Case Study (Or It Didn’t Happen)
I want to see more proof.
There’s a time and place for theoretical marketing posts (including SEO); I’ve written my share. I still do. I’d say about half of my posts are philosophical. John-Henry Scherck called me “the prove it” guy, but I still welcome and value the philosophical posts. However, I dislike when some posts suggest facts that haven’t been proven, or when they raise more questions than they answer. As content producers we need to be conscious of this. If we make a claim, or recommend a strategy or tactic, we better have some proof that it worked. Otherwise you could be misleading your readers. Do you have the cure to manual penalties? Do directories still have value? Is comment marketing worth doing? Prove it.
SEO has more unknowns than it’s had in a while. With dozens of new, major algorithm changes, we’re back in the dark in a lot of ways. In the days of old, we would argue things in forum boards with testing results. Now I believe we’ve become accustomed to accepting things more easily.
Are We Still Testing?
We have more Googlers sharing information with us. That’s new. Matt Cutts, John Mueller, and a few Google forum boards are very helpful. But the nuggets we get are usually as ambiguous as anything written in Webmaster Guidelines. Is this fluffy information answering most SEOs questions? Personally, I tend to find myself more confused, walking away with more questions I know Google will never answer.
So I test. A lot. I have a few website playgrounds. Many have gotten torched. I built them as a reaction of getting burned by being a passive believer.
Remember Page Rank sculpting with nofollows? For a while there, I remember every website talking about the right ways to do Page Rank sculpting. They were treating the positive impact of the tactic as fact. SEOmoz had a few posts that served as the playbook for me. I loved it. I understood it perfectly and used it on many, many ecommerce websites, believing it was law. I spent my client’s money on it. My mastery of it was something I was proud of, until Matt Cutts dropped a bombshell that Page Rank sculpting with nofollows had stopped having impact about a year prior.
I’d been living a lie.
A lot of websites and SEOs had egg on their face. If we were really testing, as an industry we probably would have figured this out for ourselves. Regardless, this was a poignant moment in my career.
I don’t blame the curators – I’m glad they’re passing this stuff along so I can have it on my radar. I use Twitter more than I use my RSS reader. But I do hold the “producers of content” accountable.
Last week I watched a Whiteboard Friday about doing SEO on someone else’s website. Good concept, but I found myself asking questions:
“If you have positive press out there or if you’re going to start generating some and get it to rank well for your brand name, that’s even better than reputation management.” How? Why? Can you show me some examples?
“Remember Twitter, in particular, Google just loves to rank Twitter pages for brand names.” Can you show me? I haven’t seen this.
“I’ve seen SlideShare URLs ranking for all sorts of highly competitive phrases.” I haven’t – can you show me an example?
“If you’ve got a great link from a source, and especially if Google’s not crawling it or they haven’t crawled it yet or that link doesn’t appear to have had much impact, you might want to point some links at it to help that page gain some extra authority, particularly if it’s on a powerful domain, but you’re feeling like, man, it’s just not getting the credit, what I would normally expect it to provide to me, you can pump that page up.” Getting links is tough – can you convince me that this is worth my time? This could be an expensive and time consuming wild goose chase.
Granted – this was a video, and maybe isn’t the best vehicle for all of my questions, but this is the kind of thing that personally leaves me with frustrated. I hate when movies do it (it destroyed the Star Wars prequels), and I really hate when our industry does it. Takes me right out of the moment.
It seems to me, as a whole, we’re apparently mostly on board with authorship being “huge”, and that “social signals are important”, but compared to the old days, there really isn’t any persuading evidence out there that I’ve seen to make me stop the press. Just a lot of fluffy blog posts and convention presentations. We have some guys, like AJ Khon who properly positioned authorship as a concept to be aware of, and guys like Bill Slawski who point us to patents that suggest it may come into play. But there are others who praise it as being a game changer without showing us why. We have to be careful with that. Remember how +1 clicks were going to improve rankings? How many posts and presentations said it already started? Yeah, well, it never did.
This post isn’t a knock on any website or anyone in particular. As I said, I’m guilty of it too, but I now try to answer the questions I’m raising when I can. In this case for example, I couldn’t show the client’s pages, but I did show as much as I could to prove the case.
Articles With Proof Live Forever
I’m training an employee to learn link building. I immediately went to this post by James Agate, published in February. Thanks to Evernote, I have a list of posts that I want to remember because they’re rich in proof. That post by James has built the core of our outreach program, not because he made claims, but he showed some data. I don’t walk away with questions after a post like that.
If you come across a post that is leaving you unsatisfied, use the comments like we used to use forum boards. Do it for your industry.