SEO isn’t merely a technical area anymore. It requires more complete and elaborated strategies, and a wider range of knowledge. It’s a world where only very good ideas make a difference, and work positively in a long-term vision.
The story repeats itself over and over. SEOs blindly abide by all kind of demands from their clients, and unexpected results arise. It usually goes like this: Someone wants to be the wise guy, engaging in deceptive tactics for achieving higher rankings; the site gets caught by Google, or reported in a newspaper article. Then, the case becomes a hot topic in the SEO industry for a while… During the following weeks, some will be praising Google, some blaming Google, and some complaining about the dodgy techniques that still work nowadays. Then, a few months pass, and it will be forgotten… Until another case is discovered and another “public execution” takes place! Rinse and repeat.
While you keep on playing merry-go-round with the SEO industry, you are blind to what’s going on at a wider perspective. And, ultimately, at how your industry is being perceived. This is both sad and ridiculous…
It’s not IF Google will catch you
It’s when! If you’re engaging in deceptive techniques and risky strategies for your clients, it’s just a matter of time, until you become the next hot topic for not so good reasons. For how long more do you believe, that, your “under the radar” technique is going to survive? It doesn’t really matter how careful you are. You are just as careful as the people you do business with. And, every time you engage in yet another manipulative business technique, you’re multiplying your chances of getting caught.
The “Google ruined SEO” cry-out
Let’s give it straight to the bone! Google didn’t ruin SEO (nor any other search engine so to speak). SEOs took care of this long time ago. It’s not only the problem that SEOs do whatever their clients want, it’s also the problem that everyone wants the easy way to success…
It started with the insane algorithm-chasing race, and the blind thirst for links. Everyone wanted link building. Links, links, LIIIINKS! It seems that, since 1994 until today, the behaviour didn’t change much. We still have SEOs praising after tools that supposedly perform algorithm analysis and correlation studies. Without even trying to be a bit skeptical and thoughtful about the data they’re looking at.
SEO is not merely technical, or a bunch of gimmicks
Everyone wants the “cake recipe”; the “just add water” approach to a magical climb to the top positions in Google. People want to make recipes out of everything. Some didn’t even figure out yet what is quality content and what it means. SEO will never improve and leave behind its “snake oil salesman” image as long as:
- You are giving inaccurate info to your clients;
- You keep presenting results of inaccurate tests, and don’t disclose that to your clients and audience;
- You make statements that are poorly documented;
- You keep trying tricks or “cake recipes” for ranking;
- You keep making assumptions based on your tricks;
- You’re giving your clients a “heart attack” every time Google pushes an update;
- You are blindly focused in search engines without considering usability and understanding people.
It’s ridiculous how SEOs don’t understand that, by doing blindly what clients want — without educating and guiding them –, they’re only compromising their trust, their job, and ultimately their industry. As an SEO professional, part of your job is to educate your clients. Show them that you know how to guide them; lead them to their expectations. While at the same time, you steer them away from bad practices, which can lead to search engine penalties and bad reputation.
Having someone that knows how to make pretty URLs, or engages in directory/article submissions and planting links, is no longer enough for a rewarding and solid long-term business strategy. Gone are the days of blind linking, with keyword rich anchors, in any place you could pay for.
Chasing correlations leads to bad situations
It’s OK to test, and it’s fun to test. It’s a great way to learn how search engines behave. What is not OK, is to make blind statements, and use your visibility, to publish something speculative as factual. Or to do it without even considering all the possible factors that are impossible to isolate.
What impacts search results?
Here are just a few hurdles you have to deal with, every time you want to carry out any kind of correlation studies:
- Type of query used: Navigational, Transactional, Informational, Local, or did you try to use a neutral query? Was it really neutral?;
- Changes pushed by the Search Quality team: think about not only permanent changes, but experiments that last days or weeks and then go away;
- Trends in search on that day on a hourly basis (at least): Rising search terms on that day, is something happening?;
- Geo and Internationalization: Your location affects not only the datacenter you hit, there are also language specific signals;
- Ranking algos in the datacenter you hit: sometimes the same algos might work in different ways according to the datacenter you are hitting;
- The vertical you’re targeting: algos might behave in different ways according to the vertical you are targeting;
- Personalisation: Are you exposed to personalisation in search?;
- Social signals: Are you exposed to social influence in search?;
- Search bias: Because you are an SEO, sometimes it’s hard to think or even mimic the search behaviour of a “normal person”, how biased are your ideas?
And these are just a few… Consider that, each of those little factors, can and usually does change behaviour. Consider the behaviour, also changes according to the signals and data they get from their neighbour factors. Yeah, it’s almost like a mess… Just it isn’t. So please, every time you run a test, put up a big disclaimer. State that, what you’re doing is just for fun, and it shouldn’t be used as factual data. Also state, for the less savvy, they shouldn’t use that data to back-up real business decisions.
Is this the SEO industry you want?
An industry where many, vouch for covering-up dodgy techniques that others are using. An industry where people aren’t reported to search engines. Either because there’s a misconception that “it’s immoral”, or “it’s against the brotherhood rules”? Well, sorry. Last time I checked, the call for “morality” doesn’t entitle anyone to soil the reputation of an entire industry. Mostly when it’s done in the name of their economic interests.
By abiding by the “let’s cover it” principles, you’re deliberately contributing, and fostering, the growth of bad habits. The bad habits of what, otherwise, could be a healthy and well respected industry. So, yes spam reporting has nothing of “immoral” — you don’t need to do it in public though; you can do it privately via spam reports.
Google has a long way to go to even the playing-field. But it will just get longer, and more painful, if everybody engages in the same deceptive behaviour.
I also don’t buy “morality” claims from people that once didn’t care about morality. Mostly to push up their economic interests. Regardless of any search engine rules, deceptive and manipulative behaviour is not OK. And if (or when) anything else replaces Google, this behaviour will still not be OK.
What I want for the SEO industry
As an SEO Consultant, and co-founder of a Digital Marketing company that I hope to grow, I know that this isn’t the perceived image I want to associate myself with. Every time I go to a client meeting, I always get stories of previous bad experiences and fear. Of course, you have always to evaluate both sides. What were the client demands and what was the SEO guidance given. But from my experience, in most cases, what I see are written reports with a high amount of nonsense. It’s reckless to point useless metrics, and unfounded claims, just because some SEO ran a test and wrote a blog post.
If as an SEO, you agree on pursuing tactics that get you or your clients penalised, it will be reflected not only in you, but in the whole industry. You’re ruining the image of the SEO industry for everyone. Either because you can’t come out with better ideas to promote your business, or because you wanted to please a client… Which likely will flee from you when the “going gets tough”. So, please, stop doing a crappy work.
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