Search engine optimization has come a long way, but there is still quite a distance to go. For me, I have always tried to bring an honest white hat approach to the practice. But while that is the case, I still have knowledge of all the black hat things competitors or just plain spammers are engaged in to get their websites significant search traffic. It is really an odd thing, everyone knows that there are certain things you can do to jump to the top quickly, and they know it is wrong, but they still do it. And thus, we see the issue with search engine optimization as a career. It has this stigma, that people who do it are spammers. And while many are, it also needs to be recognized that it is an incredibly rewarding, complex and intellectually stimulating line of work for many people who approach it honestly. Do you love puzzles, a challenge and long periods of concentration on tasks that will make you break a mental sweat? Then you might be right for search, or another form of online marketing.
SEO has had a long hard road as an industry. Here are the things that need to die for it to be reborn a more respected line of work.
1. Links with No Relevance
I can’t tell you how many times I have looked at the backlink profile of a client’s site and then their competitor’s only to see exactly this, links that are irrelevant. Just because a competitor hired an SEO company to get 100 comment spam links on edu websites does not mean that they should rank higher. These links should not be considered an indication of authority and are a complete manipulation of the algorithm. But what can you do? If you don’t do this, the competitor will beat you every time. So for this reason, links with no relevance need to die. But until they stop being effective people will keep building them.
2. Automated Linking Tools
For those of you who don’t know, there are tools out there that automatically build links for you. These used to work very well, but have since stopped producing results to the same degree. While that is the case, some people are still winning in the search game by using them. But what is interesting, is that competitors are in some cases now using these tools to build backlinks to other competitor’s sites. Of course what happens is that Google thinks that the competitor website is using the automated tool and bye-bye rankings. So spamming another person’s site with bad external links is another thing that needs to go.
3. Holding People Hostage over Links
The other day I tried to use a guest blog service to see how they would do. It is very similar to having a mini PR company: they write a post, you approve it and they shop it around. Apparently one person said they would love to publish it. They then took the post and slapped it on the worst website I have seen in a long time, a complete spam site. They then forced the guest blog service to pay them $200 to take it down. This kind of thing happens all the time in many different forms of link building and it has to go.
4. Paid Links
Some other SEO companies out there have a team of people who reach out all day and try to pay people for links on their website. They call it link outreach and charge hourly. Basically, they call you up and say, “Hey, here is $50, can I have a link on this page of your site?” In many cases this person has never made any money off their website so they agree. Of course there are many other forms of paid links too. Overall, we as an industry need to rise above this. If we do it will change SEO to a purer form of marketing where everything is earned based on creativity and hard work.
5. Search Engines Limitations on Crawling Certain Technologies
6. Spun Template Content
I see websites all the time that implement content matrixes with anywhere from 50 to millions of pages. They write this script in a way that makes the content look completely unique and that allows them to rank very well. On the first hand I applaud the engineers who are able to write a good dynamic optimization content template. But on the other hand it doesn’t seem fair to the other websites online who are working on one page at a time. There is nothing wrong with a little template content in a category section, but abuse of this strategy results in the big guys getting bigger and the small sites losing traffic. But what is interesting here is that the larger sites implementing this usually are ecommerce or have some huge database of information they are trying to get indexed in search. These big sites then need to write a matrix to get pages ranked well. Here we see the issue on both ends.
7. The Awkward Relationship Between SEOs and Google
Have you watched Matt Cutt’s latest video? Can you say awkward? Google doesn’t want to tell SEOs how things really work and they force the industry to guess and check. They rarely give straight answers and keep the full picture under wraps. I understand why they do this, but there has to be a better way to handle this relationship than the current song and dance we see on the Google Webmaster Channel.
8. Churn and Burn Websites
A website shoots to the top of the rankings, the #1 spot. It stays there for 2 to 5 months. Gets all the good traffic. Then finally someone does a backlink analysis and marks it as spam. We could all do this right now. Pick a keyword and throw a ton of links at it. You will get to the top for a short time and then probably disappear. The more this happens the more frustrated the hard working website operators get.
9. Review Sites that have no Verification Process
We do online reputation management here and in the spirit of this I have seen many different review sites. Most of these review sites either have fake reviews, no verification for the reviews on the site or a simply churn and burn websites where an affiliate is building tons of links around a keyword to make a buck. I get it, it is an easy and fast way to make money if you know what you are doing. But this is really unfair to the online retailer when it comes to the legitimate websites. Back to the point on reviews, half don’t even have a review process. Which means that any crazy unverified information can be published online and consumers won’t know what to believe.
10. No Barrier to Entry
Most professions need degrees and certifications to operate. But when it comes to search engine optimization and social media marketing (it is actually worse with social media marketing) anyone can call themselves a guru. In analytics there is the Google Analytics Individual Qualification and in AdWords there is a great certification process; where is the QUALITY certification program for search? I will tell you that universities are making these classes available now. I do teach a course on this at UCSD and here are a few other programs. The main issue is that there is no standardized degree, program or set of teaching criteria. I would love to see a Google search engine optimization certification program similar to the Analytics and Adwords test. Don’t you agree?
11. A Focus Only on Rankings
In the past, reporting for SEO would be on a keyword by keyword basis, as well as showing aggregate growth for overall keywords. But reporting today needs to change. SEO companies that only focus on rankings and how many links they built, but not ROI are only looking at a very small part of the picture that is fairly outdated. SEO companies need to focus on year over year reporting for branded and non-branded keywords, as well as period over period reporting. They also need to show top ROI producing keywords and segment keyword reporting based on main site themes. They should also be focusing on social reporting and reports from extra efforts like press releases and guest blogs. The entire thing should be tied together with conversions and ROI based on KPIs. Think of it this way, if you have the biggest sign in the world and don’t get any new business out of it what is the point? It is very similar with rankings. If you have a top position but don’t know how it is paying off there is also an issue.
12. The Lack of Industry Professionalism
Online marketing is very competitive. Not only are there a lot of people in the industry, it is mainly a knowledge based industry which means that if the people you are working with know more than the competition you are most likely going to do better. So with that understood, we can see why some people may feel the need to one-up another person. But in any industry it is important to maintain a high level of professionalism. With the wide range of SEO methods, from black hat to grey hat to white hat, some just don’t even care about treating certain conversations with grace. This is why this is my last point in this blog. If SEOs can be respectful towards others I feel it will be a great step for the industry.
Summing it Up
SEO is a great profession with huge rewards. When you increase a client’s revenue and crush quarterly numbers there is no better feeling. But when SEOs feel the pressure to go outside Google guidelines to reach these numbers problems occur. SEO is always going to have a bit of a connotation with spam due to its roots. But as it gets more ingrained with the full online marketing landscape it will get a better public perception. SEOs today need to be complete online marketers, not online spammers. I believe a good search expert needs to know CRO, social media marketing, PPC, email marketing, affiliate marketing, PR and ORM inside and out. They also need a very strong understanding of analytics. At this point, SEO is not a single job, it is online marketing and that is why I am proud to be a part of it.
What else needs to die in SEO for it to be reborn a better industry? Comment below.