As the Penguin 2.0 dust settles the SEO pundits are racing to interpret what Google has done and what it means. But unlike many other industries where there are watchdog groups, checks-and-balances or elections, Google rules the Monarchy in SEO. The situation is untenable and the message for small businesses nearly impossible to understand.
Julian Assange Challenges Google’s World View
In a recent New York Times opinion piece, Julian Assange addressed Google’s recent PR work to position themselves as a thought leader on our digital future. While Google’s intentions may be good, Assange believes that their recent thinking represents the end of privacy for the general public and the rise of authoritarianism on the Internet.
Are we seeing the same thing in SEO via Matt Cutts? His intentions are clearly good (i.e., wanting better search results for end-users), but is he pushing the costs of SEO out of reach for small businesses? Worse, is he pitting the profits of Google Inc. against Ma and Pop’s Main Street?
SEO is like Goldilocks and the Three Bears
SEO does feel a bit like an epic fairytale (OK, maybe a recurring nightmare for some), filled with mystery, fear and vagaries. Usually the good guys win, but not always. I’ve been watching the columns, SEO publications and blogs, and Matt Cutts closely – and here are the definitive messages from Penguin 2.0:
- Analyze your links closely to know you are doing SEO right and which links you should disavow, but don’t think about backlinks.
- Spend years developing high quality link-bait and become an Authority, and then disavow all the links from sites that Google doesn’t like (even though they voluntarily linked to you because of your great content).
- Select a domain name that exactly matches what searchers want, but don’t select an exact match domain name even if that’s what searchers want and that’s what you do.
- Share content that is newsworthy, but don’t use press releases because that’s spammy.
- Don’t use directories, except Yelp and DMOZ, which are directories.
- Develop a world-wide brand so that you will be invulnerable to Google updates, just like the Salvation Army.
Contradictory statements like these drive small business owners crazy. They barely have time to keep their businesses running, let alone learn SEO. Yes, we are clearly in fairytale land now, where small business owners can’t seem to get a grip on what real SEO is or whose advice to listen to.
- Too Small: Follow Matt Cutts to the letter of the law. Build a great website and wait for business to magically appear. Do nothing to proactively seek backlinks. Make sure all press releases are no-followed. Furthermore, any time money changes hands, there can’t be a backlink involved.
- Too Big: Join every linking club available. Buy every blog post offer that is emailed to you. Buy sidebar links from old websites. Use reborn and exact match domains to boost page rank. Create thin, spun or machine generated content. Submit duplicate content with do-follow links to free-for-all articles sites as widely as possible. Use automated software, especially if it costs $97 or $147 (a clear sign of quality).
So What is “Just Right” in SEO?
The difficult truth in SEO is that “Just Right” isn’t a simple answer. There is a wide margin between clearly Too Big and Too Small. And how far you want to push these tactics is a matter of risk / reward. The trick is to do REAL SEO that will last, avoiding silver bullets.
Ultimately, small businesses needs to be comfortable with what’s happening with their SEO. This requires a high level of transparency and education. Smart SEO professionals advocate for a balanced and diversified approach. Integrate SEO into marketing so that branding work is prioritized along with earning backlinks. Content marketing is an absolute must in today’s SEO environment. Find creative ways to use the news in SEO. And yes, Small Businesses should distribute press releases - but in moderation when there is real news to share.
Don’t expect much more clarity from Google in the future until there is a seismic power shift in online marketing. Until then, small business owners should embrace diversity, moderation and consistency to avoid the extremes. And they must ignore silver bullets as they represent fairytale thinking.