Whither SEO!

31 comments

This article takes off from Mike Grehan’s article on textbook SEOs. Mike Grehan is an expert on search engine optimization and his clientele is spread over many countries. In his article, Mike opines that the so-called organic search engine optimization, which he terms as ‘textbook seo’, is no longer relevant in the eyes of search engines.

In his support, he quotes from his interview with Google’s Matt Cutts, letting a ‘small secret’ out. Which is that PageRank doesn’t necessarily count for high search ranking. Illustrating further, Mike uses the search term, ‘wine tasting’ in Google, and sure enough the results present a wide gamut of information, not all of which strictly relate to the search term.

But suppose you’ve searched for ‘trekking in himalayas’, or for that matter ‘rainfall in greenland’. What would you expect? Most search results directly relate to the search terms. Therefore, except for reiteration of importance of ‘relevant’ links (note the emphasis on the word ‘relevant’), Mike’s article lacks conviction.

People like Mike who debuted on the net early and have prospered on the strength of their geographical location (mostly in US) only, now find that the advantage of seo-expertise is gradually slipping away. Ability to write – and write well – is anyone’s forte as long as one adheres to basic optimization techniques. There is no reason to believe that textbook seo (to use Mike’s term) is on its way out.

Just as the basic rules of marriage do not change, similarly the technique of organic seo to let the search engines know the importance of a webpage will remain. Let us start from the golden rule – it is in Google’s interest to provide relevant search information. If that is true, how else will Google know that a webpage is important for a search term unless the webpage pronounces so? It’s another matter that relevant links will further boost its probability to rank high.

Let us remember search engines are nothing but robots and therefore they depend on algorithmic logic to fetch relevant search results. For a webpage to rank high, it must have some indicative parameters within the page that will automatically alert search engines of its specific importance. In popular parlance, this phenomenon of search engines’ perceived recognition of the importance of a webpage is what is called search-engine-optimization of that webpage.

If that were so, why this brouhaha over ‘textbook seo’? The reason is more simple than one would imagine. I’m inclined to believe that for most erstwhile seo specialists, the day is past when they could make hay while the sun shone on them. SEO is not rocket science, and it took awhile to percolate down.

Today seo experts are not difficult to find. As a professional writer, I come across many seo assignments on Elance where there are any number of able providers who will write for meager amount.

This is where the problem lies for erstwhile seo specialists. It’s no longer easy occupying pole position. Even top companies who spend heavily for experienced specialists to write for them are gradually learning the truth. It is therefore necessary for the specialists to create a smokescreen of confusion. Mike’s article is just a reflection of that.

Comments

It has always been the way

If you can't do it, write about it

If you can't write about it, teach it

ouch...

I rank well, write about it, and teach it

I would only use throw away domains with SEO experts hired off eLance or other online auction sites though.

Bigger Picture

When I read Mike's article I knew it was going to rustle a few feathers. I don't agree with everything Mike says, but I'm smart enough to know he's been around the block a few more times then me and has picked up a few tricks on the way, and if he's willing to share something I might benefit from the experience.

Textbook SEO does still work and will always at some basic level work. However the question is will it work in highly competitive, high visibility, and high traffic sectors, and will it's role diminish in the future? Search engines are getting smarter and working on incorporating bookmark data, clickstream data, toolbar data, site analytics data, sitemaps data, adwords data, adsesne data, and every other piece of data they can get their hands on to improve the algo. The more "corroborating evidence" they find the more likely it's "real" and not "seo constructed". If you wanted to be a long term player I think you'd be better off finding ways to go after traffic and get them that user data "in the system" instead of focusing on things like finding the "perfect keyword density" or "perfect keyword prominence" score.

The controversy is simply semantics

Whether you agree with Mike or not simply depends on your definition of "Textbook SEO." There's not a whole lot of sense in debating his article unless there was one specific definition of that. I doubt everyone here would ever agree on one, however.

Chance for advancement?

So, say you're in a really competitive industry that's run almost entirely by mom+pop businesses. Over 1,000 vendors of your product but only a few, maybe 6 to 10 are "big" (multi hundred millions a year) and the rest eek out a few million, hundred thousand in profit at best. All the keyphrases are in the millions of hits and the product is something that has a *very* small tail (due to *very* few synonyms, and google having negated mispellings).

Now, all the top 6 queries for every thing is the same exact 6 companies. They all have 100,000 of backlinks but they are almost all paid for on people's blogs and what not. This list hasn't significantly changed much in 2 years and all I can do is fight for scraps; we all use the same RSS feeds from the same monster company (that had to purchase an entire datacenter) and really the only way for smaller (non-massive) sites to succeed in Goog is to find topics that the big boys WILL NOT pick up in the next 3 months and haven't picked up in the last 8 years.

These 6 companies make so much money that they have over the last 2 years hired many copyeditors and each page has probably 1,000 unique and targetted words about the ~15,000 products.

How do you compete? The only answer, really, is $5 adwords for a $30 product and pray to god you sell w/n 6 ppl. O, and the products are *very* timely and spoil irrevocably (going to *zero* value) within about one week of the consumers even looking for them.

Google gives such businesses no chance, and were it not for Yahoo or MSN (where I have successfully gotten them above all the behemoths) they would be out of business. So how is that conducive to a better internet when the huge corporations get so thoroughly entrenched and how can we overcome it short of a massive GOOG boycott?

you answered your own question

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Google gives such businesses no chance, and were it not for Yahoo or MSN (where I have successfully gotten them above all the behemoths) they would be out of business. So how is that conducive to a better internet when the huge corporations get so thoroughly entrenched and how can we overcome it short of a massive GOOG boycott?

The big sites with 15000 pages of content? that is in fact what the consumer is most likely looking for. Not a small hole in the wall operation hoping to compete.

Besides, Google's not ranking them because of their size, money or sales. They're ranking them because of their sites and offpage factors - and anyone has the opportunity to duplicate or beat that.

In the life insurance industry - I'd say that's a competitive field - the serps are dominated both by gazillion dollar public companies and one man operations.

In fact, I'd say as a small operation you've got a better opportunity to rank. In the majority of cases the big companies don't have a clue or are operating under seo by committee.

As a professional writer...

As a professional writer, I come across many seo assignments

top companies who spend heavily for experienced specialists to write for them

I get the feeling you think SEO is only about writing content...? Sounds good. Tell everyone it's all about the writing.

Today seo experts are not difficult to find.

If you think Textbook SEO's are experts then I guess your correct. There are thousands of people that talk a good game, love to quote GoogleGuy and believe that if you build it they will come.

Without a solid understanding of databases, advanced scripting/programming, statistics, sales and a dash of out-of-box thinking. Not to mention a couple dozen test sites on multiple IP's where I practice before I preach, lots of throw away domains registered under someone elses contact info where I really risk things and a program to keep track of where everything is located - I couldn't generate the results I do for my clients and myself.... and I'm small potatoes. They bigger boys have even better toys.

SEO is dead, AO - access optimisation - rises from SEO's ashes

I suspect that at some future date the notion of "website ranking in SERPS" will seem a quaint antiquity. Google's "I feel lucky" button isn't a trivial game of chance, it's an expression of a search ideal and a search results delivery objective: To deliver to Bob and Betty Searcher "their one true and blissful result". How will you "compete" with that as a SEO expert?

Textbook SEO as the channel for building long term business success is dead. Even the short term SERPs success model is threatened. Vote counting will be coming from all over the place, throwing up obstacles to brute force SEO, and in a few years you may not be competing for placement "on the first page of the SERPs", you may be competing to be "the result". In that context don't think that cloaking will be the solution.

Textbook SEO is a dying art. Access optimization is the next wave since, as time passes, traffic/leads/clients will originate from incresingly diverse sources. You will need to know access optimization for platform: PDA, cellphone, etc. Access optimization for entry point: IYP, local search, vertical search, targeted contextual advertising, social network referrals, tag clouds, SE and so on.

The number and operational variety of "access my business" points is growing. Which access channel or access point delivers the goods, delivers traffic that converts? Access optimization for lead development is the future and the money will be. SEO will be a tiny subset of access optimisation and, if the search engines have their way, SEO's death is imminent. Ya, optimize for users and "don't be seostupid" but get off the SEO bandwagon. The new rule of SEO will simply be "don't be stupid, cause at best it won't matter and at worst it will simply tag your website for the stupid penalty".

this thread is exemplary

This thread is self-explanatory.... when you have lawyers, writers, and programmers claiming to be SEOs and claiming to know when/how SEO is "dead" then yes, SEO is dead. Long live the practice of competing at the top of the SERPS, whatever that is now called.

To Nebraska, right on. Abso-lootly. One can argue that all mechanics have the same tools, and the best mechanics have something extra about the way they use the tools. But everybody who really has *really* been there knows that every top mechanic also has some very unique tools hidden in that tool chest. Not only does he know how to use the regular set; not only does he know how to use the secret custom tools; he knows how to design better ones, and he knows why they work.

To wheel, you can describe any scenario you like, real or imagined. In every case, if there are 2 or more people involved there is competition. Where there is competition there will have to be innovation. All your details just impose restrictions and limitations... it's still a game to be played and second place is the first loser.

To Jill "textbook SEO" is defined. In academia, the textbook sets the standard for what is to be covered on a topic. In order to make it into the textbook, it has to pass committees of experts who have to agree on the material. It has to pass editors looking to reduce the volume (and drop niche topics or condense topics) and it has to be politically correct to protect the publisher, distrubtor, advocate, etc. In fast-moving fields, the textbook cannot be up to date and is thus considered the base from which to learn.

Textbook SEO is basic, standard, old-fashioned, politically-correct SEO. Bah. So textbook SEO is dead. Where's the news? Talking heads need to talk, and they write link bait and they know someone somewhere will publish commentary that includes things like "he is an xpert in his field" even when they don't agree with him. Nice work if you can get it.

Where would one buy this textbook?

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To Jill "textbook SEO" is defined. In academia, the textbook sets the standard for what is to be covered on a topic. In order to make it into the textbook, it has to pass committees of experts who have to agree on the material. It has to pass editors looking to reduce the volume (and drop niche topics or condense topics) and it has to be politically correct to protect the publisher, distrubtor, advocate, etc. In fast-moving fields, the textbook cannot be up to date and is thus considered the base from which to learn.

Where would one buy it, and who wrote it? And just who are those editors that agreed on the material?

I don't think we have this textbook and never did. In which case, textbook SEO isn't dead because it never existed!

search the web for "meta tags and seo"

Search the web for "meta tags and seo" and compile the results. The publishers are the editors, and plot the results and you see that textbook seo says about meta tags.

I didn't do that work, but I can guess:

50% say how to craft your keywords tag for SEO (with 20% assigning a target keyword density or somesuch)
30% say meta tags don't matter
20% are just plain junk and can't be counted.
Of course there is a sampling bias due to the growth of the web...

So textbook SEO says either don't bother or carefully craft your keywords meta tag for SEO.

Repeat for just about any other topic.

Ah ok

Not the textbook I ever used, but yes, many in the past have!

But this is why it's difficult to discuss the subject in general, because not everyone used that textbook, and in fact spoke out about that text book since the very early days of SEO.

Which is why to me, textbook SEO like that died many, many moons ago. Certainly by the turn of the 21st century as I recall.

surely Jill herself is the example her

Everything boiled down to her basic maxims:

Write lots of good content but don't keyword stuff.
Don't spam or cloak.
Add some links. Better natural.

I get Jill's newsletter and it's as close to Textbook SEO as I've found and highly prescriptive. And highly, highly repetitive. Sometimes it's a challenge to read the thing, as you feel like you are back at Catholic school reciting the catechism.

I'm not arguing that she's wrong, I'm just bemused that she of all people has difficulty recoginising textbook SEO.

And yes, we are all in for a shock when the social bookmarking indicators actually start to work. It might make the web a better place. On the other hand, perhaps only the monolithic, deep pocketed sites will be able to achieve the critical mass to rank consistently.

It will be interesting to see how it is all applied.

And who the hell ever took keyword density seriously, apart from some software designers and AdSense spammers?

Google has a problem right now which is that onpage is not important enough which has made them very vulnerable to link spam. Which they are fighting apparently vigorously but look as outmanned as Napoleon's troops in the great Moscow fire.

And who the hell ever took

And who the hell ever took keyword density seriously, apart from some software designers and AdSense spammers?

Umm, when I first started in this game back in 97-98, that's all it was. Excite, Infoseek, Northernlight, etc only cared about keyword density. I took it very seriously:)

Textbook SEO = Old SEO

From the article and other posts I'm seeing it just seems like people are classifying old SEO techniques as "textbook SEO". Textbook SEO is being lumped into the same crap regurgitated on every SEO board over and over. Talking about "meta tags" and "keyword density" isn't textbook SEO, it's just bad SEO. Those who have 1 simple solution for you are bad SEO's.

SEO isn't dead and never will be. As long as you have searchers out there and search engines providing results for them, you will have individuals trying to maximize the amount of that traffic they can get to their site. It's an evolutionary process. We went from meta tags, to page content, to links, to PageRank, to relevant links and on and on. As the algorithims advance, traffic hasn't gone away, it's just gone to the people who have evolved.

SEO is becoming less about who has the latest trick up their sleeve and more about who has the kind of site that people want to go to, use, and link to. It's building your site for links and not building links for your site. There is no concrete set of rules that anyone can apply to SEO. There are only principles and guides that allow people to understand why search engines rank certain things.

As for the comments about big sites dominating the rankings, they should. If I search for mortgage lender, I want to see Wells Fargo and Fannie Mae on top, not Sally's Super Mortgage Shack of Des Moines. If I search for bookstore, I want to see Amazon and Barnes and Nobles, not Larry's World of Books in New Hampshire. So yes it is harder to compete with Wells Fargo in the SERPs, but isn't that what business is about? Could you open up a store next to Wells Fargo and expect most people would rather stop by your shop than theirs?

Here here, thePhenomenal.

Here here, thePhenomenal. That's my theory and method of operation, too.

Google isn't omnipresent

I can't help but think that *all* these comments have nothing but GOOG in mind. Last time I checked their insiders were selling, their stock was about to do a YHOO circa 2000 and I'm just trying to figure out what would fill in the gaps (Jeeves?).

But by all means: Keep up the propaganda!

Not really, hopeseekr.

Not really, hopeseekr. That's been my practice since the '90s, actually.

Ouch ronsard

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I'm not arguing that she's wrong, I'm just bemused that she of all people has difficulty recoginising textbook SEO.

If what I do is textbook SEO, then it's most definitely alive and well and healthier than ever.

SEO as a service is dead.

SEO as a service is dead. SEO for your own website is going to stay for the long haul. So many people just believe in paying someone else to do the dirty work. Why would anyone sell SEO service, when he can create his own site and make money from AdSense in the long run?

>> Why would anyone sell SEO

>> Why would anyone sell SEO service, when he can create his own site

The obvious answer is that if you are your own client, you are taking the risks. If your site or sites go down, you get no income until you resurrect them.

I can think of a couple of old time pharm boys who've gone corporate, and have traded in the nerves and grind of working for themselves to join firms, or go the consultancy route, and have probably taken big paycuts in the process, for the sake of security.

OK, it helps that they made a fair amount while they were out on their own too, but I guess the 9-5 has it's appeal too

It takes a good bit of

It takes a good bit of courage to make the jump to the go it alone route...even if you have clients. I quite my day job when I was making about $100 a month on the web and had about $5,000 of debt. Most people need security more than I must have at that time though. hehehe

Some people need to social aspects of a job.
Some people have a fear of failure which will never let them go it alone.
Some like client work.
and so on and so forth.
I do a bit of client work. I think if you do a good job at it and partner with the right types of people or companies you can not only provide a valuable service, but also gain insights you would not have figured out if you didn't take on a client here or there.

Uh-oh, I better start looking for a job...

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SEO as a service is dead.

>>SEO as a service is dead.

Like Jill, I should start worrying, huh?

There seems to be a *lot* of business out there. I stopped running my own ecomm sites because:

- fickle manufacturers that would drop me once they discovered I was a small shop selling big on the net. Several times I would become one of a companies largest dealers only to have my account terminated when someone at corporate thought they could do my job.
- employees. I did not like being responsible for families other than my own. You can't ship $500,000 worth of small-medium priced items each month out of your house by yourself - and still have time to do much else > let alone improve your sites.

I do have Adsense sites, but I just don't trust the program enough to put all my eggs in that basket.

Maybe Mike Needs to define "Textbook SEO"

Maybe Mike needs to come out with his definition of what he believes "textbook seo" is. It it means SEO sirca 2000 then he's right, in the sense that most were pretty much looking at on-page factors, keyword density, etc. Anybody looking for the "magic" number of keywords on the page is looking for the wrong thing. I would say the trifecta of SEO is content, links and usability, (assuming keyword research is already a given). But does that mean you don't ever, or shouldn't go back and tweak a page? I know for a fact that this still carries weight in the algo's, otherwise we wouldn't worry about keyword research to begin with. Maybe the definition of "textbook SEO" is always what the "other guy is doing."

When selling to clients

Textbook SEO is what most of them understand. I think if you push to much truth at one time you may lose the opportunity. Sometimes, you have to talk the talk.

client work is fulfilling

I do 20-30% client work. I pick the projects, and I set the rates. As a small shop, I would not otherwise get someof this exposure. For example:

  • coding styles: every bad coder has a different style. Yes you want to rip it out, but you can't so you have to work with it. That's a challenge, and can be fun if you like hacking.
  • import/export: every ecommerce project is funded by an underlining opportunity. Sometimes it's an uncle in the business overseas, sometimes it's a friend with a customs card or a mother-in-law living in the mountains of Peru. You never know until you get close to the owner, and then you see new, aditional possibilities to explore.
  • I would never work with Netsol again, but since some clients do, I get to re-experience the joys.
  • Penalty resolution: there are some google and yahoo penalties that I would simply never encounter with my own work. So when I have to clean one of those up, I learn. Ever watch slurp hit /everypage.html/robots.txt ? or how about watching it hit /everypage.html/e066e65a3b4bc2534e654f35264fe34350/robots.txt ? I have gained new respect for the sophistication of Yahoo! "canonicalization" methods.

Why Sell SEO?

Why sell anything for that matter? My guess is money, less risk, and in many cases, a much easier and less stressful lifestyle.

I live on both sides of the fence. I build my own stuff because I enjoy it, have full control, and enjoy a steady income. I also do consulting because, well, I'm not going to turn down someone who wants to pay me a few hundred dollars an hour to pick my brain.

There is no such thing called "SEO"

According to me there no such thing called" SEO" exist if your contains unique content which continuously changes over the weeks or months the search engine crawlers have to get back to your website accordingly getting the visits to your website. Along with this your web design should also be neat clean, simple to navigate through.

...

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...letting a ‘small secret’ out. Which is that PageRank doesn’t necessarily count for high search ranking.

I stopped reading at this point. I don't want (or need) an SEO ancient history lesson...

Check The Dates

... it's an old thread, dredged back to the surface by the heavy-handed link dropper (subsequently edited) above you.

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