Thursday, November 19, 2009
The "have's" and the "have nots". My friend Mike Grehan has always talked about that divide in terms of link love. People with websites have (at least the chance) of voting for someone else's page or site with a link. People who don't, don't.
Yet search engines have focused a lot on linking behavior as a measure of quality and reputation. They've done so ever since Google bust on the scene with PageRank, in 1998.
But now that terrain has exploded. Signaling approval comes through reviews, mentions, and social media sharing, especially tweeting.
But the websites at the receiving end of all this have always had, and still do have, their own have-vs.-have-nots divide.
Great, content-building SEO's have always needed to come up with ways of taking a commercial website -- let's say one that sells "industrial varnish" -- and encouraging the owners to create some pages of useful content, so "the search engine spider" would have something to eat.
That's now an expanded mandate. As traditional social linking (come on, can we stop parroting the non-scientific Google sloganeering from 10 years ago that assumed that a "link is a vote for a page"?) has faded, all sorts of inbound link loving, mostly in different forms of social media and peer sharing, has exploded.
To supplement the "build content" piece, the content-SEO-experts' off-page SEO counterparts, the link-building coaches, might then give a traditional vendor website some tips on how to get more of the inbound link love that PageRank so loves.
But that's very tough if you sell "industrial varnish" (example picked at random). You will not have thousands of customers rallying around you cooing about your product: "Oh Dolores, did you see the fabulous new NG733002 over at www.varnishicco.com? I got the heads-up from Daily Candy. It's fabulous!"
So, a leading retailer in the industrial paints and varnishes space goes the sensible route. Submits to B2B directories. Has a few respected employees with LinkedIn profiles. The founders raise their profile and begin speaking at industrial safety conferences (what? is it the SEO's job to explain to companies the benefits of being a good citizen? sigh... we're underpaid). And unfortunately, a few other inbound links may or may not help with link juice: the ones that show the company as legal precedent in the footnotes of a legal proceeding in an employee lawsuit having to do with pension funds in a different company entirely.
And if everyone's really on the ball, they can create a whole educational section with "how-to's," etc., on the website. That is actually stuff that someone might link to or mention.
That's all pretty hard work! And it does to show that many vendor websites don't naturally lend themselves to "whuffie" (the giving or receiving of social reputation). It's a struggle for many to reach the same whuffie power as mere, chatty individuals (esp. those with a lot of time on their hands, making up for their friendless-in-high-school status with a ton of similarly-afflicted virtual chums), or "content websites" that may bring to the table thousands of useful articles and daily posts and conversations.
Frankly, this is not an indictment of the vendor sites, or any proof that they don't "get it". There is a Whuffie Power Law: chatty individuals and "content sites" naturally attract 100X or 1,000X the reputation elements of many "vendor sites". They live and breathe in a World of Whuffie.
And frankly, it points to a flaw in the mechanisms search engines use to measure reputation and the value of a page or website. (But don't think they're not aware of that flaw. It's more the hectoring, condescending SEM and social media consultants that will try to make their clients feel bad, when it is in fact an inherent flaw of last-generation search algorithms.)
Much of it (the whuffie-measurement thing as applied to search algorithms, that is) is about pure math, and about "how much". But if your "how much" realm has a max of (arbitrary number) 100, and the chatty individuals and content sites (like what you're enjoying right now) have a max of (arbitrary guess) of 10,000, the math is skewed. The bar is set too high for the "vendors." And they tie themselves in knots trying to figure out how to make themselves into something they're not. We're comparing apples and oranges. And unfortunately, in B2B especially, but in all commercial endeavors, the searcher isn't always looking for a video, a map, a clever article, a friend, or a tweet. They're looking for the best industrial varnish. And no one is tweeting about the awesome varnish their company bought in bulk, unless they're some kind of weird social media whore. And it might be smart for them to do it, given that they now make their favorite varnish maker into a "have," rescuing them from their "have-not" status... but the question is, just because someone tweeted it doesn't make it true. And search engines are supposed to have an interest in accuracy, and filtering out noise, spam, and untrue statements. They're bad at it, but they should have an interest in it long term.
I sympathize with the vendors who want to gain reputation, because they're playing on a non-level playing field. They're forced to shoehorn whuffie into the normal course of their operations, to make it look like they're on a par with Robert Scoble, Gawker, or Kate Kardashian. It's not because they're not reputable. It's because they're not celebrities, or social media showboats.
But shoehorn many of them must. We live in a whuffie world, and since Herbert Simon wrote about it in 1971 (as told by Chris Anderson), a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention. Thus, in the attention economy, quiet and obscure is bad for nearly all vendors and nearly all brands, even the ones that aren't selling their own celebrity.
So they have a few options, not all of them perfect, like the content-creation and limited link solicitation mentioned above. I'll run through some more of them in the next part.
Labels: online reputation, pagerank, whuffie
Thursday, July 30, 2009
If you're a blogger like me, you may subscribe to something like Google Alerts or use another simple tool to see how many folks have recently linked to an article or blog post. With our friend Rich Skrenta of Blekko fame, our observation is that genuine social linking as a means of recommending an article or post is for all intents and purposes dead.
Likely it was Digg, Stumble, and Sphinn, that sort of kicked off the trend. Social "bookmarking" and "recommending" was no longer about the ol' "link from another part of the web, from your pages on your site" routine. It was now a quick flip, a quick reputation bump, go-see-this cue - using a third-party service.
Mike Grehan has for some time referred to the death of social linking in terms of a "haves vs. have nots" problem for search algorithms that rely on link analysis. For the few that have authoritative sites, they can confer their authority by linking. The vast majority have recommendation juice inside their heads, but don't own any website, let alone an authoritative one.
Or you could express it in other terms: some people still have remnants of any inclination whatsoever to engage in 1998-era social linking, taking the trouble to wrap a relevant link around anchor text in a post like this. The vast majority have no such inclination. They prefer something quick and easy, like a tweet or any number of other forms of social behavior across different digital venues.
So only old school, super-conscientious sorts of bloggers, and SEO's and spammers, do "proper linking". Hmmm.
Twitter is taking off as the social recommending tool of choice, hand in hand with the requisite link shortening toolsets to help people squeeze comments and links into 140 characters.
Comparing old time linking to new-school tweeting, recent posts we've made here have been spontaneously tweeted and retweeted all over the place; a 100-1 ratio of tweets to regular links is roughly in the ballpark. No going around asking people to do it. Just the Twitter community and typical code of behavior working its magic. Here on Backtweets you can see hundreds of recent tweets for a couple of our posts. By comparison, only old schoolers like Danny at Search Engine Land can be counted on to regularly link to stuff that's relevant. A handful of ordinary backlinks from folks like him turn up in our reports every week.
PageRank dead? Certainly, PageRank as we know it is dead as any kind of reliable measure of what it was formerly supposed to measure.
Labels: pagerank, social media
Sunday, July 26, 2009
After sending a congratulatory email to longtime SEO voice of reason Jill Whalen, for her plucky article Is Most of SEO Just a Boondoggle?, I sent a few followup questions, hoping for elaboration.
As typically ensues in this seemingly perennial debate, some of those who disagreed with Jill in comments took to personal attacks. Other raised specific technical points. All in all, the debate highlights the need to take the open questions more seriously: in what direction is the measurement of relevance going, and what should companies *really* be doing to improve their search visibility?
Unsurprisingly if you know her, far from backing down in response to detailed questions, Jill kicked it up a notch! Sit back and enjoy an entertaining and informative interview.
Traffick: So you've associated much of the SEO industry with "boondoggle," defined as "work of little or no value, done merely to look busy." Reminds me of unnecessary road paving projects! So are you saying that we should maybe pull a few hundred thousand unemployed folks into no-account SEO service, just to give them some work and self-respect, and to stimulate the economy, like a white collar version of the New Deal? Why didn't Bernanke et al. think of that?
JW: This may already be happening, judging by the fact that many of the larger SEO companies are hiring even though the rest of the world is laying folks off.
Traffick: Seriously: there are still SEO companies offering to fix meta keyword tags, and do URL "submissions"? Yikes! But isn't that because there are tons of uninformed clients out there (who will say flat out to you with some pride that they know "just enough to be dangerous") asking specifically for those functions? So why not give them what they want, seems to be the response of some shady operators. In this equation, how far does the client's responsibility go to be educated enough to ask roughly for the right services, or to do a good job selecting a vendor? How can they go about getting that type of education?
Whalen: It absolutely does fall on the client's shoulders to get themselves educated about SEO. Which is a lot easier said than done because no two SEOs agree on what's helpful and not helpful. Plus, of course, every website is different and has different needs. That's actually one of the most important things that clients need to understand. We often see SEO RFPs that ask for all this boondoggle crap and when we tell them, "no, we won't do that, but we'll do this" they're not interested. You can't really answer an RFP if it doesn't address the actual website's needs. This is why it's critical that when a client is looking for SEO services, they don't send out RFPs, but instead, talk to a variety of SEO companies and find out if they feel they can increase your targeted search engine traffic. Different clients will be a good fit for different SEOs.
Traffick: You imply that some SEO knowledge "expires" but on your website you also make the point that classic fundamental SEO techniques don't require much by way of constant change - it's only tricks that make you have to change tacks every year. What, in a nutshell, is classic fundamental SEO?
Whalen: I don't think I meant to imply that some SEO knowledge expires. What expires is the propaganda that Google throws out to SEOs like bones to a dog. Many SEOs, especially those that weren't in biz before search engines started throwing out bones, are all too eager to believe anything Google says. Be it via Matt Cutts or their Webmaster Guidelines, they seem to think that the information will help them perform SEO. It won't; It's just a smokescreen. Pretty much anything Matt says has to be taken with a grain of salt, imo, as his objective is to keep the Google results free from spam. That said, I agree with most of what he says, as I too want to keep Google free from spam. But it doesn't mean it's really the way Google does stuff.
In a nutshell, fundamental SEO is what my High Rankings tagline says, "making sites be the best they can be." I know it sounds cliche now, but I'm happy to say that through the 10 or so years I've been using that tagline, more and more SEO consultants have come to the same conclusion. (Usually after chasing their tails on SEO tricks for so many years.) SEO has always been--and will always be--providing the best, most relevant page to the searcher who's at the other end of Google looking to solve some sort of problem or answer some sort of question. It's nothing more, nothing less. It's not H tags, sitemaps, submissions, or Meta tags.
Traffick: What do you say to the rapid-tactic-shifting SEO's who define SEO as pretty much just that? That if you don't do "SEO" the way they define it, you're lazy, or living in the past? Does "classic fundamental SEO" also evolve? What have been some of the main areas where evolution has been rapid?
Whalen: First I ask the rapid-tactic-shifting SEO if they have their house completely in order. In other words, is their website in perfect shape with all the fundamentals? If it is (and most company website's never are) then go ahead and experiment with whatever little trick you may have thought up. There's certainly no reason to just sit on your hands and do nothing. I have nothing against experimenting, or even with pushing the envelope a bit to see what can give you that little bit of extra edge. But not until you have already exhausted all the other important items on your to-do list. That's where my beef lies. People are pushing the envelope instead of fixing stuff that's actually broken.
As far as classic SEO evolving, it's hard for me to recognize the evolution because it happens so incrementally and I barely notice it. But it certainly does, or maybe it doesn't, but we just figure more stuff out? For instance, having the appropriate site architecture that is most valuable to the search engines is something I never knew about in the mid-90's. Does that mean it wasn't important to search engines back then? I don't really know if it was or it wasn't. It was just something I realized at one point many years ago and so I began to recommend it to my clients once it was apparent how important it was. So the question is really does SEO evolve or does our knowledge evolve?
Traffick: By pointing factually to detail SEO techniques that have little or no real-world impact today, you leave some tantalizing questions open. For example - H1 tags have no special merit. I believe you. But is there a deeper principle at work here? Since on-page SEO is keyword-oriented, we can agree that keywords are still important. Why not so much in H1 tags? If not there, in what page elements (other than the obvious, title tags)?
Jill: H1's have always been a point of contention between me and most other SEOs. Back in the 90's they were already thought to be of significance by everyone in the industry. I was on the bandwagon then too. But then I had a number of client's whose website backends just didn't support the addition of H1's. So we did without. We still had great keyword rich headlines and the like, they just weren't wrapped in H tags. To my surprise it didn't seem to matter at all. Now, of course, it's impossible to say for sure for those websites that if we had used an H tag instead whether that would have pulled them up a notch. But many years later, I did do some experimenting where I could and still could not find any verifiable differences between using an H tag for a headline or simply a B tag or any others.
As to what page elements really do matter, yes, definitely the obvious Title tag (although you'd be surprised how many still don't use those correctly!) but it's also just within the content in general. It doesn't matter what tags you use, as long as you talk about your product or service on the page that you want to rank for that product or service! The other extremely important element for keywords is within anchor text. Many have still not come round to the importance of your internal labeling of your links. Basically, using your keywords in a way that makes the page more understandable to the reader of that page, is good for SEO as well. You have to imagine the person at the other end (or the search engine) knows nothing about you or what you offer and describe it at that level. While a person is apt to be able to figure out what you're all about even if you're not all that clear by using visual cues, the search engines aren't that smart (yet).
Traffick: What about keyword density!? Hehe.
Traffick: If XML Sitemaps are relatively useless, why do you think we collectively headed down this path?
Whalen: Because Google told us to. 'nuff said.
Traffick: Has it ever occurred to you that certain vehicles, like XML Sitemaps or wikified SERP's, have unintentionally morphed into great ways for search engines to study spammer behavior, and maybe even to triangulate who the most vigorous spammers are and what they tend to get up to? Like the Wile E. Coyote putting out "Free Bird Feed."
Whalen: It most certainly has occurred to me. Although, where you say "unintentionally" I am more jaded and would say "intentionally."
This is the main reason why I never did an XML sitemap when they first came out (still haven't actually). Remember all those poor saps who as soon as they'd submit an XML sitemap in the early days suddenly found their sites missing from Google SERPs? Coincidence? It seemed to happen way too often, imo. Who even knew about XML sitemaps at the time? Only those interested in SEO for the most part.
Traffick: That brings up the whole evolving puzzle of SEO ranking factors. We can all agree that life has become more complicated with SERP's being personalized to user histories, geography, and keyword intent. We can agree that universal and blended search, as well as paid search, have changed what people see on the page. But for what's left, as far as SEO ranking factors goes, is that an incredibly complex puzzle in your view, or less complicated than people let on?
Whalen: It became more complicated when Google became the only engine worth caring about. It used to be if you couldn't get rankings in one engine, it didn't matter too much because the other 4 or 5 were fine and brought you tons of traffic. Now it's rank in big G or bust!
And yes, the fact that rankings can no long be accurately used as a measure of success does suck. I used to long for the old days when our job was to just get rankings and whether or not that brought in traffic or conversions wasn't our job or our concern. Rankings are easy. Traffic and conversions, not so much. Why do you think most SEO companies are holding onto their rankings boondoggle?
Traffick: What do you think of the expert surveys, such as the one put together by SEOmoz, that aggregate SEO expert opinion on what are the most salient ranking factors? Do they give SEO's any kind of blueprint to work from? Like you, I participated in the survey. Did you understand all the questions? Most?
Whalen: The SEOmoz ranking factors survey was the most ridiculous thing I ever read. Seriously. It might as well have been written in Latin (was it?). Where they ever dreamed some of the crazy theories asked about in that survey I'll never know. Much of it had no resemblance to SEO as I've ever known it. I just hope that clients aren't actually paying to do some of the things that were being asked about in the survey.
Traffick: If working on stupid stuff is boondoggle, then do we need to change how SEO's are perceived? Compensated? What do you think of the proposals put forth by Richard Zwicky and others to place more weight on performance (increased traffic or revenue) in SEO compensation?
Whalen: The problem with performance based SEO is that it has to be tracked through the SEOs own server, rather than the client's. And typically when the contract is up, the client is left with their pants down and no traffic or sales. It's a great business model for the SEO of course, but if I were a client I wouldn't want to do it as it doesn't address any fundamental problems you may have with your website. Of course, if it makes the client more than they're paying, and they don't mind paying forever, then there's certainly nothing wrong with it if that's how they prefer things to operate.
Traffick: What do you say to the legions of SEO's who will no doubt reply to you with case studies proving their "boondoggles" provided a lift?
Jill: If it works for you, then keep doing it. But don't assume it will work for every site, and don't assume it was just that one thing that provided the lift. Also, I'd suggest testing specific elements in isolation as much as possible as that's the only way of really know what works and what doesn't. But if the only thing you offer to do for a company put their headlines in H1 tags, then you're ripping them off. (I don't actually know any companies who would only do that, thankfully!)
Traffick: I notice from your website that you offer an array of SEO services from full service, to lite or full audits, to various coaching and teaching types of offerings. Regarding the latter, do companies typically follow through once they're introduced to the key SEO techniques and concepts, or is there still a wide chasm between awareness and implementation?
Whalen: [Big Sigh] Unfortunately, many companies do not follow through. Many don't ever implement even one thing. Not even the easy things. Honestly, I don't understand it. The ironic thing is that it seems that the more a company spends on SEO, the less they implement. I don't let it bother me anymore and still make myself crazy by making sure I don't miss even one little thing that might help them when I'm writing my reports. I do often wonder why I work so hard at it knowing deep down there's a good chance it will never even be read.
Some of my best and favorite clients were ones that chose lower priced options because they actually performed most of the suggestions and then realized amazing results. Those type often come back later and spend a little more to learn more and gain additional results!
Traffick: If the chasm is often wide, does that mean companies are essentially "not doing SEO" after being introduced to it and getting a partial start? Shouldn't they scour the planet for a quality in house SEO, or quality agency, to go deep and stick with the project through to something closer to completion?
Jill: Yeah, of course they should. I think perhaps part of the problem is that they go into SEO thinking it's one thing (H1's and sitemaps perhaps?) only to find out that it's actually a huge amount of work. I guess they get discouraged by that so they do nothing. But those who do follow through as always amazed at how much more their phone rings and how much more qualified traffic they receive. SEO is still amazing that way when done well. We have one client who never quite understood what we were doing or why, but still let us do whatever we wanted. She told us recently on the phone that she's completely booked up now and can't even take anymore customers. Not only that, but those who call her are ready to sign on the dotted line and don't need to be sold to because her website now explains very clearly exactly what her company is all about. It's so cool when that happens!
Traffick: What's on the horizon for you and High Rankings?
Whalen: Well, right now we're just trying to make it through the recession. We're always testing different SEO consulting options and educational opportunities to find what best fits the current market. So far so good, but it's certainly scary out there! It seems to me this should be the time to increase SEO budgets not decrease them, but I'm not sure if that's what's happening.
We're continuing with our very customized in-person SEO training classes, and we're also working on some online SEO training, which I will have more info on in the Fall.
T: Thanks for speaking with us! Have a great summer, Jill!
J: No problem, you too!
Labels: jill whalen, pagerank, seo, traffick
Wednesday, June 03, 2009
Danny Sullivan reports on an update in Google philosophy and algorithmic emphasis. As I interpret the story, at one point Matt Cutts didn't rule out the idea that you could slap nofollow tags on some internal links on your pages to conserve "link juice" for your important pages. Hence, the practice of "PageRank sculpting" was born. SEO's had another cool story to tell their clients, and each other.
Danny's interpretation of this is that making this kind of technique available, and then taking it away, is a violation of a broad principle of "backwards compatibility". Shame on Google, he implies, for making the advanced SEO's scramble to undo what they already did now that Google's algo has supposedly undergone this massive shift and a page with ten links passes only 10% link juice to each link on the page, rather than, say, doubling the juice on the remaining links if you nofollow half of them.
I don't think I agree. Here, Danny is standing up for the constituency of advanced SEO's, many of whom are currently attending SMX Advanced. My take is that SEO's taking actions on speculations about the algorithm are themselves building the new "features" that lack "backwards compatibility." This is especially the case when the "features" (tactics) address no known principle of third-party trust or relevancy of sites or pages.
But for those of us who don't believe all of Matt Cutts' stories and non-stories, and take a holistic view of business strategy, information architecture, audience development, and traffic growth, we had a lot of lower-hanging fruit to work on than using a short-term fad method of "telling" Google which pages are important.
Long term, search fails when site owners try to "tell" search engines which pages are important, short of burying the unimportant ones in their architecture so they're literally invisible. Importance shouldn't be arbitrarily determined by site owners, though certainly users and engines appreciate it if they provide indications.
Search Engine Land itself has undergone a surge of traffic in recent months, all no doubt a product of holistic audience development. I'd love to hear Danny's take on how much of that improvement in fact resulted from deliberate PageRank sculpting. None? A lot of it?
No matter: holistic brand building and audience development and overall quality content, combined with sound organization/architecture of the content, are what gave Search Engine Land its mojo - not short term tactics. And that's how most companies should look at the SEO exercise.
What was supposedly "given" to advanced SEO's in the short term has now been taken away. Nofollow and for that matter XML sitemaps are just supplements in a much more important larger "grand scheme of things." PageRank sculpting turns out to be just another time-waster that contributed mainly to "Advanced SEO" bragadoccio on the barstool. It's gone now? Boo hoo.
If you spend your life hanging on Matt Cutts' words about SEO, well then mark these words: you will, in turn, find yourself annoyed with Matt Cutts.
In conclusion, I propose a new tag that should only be used by Advanced SEO's - square brackets used so as not to screw up the HTML on this page: [this page is really frickin' important] [/as you were]
Rand Fishkin, in a spiffy flow chart, seems to approximately (and diplomatically) agree with my take, highlighting the key low hanging fruit that comes before frivolity like PR Sculpting: content development, information architecture, link acquisition, internal link structures, and conversion rate optimization. But as for Rand's example of a site that is a large one with many deep URL's, as an example of one that might benefit from the sculpting, this might depend on the query we hope to rank for. Overall, I've seen no major problem ranking very deep pages on relevant long tail queries (for example, at HomeStars.com). Those pages rank or don't rank for a variety of reasons, as many as the tail is long. And from what Cutts is saying today, the point is moot anyway, as the provisional tactic/loophole has now been closed. Back to working on the important parts of the business.
Hmm, and I'd love to think my take on this is just common sense and uncontroversial, but the statistics out there seem to indicate (even outside of major sites like Wikipedia) that there was a massive rush to play with the nofollow tag among the "SEO community". Like Rip van Winkle, I slept peacefully through the stampede.
Labels: information architecture, pagerank, seo
Thursday, March 05, 2009
Blogging hiatuses were made to be violated.
There's a lot of noise in the search space that I don't pass along, but this new information speaks to major substance in ranking philosophy.
Google has made an algorithmic tweak -- Matt Cutts dubs it "Vince's change". The upshot, as I interpret the back-and-forth between experts like Aaron Wall and experts at Google, is that Google does find it difficult to accurately assign trust and authority across this vast digital universe. (For some upcoming debate of that issue, check out the panel we've just posted for the upcoming SES Toronto show -- Is PageRank Broken? The Future of Search -- on June 9, 2009.)
The tweak, we assume, bumps up trusted sites slightly in many hotly-contested ranking showdowns. So as an example: VW.com is going to get a bit more traffic next week and next month in the aggregate, because many of their internal pages are going to outrank
Matt says that Google doesn't think brand when it thinks about quality and authority ("if we did, you'd see Mitsubishi Eclipse ranking #1 for [eclipse]"), but this is disingenous. Indirectly, when you take that VW example, they are thinking brand when they take a shortcut that calls the VW.com domain "known information" and put a higher threshold of "track record required" on pages of sites that aren't as known and trusted.
I believe this trend has already been in force, and it's good that Google is making it only a *slight* change, because -- particularly on sites loaded with user-generated content -- there is the potential for less useful and even spam pages to get ranked too highly by opportunists exploiting "trusted domains."
Whether or not this small tweak is consciously focused on trusting brands, or whether that is the end result, is inconsequential. But what stands out is that this -- as ever -- is essentially a workaround. It's a response to the problem that we cannot possibly have enough information to correctly rank pages in all cases. So this is a pragmatic way of making sure that algorithmic judgments are slightly more correct (or more satisfying to searchers), more often.
Danny makes an excellent addition to this story by recommending rankpulse.com as a way of checking whether key brands did see major ranking improvements on core terms like "airline tickets". If a brand "comes out of nowhere" to rank well, that's not quite as minor a change as Google suggests.
Among other things this may have practical search referral implications for naming conventions and URL's in large companies; microsite creation; and multi-brand strategies. That's a perennial question: should we keep fewer domains, or create more focus sites and interlink them, etc.? The debate just heated up.
Labels: algorithm, google search, pagerank
Thursday, October 25, 2007
There's an unwritten rule in search marketing: when a Google update knocks the stuffing out of a bunch of sites that were unfairly ranking too high, you're not supposed to gloat if you came out unscathed. But for the Grace of GOOG, there go I, etc.
Even when the infamous Florida update had webmasters scurrying in circles, and we noticed a sharp uptick in interest in paid search opportunities, I only gloated mildly.
That's why I almost considered letting this latest assault by Google on the practices of link buying, link farming, and business models that constitute premeditated interlinking schemes by their very nature, slide by without comment. But the lessons learned by this latest cannot be emphasized enough. It's time to stop ignoring these things or treating them as episodic examples of Google's high-horse madness, and to begin realizing that they continue to take aim at rank improvement "schemes" in their role as consumer advocates, attempting to reflect legitimate real-world authority and usefulness, just as they do with their increasingly tough rules on the paid search side.
Sounding every bit like a woman with a clear conscience, Jill Whalen gloats a bit in her recent commentary about these developments, and resolves to get out the popcorn to watch things unfold.
Put plainly, the reason the majority of the search marketing world responds so ineffectually to such issues is because of tunnel vision. At the most general level of professionalism, many in the "agency world" will advocate "integrated marketing," "brand management," and other long-term views of marketing strategy. This is the furthest thing from the minds of many SEO hacks.
And granted, that's too high-concept and not appropriate to the work many search marketers do. However, I'd propose that to be effective, the hyper-focus on the details of ranking tactics needs to be brought back into a mid-level focus. More on this as we go, later in this post.
The fallout of Google's latest rejiggering has been fairly severe, if you go by PageRank. On one of the PageRank checkers I use, you can see the multiple datacenters, so you see the "old" PageRanks and the "new." Traffick.com, I had nary a worry about because of the long-term, stable way we gathered external mentions since launch in 1999. We're stable at 7.
A number of the blog networks have been hard hit, with sites like AutoBlog losing one or two notches in PageRank. I would have to assume that this would take a direct hit out of the pockets of blog network owners such as Nick Denton. Organic traffic from search engines is a free lunch to many private entrepreneurs like this. Quality content deserves search visibility, of course. The question is really how much. There is only so much search traffic in a given month, so every Google reassessment of ranking and weighting methods amounts to a zero-sum game of "who gets the available free referrals."
One well known search industry site, Search Engine Guide, clocks in with a drop of 6 to 4, at least if you believe this PR checker. In the old days, they often came in with an 8, which is very high. I'm not saying the current drop is justified - Google decides on that. But it is probably the case that the 8 was too high.
And yes, I realize that PageRank's only a rough guide to Google's opinion of your site's authority, after weeding out phony forms of authority as best as they can. Some of those hard hit are claiming they see "no drop in traffic" and speculate that "Google is putting on a show." In denial to the end? Could traffic drops be coming soon?
Dropping two notches in PageRank may not sound like much, but it could constitute a severe penalty because the scale is logarithmic. The difference between 4 and 6 is really significant, as any experienced site owner will tell you.
But the point here is not to single any one actor out. It's to point out that search marketing as a profession became so popular so fast that many actors assumed that popularity or prevalence equated to real marketing expertise. The momentum of the industry translated into a "everything's fine here" sensibility, and an insular view that more experienced marketers had nothing to teach us. We're taking over! (With bought links, keyword research, and meta tags, you're taking over?)
What it looks like, to draw upon some of the beautiful photos I picked out to dress up this post, is that search marketers were so sure of themselves that they turned into the fuzzy, wool-bearing little creatures below. Matt Cutts says bought links are bad? Selling PageRank is bad? Baaaa humbug! 1,000 of my friends agree with me, so Matt must be wrong, and possibly evil.
The thing about it is, if you're in high school and well compensated (if not well dressed), you and your peers don't look like sheep to one another. It's such a cool gig to have, you actually look like Heathers...
No, I did not mean those heathers, and plus there are still sheep grazing nearby... can someone please...
Right, that's better. Heathers.
These Heathers were so compellingly popular, it seemed sometimes like you'd want to do anything to be like them. Even if you were the aloof, independent, and lovely Winona Ryder. Stop, Winona! You're better off without them!
So, I'm here to make the case for a mid-level focus rather than a close-up view that a narrow set of tactics in a toolkit will give you any clear guide of what to do to improve your company's long term reach and connection with prospects. As Goldilocks (or Winona, before she began shoplifting) I'll suggest that for many search-focused professionals, the idea of "integrated marketing" is too high level to be practical; whereas pure old-school SEO tactics always get you into the same mess eventually. You're not VP Marketing at a Fortune 500, or any other type of lifer; nor are you going to get far in life if your only skill is to tweak an H1 tag. In between, there needs to be an integrated understanding of what makes customers and markets tick today, and how to put that together with a search visibility strategy. That entails a lot of detail work, but deciding on the appropriate types of campaign work will be more effective if it's done within a structured framework that recognizes Google, and other sites for visibility online, as the complex consumer advocates they are. Call it "integrated online attention-getting," if you will.
So whereas for a couple of years on the Page Zero site, we joked about that we don't do SEO at all, we realize that what we've developed for some clients (at the moment we call it SEO 2.0) is something that yes, we actually do, and will continue to do. A long-term focus on "integrated online attention-getting" means a sustained strategic implementation, with particular action items leading to detail work performed by the appropriate party (sometimes us). When we launch the new version of our consulting site in a couple of weeks, that's what we'll make clear to current and prospective clients.
If that's gloating, well... unwritten rules were made to be broken. The way we see it, our clients are not in business to sit around wondering when they'll be "Google-slapped."
Update: Nick Denton, publisher of Gawker Media, responded to this piece to note that "the Google demotion of link farms has only hit offending blog networks. Engadget and other Weblogs Inc blogs have taken a hit of a couple of points of PageRank. But Gawker sites, which are much more sparing in their linking, are unaffected by the latest change."
Labels: online pr, pagerank, pr, sem, seo
Monday, October 01, 2007
This story is uncharacteristically popping up on a few blogs that don't even publish that often, so I think it must be significant.
Gabe Rivera's Techmeme is going to publish a new Top 100 Blogs leaderboard, and this is being interpreted as a direct shot at Technorati, which has tried to rank blogs by authority (links).
Looking at some of the top sites on the Technorati list does confirm that the ranking methodology is kind of stale. The point that you can easily buy, beg, borrow (maybe not steal) links means that there needs to be a more subtle way of ranking a blog's standing. I'm not sure if Techmeme's method is going to be a huge advance, but it's the man of the hour for now.
I'd read this changing of the guard back into the discussion of how useful link analysis (aka PageRank) is to an overall approach to ranking websites or content in general. Overall I think the PageRank concept has degraded with time, and the final phase of rampant link buying and Googlers scolding people for link buying (and link buyers scolding Google right back) is silly season. The fact that I overhear leading SEO firms saying privately and cynically that "80% of what we do is buy links, for huge sums," pretty much guarantees that SEO won't look like that in a year's time.
To anyone other than a short-term tactician, stuff like this "boost your Technorati rank bootcamp" article is just plumb irritating. Must monetize blog, must get d-listers to link to me, must come up with nouveau version of link farm... arggghhhh.... have fun!!!
But what happens when Gabe's the new sheriff in town and you can't splog your way to easy cash?
I'll keep going out there and building authority for the sites that matter to me, but "thin" link building tactics have seen better days. It's interesting that a site like Techmeme, and its attempt to gain market leadership over Technorati, does such a good job of hammering that point home.
Labels: linking, pagerank, techmeme, technorati
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