Stop Following the SEO Crowd

by / Tuesday, 18 December 2012 / Published in Search Engine Optimization

A lot has been written on Google’s updates. So much has been written that I typically ignore new articles on the updates (can we really have anything else to say?). So I will offer you this promise: this article will not talk about animals that start with the letter “P”. Rather, I want to talk about how we move forward. How can we exit from the rat race that is SEO? It’s simple:

Stop doing SEO.

Before you turn away, let me explain what I am not suggesting. I am not suggesting that we stop trying to rank well, that we stop optimizing our sites, or that we stop incorporating Google and other search into our overall traffic plan. Good rankings are a major part of many strong online businesses.

It is my firm belief that so many people got impacted by Google’s drastic changes simply because they tried to follow the rules. The problem is, they were following the same rules that everyone was following, regardless of whether everyone was really playing with the proper intentions.

Let me explain…

Why Does Google Do What Google Does?

I hear a lot of conspiracy theories about Google: that they hate SEO, that they purposely knock down sites that get good rankings to drive them to spend money on Adwords, or that they have secret deals with major corporations. As with most conspiracy theories, I think most of this is junk (although there may be small grains of truth here and there). Overall, I think most people forget something about Google: they are a company with the same motivations of every other company.

Google wants to survive. They want to keep a strong user base. They want to satisfy their investors. They want to stay ahead of the competition. Etc.

Like it or not, Google’s biggest user base is the average person who is looking for something. Because of this, Google wants…no, they need…to keep their SERPs of the highest quality. Their continued dominance absolutely depends on keeping this biggest part of their business strong. And this is the big takeaway to remember when trying to figure out what motivates these huge changes to the search landscape:

Google’s #1 goal is to provide the best and most relevant search results to searchers.

This shouldn’t be a terribly big surprise. They’ve been saying this for years.

Blame the SEO’s

Most of these conspiracy theories blame Google for completely changing the search landscape. I did at first as well, but not anymore. I don’t think its Google’s fault.

I blame the SEO’s.

How often do you hear of an SEO talk about the user experience on your site? They often mention it as your over-riding goal, but this is almost like a disclaimer being offered. Most of the time we hear SEO’s talking about keyword density, link analysis, anchor text distributions, link architecture, etc.

The fact is, most SEO’s don’t focus their discussion on creating an incredible user experience, they focus on the technical aspects of a ranking algorithm.

And this is where the problem lies: by following an SEO’s advice too closely, we add things to our site that we might not do otherwise, and we change our site in a way that doesn’t always have the end user’s experience in mind.

Consider the following examples:

An e-commerce shop wants more natural search traffic. Knowing that blogs are a great way to get natural search traffic, they add a blog. But blogs are a lot of hard work, so they hire writers to put up 300 – 500 word posts dealing with their products. Naturally blog posts can be expensive, so they only pay $15/article which creates original content, but content that is really quite bland.
eHow wants to dominate the SERPs that relate to “how do I….” queries. As a result, they allow anyone to answer, apply some basic editorial controls to avoid spam, then populate their site with a gazillion “how do I…” articles. This is how you get an article titled “How to Act Like White Trash“. Throw on some Adsense and the the long tail of search do its work…
There are dozens of smaller examples we can think of, such as trying to fit your keywords into an H1 tag or your title tag even though that might not make sense, or spending your time spinning out disastrous articles for guest posting to try and build a link profile.

Stop Following The Herd: After All, Guess Who is a Part of It?

One thing we can never forget is that Google has data. Lots and lots of data. From this data they can extrapolate all sorts of interesting and useful knowledge about segments of society, SEOs and website owners included. Knowing this, let’s play through the likely scenario that happened before most of these huge changes:

Good players and bad players alike optimized their sites according to the latest technical SEO advice. They got the right inbound link structure, registered exact match domains, put up the right content, etc.
Google’s old rules ranked these sites well. Searchers did what they do (they searched), clicked on the results, then provided Google with data about what they thought of these results (and they didn’t even have to say anything to Google…Google knows whether they liked the result).
Over time, and over millions upon millions of interactions, Google is able to tell that certain types sites that are following certain patterns are not creating a good user experience. It just so happens that the patterns these sites are following are the same patters suggested by the SEO community (although these patterns are not necessarily being followed with the end user in mind)
In order to abide by Google’s overall goal (to return the highest quality search results possible), they revise the rules of their ranking in order to reward sites that do provide a great user experience.
Unfortunately because both good and bad sites were simply following a set of directions and guidelines, there is ‘collateral damage’ to good sites.
The problem with following the SEO community is that those people who do not care about user experience are also following the SEO community. The result is that if you are following the SEO community, you open yourself up to the risk of being collateral damage.

So Stop Doing SEO…but Not Really

Many people have vowed to no longer worry about SEO at all. They were burned and are now jaded and frustrated. I don’t think this is the answer. In fact, I think we just need to refocus how we approach SEO.

Sure, we need to pay attention to the technical stuff. Having a good site architecture is worthwhile. Writing good, keyword rich content helps. But our attention to the technical stuff should take a back seat to what is more important: traditional old business principles.

Do things that help your business! Don’t go out and try to find links, go out and spread the word about your business as if you were engaging in a public relations campaign! Don’t start a blog because you think it will drive extra traffic to your site, start a blog if you have something to write about which will be of use to your eventual readers! If you have a site that is geared towards telling people how to do things, don’t publish something on How to Write a Bad eHow Article.

The reality is this: if you align your goals with Google’s goals, you will stay safe and eventually rank very well. In other words, if you strive to practice the old business principles of creating a great user experience, offer something of value, and market your business by getting others to talk about it and traditional PR, the SEO will simply take care of itself.