I read – and commented on – a great post called Panda 4.0 & Google’s Giant Red Pen by Trevin Shirley. Panda 4.0 just hit; the SEO space is hiding under their desk, with some reacting either out of panic or for show.
It’s definitely news, but at this point, I don’t see any reason to scream from the rooftops at Google. It’s what we should be expecting by now.
In 2011, the first Panda showed us Google is not afraid to drop atom bombs. Panda opened the door for Penguin, and many updates have come since. Matt Cutts said he wished Google had acted sooner, and in his shoes, I’d probably agree.
Let’s not forget how spammy the results used to be:
I can imagine the conversation at the Googleplex between the webspam and search team:
“Man, how did you let this get so bad?”
“Me? I though you were paying attention…”
“Look – we need to fix this. But the algorithm can only be tweaked so hard. I mean, it’s not Skynet yet.”
“But people think it is…”
“We’re going to lose our shirts if we don’t act quick. How about we take drastic measures.”
“But the SEO community will have a cow.”
“But hopefully the rest of the world won’t notice and just start loving, trusting, and using a cleaner Google!”
“Agreed. Hey Navneet Panda… do you have any ideas?”
It’s A New Google – We Need To Accept It, Rebuild
Maybe they should have named these things Godzilla instead of Panda or Penguin. The battles that ensued since the birds and the bears were nasty. Some search results were leveled. I’m not being dramatic for the sake of a metaphor – I’m pretty sure we can all agree the results have never been the same. Some SEOs were/are slow to give up the fight. Some agencies still sell SEO that doesn’t work. Others, however, have realized the new rules – while different – still offer great opportunity.
Google declares their war on spammers a victory, noting black hat forums have slowed down. They’ve admitted to throwing some FUD into the mix like Kim Kardashian’s publicist might do, but for the greater good of their mission – to fix the results and uphold their “reputation.” All the hatemail and tweets to Matt Cutts isn’t going to change this. I’m pretty sure he’s holding steadfast. While Google won’t nod to the fact that some good got swept up in the bad, they obviously know it.
But honestly, I think it works for me. I think the changes, and casualties, were necessary. Were they supposed to wait until they were perfect? Plus I was getting tired of the lack of imagination… not that some of the dark arts weren’t brilliantly designed and executed. But in some sectors, SEO is very slow to change.
What I mean is, I was missing the marketing. In 2007 I was in a full-service agency’s marketing department doing SEO. Yet, SEO didn’t feel like marketing then. It was still firmly planted in web development. But in my situation, marketing and web development were siloed. Our departments weren’t friends (some internal politics at play). As asinine as that sounds now, I learned it wasn’t uncommon in big agencies back then. So, to make our SEO offering work, I had to tie “marketing” and “technical” together.
As evolution would have it, there’s no doubt that SEO is a marketing channel now… so I kind of lucked out by getting an early jump on it. The more I tied the two together, the more long-lasting the results were. Even today. It’s the only real Panda/Penguin proof strategy I’ve seen.
Like many rock bands, Google has changed their formula. I agree – relatively speaking, Google now works pretty well. Or at least they’re finally poised to substantially improve. And that’s from me – a guy who hates change. Update your website or UI and I throw a temper tantrum. But realistically, has anything ever stayed the same? Did David Bowie not continue to produce great music, albeit different? Did Empire Strikes Back not kick more ass after changing directors?
Did Windows 8 not improve upon Windows 7?
Granted, it’s still Google’s property, and they can do with it as they please, so if they only want to represent a portion of the web, I suppose they have that right. Maybe in hindsight it was kind of ambitious to attempt to organize all the world’s webpages. Ah, the dreams of two bright-eyed Stanford students.
In his post, Trevin quoted something from Hacker News that I found very interesting: ““We are getting a Google-shaped web rather than a web-shaped Google.” I sat with this for a few days. Ultimately I don’t think we’re getting a Google shaped web or a web-shaped Google. I understand the concern, especially when Google is a massive part of discovering new content and a provider of big revenue. But the web is much larger than Google. The citizens that create on the web, outside of the SEO bubble, are very much their own people, inspired by anything and everything. Alternatively, a web-shaped Google – which I argue was their first attempt – was a bit unrealistic.
When I worked with a client who was an innocent casualty of an update, I used to get angry. I used to think Google was a bunch of jerks. Then, I got creative, and found ways to get the client back onto Google’s radar – usually to a larger traffic and brand-recognition increase. Plus, I started relying on some of the other valuable internet marketing tools and channels. Talk about silver linings.
But honestly no client I’ve ever had, who got hurt by a Google update, was a true victim. Google always told us they wanted to rank the best, most useful content to their users. I’ve worked with some clients who got the traffic, but only because Google didn’t realize they weren’t the best. I’ve seen sub-par, homogenized content ranking well, and though, “meh – might as well ride it while Google is still dumb.”
Now looking back, if they got swept up in an update, it’s because they really weren’t doing more than the bare-bone basics – Google simply stepped up their game. These sites weren’t the originator of content, topics, and incredible ideas. They were just “running through the motions”.
Maybe it’s time to accept Google has graduated from grade-school.
In another post I wrote about lazy SEO. The more I think about it, I think old-school SEO is lazy SEO because it simply doesn’t move the needle enough to quantify hitching your wagon to. I truly think if you haven’t moved on by now, you’re only going to be playing catch-up in the next couple years.
So what do you think? Am I right? Or have a misguided myself?
Happy Thursday everyone. A quick SEO post to bring some brevity, tips, and pop culture into your day.
Yesterday I had a client ask for some campaign items to present to the CEO. He is concerned about year over year natural search gains.
As an SEO I bet your chest just tightened up reading that. We’ve all been there. Our lot in life will put us there again. When the spotlight is put on natural search performance, it’s almost always put on you as a performer (at least semi-consciously). Maybe you feel threatened or defensive. The counter-arguments start squirting through your neocortex.
The problem is, you can’t usually get away with telling the c-suite, “you’re damn lucky I (we) were able to stop any bleeding and keep you climbing the mountain Google’s model is destined to swat you from.” As SEOs we know it’s the Pareto Principle. We know consistent top positions is vital for query revision. We know Google wants to keep the index fresh and, relatively speaking, very few brands seem to be sacred cows. I bet you’d love to say, “imagine where you’d be if I wasn’t here!” Unless you have no fear of losing your job, you probably can’t get away with that.
We need to help the c-suite. They’re never the enemy – they’re your best allies, and you are their partners. The smart ones listen and appropriately challenge you, while others may be a bit slower. They’re all regular folks with their own strengths and weaknesses. I’ve had my share of executives who just couldn’t get it – whether because they weren’t capable of seeing the big picture, or didn’t care because of the demands that were on them. Before my agency life, I had one boss who set unrealistic goals and put no resources behind his team. He convinced himself that since he was once on top, he should be natively staying on top. I quit. He lost his natural search lead, and last I heard, his company is toast (your first analogy).
If we don’t step in, the folks we consult for could take uncorrected preconceived concepts to their next jobs and cause more complications. We can be heroes, but it takes work.
What’s the ROI of SEO? Staying competitive!
Words that work
I’ve found analogies and metaphors work well in explaining the obtusity of SEO. Here’s two that have worked for me. And since I’m currently celebrating 80’s Thursday (my own personal holiday), I’ve got incredible movie posters to boot.
SEO and Pirates
“As an SEO, I can help identify the opportunity and draw a loose perimeter on the map. But I can’t necessarily tell you exactly where in the perimeter the booty is; nor can I guarantee how deep it is. But, as luck would have it, I can also help you dig. The time is all dependent on how many shovels we have in the dirt, and how hard we dig. The timing may be up to luck, but we will find the gold to offset all the effort.”
I told this to a group of interactive marketers while running the SEO department in a 200+ person agency. Clients were asking account managers for SEO help, and they were hesitant to bring us in if we couldn’t guarantee an ROI. We found ourselves pitching to our own peers. After the meeting, one person in particular scheduled a meeting with me. “It clicked,” he said. This person was an analytics and data wiz, and became a huge ally – and friend – during my years in the agency. He went on to run some major accounts (think national sport leagues), and did SEO a huge service by not only explaining it correctly, but in selling the real value through to the clients. He pre-qualified a couple opportunities for our group as well.
SEO and Racing
“To win a race, not only does the car need to consistently be upgraded (aka optimized), but many factors need to be analyzed routinely like track builds, track conditions, talent of driver and pit crew, talent of competitors.
So let’s imagine you are a team owner. You implement an expensive, cutting edge exhaust system on your best car. You notice in your trials that the car clocked better, but you still didn’t win that week’s race. Next week you install a new suspension, but again lost the race. Worse, your competition still beat you soundly without the two optimizations you have. Some of your team starts to get frustrated and confused. Theories and opinions are flying. Chaos level rising!
But you do the right thing. You keep buying, trying, testing, and removing optimizations. You watch your competitors and study their moves for inspiration, but you don’t worry. You stay on target. Suddenly, towards the middle of the season something happens. You start placing in the top 5. The points and rewards (money) you’re receiving is slowly starting to add up. Chaos level lowering!
Eventually you start winning. Your wins offset all your losses with a healthy margin of revenue leftover to enjoy. But it’s important you think about next season, and your next level of racing. New technology will arise. New track conditions, new team members for both you and your competitors, and a hundred other factors will need your monitoring. Don’t sit still just because you’re winning – if you don’t stick with it, you’re going to fall behind again. You can’t afford to do that after all your investments.”
I’ve used the racecar parallel a zillion times. I’ve used it mainly in pitch decks so I can make sure from the outset I’m explaining what the client will be in for with an engagement. Want to compete? Come with me. Not into the risk? Try paid search.
I know this post is dangerously close to “What Dom DeLuise taught me about SEO” type posts, so you’ll just have to forgive me this one time.
Also notice I didn’t use Field of Dreams “If You Build It They Will Come.” That’s a myth and a terrible movie.
What Analogies Do You Use? Share In The Comments!
We direct all our SEO prospects to our online material, which we candidly post on the website (go to our homepage and click the tour button for an example). We don’t have fancy leave-behind decks, or spend hours sweating over pitches like some agencies I’ve worked with. I’ve seen much less time (and cost) succeed with the right kind of catered communication, especially in the SEO industry alone. Our services are specific – SEO consulting with a lower emphasis on labor. In our online tour, we share our history, our beliefs, our differentiators, and our price. We have found that this helps qualify the next conversation. Some prospects read this and never return, presumably looking for another type of SEO service. While others only feel more confident about partnering with us. Through this second conversation, our conversion rate is very high.
We keep it simple, and respectful of everyone’s time. We’re all busy in business.
But our system isn’t flawless. We had a client last for only two months. We both agreed to part ways. It’s sounds funny in hindsight – how could two months determine a relationship that couldn’t be saved? From the start everything was cordial. We asked them to review our tour, and assumed they had. We had a 20 minute conversation following their internal review. We won the business without asking the right questions.
In our postmortem we realized we assumed too much. We assumed they read – and understood – our services as well as we did. 20 minutes isn’t anywhere close the the amount of time we should have spent qualifying them. We were a little too foolhardy with our gut. From the first deliverables, where we had some great ideas to really break the website out of its template, everything was rejected. We dove into their competitors to see what they were doing, and suggested rivaling big ideas. We were shot down again with concerns of time and little faith. We believed in our ideas, and fought for them. “They’re working very well for other clients, and here’s examples of them in the wild,” I shared. We were feeling pushed into old-school SEO services, something we could do, but just don’t believe in.
As the dust started to settle, it turned out when they said they wanted quick results, they meant very, very quick – what we considered unrealistic. But for a hot minute, I bent. I instructed our team to pivot and try to deliver – a poor decision, and something very out of character. Not poor because I don’t put clients first, but poor because we weren’t in any position to meet that goal with this particular website. They had a long road ahead. Luckily, a candid discussion with the company’s CEO soon followed, and it was clear we were not on the same page. My initial emotion was, “what did you guys hire us for?” But later a clearer head asked, “why didn’t we qualify them better?” We wouldn’t have believed what they wanted was realistic.
This was a valuable wake up call to help us (re)focus on the path we spent so many months creating with the launch of our business.
They were a great company with good people and cool products – we were just on completely different sides of the fence. They knew enough SEO to have their spot, and we were trying to pull them to our side of the yard; all along not seeing the giant brick wall that divided us. Could it have been saved? Yes. But I don’t think it was worth it for either party. They’re better off with a company more in sync, as are we. Both our businesses got a pretty good education outside of SEO in my opinion.
Make Sure Both Parties See The Brick Wall From The Same Vantage Point
You should be standing next to your client. Not across from them. You should be able to have open conversations. You certainly should have the grounds to disagree. If you only want to make money, being a yes-man will only get you so far.
Client: Can you get me to rank #1 for grilled cheese?
Client: Can you guarantee me a 800% ROI?
Client: Where do I sign?
Six months later when you’re making no money off the term grilled cheese, “yes” doesn’t have any power. Now you have contention, burnout, and praying your client services team has another client waiting in the wings when this current client goes supernova.
Sure, you made your money, but unless you own the company, don’t care about your reputation, and don’t have to face the clients after you sign them, you’re setting yourself up for a world of hurt.
Here’s how I might answer those questions:
Client: Can you get me to rank #1 for grilled cheese?
Bill: Probably not without a major commitment from your team, a larger budget than you have, and the ability to make changes quickly.
Client: Can you guarantee me a 800% ROI?
Bill: No, but I can make it my goal to influence Google to see you as the authority on Grilled Cheese and related cheesy sandwiches.
Client: Why should I sign you?
Bill: Because I’m not afraid to tell you how it really works in SEO, and I can teach you a lot about the additional opportunities you have in natural search based on our experiences.
I recently had a conversation with a prospect who said (paraphrasing), “I spoke with [big name SEO] who said we’d use [semi-popular blog network] for my link building if I went with them. They said it was white-hat, but it sounds like a blog network to me.”
That really depressed me. I was more than happy to inform this nice guy that the network in question was anything but white hat. Is the sale of service so important that you would intentionally mislead your prospects? Won’t that set you up for failure when you get hit with a penalty? Is the hit-and-run model the best you can scale? Is your own reputation in the SEO space not valuable? If this SEO had said, “so, yeah, we’re totally black hat… you down?” that would be respectable.
Succeeding As A Partnership
I quit consulting and agency life for a few years because I didn’t like (what I thought) was #thegame. But starting a company, and creating our own rules, built a new version of the game which I’m enjoying to death. Settling in with clients (which we call partners as an homage to a lesson learned years ago) and really respecting the values each other bring to the table has been great. Sometimes completely different business models and philosophies can work great together. Just like in love (and comic books), opposites can attract. It’s a great feeling waking up knowing you’re doing good work. When a partner will decide to leave us, I truly hope they can say, “you taught us some great stuff – I’m going to recommend you anywhere I can. Thanks for sharing your experience. We had a great adventure.”
That’s what a consultant does.
What do you want your clients’ parting statement to be?
My TL:DR tips for creating the best SEO:client relationship, and setting yourself up to do the best work of your life:
- To have good clients, you need to have your story straight.
- To make your story known, you need to have an identity. You need to have a deeper purpose than “get rich.” It’s easy to forget this purpose when running “the business end” of the business each day.
- You need to spend the time making sure the opportunity is for you. If it smells funny, try to figure out why before you take it or throw it back. If it seems great, look for a possibly brick wall that might be eluding you.
- Be specific in what you offer. Don’t choke yourself on things you don’t know or don’t think you can accurately deliver.
I’d love your comments below!
I’ve had my share of SEO predictions fall flat on their face. But I remember distinctly sitting in the office of a VP in my former ‘big agency’ life (guessing around 2009), talking about how Google will have to move into identifying, comprehending, and processing intent, while finding new ways to judge popularity. PageRank was a great start, but it can’t scale. Our culture is completely online now – the Google algorithms, relativity speaking, can’t keep up. It’s easy to forget Google isn’t magical. They’re still a powerful but limited machine.
I would postulate on Google eventually looking at more abstract factors where good old fashioned online marketing campaigns could get recognized. Where pieces and results of campaigns become crumbs that make up influence in aggregate. Truth was, I was seeking internal support for expanding the SEO group’s output, instead of mild data crunching and producing thin, quick-and-dirty recommendations. In 2009 it seemed obvious that Google would eventually shut down “gaming the system” schemes – of which they recently did a reasonably good job (with some causalities). It seemed to me that if anyone could understand programs to scale and distort, it’s Google. It also felt like the routine tactics of SEO couldn’t last forever. It felt like time to start getting creative.
I wanted to believe in the power of marketing effecting SEO. Not just because that was my college background and interest, but because it seemed logical. Marketing has shaped our culture. Our culture is online. Thus, Google needs to continue understanding the culture’s role and response in marketing. In there lies understanding of the queries.
I didn’t (and still don’t) think all SEOs need to be marketers. Digital PR? Not all SEOs use the same side of their brain but still remain pertinent. It’s sensational to say, “the SEO industry must adapt to *THIS* or die!” Like anything in any marketing channel, that’s awfully limiting. Defining rules and standards? Not for me, I shake that kind of stuff off. No person (or concept) is going to be able to drive the SEO bus alone. The Magical Mystery Bus drives itself.
Where’s The Bus Going?
Let’s think about the clues we have at hand, which to me suggest a path towards SEO marketing.
Here’s the definition of marketing from the AMA. “Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.”
I really wish PPC didn’t get the label of search engine marketing (SEM). It doesn’t seem to fit today. It’s like when alternative music became mainstream – it became the alternative to what? I would like to use the term search engine marketing for the concept of big ideas that Google notices, appreciates, rewards, and shares. I want to impress Google by impressing their users first. I’m not going to try to make up a new term (I have shame), but we refer to it at Greenlane as SEO marketing; a non-creative name for creative campaigns. It’s what I couldn’t convince a big agency of doing.
Here’s a couple very recent things we know:
They took away all our keyword-level data
This is a raw nerve. [not provided] is a jerk, but not that significant a change in my book. Lazy SEOs can now fully hide behind this when they tell their clients, “sorry – I can’t prove how awesome we are without keyword level data.” Or, they can promote themselves to the client when total organic data is on the rise (even if it’s branded terms from some other online marketing channel in the other side of the house, where the SEO had no influence). There’s lots of posts floating around basically admonishing you from caring about this total loss since the “representational sample” we’ve been playing with was already soiled since October 2011. On that I totally agree. When Annie Cushing called these keyword data remnants “junk data,” it’s not just because she’s proven, but because it’s common sense. I do however disagree with the posts that scold you for ever caring about keyword data in the first place. That’s got to be tweetbait!
For me, I did like the remaining organic keyword data in at least one of the ways I liked all the organic keyword data. I liked it as a unique source of inspiration and guidance. Those weird keywords you found that you wanted to immediately discount. I got into the habit of analyzing them hoping to find a wormhole to another universe. I loved the, “why the hell did Google think I was relevant to that, and why did people come to my site for it,” moments. This keyword data led to topic creations that flourished for not only my own site, but my clients as well. However, this was quite limited – it was only important for the handful of possible topics you were already somehow relevant for in Google’s eyes, not the myriad of topics you could be relevant for in the demands of searchers. You need to think the other possible topic universes are even richer in opportunity.
The keyword data was great to have, but it was a small sample of your actual opportunity. We have to adapt.
Google wants to be better an answering questions. We assume it’s more than turning Google into what Ask.com was supposed to be. Every query is a question, so Hummingbird presumably is a good old fashioned Google engine update. If Hummingbird’s value is to understand the meaning of the words, ” communicating, delivering….” for the value of “customers, clients, partners, and society at large” seems to be more important in my book. This suggests to me SEO is more about communication than ever before. Content, as a general artifact, isn’t the king it used to be. The topic that answers presumed query intent may be more valuable, and that takes some iteration to get right. That’s certainly a content marketing principal.
Why does Google care about site speed? Why do they care where ads are located? DOM, bounce, hierarchy – whether Google infers or uses GA data is debatable (either Google is lying, or they’re not). The bottom line is these are things I believe they should be looking at, but won’t make too prominent because they’re all game-able direct signals. Until they can weed out bots artificially crawling a site and leaving footprints to emulate a visitor’s “happy, successful site session,” we might as well (at the minimum) look at these items as a usability feature to improve the visitors experience aside from Google. As an SEO, we did a good job getting the traffic, but why should we stop there? Why not make sure the material the searcher receives is indeed inline with their query.
Not all direct signals are cut and dry. So maybe Google plusses don’t help you rank. They sure help you figure out what your community likes; that could help you rank.
We’ve seen Google overcome a lot of garbage the last few years. Sure, they blew up a few innocent communities bombing the bad guys, but they’re not afraid to make changes. They’re wise to pull back on things that can backfire. So with some technical site characteristics being a factor, it’s safe to think there will be more, no? Help the conversation continue by helping the site improve. In the meantime, take advantage of everything else and produce good communication that will maybe have its day in the sun when the algorithm catches up.
The Kind Of SEO I Have Become
The (re)launch of our agency came with many changes from my original launch as a sole proprietor in 2005. From a partner, to employees, to 15 clients – it all brings different responsibilities. Some Keith and I still need to learn. Case in point – this week we lost our first client. It was mutual. We weren’t on the same page, and as part of our postmortem, I see why. Where we are promoting the big picture ideas above, they were looking for the type of work I was doing in 2009 at the big agency. Strictly keyword focused stuff. I don’t want to say we evolved, because I don’t want it to downplay the significance of other SEO approaches, but we have organically morphed into something shaped by our personal 13 year SEO experience. We are looking for clients that have morphed the same way we have.
We do creative things. We consult with companies – hand in hand – to create and drag the right campaigns to the ground. It’s all very much based in SEO, but in thinking of all the strategies and projects we have going on across our portfolio, I’m pretty excited to see where SEO goes. I feel like we’re seated well. I’m banking on it, so to speak. I think this is one prediction that shows no sign of falling on its face, and something I hope all SEOs are taking a good hard look at from time to time.
The first thing I do when I wake up is grab my iPhone and delete about 40 junk emails that come in overnight. I do this while eating my Cheerios. No matter how many times I unsubscribe, the trash keeps coming.
This morning I received this subject line: “Regarding Guest Post Opportunity On Your Blog.” I’m sure you’ve all gotten these. I’m sure some of us have sent our share of these. So why did I stop to read this one? Why didn’t it get deleted with my other morning garbage? Not because it was good, but because I was drawn to it (though not for the right reasons).
I’m not against guest posting. I do, however, wince a little when I see the tactic poorly executed in 2013. This is an old tactic now, and I like to think it’s matured.
This type of prospecting email may work fine when you’re pitching a site who’s model is to publish guest posts. They’d snap up this type of opportunity faster than me with a plate of hot wings. But for my site, I don’t usually have much guest posting here. It’s not because of any reason besides pickiness. Anthony Pensabene is the only one so far, and that’s because it was unique, he knew my blog’s tone, he’s a known entity, and he’s a very clever writer.
See, I knew as much about him as he knew about me and my site.
In the case of the guest post pitch, I didn’t get the feeling this author took the time to review my site at all. The three titles he pitched didn’t really fit my style of writing or my subject matter. The truth is, I’m actually open to guest posting pitches. I would have been excited if this were a thorough pitch. I really could have taken it (or at least gotten to know the writer and worked with him in some capacity going further).
What I Would Have Changed
I would have started with some research. I would have spent some time on the Greenlane blog to see what kind of posts have been done to date. The titles sent over, while I censored them above, were akin to “top 5 ways to do something that’s been rehashed a million times in the SEO blogosphere.” I don’t really have much content like that anymore. Frankly, it’s rare when I read that kind of article now and it doesn’t come off as lazy. I would have thought up some ideas that flow with my blog. How about a take on something I’ve written about before? I’d much rather you come me with the concept of something unique, than a backlog of generic, homogenized, no-frills copy.
I would have written a better subject line. The subject was confusing. Regarding what guest post opportunity? I haven’t actually posted, tweeted, or facebooked any defined opportunity. This subject was about as spammy as it gets for me, and looks a lot like the ones I now have a habit of deleting without a thought. If it were me, I would have been more open to “An idea for a guest post,” or “Question for you.” These are subjects suggesting a visitor wants to engage with me, not pitch me. Or, just like the concept of “the neon resume gets remembered,” maybe a subject line of “Hey jerk, your opinion is wrong, and I have a counterpoint article to prove it.” I would love that. That would be speaking my language!
I get pitched all day long from vendors. I welcome an opportunity that doesn’t feel like a hard sell. I believe most business owners and webmasters agree. We want to be pitched on really awesome ideas. It makes us look better to our bosses and employees when those ideas come to life.
I would have used my real name. The author’s name in this email was different than the name he used in his Search Engine Journal example. Someone is getting duped. See, I do my homework. I suspect many others do as well. Granted, I’m in the industry so I care about things like authorship and the writer’s reputation. But if you use your real name, and have created a cache of great material, that’s a selling point. Show me what you’ve written, and show me some kind of biography. Show me that when you say you live in Montana, you don’t really live in Tibet.
I know you’re busy… That line was the closer. “Don’t worry, I’ll make it easy for you.” I bet that sounds great to a lot of busy affiliates who run thousands of sites, especially if they don’t care about what gets published on their site. But as a business owner, or even a webmaster looking out for the integrity of their site, I’d like to have some control on what I get and post. I’d rather hear, “I’d love to work on some ideas with you. I can send you over a draft.”
I would have customized the email. I can still smell the cntrl-V in this email. At least it was specifically sent to me (instead of being in the BCC field with 10,000 other recipients). Still, I’m sure this was an attempt to be scalable. All good, but again, this type of email isn’t going to win a site like mine. I have personality all over my blog, all over my Twitter, etc. If the guy wrote, “hey man, I love your band,” that would have probably worked – I’m a sucker for egobait. The truth is, a site like mine may not have a huge PageRank or DA (whatever you prefer), but I do have a big mouth. I do have followers who would have seen this post. I think I’m worth the little bit of extra attention.
Where do these opinions come from? Experience. I’ve tried – and failed – at good guest posting opportunities, and digital PR opportunities, because I was lazy. I am lazy no more.
Scalable Marketing Shouldn’t Be The Same As Lazy Marketing
Our blog isn’t like Problogger, Ezine Articles, or even Search Engine Journal or Search Engine Watch. We’re not a depository. We have our own distinct voice (hopefully). In my case, communication matters.
In my experience, most websites, media outlets, and companies want to be engaged. If you think I’m a diva, I promise that some of the big, jucier prospects are even worse. If you’re looking for quality over quantity in your links/citations/brand mentions, then you must be careful when you reach for your prospecting weapon of choice. If you’re aiming for a cat, and you pull out a machine gun, you’re only going to make a mess.
Just to get ahead of any nasty comments or tweets – I am NOT against scalable or automated link building. I’d be an awfully big hypocrite. While I’m certainly not great at it, I’m always impressed by those who do it well. By well, I mean smart. Those who can do good marketing with scalable (or automated – I’m aware they aren’t the same thing per se) techniques are brilliant. It certainly has its place. But trying to win over a guy like me, that certainly isn’t its place.
No cats were harmed in this blog post.
Let’s face it – the SEO industry has a tendency to stomp a tactic into the ground. Some of us even get lazy (pleny of this kind of junk around).
Directory submissions were once wildly valuable, then SEOs started creating directories by the thousands thanks easy-to-install directory scripts. Some SEOs / webmasters blatantly charged a fee for the “SEO value”. Additionally, cheap directory submission tools popped up like Directory Maximizer. Back then there wasn’t as much fear of Google making sweeping changes; thus, the tactic was pushed hard for years. Eventually Google sussed out the tactic – directory links aren’t even close to what they were.
Article marketing worked for a while as well. The same suit followed. Article sites and tools like Unique Article Wizard and Article Marketing Robot came and left a huge footprint. Originally some article marketing was even editorial when the webmasters scrutinized each article before publishing, but it was quickly outshadowed by services and bloggers that would take (and publish) any crap.
Next came blog networks. ALN and Build My Rank (now redirects to www.hpbacklinks.com) were among the first to get a real Penguin beat down. Spinning tools (that literally “spun” your content to look unique, but rarely made articles that users could understand) became popular as content for these blog networks. These illegible articles were pumped out by the thousands. For some SEOs this (somewhat) resembles what we think of today with the guest post tactic.
Now SEOs are waiting for the guest blogging [filter|penalty|panda|penguin] update.
Google Doesn’t Hate Guest Posting
As far as I know, Google doesn’t hate guest posting, at least according to this video 2012 video. Things may have changed, but I don’t think so.
Google has made some illogical decisions. Really, obvious mistakes. I’ve given them the benefit of the doubt and been wrong before.
Dumb Bill Sebald quotes:
“Negative SEO can’t exist. Google knows how easy it is to blast a bazillion garbage links at a website. They’ll figure out the fraud!”
“Google doesn’t need help with duplicate content. They told us so!” (Next day they came out with the canonical tag).
The truth is, at the risk of putting my foot in my mouth again, I really don’t want to jump onto the guest post scaremongering band wagon. As I said with the great Anthony Pensabene, I think we’re reading too deeply into things:
But aside from a few a lot of bad eggs, why would Google hate guest posting? This can be amazing, user-loved content!
This is what Google’s infamously vague Google Guidelines say:
Additionally, creating links that weren’t editorially placed or vouched for by the site’s owner on a page, otherwise known as unnatural links, can be considered a violation of our guidelines.
An editorial piece of text is an unpaid, opinion piece. It is a piece placed by an editor to give value to the reader. In newspapers (for example) editorials have often been the opinions of authors who may not have been associated with the publisher. Google might be powerful, but I don’t see them having the power to change a definition.
We live with a noisy web, where soundbites are everything. Tweets are our headlines. Sometimes newsreaders and social bookmark sites give us the news with a short 70 character headline. Sometimes it’s even exploitative. This leads to major misinterpretation and FUD.
What I Think Could Happen
While Google’s done a great job in the last year of pruning gamed results out of their index (I actually found it quite difficult to find some truly “bad” examples using Google), they could still possibly monitor heavier for footprints. For example, they may be able to tune up their recognition of certain footprints left in the byline. SEOs will adapt, and maybe start seeding their backlink elsewhere in the text other than the byline, and vary up their bylines more frequently, but the lazier SEOs could probably get swept up. Have you created a sea of trash guest posts? You might need to worry, but you couldn’t have thought your thin content was a long term play.
Authorship may come into play more, and either highlight good authors or flag spam authors. I just don’t think Google will be able to get too liberal here. They’re the best search engine we have, but they’re still not talented enough to truly understand the intent of any content online. They’re just not that good. They have to know that.
Famous last words.
Sites like Moz, major tech sites, recipe sharing sites, entertainment sites, countless online newspapers,etc., would likely get swept up if Google pushed this update. We’ve seen so many babies get thrown out with the bathwater just with Panda and Penguin alone. For me, I’m going to sit back, have a homebrew, and keep on recommending guest posting where it makes sense and proves out to be a real marketing opportunity.
Related: Why I Will Continue With Guest Blogging As Part Of My Strategy! SEtalks.com
I definitely expected more from Authorship by now. For me it’s kind of a let down. So far, it’s akin to the flying cars we were expecting. We were under the impression Authorship would bring AuthorRank, and it would do all these wonderful things. But like the flying car, this was never specifically promised (that I know of).
I’m a little tired of telling clients, “put this and this on your pages, force yourself to use Google+, and get your whole content team to adopt it,” without a better reason.
“Because one day this might really matter!” doesn’t really cut it for me anymore. I’ve become skeptical since this.
Where Is AuthorRank?
While the common expectation of Authorship was that it will become a ranking factor is exciting, Google has shown us that our expectations don’t always come true, despite even obtaining patents.
Case in point: social signals. I was told by someone at Google over 4 years ago that +1 buttons were going to improve rankings. Rarely do they come out and tell you that. He was a rarely loose-lipped project manager probably in violation. By now there should be some majority proof that these buttons work, if they truly did.
Still, while exciting, it’s also scary. If I wrote the definitive post on a particular SEO strategy, and Danny Sullivan wrote a half-assed or inaccurate similar piece (not likely!), would Authorship favor him?
There’s no doubt Google is into taking Authorship further. They created triggered emails to give particular “authors” more context when needed. They added it to their rich snippet testing tool. They’ve even tried to make it happen when it wasn’t properly implemented (suggesting the developers are hard at work). It’s got to mean more than just a photo in the SERPs. Don’t get me wrong, I know the value of the rich snippets in click-throughs (I worked very closely with a usability lab in a past life), and can’t imagine a face shot would turn anyone away from an informational search. Even someone really ugly. I don’t sweat over the studies.
On their Authorship page, Google says, “Make your content feel personal.” I think that’s just a quick and safe banner. They’ve told us they may use the data they collect as a ranking factor. What are they waiting for? It’s safe to assume they’ve been collecting since well before August of 2011, when this rel=author standard was highlighted in a video. Rel=author is not a Google invention.
Maybe It’s In Play – Just Not As Expected
I was talking to my business partner Keith, and we were having the usual water cooler conversation about Authorship. Then he says, “maybe it’s more of a defensive play?”
I hadn’t heard anyone really suggest that before. We’ve been expecting it as a ranking signal. But what if rel=author went the way of the +1 as a ranking factor, and is now more of a validator of editorial, non-spammy links? After all, when’s the last time you saw spam or unnatural backlinks come from an author-verified page?
I could see Google ultimately determining that’s as far as it should go for now, with their current infrastructure. Since they’re probably wrestling with how game-able Authorship really is, I could see them defaulting on it being a signal of trust which doesn’t push rankings, instead defends the link graph. Until (or unless) spammers were to figure it out and start adopting it of course. Maybe Google is thinking most spammers are too lazy, and using this now as a pluggable cog.
I don’t have the answer, but it’s an interesting thought. Would love your thoughts. Are we looking into Authorship incorrectly?
Friday was the last day of my security. Today, I’m a full-time business owner. I’m completely out of in-house, and 100% dedicated to Greenlane Search Marketing, LLC.
I’ve been doing work through Greenlane since 2005. Most of the time it was split between other internal roles with agencies or in-house. I went 100% solo once, and failed. Naturally, I was a little gun shy about trying this again. But I’ve realized things truly are different (if not evolved).
“Do not be embarrassed by your failures, learn from them and start again.”
Richard Branson and other off-beat CEOs have been the subject of a lot of my latest readings. Clearly, I’m getting the bug again. I’ve sat in rooms with some incredible CEOs and CMO’s – some well-known, some not. My father is very successful in a large company in Philadelphia, and an influence. I like the way many of them look at running a business as an art form, where there is no real playbook. I like that many successful CEOs aren’t the serial-killer personality types that we’ve come to expect. I’m not smart enough to compete on an intellectual level with most Wharton grads, but I started to get confidence that reminded me I didn’t need to.
Then again, I’ve run important marketing departments. I ran SEO relationships with companies like GNC, Petsmart, Calvin Klein, Levi’s, and Mattel. So I do have some experience. The only thing that was holding me back was the risk of security and the memory of past mistakes.
“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”
I have that quote from TS Elliot on my wall. I’m not a big risk taker, but I do want to explore as much of life as I can. This quote was strong for me. A motivator.
I used the excuse, “the timing is bad,” when thinking about going on on my own. But when is it ever good? I have a lot of expenses (an ex-wife, a wedding coming up), my fiance is on disability for a few months from a necessary surgery, and there’s some other potentially expensive things going on. Plus I have an 8 year old son. I’m sure I’m going to rack up some credit card bills, but I’ll be able to see my son and fiance more, while finding happiness in (re)building a business.
This was also a motivator.
I had the fear of failure, but a lot of thoughts on how to learn from my past mistakes. I weighed it out, and made some adjustments. I suck with accounting and bookkeeping, so this time I partnered with an accountant. I was not disciplined enough to work from home, so this time I got an office. I didn’t enjoy being a one-man show, so this time I teamed with consultants, and built with a partner who is much smarter than me (more on that later, but it’s someone I know and trust, and is more of the straight man to my shenanigans).
So now I have a team. I already had great clients, and was forced to turn some good ones down. That pained me. I had the same business plan, just more robust now. I had a defined, reachable business goal. Based on the skills of our team, we even had some stronger differentiators now. What I didn’t have were core values. We looked into what we believed in, based on what we’ve seen from other agencies (including SEO), and pulled heavily on our past experience. We realize we’re altruistic people angry at the game. So, we built something around that.
Let the past feed the future.
Not a quote, just common sense. From fear of more mistakes, and the time clinging on to a security blanket, I did make some good choices. I’ve done B2C agency work for over 10 years, but had little experience doing in-house B2B. I took a position in a growing, well-funded company. This was a conscious decision to learn something new, and hopefully have a long stay. I had some serious on-the-job training by a company of seasoned businessmen. I’m quite proud of that decision, and struggled with leaving a good company two years later. I simply found myself always returning to Greenlane.
Working in-house was an amazing eye-opener. I recommend all agency folk try it at least once in their life. Want to really understand the game? Put on the client’s shoes.
The biggest motivator – Inspiration.
If this industry should be remembered for anything (in my opinion), it’s the warmth and openness of the people. What is it about SEO and digital marketing where so many of us want to be writers and confess honestly the issues of running a business? Wil Reynolds is a friend and early influence. It blew my mind how much he gave away to an industry full of people who would use the info to win business against him. In my first agency run, I was forced to be closed to the blogosphere. I was asked to present (being with GSI Commerce/eBay), but I couldn’t do the SEO presentation I wanted to do. Julie Joyce was more than happy to share her heart and soul with me, and gave me incredible motivation (even if she didn’t know it). AJ Kohn, James Agate, Dan Shure, Rhea Drysdale, and Mackenzie Fogelson are all people I met in person only a year ago, and I thought about them often when designing my second run. They’re very inspirational. Nick Eubanks, Eppie Vojt, John-Henry Scherck, Mark Kennedy, David Cohen, Anthony Pensabene, Justin Freid, and all my Philly SEO friends have been incredibly valuable. It’s inspiring to be surrounded with a great support system. And of course, my original SEO rock band of Ian Howells, Bill Rowland and Anthony Moore. The most influential team of my life.
Thanks to everyone in this industry for helping me realize my dreams, and giving me the courage to make them a reality (and ultimately push me into the pool).
If you’re looking for Philadelphia SEO services, talk to us!
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In summary, it was a well-deserved, opinionated rhapsody on one SEO link building tactic. SEOs only need to read an excerpt from a link builder, which the author published, to get the gist of this article:
“Unfortunately we have had new guidelines introduced that state we can’t place any more articles that are labelled as sponsored as they highlight the link has been paid for. Not great in the eyes of Google.
If that’s the case that you definitely have to state ‘sponsored’, then I won’t be able to go ahead I’m afraid.
I don’t suppose offering you a bit more money would sway the decision would it?”
As you can imagine, this sparked debate in SEO on what is, and what should never be.
I’m a realist. Some parts of SEO (as an industry) are eccentric. It always was, it probably always will be. We were born in forums, so conversations can get kind of bizarre, off-topic, chatty, etc. But, as long as there are SEOs who define search optimization as motions to improve rankings, there will be tacticians like this, and their defenders. The problem for SEOs, who define search optimization as a more holistic marketing channel, is this grants a negative context by which they don’t want to be known by. The antics continue online, and the machine starts spinning again.
But negative or not, it’s one half of what SEO is. Other SEOs, and Google, may want to change that. I think it’s a lost cause. It’s complete chaos. Sometimes we ourselves fall into our own vortex. Sometimes we drink our own (and each other’s) Kool-Aid. Some of the “personalities” we promote and the content we praise makes it feel more like a popularity contest. Sometimes we act less than classy. Alternatively, sometimes we fight each other. We trash what the other side of SEO does. The whole things starts to feel like playground fights.
It’s like republicans vs. democrats. One party can tell another group (of any political persuasion) what code they should live by, but banking on a sweeping change is a fool’s bet. Like anyone, I’d love to convince all our industry peers to see it my way (don’t try to lie and manipulate a blogger, don’t be a lazy link builder, etc.), but I don’t waste the bandwidth on the unachievable. Instead, I’d rather focus on sending the message I stand by, to the clients I pitch, the people who read my stuff, and the people I meet at networking events. I fully acknowledge what we REALLY are. It helps me define what I am.
I’m Bill. I do online marketing and strategy. The way I go about it, SEO is a big fiber in the whole canvas I create on.
As an aside, I find myself more and more distancing from SEO as a label in conversations, and instead embracing all of online marketing. When people ask me what I do, I used to say “SEO,” now I’m noticing I don’t. It’s not because of any negative industry connotation, but because I feel like I’m expanding into something more. The acronym isn’t the big picture anymore. I don’t agree with those who try to pack a multi-channel definition into such this three-letter word.
It started a year ago. At Mozcon 2012, there were a couple presentations about “SEO needs to grow up”. We need to get more into digital PR, content marketing, etc. I completely disagreed (it took a few weeks to sink in). If you want to get more into those channels – and why not, it’s an asset – I think you stop labeling everything as SEO, and start considering yourself bigger than SEO. Should an SEO be an expert at usability, graphic design, content marketing, analytics, and social media? No, you should be an expert in what they do for improvement in SERPs and better conversion rates through search traffic. However, if you want to be an expert in those things, strive to be a digital marketer (or inbound marketer, if that’s what you prefer to call it). SEO doesn’t need blurrier definitions or an obtuse label.
I simply don’t spend time defending, labeling, or being a criticizer of SEO tactics that I personally don’t employ, though I do feel defensive whenever the other side of a story is absent. It’s valueless, and a cheap headline grabber. I don’t pitch or “negative sell” to clients on the scary SEO monsters out there. Instead, I talk about the incredible value SEO and digital marketing can have for a company.
I suggest you stop fighting about SEO definitions; accept what it is, while taking inspiration from its marketing potential, and start branching into other digital marketing channels. I believe that’s the best next step you can make to further your expertise.
Now… read this: Why I’m Quitting SEO by Martin McDonald
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I read a post on SEOmoz a couple weeks ago. Every Marketer Should Be Technical. There were some valuable links, all of which I plan to mine. But I’ve got a few problems with a (the?) concept in this post.
Now I’m not a fan of labeling everything – growth hacking, technical marketing, SEO 2.0, etc. I only accept “inbound” marketing as a term under protest (it makes me itchy, like it was invented to serve a meta-marketing purpose, not completely unlike Valentine’s Day). The author of this SEOmoz post had some congruent commentary on the labeling as well, but that notwithstanding, my first objection is with the title.
If this post were called, “Every Marketer May Benefit From Being Technical,” I could more easily get behind that.
If you read my blog (I’m thankful to those who do), you may have read rants on the definition of SEO. The sun must be in the right alignment with the moon, because it’s a hot topic again (for the moment). To recap my opinion – there are several definitions for SEO, and they’re all correct depending on what your goals are. Some parts of SEO are not marketing. Some of it is. That said, there’s certainly a role for non-technical marketers in this space. We still refer to SEO as an art and a science, right? The “art” part only entered into the picture within the last 6 years or so. That’s clearly the marketing part.
If marketing were a solar system, we are but a single entity sharing off other parts of the system. I studied marketing my whole life, and ultimately landed on Planet SEO. But I certainly acknowledge the other planets out there. I had a 6 year career in a major digital agency, where some of the smartest, most influential marketers weren’t technical in the slightest. They didn’t need to be. They found ways to be successful with their toolset. I refrain to use the word “limited” in terms of their toolset, because it suggests a negative connotation.
I’ve seen other SEOs essentially call out their peers for not knowing how to cache pages on their blog, build an .htaccess, scrape, etc. I’ve always pushed back on that limited view. If SEO is partially comprised of marketing, then this isn’t fair.
Does knowing the technical side of digital marketing help you communicate better in the digital space? The author believes so. I agree it can help, but it’s not absolute. I believe the non-technical marketer can have just as valuable role online. Depending on their role and the campaigns, maybe even more. Their creativity is not limited by what they can do, which tends to happen to those who have a firm grasp of “their” rules (or, the extent of their technical knowledge).
A few years ago I was part of a social media marketing committee at an agency, where the entire channel was being built around developing a software that could measure the ROI of a social engagement. At the same time the tool was being built, so were possible strategies we’d offer in our client package. Ultimately, we drove ourselves into a corner. We couldn’t come up with anything inspiring, creative, daring, influential, or original. In this case the “technical marketing” component was an anchor. I promptly (and proudly) quit that group, which to this day, still hasn’t officially birthed. The smartest guy in the group – a non-technical marketer – also stepped out. He continued to build some amazing non-technical digital marketing campaigns for some huge brands, simply by partnering with an analytics group who could do the monitoring and reporting with him.
Just like the old days. The osteology is new, the heart is the same.
So, with that said, this comment thread particularly interested me.
There’s that label again. That cornering “technical marketer” label. It’s a term that scares me – like giving rock n’ roll too many rules, or telling an artist he has to paint in the lines. I worry that a post like this will polarize SEOs who don’t read closely enough to comments like “…I’d still argue that those who were the most successful had the creative mind along with the understanding and capability to measure what is successful.” If that’s all this post were about, I’d completely agree with that.
I don’t know the author and one of the commenters, but I do know David Cohen (@explorionary) from Seer Interactive, and his work. He and I had a quick chat over the weekend about this post. It dawned on us that we might have the makings of a pretty good read. From here on, inspired by the format of a Nick Eubanks / Anthony Pensabene post, a semi-real time continuation of our thoughts here:
I felt like this post needed a soundtrack. For me, it’s the Foo Fighters song, The Colour and the Shape. It’s not a technical song from a technical band. But the Foo Fighters just work really well together, each contributing something unique to create their dynamic sound.
Alright. The title of the aforementioned post sounds like it bothered you. It annoyed me. “Every Marketer Should Be Technical“. Why? What’s the point?
According to the author, a great marketer can now develop a high-level marketing strategy, use SQL to pull email lists, write copy, design landing pages, and then code them. I’m guessing a great contemporary marketer should also know how to make a killer Hollandaise sauce, and know how to weld wine racks too.
There’s some good commentary over at inbound inspired by the post we’re discussing. I think it’s a real distraction if it becomes a “them vs. us” type of battle. SEOs already deal with it against the design folk, straight copywriters, the UX/IA teams. We don’t need a civil war, but at the heart of marketing is creativity. Psychology. The art of communication. At some point years ago SEO outgrew its technical definition, especially when it became a marketing channel in several major agencies who did online work. I watched it happen in my old company, as it left the IT department and moved into the marketing department.
There’s room in this industry for SEOs who only know development. There’s always a need for the person who knows the whole jQuery library or can optimize web code (etc.), just like there’s always a need for the graphic designer, the database admin, the data analyst in an online marketing campaign. That’s vital. But that’s not marketing. I used the example above of “technical marketing” being an anchor. Clearly not the case in every campaign, but I believe it can happen enough to not accept a black and white opinion on this.
As a marketer, here’s a dream come true scenario for me – you decided to build a tool that listens to people better so you can create context around your marketing better.
You bring a team of devs and designers together to build this tool. The team of devs and designers allows a rep from the social and marketing teams to be a part of their creation process. And then once this tool that’s designed to help marketers create context is ready for testing, you let storytellers, copywriters, social and PR people learn its nuances, test their behavior as they use the tool, iterate, and then roll out your minimum viable product.
Then as your next iteration launches into the jungle of humanity and you have a team analyzing user behavior, you also have a community manager and PR team confidently ready to attract attention and earn people’s trust to give the tool a try. And if you can get a community built around your brand’s vision and core beliefs, the potential to meet your business objectives is high.
So, I’m not into compartmentalizing people by labeling them. Let’s just build diverse marketing teams with people who do 1 or 2 things really well and see what happens.
I like that. It’s like a band (and yes, I consider a drummer – a non melody maker – a musician) – bring in all the SMUs and create together, dependent on each other. Make it iterative and you’re aiming at agile development. I’m with you 100% David, which I figured I’d be after guessing where you were going on the SEOmoz comments.
I think this is a pretty sound counter-opinion. I also think the opposite (original post) could be offensive to some marketers.
Maybe some marketers were offended. The headline was annoying but the post was funny, and then I got sad. Especially when it got to the “12 Ingredients To Be A Technical Marketer” part. Putting the idea that marketers have to learn how to do everything from web dev, design, copywriting and technical SEO wouldn’t leave much time for a marketer to learn how to talk to actually talk to people and understand markets.
Even if a marketer fits in the ‘technical’ category, they can become better at what they do by understanding the nuances and idiosyncrasies of the people they are developing and creating things for. Just like storytellers, copywriters, and social folks can learn from technical or analytical minded people.
Last point here. And this is about marketing leadership. I think one of the best things we can do is help marketers who are coming up through the ranks to understand that you don’t actually have to be the person described in the SEOmoz post to become successful and provide value to a team.
I think we can do better (me included) at giving young marketers a clearer vision for how they best fit in the broad and diverse world of marketing. And once they catch that vision, to help them gain confidence and a strong knowledge-base. Helping people who are eager to learn to build confidence and self-esteem is one of the greatest things we can do as professionals who’ve been in the game awhile.
What do you think? Jump into the conversation.