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|Taking SEO Advice Blindly Can Kill Your Business|
This is a rant that's been building in me for a long time.
Recent years have seen a flood of interest in SEO. Unfortunately, a lot of recent entries into SEO have no sense of perspective and no idea of how to evaluate advice that they read or hear. And still they write blog articles ;( There's a lot of regurgitated second and third hand learning being spread today - and it's even being sold to clients.
SEO began in the 90s, back before the acronym itself was even created. Most of the pioneers were early affiliate marketers who personally reverse-engineered the search engine algorithms of the day. What they learned was privately shared, until it stopped working so well. At that point, the tidbits began to bleed into the wider pool of knowledge.
Why do I bring up this old time stuff? The same pattern still holds. And taking anyone's SEO advice at face value is a dangerous practice. Anyone who is not doing their own testing and measurement is at a disadvantage. They may be buying into advice that's outdated by many years - and some of it may even come from back in the 90s!
An entrepreneur today cannot hope to reverse engineer SERPs the way it was done in the early years of SEO - the field of information retrieval has become much too complex for that. But the disciplined state of mind that SEO pioneers used, the logic and rigor, all that still needs to be part of a successful SEO mindset.
Whenever I read any SEO article, one of the first things I look for is a sign of that logical rigor. If the author doesn't use technical vocabulary accurately, that's a danger sign. If there's no hint of HOW they arrived at their "knowledge", that's another. And if there are bizarre jumps in logic, that's even worse.
Watch out for "post hoc ergo propter hoc" fallacies. Watch out for confusion between a statement and its converse - the truth of one does not imply the truth of the other. If you can't think logically, you cannot be a good SEO.
Even more, always watch out for the DATE of the advice you read. And most of all, look for your own evidence - through testing and examples or anecdotes. Otherwise you might well tank your business.
A couple of points I intended to make but left out. First, be very wary of any link building advice or service that seems too good to be true. It probably will be. Staying "under the radar" with a lazy-man's approach to link building is a mighty tough road these days.
And second, remember that your site may be in a very different situation than the sites whose success stories you read about. You history affects your present situation and it has for several years.
|And second, remember that your site may be in a very different situation than the sites whose success stories you read about. You history affects your present situation and it has for several years. |
Can you say a little more about this? Do you mean that Google might allow certain sites to get away with some violations of its guidelines, but penalize other sites for the same violations?
Great post Tedster !
>>Taking SEO Advice Blindly Can Kill Your Business
good post tedster, although surely:
Taking ANY Advice Blindly Can Kill Your Business
is also just as true!
|Do you mean that Google might allow certain sites to get away with some violations of its guidelines, but penalize other sites for the same violations? |
Essentially, yes - I do feel that is the case. In some cases a guidelines violation may be ignored - and the spammy factor is just zeroed out of the ranking calculation. In other cases, a definite negative penalty can occur.
The person who is handing out "SEO advice" may not realize that they dodged a bullet (so far), or what factors really are active in creating their rankings. We all see guideline violations go apparently unpunished, right?
However, I was also referring Google's historical data patent [webmasterworld.com] - the one that rocked the SEO world when it was first applied for in 2005.
I agree with you Tedster. I think research sites are very important to a SEO consultant.
However this is unlike any other business I have seen.
1) Many (if not all) important information needed is shrouded in secrecy.
2) One company dominates the world, making it harder to get a foothold if you are a small website.
3) Rules (backlinking) are not evenly enforced.
4) The main company is changing daily. This is crazy. What if you were a C# programmer and MS changed the compiler daily? People would go insane!
5) I see a rabid psychology towards other SEO's. Not pointing fingers at you Tedster, but some other sites attack these people like wolves. I am not trying to pick sides here or attack any country, but I have seen in the small business market, just as many websites damaged by cheap programmers form _____ (country). Maybe more. And most of the very bad SEO I have seen comes from the cheap SEO "experts" from that same country.
6) It is my personal opinion as an American now living outside America, that there is some built in bias against SEO's in third world countries. The prices for premium services like software, SAS websites, Information websites ($300.00 per MO.) are based on American or first world customers. This effectively shuts out third world people from these tools. I am not saying its intentional, just an observation.
So considering all of this, it does not surprise me that there are people out there giving bad advice.
What I find far more troubling in my experience with small business owners, is website owners who have read some advice here or there and think they know it all. I could write volumes on that topic.
[edited by: RP_Joe at 5:54 am (utc) on Aug 29, 2010]
|And most of the very bad SEO I have seen comes from the cheap SEO "experts" from that same country. |
There are many people in countries with major employment troubles who have gone diving into the web in order to survive. They pick up on the "SEO" awareness now spreading through the business world and cobble together an offering and sometimes a blog to promote themselves.
This is part of the current chaos. It's interesting to me that in a face-to-face discussion among experienced SEOs, there is often strong disagreement - again showing that each type of site can have a different experience. And even very savvy SEOs may not be able to pull apart all the ranking factors and penalties today.
No one ever handed out all their present time SEO goodies to all takers. It was always this way - but today the simple fact is that even if you TRY to explain what you're seeing, it gets misunderstood and seriously misapplied by people who think they understood.
SEO is not paint-by-numbers. SEO is not completely separate from other marketing aspects of a business. It should always be the business model that comes first, not just ways to rank for this or that phrase.
|And still they write blog articles ;( There's a lot of regurgitated second and third hand learning being spread today - and it's even being sold to clients. |
Re: those blog posts written by post haste SEOs - one point I make whenever searching for new techniques or for assistance with a technique that I'm unfamiliar with is that I rarely, if ever, even bother looking at blogs that I have not yet heard of or that aren't authoritative. This doesn't always hold true - there are some rare exceptions - but in general that's my golden rule.
I do have to add, however, that I see a lot of reputable SEO's who have the ability to surmise based on search engine behaviors and trends that they've observed because they've been in the industry for so long - this is without testing. for example, the Mayday update - I don't know of anyone who did much conclusive testing. I've only seen observations re: lost long-tail traffic, although I could be wrong there.
|even if you TRY to explain what you're seeing, it gets misunderstood and seriously misapplied by people who think they understood |
And we do see that here all the time. One small factoid in a wide-ranging discussion is picked up and used as the basis to assign success or failure -- occassionally both at the same time.
Though the search engine forest has gotten much bigger some folks are still focusing on one branch of one tree.
|It's interesting to me that in a face-to-face discussion among experienced SEOs, there is often strong disagreement... |
Indeed. Four SEO experts = 6 opinions!
Good point, Tedster - I publish much of my content on article sites that have ranking juice behind them. Articles on those sites do NOT rank universally well, but there's still stuff happening behind the scenes about which I know nil.
I guess part of the problem in SEO advice being offered blindly is unscrupulous or negligent attitudes, but I honestly think a lot of the bad SEO advice comes from people who feel true enthusiasm about the fact that in a world where the old economy is tanking, there's real opportunity here, and that the important part is giving advice at all.
It's kind of like we're boarding a new ship and the latest of us aren't even sailors. We're like, "Come on board, it's steady sailing here!" The people on the old, sinking ship are like, "But how will I manage there? I've never lived on a vessel that mighty. My boat may be sinking, but at least I know where I'm supposed to bunk down." And we're hollering, "Easy. You walk like this, sleep like this, eat like this, and don't throw yourselves overboard. It's great here." So then they come aboard and fall down and get lost and go hungry and don't know what to do. And we smile at them and say, "Welcome aboard. You're an adventurer now. You'll figure it out." (Or the grumpier of us just grunt, shrug, say, "Go figure it out," and turn away.) Because that's what we're all doing, even the seasoned ones.
I've been earning online for many years but learning SEO for only a fraction of that, so I'm anything but seasoned. Still, I want to share advice, because I think the boat will float better if everyone's a better sailor. But the problem is, specific SEO techniques are obsolete almost by definition the moment they become public. I just tell people they can do it, because for the first time in a long time, your average Jane without money or degrees or a long resume really can. They just need to get out of the paradigm that they're living on the old boat, which had a clear compass guiding success, and into a pioneer mindset.
Anyway, like others here, I believe that the best optimizers are the ones who experimented a lot and learned from it, and that SEO advice is useless without going through that process.
And it's also pretty pointless to offer advice without specifics. I seem to recall Matt Cutts leaving a message on a feedback thread here that he doesn't come to Webmasterworld as much as before because nobody can talk about website specifics. It's kind of like that. SEO advice handed out without knowing the niche, the scale, the goals, and the content is the equivalent of handing out a lifeline - it gets people temporarily back on board, but it doesn't help them sail.
There's one other thing to be aware of. What is the MOTIVE behind sharing that SEO advice? Is it only done to build a reputation - in other words, as a marketing play? Or is there at least some ingredient of wanting to help others involved?
|but I honestly think a lot of the bad SEO advice comes from people who feel true enthusiasm about the fact that in a world where the old economy is tanking, there's real opportunity here, and that the important part is giving advice at all. |
the other thing is, I think the algos are SOOO complex and complicated that no one really knows how to predict rankings - not even Matt Cutts or any of the other tech heads at google. I mean, the fact that there is so much spam ranking well and that google makes the opportunity available for people to report spam seems to me that they are just kind of feeling their way along.
And of course, they don't have to be perfect - they just have to be better than the other guys (yahoo, bing, ask, etc.,).
|What is the MOTIVE behind sharing that SEO advice? |
I'm gonna go with adsense revenue. Seriously, if you can't make money by actually SEOing an ecommerce web site to the top spot in google, well, maybe you can just write a lot about it and make a few dollars off of adsense.
If I didn't have a pretty strong internal filter by now as to who and what to read and believe, I'd be even more stark raving bonkers than I am.
I do a lot more "rescue and recovery" for hapless and abused end users than brand-new-to-the-web clients.
Great post Tedster, motive? The SEO industry is full of over promise, take the money and fail to deliver. I've had some great results in cross section of markets both local and national but each time I take on a new project I always consider the variables. I think SEO on a site by site basis has become a much larger and more involved process, you need to consider so many angles. When I look at my best sites they have everything, good link profiles, good social(and that is a lot of work), good content, good branding, good user experience. You can get results by doing less but the tough ones require a complete strategy, things have changed.
"Great post" right back at you, kidder!
The old SEO mindset was that you could succeed with tweaks you created yourself, on-page or on-site. Then Google came along and links went to the big stage. Still, many worked as if they could succeed just by building their own network.
Today even the darkest of spammers knows that they need links from elsewhere - and so we have parasite hosted links, spam blogs, and a host of other ills. The fact is that SEO is an integral part of a total business plan. It's INTEGRAL, meaning you can't just isolate some technical factors and work only on them to pop a successful website for organic search.
Do you need to pay attention to on-page factors? Definitely. Is that all there is to SEO? Not by a long shot.
Tedster, G employs some of the smartest brains on the planet and I cannot imagine how any SEO firm can compete with them in the long run.
|G employs some of the smartest brains on the planet and I cannot imagine how any SEO firm can compete with them in the long run |
I am of the opinion that these brilliant mathematical minds have purposely built a bit of chaos into the algo, and thus, you/we cannot compete with them because by definition the outcome is always unknowable. All we can do is build clean, logical, informative, authoritative, interesting, useful sites.... and hope for the best.
@ecmedia, it depends on what you consider SEO to be. In my view, good SEO is a triple win: good for the website, good for the search engines, and good for the public user. There's no competition with Google in the mix.
I agree with ecmedia and reno. In fact SEO service companies are dead and have been for a couple of years.
There are a few rules to follow first off - titles, keyword repetition, experimentation with ad formats, keyword rates etc. All these are available free of charge from this forum.
Any further analysis is pointless if you are in the business for the long term. Just produce good content, stick with it and manna from heaven will eventually come your way. Break those basic rules and you will eventually fail.
I am amazed that people pay good money to SEO companies rather than rely on their own judgement.
Every SEO company I've ever been in contact with use words and phrases which are jargon. Analyse the sales pitch, examine those words very, very carefully and consider what they mean. Most times they are junk.
When some guy comes along and says I can double your earnings and will only charge you half of that increase when it happens, then stop and listen. When some guy comes along and says I can double your earnings (probably, but this is a complicated subject) and I want half of the projected increase up front, just walk away. I have never met the first guy.
I see lots more to SEO, like fixing server issues, modifying the CMS, knowing when the stats are inaccurate and discovering how to correct that, consulting for corporate change so that all areas of an enterprise that touch the website can collaborate effectively... I could go on and on.
All that improves SEO and definitely offers ROI. But I wouldn't make any kind of revenue share proposal for those services.
[edited by: tedster at 8:59 pm (utc) on Sep 1, 2010]
|When some guy comes along and says I can double your earnings and will only charge you half of that increase when it happens, then stop and listen. |
There are too many factors in "doubling your earnings" with many completely out of control of SEO service companies. So no wonder you have not met that first guy.
What if your back end fullfilment or your customer service is not right? For someone to offer the above, they would have to have a lots of say on how you run your business (and not just your "front end web business").
|I see lots more to SEO, like fixing server issues, modifying the CMS, knowing when the stats are inaccurate and discovering how to correct that, consulting for corporate change so that all areas of an enterprise that touch the website can collaborate effectively... I could go on and on. |
Absolutely agree. Out of our clients, two of them are of completely oposite types: one is a small company of about 10 people and they realised that in their niche their selling channel is shifting fast towards web. Last year the increase of their web traffic caused staffing problems in CMS admin and this year we spent half time advising and specifying changes for the back end system - so half time nothing to do with SEO whatsoever, just pure old fashioned Business Analysis & spec writing for developers to implement on the back end to improve operations. The relationship with this client is excellent, they listen, they ask, and follow our recommendations.
The second company is a big corporate client. Half of the time they do not tell us about other changes they are asking their dev. company to do directly. We are spending lots of time just firefighting mistakes - incorrect URLs they are entering when writing their content to CMS, deleting pages without telling us, not listening (not hearing!) advices on usability (because it is not 'our job', we are for SEO only) - it is uphill struggle. It has certainly been an experience and made us much wiser on evaluating future (larger size) clients. As tedster rightly says, SEO is not just about SEO any more.
And yet with all of these considerations I still see sites with clunky bloated html doing well in the results just to confuse the issue. I should know I own more than one of them and because they work and have worked for such a long time I'm reluctant to make changes.. The user experience is still there, at the end of the day that is best unit of measure in this case.
Yep - that code-to-content ratio idea is one of those ideas that come from the deep past. Used to be a secret weapon, back in the day, just like source ordered content.
|Used to be a secret weapon, back in the day, just like ... |
Not a secret weapon anymore, but still well worth keeping as a design consideration. Leaner code-to-content ratios and source ordered content can help user experience and accessibility, and certainly won't hurt your SEO.
|When some guy comes along and says I can double your earnings and will only charge you half of that increase when it happens, then stop and listen |
I've done performance based deals in the past, I trusted the client and up front I told him I was going to hit him with a big bill when he hit the top spot. I spread the SEO over 6 months and got him to #1 for a few terms and he gladly paid me what worked out to be about $800 per hour for the result.
|[ Tedster, G employs some of the smartest brains on the planet and I cannot imagine how any SEO firm can compete with them in the long run. |
Simple. Don't figure out 'how' they're doing something at G and attempt to do that. Figure out what they 'want' at G, build that, and let them figure out how to make you rank as a result.
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