So here we are, aren't we? It's 2011, SEO is still not dead (despite a decade of claims to the contrary), but the landscape is very, very different in this post-Panda world. Most sites that have been hit by Panda (inclusive of all iterations) are still on ice some 7 months after the initial roll out.
Businesses have been destroyed, livelihoods ruined, and the future of a once thriving business is seemingly on the ropes for newcomers and seasoned veterans alike.
Seems like a good time to dial this up:
This all appears to be just fine with Google. As Eric Schmidt once said, "Brands are how you sort out the cesspool". How very elitist of you Mr. Schmidt.
What exactly is a brand anyway, to you? Is it content factories ranking for medical queries like "How to survive a heart attack" and other assorted medical terms?
Or maybe you think an article that is in the running for queries around avoiding heart attacks, written by a guy with an English degree, is something that isn't part of a cesspool?
Matt Cutts has highlighted health issues as a great example of why selling links was "evil." What his post didn't disclose at the time was that Google had built a half-billion Dollar enterprise selling illegal drug ads!
I don't know about you, but I sure don't want to read an article on a medical topic that could have life or death implications which is written by a guy with an English degree! The point is that the lines continue to become extremely blurred and the algorithm "adjustments" continue to become more and more severe.
The combination of those two attributes must give an SEO pause when thinking about short, mid, and long term strategies for their business model. One mistake or one algorithm update (completely out of your hands) can have devastating consequences for your business.
Talk is Cheap
Now we can queue the white hats (whatever the heck that means) who will now wax poetic about building "brands" the right way (whatever the heck that means) and begin to play the "I told you so" game as you struggle to survive. Keep in mind that salespeople will use your uncertainty against you, and try to calm your fears by telling you "everything is ok if you do things the right way".
Problem is, what is the "right" way and why aren't "they" doing it? There is no "right" way, rather, just all sorts of shades of gray.
Don't buy into the hype and save yourself a bit of sanity. The same people who will whip out their white hats at the first sign of algorithmic shifting are the same people who want to sell you something that, at its core whether it's a tool or product, is designed to give you information on how to manipulate search results (irrespective on how they frame the language).
Bottom line is that folks in the industry are confused, scared, nervous and it's easy for salespeople to prey on the scared and the informationally-poor to enhance their bottom line.
Keep this quote from Voltaire in mind when you are searching for answers or guidance in these times of uncertainty:
The comfort of the rich depends upon an abundant supply of the poor.
The best defense is education, experience, and information.
The Shrinking Google SERP
It's getting harder to breathe in the SERPS. We routinely point this out in various blog posts, but I thought now would be a good time to revisit this problem. As it continues to appear as if Panda was less about content farms and about something a bit more sinister the incredibly shrinking organic SERP is cause for concern as well:
Here you see one site with extended AdWords and organic sitelinks:
If you're not in the top 3, well then you're pretty much not in the game:
So much for SERP diversity:
A few key takeaways when looking at these results are that:
- Competing and monetizing just on search traffic is probably not a good long term strategy (but can work short-mid term)
- Google continues to layer on Google "stuff", becomes another competitor that is almost impossible to beat
- You might want to explore PPC a bit more than you have in the past for more visibility, if the margins are available
It might make some sense to start evaluating the cost of your SEO efforts and figuring out how they could translate into getting your foot into other areas of traffic acquisition online via targeted advertising, media buys, monitoring blogs and forums for discussions about your market, keywords, or products. Spread the funds out to get maximum exposure in multiple areas (for both short term and long term positioning)
As you can see from the images, the long term viability of just relying on search engine traffic is likely to be a losing proposition.
Leveraging Your SEO Skills
SEO has long been more about marketing than making sure your title tags are perfect. A good SEO is a good marketer and it's been said on this blog over the years that SEO really should be part of a more holistic approach to an overall marketing strategy. However, many of you reading this might be in affiliate or Adsense camp rather than a full service SEO agency.
The good news for the SEO agency is that you have all sorts of ways to leverage your SEO skills. You can get into things like:
- conversion optimization
- email marketing
- online media buys and adverts
- analytics services
- social media services
- the venerable "design and development" market
- offline advertising and tracking
- local SEO and Google Places SEO as well as Yahoo! and Bing local
The options listed above are all items that can quite easily come up within the context of an SEO proposal or discussion and should make for fairly doable cross-sales or up-sells.
The problem with just selling rankings or traffic is that it's all too easy for the client to dismiss you after you've achieved rankings. What's worse, even if you achieve rankings there are no guarantees of results and going back to the client 4 months in to up-sell conversion optimization is usually a non-starter if the stuff you've delivered thus far is of little value ROI-wise.
No matter how effective your performance is, as an SEO you are working in someone else's ecosystem. Google may extend the AdWords ads or insert their own product search or local search or video search results right at the top and push your work down.
Part of your SEO career planning, if you are in it for the long haul, should involve you starting to take a serious look at some level of client work and/or refine your product offering to a more holistic one rather than one with a singular focus.
Affiliates Feeling the Squeeze
Since Google has clearly shown its true colors with respect to how they view affiliates on the AdWords side is it that hard to believe that is how they view affiliates on the organic side? In fact, one of our members received this email when applying their AdWords credit:
Hello Aaron Wall,
I just signed up for the Get $75 of Free AdWords with Google Adwords. After receiving an e-mail stating that I was to call an 877 number of Google Adwords, I was told in my phone call that affiliate marketing accounts were not accepted. I guess I confused by this statement. Is this in error? Or am I not understanding the Tip #3 for setting up an account for Google Adwords for promoting a website?
Thank you in advance for your time.
Do you remember this video where the body language suggests AdSense is ok but OMG YOU'RE AN AFFILIATE (at approximately 0:38)!
Diversity, Diversity, Diversity
Clearly you can build a quality affiliate site that is quite profitable, but how many can you reasonably expect to build out into thick, market leading sites without scaling high on internal costs to the point where margins become an issue or until Google monopolizes your SERPS?
Diversity is still key with respect to revenue streams but diversity between different revenue types (affiliate, adsense, client, product) is what you should be aiming for rather than just your garden variety diversity in revenue (just different sites of the same monetization method)
Where Do You Go From Here
The best thing you can do for your business is to stay out of debt. This is much easier said than done, especially if you live in the US where debt slavery is the norm and gets pretty ugly before you even have a chance to earn real money.
Being mostly debt free with some savings put away not only puts you in a better spot than most consumers but it also allows you to be less subjected to the whimsical nature of Google. Also, you can afford to be more patient, invest in new opportunities, and be less stressed out if some of your stuff turns down for a bit.
I'd venture to say that debt is probably a major reason why some folks went out of business after the Panda update and being debt free with some backup savings and income diversity helped keep some folks in the game.
Taking the First Steps
I would suggest that you take stock of your personal financial situation, your current revenue streams, your skill sets, and your feeling on the overall landscape of the industry and then start to make some decisions on the future of your career. With any update or change there are usually new opportunities that arise from the ashes of Google's scorched earth policy (or policies).
Now that Google is overtly spamming their own "organic" search results to try to capture the second click, riding as a parasite posting content on their own parasitical platforms is likely going to be an extremely profitable strategy in the coming years.
You might not make as much money posting content to Youtube as you made posting it to your own site, but you NEVER have to worry about Youtube disappearing from the search results.
The barrier to entry is getting much higher and rising fast. You need patience, capital, reliable/trusted information sources, and a bit of luck to succeed going forward. Within the span of a couple years it's gone from (mostly) the wild west to survival of the fittest. How do you plan on surviving?
Gain a Competitive Advantage Today
Your top competitors have been investing into their marketing strategy for years.
Now you can know exactly where they rank, pick off their best keywords, and track new opportunities as they emerge.
Explore the ranking profile of your competitors in Google and Bing today using SEMrush.
Enter a competing URL below to quickly gain access to their organic & paid search performance history - for free.
See where they rank & beat them!
- Comprehensive competitive data: research performance across organic search, AdWords, Bing ads, video, display ads, and more.
- Compare Across Channels: use someone's AdWords strategy to drive your SEO growth, or use their SEO strategy to invest in paid search.
- Global footprint: Tracks Google results for 120+ million keywords in many languages across 28 markets
- Historical data: since 2009, before Panda and Penguin existed, so you can look for historical penalties and other potential ranking issues.
- Risk-free: Free trial & low price.