econman - 4:27 pm on Mar 12, 2012 (gmt 0)
I've been continuing to think about this thread
I have too. I think the issues you are raising are of great significance. I'm a little surprised the thread hasn't drawn more interest, but perhaps that's because there are no easy answers.
The algo is so complex that we cannot effectively ...reverse engineer it
Very true. Actually, I think that has increasingly been the case for years -- but for a while the illusion persisted that "beating" the algorithm was still possible -- because so many elements of the "checklist" continued to work, and neglecting the checklist was a sure path to failure.
As well, for at least the past 5 years, many of the most successful web businesses were successful because of their SEO skills while some of the least successful strategies seemed to be the ones that followed the philosophy of ignoring the search engines and trusting that if you build a good enough website, everything else would follow.
we cannot afford to cut corners anywhere.
Not sure exactly what you mean by "cutting corners" If you mean it is no longer feasible to to build a successful long-term online business while putting very little effort into key aspects of the actual website and focusing entirely on trying to "beat the algorithm" I think you might be right -- or at least this will soon be the situation, if current trends continue for a bit longer.
But the problem is much deeper than simply not being able to "cut corners."
We are participating in a worldwide market with extremely low barriers to entry, and a "gold rush" mentality which continues to attract a lot of new entrants even when most of the earlier entrants failed to find any gold.
Already we've reached the point where there are millions of websites and billions of pages. Every nook and cranny is already filled with a half dozen (or hundreds!) of websites fighting for a small share of the same pie.
If you spare no expense building the "best" website, Google might put you a bit higher than the "average" competing website in some of the SERPs for some of the keywords. But there are so many competitors, the extra traffic you gain from building a great website won't necessarily be anywhere near enough to to justify the much greater investment required to be the "best" in your niche.
Google is actively trying to measure things like quality and user engagement
Agreed. But, I've not yet seen any evidence that Google can consistently detect the difference between a "great" page or a "great" website and a mediocre one -- so the added investment is risky and may not be rewarded.
But, part of the problem is that they aren't yet consistently succeeding in this attempt. From what I can tell, Panda was successful at pushing down a lot of the lowest quality content, but it wasn't very successful at detecting the difference between "great" content and "mediocre" content.
Compounding the difficulty, some of the elements of Panda seem to be increasing the visibility of the biggest, most famous participants at the expense of everyone else.
In many of the SERPS we now see Wikipedia, "official" sites and "famous" sites filling most of the top 10 slots.
I suppose the solution is to become famous, but there isn't necessarily a clear path to this goal. In most markets it isn't feasible to spend millions marketing on TV, and most of us aren't fortunate enough to have an existing world famous brand name. Nor is there any predictable path to becoming a traffic lottery winner like Yelp or Pinterest (except by spending so much on lottery tickets that winning is losing),