SEO is everything, SEO is nothing

Interesting discussion going on about what being an SEO actually involves in 2015.

There are a bunch of different sides to this issue, but the two ends are:

SEO is everything. Google wants to rank successful brands. Anything you add to your brand is SEO.
SEO is nothing. Google wants to rank successful brands. Spend your time creating a brand and don’t worry about SEO.

Few people would agree 100% with either of the statements above but fall somewhere in between. They either view SEO as a byproduct of success or a driver of success.

Your perspective on SEO’s role in business depends largely on the type of online marketing campaigns that you’ve worked on in the past.

If you do SEO work for large brands, you’re more likely to believe good SEO is a byproduct of success. The site you manage is already trusted by search engines. You aren’t out building links or finding longtail keywords you might have a chance to rank for. You are publishing content like crazy and running conversion tests to make the most out of the powerful domain.

If you work for startup/small/medium size companies, you are more likely to view SEO as a driver of growth vs. a byproduct of other things. You can’t get away with the same things from a site structure or technical standpoint that established brands can get away with. Your time is best spent doing what we traditionally think of as SEO work: keyword research, writing page/product copy, optimizing title tags/URls, cleaning up links…you know the drill.

It’s a good sign for SEO as a marketing channel to see it mean different things to different people.

A mature marketing channel is going to play different roles for different strategies. SEO for Acme Brand might manifest itself as a year-long content marketing campaign. SEO for Widget Co. might end up looking like 5,000 unique product descriptions.

This is a good thing. Nobody thinks of print advertising as a short list of 5 strategies and anything else isn’t “real advertising.” SEO as a channel shouldn’t be limited to only writing meta tags or sending link removal requests. Even if some people are misguided in the role of non-traditional SEO signals as ranking factors, more people are placing importance on the role of SEO as a channel.

It can be frustrating to know and study the art of classic SEO and then watch some stooge parade around a conference stage proclaiming how SEO is now content marketing or link building is dead. I get annoyed by that too.

But if you work in the industry, the more exposure SEO as a marketing channel gets, the better.

(Plus, if other people want to optimize their websites by asking friends to +1 them or by focusing solely on UX…fine by me :D)

Small SEO fixes, big returns

There’s a weird pattern with websites I’ve done SEO for over the years. The campaigns with the most drastic improvements were usually the easiest to fix.

The biggest issues with optimization on most sites aren’t crazy fixes that require hours of development time. They are usually simple things done wrong: duplicate content, duplicate or poor page titles, thin content, site/URL structure. These are all SEO 101 fixes that cause massive issues for poorly optimized websites.

I’m all about attacking the tough fixes but the best results come from simple changes.

Here are a few examples:rel-canonical-fix

– I increased year-over-year revenue 62% for an ecommerce sites by adding one character to their source code. It wasn’t SEO voodoo or black magic…but their rankings plummeted because of a typo in a sitewide rel=canonical that I found on the site. Google had no clue how to index their domain. As soon as the proper canonical tag was added, traffic and revenue shot up. The site has continued to grow steadily since then by adding new products and improving other SEO issues but nothing will match the canonical fix.

– I’ve been lucky enough to work on 4 or 5 projects where high trusted sites had tons of organic links (DA over 50) but had never been touched by anybody who knows SEO. This type of “virgin ground” is getting less common by the day but nothing is more fun than rewriting a handful of titles tags and adding copy to pages and watching traffic from Google soar to new heights.

Hoping for some in-depth, never before seen tactics? Sorry to disappoint.

SEO isn’t really that complicated most of the time. The hardest part — which I’ve been fascinated by lately — is the process behind the SEO: ensuring any potential issues are audited and addressed ASAP. Knowing SEO 101 isn’t a very valuable in 2014 but knowing how to execute & deliver SEO can be a game changer. You can deliver results in any situation when you lean on process.

That said — the  bigger and more optimized a site becomes, the harder it is to grow.

In the early stages, you can double traffic by changing one line in header.php. Every unique product description you write for an ecommerce store is guaranteed to increase search traffic by that page tenfold.

A few years down the road, growth is a lot harder to come by which makes for other unique and more in-depth challenges.

No matter where your skills in SEO lie, savor the days of early stage SEO when starting a new project. The results you can get for even 10 minutes of your time are mind-blowing.


Penguin 3.0 or Ebola?


The weeks before an impending Google algorithm update are strange times. SEOs check rankings even more than usual, write and store “Ultimate Guides” to penalty recovery in WordPress and wear out their CTRL+R buttons refreshing Matt Cutts and John Mueller’s Twitter Google+ pages.

Mostly, though, these pre-algorithm update days are full of hyperbole. SEOs embarrass themselves by making predictions, spreading FUD and disavowing links to save their sinking ships. Woof.

If you didn’t know about search engine algorithm updates one could easily confuse Penguin 3.0 with something far more sinister…like ebola.

In fact, just change a few of the words in recent Penguin 3.0 fear-mongering pieces and they could easily be about the worldwide viral outbreak:

Penguin or Ebola?

Ebola will bring tears to your eyes (via)

How to avoid getting slaughtered by Ebola (via)

The key takeaway from this post is that EVERYONE needs to check their  fever regularly to ensure that it’s clean. If it isn’t clean, NOW is the time to do something about it (via)

Ebola is Coming Soon. Will [You] Survive? (via)

This week, Mueller also confirmed that a Ebola refresh is indeed required for an affected site to recover. (via)

Hope for the best, Sound horrible. (via)

If you’re hit, you’re website will remain at the mercy of Ebola (via)

Take action now and reduce the risk of being hit by this impending virus before it’s too late. (via)

The impact should be noticeable within a few days following the Ebola release. (via)

Google gets set to unleash Ebola (via)

The Incoming March of Ebola and How You Can Avoid It! (via)



Who needs Hot Dogs or Legs when you can play Penguin 3.0 or Ebola?

It’s cool to analyze algorithm updates and I’m very much curious about Penguin 3.0. But making it out to be a matter of life vs. death, creating over the top graphics of blood-lusting penguins and making the general public fear SEO is bizarre.

And we wonder why everybody thinks SEOs are crazy?

Weaponized SEO

weaponized-seoDejan SEO recently shared an extortion email that they received from a negative SEO spammer.

They are threatening to send a XRumer blast to unless they receive $1,500USD.

Scary stuff indeed.

In the old days, SEO was fun because it could only help you, not actively hurt you.

Blast 400 domains to a new site? Go for it! Hire somebody to build 100 directories for $5? Sure, why not.

Looking at new backlinks used to be exciting. If you run a big site nowadays you are probably holding your breath every time you open up a recent backlink report.

As Google gets more aggressive on anchor text and blog posts, negative SEO attacks become more valuable and easier to execute.

Links used to only help you. Now 75% of links can only hurt you.

Learning SEO gives you a lot of power to help improve a website’s search visibility but manual penalties and Penguin also give you a lot of power to do damage to other people’s websites. You can weaponize SEO into a tool to knock off competitors.

To me, the scariest thing about negative SEO is how well it scales.

Think about your traditional SEO agency. You’ve got to figure out how to build quality links in a number of different industries. You need lots of top notch website copy. You need development and design help.

A negative SEO agency needs a few pieces of software and a rudimentary understanding of Google’s algorithm.

There’s a tipping point that the SEO industry is approaching where the numbers look better knocking off 15 competitors with negative SEO instead of investing in trying to naturally outrank them through traditional SEO.

You can build 10,000 links in XRumer for less than the cost of an infographic or a well-written blog post.

When Google guesses at the intent of a link, they open the door for a new era of weaponized SEO. These extortion emails might not work against an SEO company but send hundreds to a bunch of small businesses and I bet you’ll get a few hits.

Google’s Link Graph Is Broken

Every now and then, the mighty hand of Google reaches out and jerks the collective chain of SEOs. Google reminds us that they are king. We can run tests, blast links and not do SEO but none of it matters . We have no power over the future of search.

Today’s reminder came courtesy of inbound marketing company Moz. Google has listed one of their community blog posts as an example of an unnatural link in a recent Google Webmaster Tools message.

You can debate whether or not the link is a violation of Google’s Guidelines but that’s a pointless endeavor.

Here’s how Google defines an ‘unnatural link’Any links intended to manipulate PageRank or a site’s ranking in Google search results

This is hilariously and intentionally broad. If you know anything about search algorithms, it’s impossible to link to another website without understanding that a link may influence that site’s ranking on Google.

As I have said many times, there is no way to easily determine if a link is good or bad. It’s all relative. Put 100 SEOs in a room and show them that link and you’ll get 100 different opinions.

The more interesting thing about Rand’s post, to me, is that this is another great example of how Google has lost control of the link graph.

Before Google was big enough to use cash to influence Washington, they grew a search company based on the principle of the link graph. The link graph was a wonderful way to determine trust and authority on any topic. PageRank was their biggest asset and what made them great.

Now? Google is doing some cool stuff with hardware and software but the link graph that powers the algorithm is a disaster.

Maybe it isn’t a big deal now that Google controls so much of the web’s traffic (which means they control much of the world’s commerce), but Google’s biggest strength is now one of their biggest weaknesses. The algorithm does not work well and even if Google tweaked it, they have ran the natural link graph into the ground by over-policing links the past few years.

It’s frustrating to see Google send an inaccurate and useless notice of unnatural links to a Webmaster. It’s frustrating to see a quality site like Moz listed.

But getting too caught up in if this particular link was good or bad shifts the focus away from Google and back to editors and SEOs.

The bigger issue is that the link graph is ruined and Google doesn’t seem to be fixing it.

Only bad SEOs ignore rankings


SEOs can’t really agree on anything.

Link building is good. Link building is worthless
Matt Cutts is the devil. Matt Cutts is a saint.
Pages should be 300 words long. Pages should be 1000 words long.
SEO is dead. SEO will never die.

It takes a special type of infighting to argue whether or not your entire industry is alive or dead.

One of the classic disagreements that SEO have is about rankings. Some people say rankings are meaningless and shouldn’t be measured. Others check them multiple times per day and rely on them as a KPI.

To the anti-rankings crowd, rankings represent a short-sighted way of measuring marketing’s impact. Nobody has ever paid a bill with a “ranking” and they are only a small step in a much bigger process.

The pro-ranking people use it to directly measure how well their SEO and link building campaigns are working. Higher rankings mean something is working and is worth trying again.

I haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about which side of the fence I’ve been on until recently. The anti-rankings movement seems to have gained traction as the “The best way to do marketing is to not do marketing” crowd grows.

Poke around on Twitteror in forums and you’ll see the inbound crowd say things like “ still care about rankings? That’s your first mistake. Rankings are worthless in 2014”

This is harsh but true:

If you work in SEO and don’t care about rankings, you are probably terrible at your job.

Sure, revenue is more important than page one rankings. Yes, brand awareness is important. But so many of the numbers that really matter including the cash that pays the bills can be tied back to rankings. Saying rankings don’t matter in SEO is like saying hits don’t matter in baseball because runs win the game.

If you want to make more money, you’ll be hard pressed to find higher ROI than you’ll find from an SEO campaign. For your SEO campaign to work, you’ll need some traffic. Good luck achieving that without ranking on page 1 in Google.

I get it. Focusing only on rankings is idiotic. Rankings do not correlate with overall business growth nearly as well as other numbers. But search traffic doesn’t magically appear to your site. You have to be able to be found.

Rankings matter because traffic matters. And with traffic comes sales and revenue and profit and all of those other metrics that are most important.

P.S. – If you don’t think rankings matter, here’s a little growth hack that will help keep your efforts focused on brand building instead of meaningless.

User-agent: Googlebot
Disallow: /

Do The Hard Things

Lazy marketing is easy.

Lazy marketing is going through the same marketing process for every project, every site.

Lazy marketing is reading what worked for another site and thinking it will work for your site.

Lazy marketing is recycling old ideas, praying they’ll work again.

Lazy marketing is doing what is familiar.

Lazy marketing is publishing a blog post and crossing your fingers that people will actually read it.

Lazy marketing is only measuring what is easily measurable.

Lazy marketing treats website visitors like…visitors.

Lazy marketing is bad marketing.

The best marketers are those who are willing to do the hard things. It’s hard to create a 10,000 word piece of content that drives 1000s of prospective customers to your site. It’s hard to write awesome content about moving companies. It’s hard to earn links. It’s hard to work with a crappy CMS. It’s hard to learn a new JavaScript library when creating an interactive graphic. It’s hard to spend 12 hours going through a 20,000 line Excel file of links.

Good marketing is digging deep to measure true indicators of success.

Good marketing is viewing the “Publish” button as only the first step.

Good marketing is taking the extra 3 hours to write an industry-leading piece instead of another boring blog post.

Good marketing is challenging yourself and your clients to experiment and push new boundaries.

Good marketing treats website visitors like real people.

If you ever start to think that marketing is easy, you are doing something wrong.

Lazy marketing is easy. Good marketing is hard.

Caught in the Web’s Trap

We’re being force fed information on the web. Emails, tweets, shares, pins, IMs, phone calls, etc. It’s equal parts awesome and overwhelming. I like to read and like to be an early adopter so I have this nagging need to constantly refresh my Twitter stream and email inbox during my free time.

Reading, watching and listening to stuff online has taught me so much. I wouldn’t have a job right now if I didn’t absorb information from the Internet on a regular basis for most of my life.

The perpetual need to feed information into my brain comes with a few problems though. With so much content noise, it’s easy to fall into the trap of consumption instead of creation and of reading about things instead of doing them.

I fall into this trap often:

– I’ll read dozens of articles about new affiliate marketing tactics and not try a single one
– I’ll watch workout videos on YouTube for a couple of hours instead of going to the gym

Consumption is an important part of learning but it’s void of any value without experience. Others may think I’m more productive and more in tune to what’s going on in the world when I’m active on email and social media but the opposite is true. I’m most productive and engaged when I’m doing things in real life.

Bookmarklet: Make Google (not provided)

It’s probably sour grapes, but not a day goes by without my missing organic keyword data in Google Analytics. (not provided) went from being less than 10% of search queries to being 100% and perhaps soon the entire web. Ick.

For a fun reminder of our long lost keyword data I made a bookmarklet that will replace any instance of “Google” on a web page with “(not provided).”

It’s a useless tool but at least I learned how to make a bookmarklet.

Drag this onto your bookmarks to use:

Google = (not provided)