“This deal keeps get worse all the time!” – is echoed by a subset of marketers called search engine optimizers, almost daily (I imagine because I got out 18 months ago). These struggling folk get paid to help content creators AND/OR/ARE content creators. What do they do? Compete for Google’s affections by attempting to reverse engineer how Google organic search algorithm works and cater to it. The goal is to appear in the top position in the organic results of various key word searches since you get more clicks to your site that way. The best content should appear on the first page of the search results but considering the subjective nature of the “best”, search engine optimizers have been able to say their content or their clients’ content should be ranked as the “best” and often charge clients a fee for the promise of performance via technical and content prowess…but that strategy fails at a high rate, so they then promise they will do their best for their client which ends up being – like – more of a learning experiment for search engine optimizer/practitioner…remarkably similar to consulting. In fact, the term SEO has been tarnished for several decades in reality….
Why? It’s fraught with difficulty: there is only one webpage that can rank for a given keyword, even if there are millions of keywords it ain’t easy to rank for one (non-branded) keyword, second, there is no way to A/B test organic performance to see if what you are doing as an SEO is actually the cause of an improvement or drop in performance, so if your client suddenly ranks in first position there is no way to know if your efforts were the cause…so you take credit for the good and disavow the bad like a standard politician.
Needless to say, the relationship with Google has been antagonistic since SEOs are paid to rank their client’s content over Google’s more objective measures. But the valued relationship is between content producers and Google. How’s that work? Google crawls and indexes websites, uses your servers’ bandwidth and scrapes informational content IN EXCHANGE those content creators will receive Google search traffic by appearing on the search engine results page (SERPs)…..
….the problem is Google increasingly wants to provide the best answer without sending users to the sites that provide those answers. Instead of encouraging users to click on a link to a website like webopedia.com, Google is building a personal assistant solution working off the backs of content creators without giving those creators the benefit of that traffic. How? By answering those user questions directly on the search engine result page, placing organic results way down the page, below paid advertising.
Google’s changes over the years have moved further and further away from content creators, to exclusively manage the interests of users. Principally on the smartphone where clicking to a new webpage is a pain, Google has squeezed organic content creation down below their pre-set answers. The consequences are that more content creators will allocate budget towards paid search results and treat search optimizations as a nice to have long-term project of serendipity but not a short-run conversion source….”We won’t have a next year, if we don’t drive traffic through paid!” might be something you’ll hear more and more. Creating organic content has increasingly diminishing returns but it seems like we will need to evolve even further away from the “SEO-gets-paid-to-rank-principle.” Technical website improving has its place but it too is dubious as Google uses hundreds of factors to circumvent poor performing websites in order to get users what they want….
Google search has +90% market share, hence they have a competitive advance. Content producers have limited re-course for example, only if every website blocked Google’s crawler, could content producers influence Google’s policies? A virtual protest against Google might work if you got the BBC to block Google’s crawler…But then other websites would take advantage in order to rank appropriately for those terms. Game theory is a pain. And SEOs are either trying to game the search engine or support it. In either case, Google doesn’t and hasn’t ever really wanted or needed their help. Google wants great content to please customers. And makes paid rankings (PPC) to be far more prevalent anyway.
The % of organic and paid clicks changed with Instant Answers were rolled out in 2018, now that this is rolled out, the entire SEO agency work is increasingly undermined in various fields. That’s why so many people have left the industry. Meanwhile doing what is best for searchers is what Google has used to justify all kinds of unhelpful changes that undermine marketers.
- On Video: Google is basically recommending lists of films….no foreign films….above actually movie sites.
- On Weather: Google owns this search and is taking away traffic from the Weather Network…London, UK was the same, I can confirm from my pre-2016 days.
- On Flights: Google puts its own results on flights above the airline’s own pages unless there is a PPC ad spend that these airlines are willing to shell out to Google.
- On Sports: Google sports information on the search. It brings no traffics to the franchises
- On Hotels: Google eats Trivago for breakfast, that’s why Trivago advertises on TV (to drive traffic to their brand name since Google also supplies options)…
- On Best of Anything: Google wants to control the options AND they want to link to US sites for users in Canada, eating Canadian dog food companies for breakfast.
Facebook has killed organic reach for postings by only scaling out posts that go “viral”: I’m not getting the stories from my own extended family as a result. Twitter and Linkedin have been trying to show content that contains no links so that users stay on their sites. Reddit has tried to keep people on Reddit as well. YouTube has cut out the descriptions linking. Amazon is extremely stingy about links.
UPDATE October 2018…..
Rand Fishkin’s solution is to continue to believe in something that is (career-wise) completely impractical and bogus that “If you can nail it [create the perfect, high ranking page, under budget], you will get tons of traffic to your site….” But it’s pretty much impossible to “nail it” with any consistency. The idea that because something is harder, it makes the best even more sought after completely denies the fact that there are massive externalities that determine search performance….Oh and no one posts comments saying their campaigns fail 99% of the time because they are still trying to work in this industry. Fishkin is in a jam because he doesn’t want to say that what he has been evangelizing is a low reward career for the vast majority of workers but there it is.
The Good News:
- Long-tail queries are still ripe for search engine optimization of content! (slow clap)
- You can build interactive content! ( with your giant budget)
- You can basically create content in the formats that the monopoly wants! (insanely competitive though)
- You don’t have to work in this field! If you can pivot out of it, do so!