Mike Essex hopes to spur SEOs into action with recommendations for protesting eight issues outlined in his video What Every SEO Has to Fight For in 2012. Koozai’s Online Marketing Manager has put together a wish list of items he wants the community to take action on, some of which, like stopping SOPA, are already becoming a part of the mainstream consciousness.
Others, such as open industry, content quality, and the reputation of the SEO industry are certainly well known and much-debated topics within the community, though they may not register outside of search marketing. Others still may not seem an issue to you at all right now, like cookie and tracking laws, though the potential fallout of such legislation could affect how we do our jobs. It is our job, says Essex, to promote awareness of what these issues mean within the community and beyond. We agree.
Danny Sullivan at SearchEngineLand.com is also beating the war drum, saying 2011 was "alarming to me. After years of moving forward, the search engines took a big step back." He calls attention to those of Google’s changes most significant to SEOs from the last year, some of which seemed like direct hits on the industry as a whole, in his article 2011: The Year Google and Bing Took Away From SEOs & Publishers.
These issues concern us here at Search Engine Watch and you, as a marketer. Some could affect everyone who uses the Internet. We asked search industry leaders Mike Grehan, Danny Sullivan, Jonathan Allen, Chris Boggs, Rand Fishkin, and David Harry for some tips and advice on how the SEO community could best influence the change that needs to happen.
SOPA and Its Quieter, More Insidious Sibling PIPA
Rosetta’s Chris Boggs, President of SEMPO, told us the search marketing organization is sending a letter opposing SOPA to both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. Why, they ask, is SOPA necessary when many of the provisions it is being pushed through on are already covered under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act?
As SOPA protests, largely driven by social media rage on around the web, another influential player threw their hat in the ring yesterday. WordPress urged their 60 million users to visit Stop American Censorship and take action against SOPA & PIPA. What can you do? Visit and act on their recommendations before January 24th, when Senate is scheduled to vote on the Internet censorship bill; 41 senators are needed to block the vote.
Not Provided Keyword Referrer Data and Missing Link Data
There seems to be two camps on this one; those who think Google is being disingenuous and dealt the industry a blow by withholding keyword referrer data, and those who think it’s an overblown issue. Both sides have merit. Whether you think it’s worth getting hot and bothered about probably depends on how it’s affected your business, so consider these points of view.
Sullivan offered some workable solutions in his article, if the community can get fired up and take action. Pressure Google as to why they’re deliberately preventing people from studying link data; what do they have to hide? Don’t let Google preach about openness when they practice it only selectively, he writes. Hold their feet to the fire over privacy as the reasoning for withholding keyword data when they make it available to their advertisers. Finally, he recommended, withhold your own data and give them a taste of their own medicine.
Boggs told us, "We’ve got an average of 9-10% of data from a pretty large sample, but it ranges all the way up to over 20%. Still, 20% is not a huge number when you’re comparing the return on online marketing, even without it, to other types of marketing."
Mike Grehan, Global VP - Content for Incisive Media (our parent company) doesn’t think we should sweat it and said, "Many blacksmiths had to move on and retrain when demand demised after the introduction of automotive transport. And the SEO industry has to do the same. Think of the important signals these days for Google, which are around end user data and intent. It's not about markup code and server issues that need fixing anymore." Google owns their keyword data, he points out; it's theirs in the first place. Besides, said Grehan, "End user behavior is more important than 90% of google ranking factors."
Finally, David Harry, President of Reliable SEO and Sifu at the SEO Training Dojo said, "Yes, we lost some keyword data, boo hoo. But consider this: for years, I have talked about personalization and behavioral data, then social graph. One thing people would say to me all the time was, ‘We don't know how many people are logged in, so we don't know the value in targeting peronalized elements.’" He continued to show the silver lining, saying, "Hop skip and a jump... we now have this data. The (not provided) signals the % of visitors to the site that are LOGGED IN. This means we now know the level of people coming to the site via potentially personalized means. This, of course, means that you can align social media and other strategies accordingly. If your site gets 1 million visitors a month and your (not provided) is 22%, that's considerable. Time to assess the social graph and personalization elements of the SEO program..."
Promoting Open Industry
Essex is concerned that open industry might be at risk as brands tighten up privacy controls. He believes SEOs might be discouraged from sharing experiences and data that help spur innovation and raise standards if their clients are unhappy about their speaking openly on their SEO strategy.
Harry says, "So what? We work with many corporate clients and even other SEO agencies that want us to fly under the radar. They may not want it public what or who is handling their SEO efforts, or they may not want to talk about ranking issues they may be having (we do recovery consulting). There are many reasons, but it is quite normal for clients to want us under wraps. And being one for the Art of War (SEO Style), I likely also don't want their competitors’ SEOs to know I am lurking."
So what can you do about it? "I don't see that this inhibits us from sharing knowledge," said Harry. "We run an SEO community and by and large no one talks about actual client names nor URLs, except for the in-house folks. You simply sanitize the data and share findings, theories and concepts." Again, educating and preparing clients from the outset is key.
Wage War on Low Quality Content
On content quality, Essex would like to see search marketers do their part to clean up the web. He points to rubbish content designed to generate ad clicks and affiliate income as a growing plague. We all heard the outrage this past year as sites were chased down by rabid Pandas and knocked to their knees. But was it really a bad thing for the industry?
Grehan believes Google’s Panda was a blessing in disguise. The emphasis on content quality means marketers now have to face the fact that they can’t put all their chickens in one basket. He notes that many have enjoyed a party with lots of free money from Google and are crying now because the party is over.
He also reminds us of a basic business principle: never let anyone own more of your business than you do. Grehan said, "When you have 80% of your traffic (revenue) coming from one source (Google) and a Panda comes along and takes it away, what were you thinking about in the first place? You have no more right to rank at the top of Google than the billions of other web pages out there."
Crap content plagues the Internet. This is not new. Panda update put a dent in it, but do we have to rely on Google to constantly police us? What can you do about it? Essex suggests you block junk sites every time you come across them. And here’s an idea: stop writing garbage designed for nothing but generating revenue. We really are our own worst enemies sometimes.
Lying Liars and the Lies They Sell
Speaking of being our own worst enemies, Essex also calls out those who may know exactly what they’re doing, yet choose to use tactics that damage the industry’s reputation. We asked Rand Fishkin from SEOMoz what we can do as individuals and as a group to fight this:
"Marketers who engage in fake reviews, falsified comments, puppet accounts and misleading tactics don't just hurt the consumers they may fool, they also damage the field of Internet Marketing itself. Marketers already have a tough time earning the respect, budget and creative freedom to help businesses and ideas that desperately need help earning awareness and customers. When these tactics take center stage, they bring our industry down, our salaries down, our reputation down and none of us should stand for that," he said.
Fishkin continues, "I hope the web marketing field becomes more transparent and more willing to call out these actions and the operators behind them. If we're seen as a group who huddles to protect our own rather than proactively identifying and discrediting spam and fake content, we'll be held in contempt by more and more of the web and technology world. Regulating our own field hasn't been a strength of SEOs, but I hope it becomes one before governments or outsiders decide to do it for us."
Fake SEOs Who Give the Industry a Bad Name
Along the same lines, Essex loosely defines fake SEOs as those who don’t know what they’re doing and aren’t willing to learn, making promises they can’t deliver on to clients.
We asked Sullivan how he felt they should be dealt with: "There are a lot of what I'd call unprofessional SEOs; people who aren't diligently trying to perform a real and valuable service, something a client could measure. Unfortunately, a lot of them have more visibility and give the industry a bad rep, because of the cold call emails they send. But I'm not sure that this problem is easily corrected," he said. "It's been around for ages, and no one's solved it yet. Ideas like certification failed in black hat/white hat debates (which is an entirely different issue from delivering value). These days, I guess I just figure that the industry has survived it all so far, so the professional SEOs should just hunker down and get on with work."
Google Results Ever Changing, with Paid Bumping Out Organic
Fishkin foresees a mainstream backlash against Google’s increasingly aggressive ad placement on SERPs in his 8 Predictions for SEO in 2012 post (see #5).
Search Engine Watch Director Jonathan Allen looks for the silver lining, saying, "All the new types of paid search ads and Google+ pages do seem to be taking up more and more real estate on search results pages and crowding out organic/natural positions. However, losing key positions to new search engine features is not necessarily a new thing and has been increasingly the case since Google’s universal search update in 2007. As an SEO, you learn to turn it to your advantage. It is often the case that what we lose in terms of rankings we often gain in terms of back doors into the top of search results that take considerably less "donkey work" and rely on smarter and more holistic SEO strategies. In most cases, the change is simply to how Google presents a media type and businesses just have to intelligently engage with that change. So, in that sense, Google still rewards the smart marketers who embrace the connected consumer."
He continues, "However, I can't be 100% upbeat about Google PPC ads crowding out organic positions. Google's landing page quality score generates a double bind for the average small business. They need to advertise to get new customers, but they face a higher cost per click because their websites are generally not as elegant as the large companies they compete with. Small businesses realize the need to invest in better websites, but it is much harder for them to bootstrap their way to the top because these are fixed costs that need to be recovered ahead of their ability to be profitable. Arguably, this means that the most entrepreneurs are forced to spend more to compete than they used to; effectively roadblocked by larger incumbents. Nonetheless, one has to wonder how different this is from the offline world."
So what can you do about it? Essex suggests you should contact Google as well as the mainstream media to raise awareness. Allen thinks this issue is best solved on an individual level, noting that "Consumers have drastically changed the way they consume content in the last few years and are becoming more selective about what services and what devices they will use to access it. Going forward, that makes SEO less about technicalities and more about how to engage and connect with an increasingly fragmented audience that wants to consume content whenever they want via multiple media types and different destinations. Rather than worry about rankings, businesses should look at streamlining every "touchpoint" with the customer, segmenting audiences and focus on generating active endorsements. Search marketing is no longer about minimum viable SEO but instead about creating an online product that resonates with your market."
According to Allen, "In reality the SEO industry product which we sell is a bunch of bets and educated guesses on the future of consumer search behavior (which, for now, is primarily centered around increasing your chances of appearing on Google) - of which the total value is derived from the opportunity cost, rather than simply on the value of services rendered. The only reason we ever sold ‘top positions’ on Google was it was the easiest way to turn our knowledge into a conceptual product that other people could buy. But as an industry, we’ve never really sold rankings - we’ve sold online marketing and PR strategies that are worth more than failing to have one at all."
Cookie Laws, One to Keep an Eye On
It’s not likely we’ll see these new cookie laws passing in North America any time soon. However, it is important that we stay vigilant - look how far SOPA got into the process of convincing lawmakers it’s necessary and fair before the public outcry really picked up. ClickZ offers a look into where this stands now in their Do Not Track article.
Watch the video below for details, or read the transcription on the Koozai blog.
What do you think of Koozai’s take on the issues we, as a community, need to work on and these recommendations? Are these actions you’re ready and willing to take? Join the debate in the comments.