEOs are singing the praises of flat site architecture; that is something I espouse as well. But how long before a well crafted flat site architecture becomes commonplace? It does not matter the age of pages involved or the age of the site. Once Googlebot can quickly find all or most of the pages on most sites, the SEO playing field, at least in the sphere of architecture, will be once again even. Mind you, that day is some ways off.

However, when looking back at the past, at the present and into the foreseeable future, my favourite strategy is still long tail content development. I have no doubt that Google values sites with many more pages. In fact, I see sites with relatively high PR, seemingly garnered only from the fact that they have a significant amount of content, whether or not that content has copious or strong backlinks from other sites or not. This is one area where you can’t fake it – either you have the original content or you don’t.

Of course, it is not enough to simply have content – that content has to be crafted to meet the long tail. Good SEOs know how to properly wind in some latent semantic indexing, with just the right mix of keyword rich content and actual substance that might get you some organic links. This is the one area of traditional SEO where you can still work and know that you are doing what Google in fact wants you to do and can have more confidence than most marketers and corporations that you know what you are doing and they very likely will not.

I see over and over again, opportunities to work with company’s developers, marketers and editorial staff to leverage their already existing content to create copious pages that target the long tail of content – that long list of keyword variations related to their particular industry – where it is easy and relatively cheap to do so and where they do not know the value of this strategy. I’ve seen lots of websites grow traffic significantly simply be creating copious pages that meet their potential users down the long tail.

I’m getting those pages online ahead of other SEOs, getting backlinks to those pages ahead of them, and having those pages age (gain authority) ahead of other SEOs.

I see the long tail content strategy I implemented on some old built-for-SEO sites – built long before Chris Anderson started even blogging on the subject – still working very well for those sites.

In my humble opinion, long tail content development is a sure fire SEO traffic-building technique that still really does not get enough attention and respect in the SEO industry. It’s something lost on many companies and web businesses and it’s something that still requires some SEO expertise and experience.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Kitchener-Waterloo

September 29th, 2009 1 comment

There was a time, not very long ago, when there were few or no search engine optimization companies in Kitchener. Kitchener SEO is best handled by professionals. But as with the industry everywhere, companies seem to be coming out of the woodwork,  nomatter how spammy their backlinking strategy is.

If I google and look around at search engine optimization companies in Kitchener, I see a few names that I know among the results. I know Nardo Kuitert of fergus-ontario.com, (okay, so technically in Fergus), from a few years ago, back in the day when we were both freelancing for a company called Geosign. I barely know Ashish Kothari, only because he found me on linkedin.com.  I do not know who SEO Expertise is in Cambridge, nor do I know who runs Just Say On. (What is that supposed to mean, by the way?) There’s some company in Waterloo called Local Search Engine Marketing.  (Apparently their area of expertise is listing companies in Google’s Local Business Results?) Of course, just down the road from Kitchener-Waterloo (home of the Blackberry!) the inimitable Rae Hoffman makes her home in Guelph. (…At least the last I heard.) Other results include AroundKW, aka Kim Burnett, the extremely helpful web host for a number of sites I own…. and as well, some company with the interesting name of Lift Media.

I have little doubt that the area can sustain this number of search engine optimization companies. And I am still of the opinion that Kitchener Waterloo companies are by and large quite ignorant of the web (part of a national pattern, apparently). Also, the area still really lacks a strong web publishing presence, in spite of the area’s supposed designation as the Technology Triangle. (For my part, I am working on increasing web publishing in this area.) Most of the technology in this area is still software or software-based.

To further argue this, let me point out that there have been no great web successes in Kitchener-Waterloo; no Diggs, no Flickrs, not much at all…. just a RIM …. and a Geosign.

Anyway, search engine optimization (SEO) in Kitchener-Waterloo is – just as it is everywhere – still in its juvenile phase. (That sentence, with its silly link, and this post, with its silly subject and title both exemplify how juvenile SEO still is, currently). But anyway, to all my competition, I say, may the best SEO company in KW win the most business!

Ask yourself why you should be number one.

September 13th, 2009 No comments

Todd Friesen has written a good piece on the ridiculous assumption so many website owners seem to have, that they should be #1, whether they deserve it or not. It’s worth linking to: You Don’t Deserve #1.

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“Search engine optimization is not rocket science” is not wit

June 12th, 2009 No comments

I have heard the offhand statement “search engine optimization is not rocket science” a number of times lately. As if this statement is somehow witty or helpful in discussing SEO.  Of course search engine optimization is not rocket science.

But anyone with a bit of real experience in SEO will tell you this – there are a ton of subtleties to wade through in this industry. While it is not rocket science (or brain surgery, as the other cliche goes), it is most definitely diligent work that should not be done by inexperienced amateurs. There  is a ton to be said for experience.

For example, have you ever  been page one for a term that actually has over 100,000 searches a month? Neither have most rocket scientists and brain surgeons, Mr. Notsowitty.

The following things can be said about SEO, though:

- It is search engine optimization, a specialized knowledge. You can buy it for cheap but I will tell you, you almost always get what you pay for.

- True, worthwhile SEO is a many-splendoured thing that mixes long tail content development, robust backlink gathering, social media awareness and a mixture of many other things, to create what has been called “a tasty soup.”

- True SEO can’t be learned at a conference and can’t be taught.

Learning how to get legitimate ranking for tough keywords and to acquire significant traffic comes only with experience and nitty gritty work. If you don’t have experience and/or the time to acquire it and to do the nitty gritty, you’ll have to pay for the use of someone else’s experience and time. And you’re far better off doing that anyway.

And by the way: Rocket science is also not brain surgery, and vice versa, but I’ll bet you never hear people at a rocket science conference, saying things like, “Look, rocket science is not brain surgery….”

Only rocket science is rocket science. And do space shuttles even use rocket science? Or do they use space shuttle science, in which case rocket science is obsolete? I don’t know but in any case, I do not think SEO will be any time soon.

Categories: SEO, the SEO industry Tags: , ,

Starting an SEO business

May 13th, 2009 No comments

I’m officially relaunching this website as an SEO business, complete with this SEO blog.

Search engine optimization has been a booming business for a while now.

In some respects, I think that’s a shame.

Not in and of itself, of course, because I love the vibrancy of search  and the web in general (of course). It’s a shame because an industry with so much potential (still very much so, ten years after the launch of Google) attracts so much profound BS. A friend of mine complains that “SEOs are almost to a person, a collection of one-trick-ponies and snake oil salesman.” I would add “loud mouth braggarts” and “frackin phoneys” and I would also say, “But let’s emphasize: ‘almost to a person.’”

Jill Whalen recently complained about companies wanting to get into the SEO business and she quotes an email she received – from someone in India – that read (quoting verbatim) “i want to start SEO (search engine optimization) business.but before    that i want to know about SEO.” She gives them “props for wanting to know about SEO *before* they set up shop.” The real gist of her post comes when she complains: “new SEO companies keep popping up like dandelions in Spring. This would be okay if they weren’t getting paid for their services. But apparently they are.”

She’s dead on, of course. My own experience has at least one similar anecdote.

Two years ago, I got a call from a small company in Oakville, Ontario, after I was part of a massive layoff from a company that specialized in building sites that dominated SERPs (and still do, to this day. They also specialized in PPC arbitrage – the cause of both their rise and their downfall – but that’s another story). I had a few meetings with a couple guys from this small company in Oakville, who wanted to know everything I knew about SEO. Stupidly, I actually went along with the whole charade, as I explained to them things like the value of original description tag content, clean code and a bunch of other things, while they feverishly took notes. The funny thing (or not) was that they were already getting paid to do SEO. Just as funny (or not) was their boast of being able to rank for “terms like ‘hamilton rebar company.’” They also bragged to me that they were page one in Google for “Ontario’s best SEO.”

You’re bragging about being able to rank for a term that no one in their right mind is actually going to look for?

You’re really only telling me that Google knows how to do its job. You’re not saying very much about your ability to do SEO. And people are buying your services?

As Whalen points out, real SEO is difficult work. The industry is changing all the time and you have to keep up with what is going on. Not by listening to other SEOs, either, but by paying attention to changes at Google, knowing all about social media and its implicatons for SEO… and lots of other things. In other words: actually having lived through some of the ups and downs of the search engine industry over the years. Google whacks and penalizations are a really good experience, for an example.

In other words, earn your stripes, as they say.

Here’re some more things you should know:

  • Know how difficult it is to rank for truly competitive terms. Succeed at this. Fail at this, too.
  • Know what it is like to work with an aged domain versus a new domain, wrestling out of the sandbox.
  • Fully understand the difference between quality links and crapola links – that still might add up to something with enough quantity.
  • Know what trustrank is.

Know a zillion other subtleties about site development, url and site structure, long tail content development… and a zillion other things.

Then you will know how to apply your experience to leverage the search presence of any website or company, on a case-by-case basis.

Then you can start a company.

That’s where I am.

Anyway, that’s my introductory blog. That’s where I’m starting up from. And let me say one more time: “But let’s emphasize that word ‘almost.’”

Read Jill Whalen’s smartly written discussion about BS in the SEO industry.

Categories: SEO, the SEO industry Tags: , ,