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The problem with SEO as 'usual'

     
6:44 pm on Jan 30, 2016 (gmt 0)

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The following is NOT directed at anyone in particular nor caused by any specific thread or post.
Please do not take it as a personal attack but as a general commentary on a common behaviour pattern and mindset.

Note: I know that this is the 'Google' SEO forum. I also know that this is where most of the angst is felt.
If this should be posted elsewhere by all means please move as appropriate.



SEO, as usually practiced, creates a critical chain of linked (that's a puny, folks!) problems that artificially constrain a website's growth and prosperity. And exacerbate given situations.

Problem #1:
No two SE algorithms are the same and even where they may be including a similar input it's weighting and positioning are probably different. This means that the more one tries to acquire increased benefit from aka game a particular SE the more likely one is failing in others.

Yes, in many markets a particular SE may be dominant, even severely so. However, by deliberately targeting just the 'biggest buck' you are:
* reinforcing the market dominance.
Perpetuating non-diversity and limiting future options.

* confusing biggest with best.
Each SE has slightly to significantly different user demographics, one or more of the others may actually be a better fit aka convert at higher rates for your niche and site, given the opportunity.

* turning away a significant number of potential customers.
Example:
In the UK Google has ~90.5% of search, Bing ~5.5%, Yahoo ~2.5%
BUT
in transactional UK search it is Yahoo with ~34%, Bing ~33%, Google ~31% (via Experian).
Yup, that ~8% of the UK general search market accounts for upwards of two-thirds of UK transactional search.
Not all search is created equal.

Problem #2:
Search referred traffic is predominantly new traffic. Given that on average only 15%-20% of search traffic is navigational AND that that includes major brand sites yours is likely under 5% (by all means research your particular stats). ~95% new traffic.

Unfortunately this also tends to mean that your site is structured and your pages designed to convert first time, only time visitors. Not only that but noobies from a somewhat constrained demographic. What most in this situation are not doing:
* providing reasons to return.
---you do know that returning visitors often behave differently aka are looking differently than first timers?
---you do know that it 'costs' ~6-times more to acquire new customers than retain existing? Put another way: that returning visitors provide ~6-times the conversion value than ever new?
Apparently not.

* being attractive/beneficial to visitors from other groups/places than referred from 'that' SE.
I am always being told that other SEs just don't send the traffic and that what they do just doesn't convert. Similarly for that from various SM platforms.
Well, you made sure of that by designing/developing for not-them.
Note: while Google is the preferred SE of most younger demographics it is the over 50's who hold ~42% of all disposable income and buy ~55% of consumer goods plus pay for a third of what those younger purchase.

Problem #3:
Sole (or near) sourced business is a fragile business.
All (or most of) your eggs in one basket aka owing your soul to the company store can be quite comfortable even extremely profitable until...it isn't.

There are three forces at work: (1) what you do or don't, (2) what your competitors do or don't, and (3) what the SE does or doesn't. Only one is in your hands. Statistically not a great longterm viability.
And yes, the world is not fair.


The same goes for any single provider.
Rather than 'just' Google search traffic it could be 'just' AdSense for revenue.
Or 'just' ...

If you do hitch your star to a single whatever I truly hope that it takes you to the stars and that it never lets you drop. However, if not, please don't whine. It merely underlines your ignorance, incompetence, and/or hubris.
Note: asking for assistance in a given circumstance is absolutely fine, indeed encouraged; refusing to accept anything but a return to what was is not, nor that a proposed solution is hard or long, nor that 'it' is not fair - unless just once with a sigh.


I'll reiterate what I've said previously elsewhere on WebmasterWorld:
Note: averaged across sites.
* ~40% of my traffic is SE referred.
* ~22% of my traffic is Google referred; that's ~55% of search traffic.

* ~10% (down from ~90% in 2004) of revenue is AdSense;
---it's about half what it was at it's height in absolute terms but then it's on a lot fewer pages with fewer ad blocks per page.
* ~35% of revenue is affiliate pre-sell.
* ~55% of revenue is direct ad space sales.
Note: there are significant cross-over actions between aff and ads.
Note: aff and ads are immune from the AdSense mobile blues. Indeed mobile opens up huge new vistas.

If I can do it, anyone can.
Trite, perhaps, but quite true.
Granted, the learning/development curve is much steeper now than it was back when I started. On the other hand the options are much greater.
7:56 pm on Jan 30, 2016 (gmt 0)

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Terrific post. Many great insights for commonsense webmastering in today's world.
9:59 pm on Jan 30, 2016 (gmt 0)

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Good post but I think you understate a few things ..

Problem 1: Maybe, given the market dominance, people are chasing the ONLY buck! (over 99% Google traffic in AU, same with conversions)

Problem 2: Good idea, except if you sell white-goods, or any one-time purchase item (estimating about 80% of non-food related goods).

Problem 3: Good point, I agree - given the problem my points above, you need to diversify to survive!

The biggest point you didn't cover is mindset - you have the inclination and will to pursue and chase and want to succeed. Unlike many, you're not blaming Google or someone else for not being successful. Unlike many, you're not expecting to be given free money. A strong positive mindset is key to pushing forward. Good post.
11:27 pm on Jan 30, 2016 (gmt 0)

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One point that I didn't mention (although I have elsewhere) is that all my sites are evergreen informational, the closest I get to eCom is coupons and aff-pre-sell. :) That said I do pay attention to overall markets especially those I'm in, which includes Australia.

Problem 1: Maybe, given the market dominance, people are chasing the ONLY buck! (over 99% Google traffic in AU, same with conversions)
According to my numbers on current SE market share in Australia:
Desktop/tablet:
* Google: ~93%
* Bing: ~5.8%
* Yahoo: ~1%
Mobile:
* Google mobile: ~98%
* Yahoo mobile: ~1.3%
* Bing mobile: ~0.5%
Note: Google is getting a big share of that mobile search from Apple devices, which could change at some point quite dramatically.
Note: as with the UK it is not solely the general volume but the transactional volume that can make or break whether eCom should chase alternative search referrers.
Note: Between Bing and Yahoo that 6%+ of desktop/tablet search is NOT an insignificant number of potential customers that just about everyone is ignoring. Depending on niche/site and business model, of course.

Problem 2: Good idea, except if you sell white-goods, or any one-time purchase item (estimating about 80% of non-food related goods).
Do you only sell one item/product?
Don't you want them to be so happy with that first/one purchase that they come back for some other something you offer?
What incentive(s) do you offer to bring them back or to refer their friends and relations?
Note: all dependant on business model, etc. of course. Just general questions.

Problem 3: Good point, I agree - given the problem my points above, you need to diversify to survive!
:)

I thought mindset was implied in the post. Perhaps I should have been more explicit.
But your comment is right on: have the inclination and will to pursue and chase and want to succeed... A strong positive mindset is key to pushing forward.
Plus:
* be willing to go where others have feared to tread and test and analyse, rinse and repeat.
* not take advice or instruction at face value, but to (see previous).
* make analytics and analysis your very own competitive advantage.
* do not let the tools dictate the requirement, let the requirement dictate the tool.
* etc.

Perhaps the biggest mindset problem with SEO is that it pretends to have all the answers to online success. And that is a filter bubble webdevs simply can not afford.
12:07 am on Jan 31, 2016 (gmt 0)

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any one-time purchase item

What's "one time"? Sure, if I buy a car or bedsheets or an exercise wheel for my cat, I'm not going to go out and buy the same thing next week. But I may still buy another in a year or two or ten, and if I had a good time with the original vendor I'll go back rather than start searching from ground zero.

That's, ahem, cough-cough, assuming for the sake of discussion that your business plan includes being in the same place with the same name ten years down the line.
1:03 am on Jan 31, 2016 (gmt 0)

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Why chase search engines, period? Build a site that searchers find useful, and the search engines [plural, not just Google] will chase you.
1:10 am on Jan 31, 2016 (gmt 0)

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iamlost -- You shouldn't overlook the importance of the planning stage, when you work out the basic site design and structure, how you're going to handle different aspects of the subject, internal navigation, how it all fits together, etc
1:46 am on Jan 31, 2016 (gmt 0)

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@EditorialGuy:
Building a site to chase search (or a SE) has become pretty much a standard business model. I happen to think it short sighted, as I believe my posts show.

However, there are some very relevant optimisation choices that can assist SEs in finding and appropriately index pages/sites. For instance most content publishing systems (looking at you WP) defaults are not exactly SE friendly (not that I use such but they are the current default).

Search is a source of visitors, one of the best for new customers, that one needs to be aware of and to understand sufficient that they are a benefit. For instance I block ~40% of my sites from being indexed, for what are very relevant business reasons, and I am testing blocking ~90%. Just because they will come and index does not necessarily mean that they should. :)

@aristotle:
Absolutely, the planning stage is important. Indeed I'd rate it critical as webdev is such an holistic endeavour requiring so many varied tech building blocks and knowledge to construct well that an encyclopedia could be written on it. And rewritten as things change and rewritten and... you should see my rolling business plan (or perhaps best not :D)

Personally, I've pretty much ignored SEO for years except to watch for something new that might bite me. My current interests are contextual content delivery, visitor fingerprinting and x-device usage identification, natural language programmed site search, direct ad space selling, API ad delivery, etc. Nary a SE in the bunch. :)

However, SEO remains 'the' fixation of many/most webdevs and I thought pointing out three very real problems with how it is generally practiced might be of benefit. To someone. Filter bubbles are pernicious critters.
8:07 pm on Jan 31, 2016 (gmt 0)

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The largest step in "SEO" these days is to avoid repeating past mistakes, or reading of past methods and trying to implement them now. The landscape has changed and the mindset needs to follow.

Build a clean, useful site, in a niche that has value when mated with good content, and one can do quite well. The main thing is to avoid useless games and focus on doing it right in the first place.
12:56 pm on Feb 1, 2016 (gmt 0)

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It starts with your business model. All the SEO in the world won't help you if your business model (even if it's not strictly a "business" or profitable site) is faulty. I see more people blaming Google and/or SEO when the problem is their business model. If you want to bring people to your shoe store, you better have a way to out-Zappo Zappo's before you even create your first <html> tag.
2:50 am on Mar 8, 2016 (gmt 0)

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Yes, in many markets a particular SE may be dominant, even severely so. However, by deliberately targeting just the 'biggest buck' you are:
* reinforcing the market dominance.
I have to disagree. While I do optimize for 'the biggest buck'(ie: Google) first that doesn't mean my improvements don't help with other engines too. I have to prioritize from the top down. I don't ignore possible beneficial SEO changes for smaller engines but I won't make changes specific for them if it costs me traffic from a larger engine.

* Perpetuating non-diversity and limiting future options.
I see this argument more and more recently, and not just about search engines. Again I have to disagree and here is why - diversity is already here. You've got Google and Yahoo and Bing and Quora and duckduckgo and ask and AOL and Blekko and WolframAlpha and wayback machine and cha cha and... literally 100+ others. I'd say that's a pretty diverse lot and CERTAINLY more than just one option.

Diversity is here but you can't equate my adjusting for the best of that group as being against the rest. The best(at driving traffic) may change over time but it would make no sense to ignore it in favor of others just to be promoting 'diversity' which, again, is already here.

It's not up to me to convince others that duckduckgo is better, or even equal, because if it was people would go there on their own. I just don't buy into the 'must rage against the most dominant' philosophy, it's counter-productive. Besides, it's not the webmaster that tells people which engine to find them with, people use the search engine they want all on their own.
5:28 pm on Mar 8, 2016 (gmt 0)

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Great post. I'd like to state that for most websites that offer services that are not cheap (more than $500 per sale/subscription/etc.) Bing is actually crushing it. Many older and surprise-surprise relevant users, use Bing just because its the default SE on their browser (which is IE!) on their work. Since these guys are usually the decision makers, it stands to reason to not discard them, especially in the B2B space and in the middle east Geo location.

Also while Google is as mentioned perfect for new customers, employing e-mail and other nurturing techniques is the way to go when we talk bottom line. Google is a tool not the means for success.
11:08 pm on Mar 8, 2016 (gmt 0)

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Google is a tool not the means for success.


May I say "Amen"?
5:34 pm on Mar 16, 2016 (gmt 0)

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Good post - thanks for sharing
11:10 pm on Mar 16, 2016 (gmt 0)

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Add my vote, thanks iamlost