If you've been online for more than 10 minutes, you have no doubt heard the term “SEO“, which stands for “Search Engine Optimization”. It's a term that has been around one nanosecond less time than the search engines themselves.
Some really smart people quickly figured out that if you could rank #1 on the most popular search engine at the time (currently Google), you could take in the lion's share of traffic–that is, people searching for a given keyword phrase usually look at only the first few results on the first page of Google and then they click one of them.
There became a cottage industry of “SEO's” who specialized in getting web sites ranked at the top of the search engines. They were highly-paid and highly-respected and sought after.
How did they rank these sites near the top of the SE's? The SEO business has evolved over the past couple of decades; what worked in 1996 doesn't work nearly as well today–if at all.
Basically, all the SEO methods boiled down to tactical schemes that ranged from “white hat SEO” to the blackest of “black hat SEO“. I won't go into a long diatribe about what those methods were or what constituted the difference between whitehat SEO and blackhat SEO. It's immaterial at this time.
But I will say this – Google has gotten very good at 2 things:
There will always be exceptions, of course. Google often takes seemingly forever to discern when somebody is playing games with SEO schemes (mostly in getting “backlinks”); on the other hand, they are known to overreact and not really care about the collateral damage they inflict when they do.
Google, being the 800 pound gorilla in the search engine world, is the leader. They throw their weight around. And most SEO's who were successful in building out their own sites as well as customer sites are gone. They vanished. Left the building. Google drove them out of town. A lot left kicking and screaming.
No doubt because they saw their golden eggs get cracked alongside the murder of their goose. SEO work was big money (still is).
But none of that mattered then and it really doesn't matter now. Sure, there are SEO gurus who can rank anything at the top of Google. They have the private blog networks, the outreach, and the SEO chops to get it done.
You don't (probably).
SEO has always been a game to me. The real business is in getting traffic to your site and then converting that traffic to customers or subscribers (who then become customers). That's the end game–drive qualified traffic to your offers. Then convince them to buy.
It's really just that simple.
All traffic comes from one source and one source only: Referrals.
Nobody just “dreams up” your exact URL, fires up their browser, and then hits your web site. They either find your site's URL on another site, on a business card, in a directory like the phone book, on the side of a van, or they find you after doing a web search (which technically is finding your site on another site, just in this case it's Google and not “Uncle Henry's Blog About Everything” – interesting, right? That site hasn't been updated since 2009, yet it still ranks #1 for that term – goes to show if you choose “the right words” you can rank 'em!)
The first rule of internet marketing is getting traffic. Beg, borrow, or steal it–it doesn't matter. Just “get the hits”. Or in today's parlance, “get the uniques”.
I guarantee you that if you get massive traffic, you will find your site climbing the search engine rankings.
Most people think that getting to the top of the SE's gets you more traffic. And it does. But it's easier to do it the other way around: Go get the traffic and watch your rankings rise.
You can buy paid ads like Google AdWords or Facebook advertising, you can guest post for other bloggers, and you can use social media to your advantage. Marketing your business on Facebook, Google+, and YouTube may be all that you need to do to rank very highly in the search engines. Couple that with a few well-placed links on other people's sites (i.e., earned links) and you have a winner.
The second and final rule of internet marketing is to convert that traffic to buyers (or subscribers, who then become buyers). In order to maximize your conversion rate, you need to do (at least) 3 things:
You can buy crappy traffic, but it won't do you any good if they don't convert. You may weigh less but all the weight lost will be from your pocket. And from wasting away because you don't have enough food to eat.
Like I said before, beg, borrow, or steal your traffic–but get qualified leads. You want people to arrive at your website willing to read or watch or listen to whatever you put in front of them. The last thing you need is a bunch of “tire kickers” who do nothing but visit and leave. That's not good for sales and it's not good for your SEO pursuits, either. Google uses visitor time on the site and page views as one of 200+ ranking factors.
So poor-quality traffic kills you on at least two fronts.
Once a visitor gets to your site, you have to make some sort of offer if you want to run a successful internet business. Once there, visitors are compelled more by the offer than your sales copy, even though that can count for a lot. At the end of the day, it's what you offer your browsers that converts them to customers, much more so than how you tell them about your offer.
I won't say that killer copy skills won't sell more; that would be preposterous. But all things considered, a great offer with “good enough” copy will trump a crummy offer with a mad skillz copywriter at the helm.
Obviously, putting both together is ideal. But in this world of resource constraints, put your money and time into the offer and hire a copy writer if need be.
The short story is that you really shouldn't mess with typical SEO. It's a waste of time buying or building hundreds upon hundreds of backlinks, forum profiles, article spinning, and social media shenanigans. That stuff may have worked in 2011, but it doesn't work so well today.
I won't say it doesn't help. But you could spend your time more wisely on things like building the best offer you can, recruiting affiliates, and putting together an outreach plan that will get other people to promote your web site.
All that stuff is “free” (as in no money spent). Traditional SEO can be free but to be most effective, you need to pay a pro to do it for you and even then, there are no guarantees.
However, if you concentrate on the end (sales), you can work your way backwards to a winning web site. Create a product or service that solves a problem. You do this by observing consumers in your niche. Then write some compelling copy and enlist some JV partners and affiliates. Let them send you the traffic. After all, it will be well-qualified traffic. Then watch your traffic build and your search rankings improve.
It's a simple formula. But it's done wrong 99 percent of the time. Be the one percent!
For more reading on SEO, check out some of my other posts:
And don't forget to add the Backlink Search Tool to your Chrome browser–it will help you with your own outreach program.
Just a quick note – I just built out a blog for a domain that I had purchased nearly a year and a half ago…added content, a little (and I mean little) social shares, and voila! a PageRank 3 blog.
Interesting. I'll tell you all the details in a future post. But suffice it to say there's really nothing going on here except content – and most of it is new and some still isn't even indexed!
To say I'm a little shocked is an understatement.
(And yes, it's “real PageRank” – verified multiple ways.)
If you were here yesterday, you saw that I posited that SEO Is Dead. It is, as we know it. Sort of.
Gone are the days when an SEO could throw thousands of backlinks at a site and get it to the top of Google. No, nowadays, especially after the Google Panda and Google Penguin search engine algorithm updates, you have to be more pragmatic, more careful, and more strategic.
You also need more patience.
Tools like SENuke, which used to be pretty helpful, can now prove more harmful than helpful.
Where once you may have been able to garner the #1 position on Google for a keyword phrase (KWP) simply by writing a few articles for eZineArticles along with some forum profile backlinks, you now can no longer do that. You still should, perhaps, but there is a lot more that needs to be done.
I will try to boil the new face of SEO down into a few basic concepts.
Let’s get right to it and then explain in a little more detail.
The majority of the backlinks you get should be relevant to your site. If your site is about dog breeding, there really is no reason to actively try to get a backlink from a stamp collection site. If a stamp collector wants to link back to your site because he likes it, then that is great. Just don’t actively seek out backlinks from sites that have no immediate relevance to your site.
The backlinks you get ought to come from “authority” web sites. Sites like wikipedia, CNN, and the AKC should be links that you actively seek out.
How? That’s a topic for another ten posts!
In the “old days,” SEO types would get as many backlinks as possible from as many different websites as possible, using specific anchor text that matched the KWP being optimized for. For example, a good backlink to get from a site would look like this:
It was not uncommon for the vast majority of a site’s backlinks to have anchor text of the exact KWP the site owner was shooting for.
Google doesn’t take kindly to these exact-match anchor texts any more. They know that most “real people” who would send a backlink to a site really don’t link that way. Instead, for that link above, most people would link to it simply by pasting the URL into their web page editor like this:
Now, real people will link back to your site in many different ways and they won’t always link back to your homepage. Of course, they will link to the exact web page they want to share with you. If that happens to be the homepage, then so be it. Otherwise, if you wrote a post about selling high-end real estate, they would link to that post.
Simple as that.
Diversity of links matters. Some backlinks should be to your homepage. Most should be “deep links” to your individual pages. The anchor text you use ought to vary as well, as should the “title” of your backlink.
A note on “do follow” versus “no follow” links: Don’t get caught up in this silly game. A few years ago, SEO gurus might have told you to go after only those web sites that offered “do follow” backlinks.
Do not worry about this. There is no “optimal ratio,” either.
Get backlinks that are relevant from authority sites within your industry or niche, and vary the anchor text.
Finally, social media is becoming more and more important in getting your web site ranked high on the search engines. Google and Bing understand the power of social media and are adding more and more “social signals” to their search algorithms.
Gone are the days when you could ignore social media “because I don’t really want people to know what I had for breakfast.”
Some people actually do want to know what you are doing. But many people look to their social circles for advice and recommendations on a variety of subjects. If you become their authority in one of those topics, then you just vaulted ahead of your competition.
Both Google and Bing get this.
So they’ve added various social media components to their systems. Embrace that change. Or wither on the vine. It’s really that simple.
In SEO Is Dead, I suggested that the good old days of SEO were, in fact, dead. But SEO is still alive. It’s just different. Search algorithms have made drastic changes, many of which have come from Google.
In some senses, SEO has gotten easier. Now, instead of getting literally thousands of backlinksfrom all over the internet, you now must be a lot more choosy. You cannot just load up a search engine spam tool and be done with it.
UPDATE: Here’s a nifty video from none other than Google’s own Matt Cutts.
You have to be strategic more than tactical. Pick the backlinks you want and then go get them.
You need a plan. Stay tuned for that.
SEO is dead. It is. Has been for a long time.
Let me explain.
Back in the mid- to late ’90s, when I got started building web sites, I quickly found that “you CAN build it, but they WON’T come” if they don’t know your site exists. So I began a journey: How do I get sites ranked in these things called “search engines?” Google didn’t exist yet.
Back then, in the old days, it was quite easy. Most of search engine optimization was truly that: Optimize the site for the search engines. Ideally, you would create your site and build your content with BOTH humans and search engines in mind, always straddling that line between human readability and search engine friendliness.
Some of my peers naturally took things to the extreme. They would repeat the same keywords over and over again on a page in order to stack the SEO deck in their favor. This became known as “keyword stuffing.” Some even would repeat the keywords again and again in a font color that matched the background of the page.
This worked. And it was total BS.
I will not deny that it made these guys and their clients money. And that was what they were paid to do—get to the top of the search engine rankings.
Over time, strategies and tactics changed as new search engines emerged and existing search engine algorithms evolved. When Google decreed that referral links (i.e., “backlinks”) mattered a LOT in their algorithm, SEO took another drastic turn. Now, all of a sudden, people went after backlinks.
At first, reciprocal links were the rage—I ask you if you will put up a link to my site in return for my putting up a link to your web site. Why were recips the rage? Because they were easy and because—most of the time—the link partner you asked was someone you knew or was in a similar or complementary industry.
Then the Big G decided that too many people were manipulating reciprocal links and basically discounted any backlinks to your site if it found a link back to the referring site.
There was no penalty. The links just didn’t count.
So all the reciprocal linking was for naught.
Of course, Google became so dominant in the search space that SEO consultants began trying to optimize only for Google search. Consequently, they began toeing the Google line, listening to Matt Cutts and his every proclamation. For example, when reciprocal linking dwindled in popularity and effectiveness, SEO guys started getting backlinks in novel and profound ways (in many cases, stupid ways).
If Matt Cutts said, “Links from authority sites like .EDUs are worth more than forum links,” guess what webmasters did? They went out and got .EDU links! However, there are always hidden messages in Cutts memes. In that last statement, he did imply that forum links carried some SEO juice—he didn’t let on as to how much, so SEOs went out and got dozens of forum links. If dozens worked, how about hundreds? And if hundreds worked, how about thousands?
Welcome Xrumer! The worst freaking idea ever.
However, getting thousands of forum links worked!
As in all things, extremes kill the geese that lay all those golden SEO eggs.
Cutts and his team say that they want Google to deliver the best, most relevant search results to their users. I believe that. It’s just that the proof is always in the pudding, as they say, and the Google pudding can be pretty nasty.
Give this a read. Of course, the results have changed, but this is a great example of the really crummy results Google gives for many different search terms.
Have you heard of Google’s latest updates?
Back in February 2011, Google made search engine algorithm waves with their algo update they affectionately code-named, “Panda.” From Wikipedia:
The change aimed to lower the rank of “low-quality sites” or “thin sites”, and return higher-quality sites near the top of the search results. CNET reported a surge in the rankings of news websites and social networking sites, and a drop in rankings for sites containing large amounts of advertising. This change reportedly affected the rankings of almost 12 percent of all search results. Soon after the Panda rollout, many websites, including Google’s webmaster forum, became filled with complaints of scrapers/copyright infringers getting better rankings than sites with original content. At one point, Google publicly asked for data points to help detect scrapers better. Google’s Panda has received several updates since the original rollout in February 2011, and the effect went global in April 2011. To help affected publishers, Google published an advisory on itsblog , thus giving some direction for self-evaluation of a website’s quality. Google has provided a list of 23 bullet points on its blog answering the question of “What counts as a high-quality site?” that is supposed to help webmasters “step into Google’s mindset”.
Then, to make matters worse, Google decided to add another major change to their search algo: They called it Penguin and it basically sought to weed out those sites that had used “black hat” techniques. From Wikipedia:
Google Penguin is a code name for a Google algorithm update that was first announced on April 24, 2012. The update is aimed at decreasing search engine rankings of websites that violate Google’s Webmaster Guidelines  by using black-hat SEO techniques, such as keyword stuffing,cloaking, participating in link schemes, deliberate creation of duplicate content, and others.
So now that Google has not only weeded out weak sites but also any sites it deemed used anything “black hat” (and that is totally subjective, by the way), one can only say that if you do not abide by Google’s rules (which aren’t always clearly spelled out), it is only a matter of time before they wipe your site(s) off the search landscape.
You have a few choices:
#1 will probably wind up with you crying in your cereal one morning as you lament about “I shouldda” while #2 will get you killed by the big brands.
Clearly, at least to me, #3 is the only viable option.
But what does that mean, exactly?
Is SEO dead? Tell me in the comments.