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:
- Keep on keepin’ on and let the chips fall where they may
- “Clean up” your act and obey Google’s every command
- Out smart the Big G
#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.