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A few thoughts on SEO as an industry and the learning process.

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Old 07-08-12
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Default Re: A few thoughts on SEO as an industry and the learning process.

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Originally Posted by Opulence View Post
Hi all,

I consult to small businesses and, whilst I don’t plan on becoming an SEO guru, I try to keep up with the ins and outs. This isn’t so much a question but more just an opportunity to publicly churn over some thoughts that have been bugging me for some time now. All of this is just a bit of brainstorming so don’t get too offended if I say something stupid. The first part is some thoughts on the incentives of Google and their advertisers and the second part is about learning SEO.


Part 1:
From where I see it, Google's has a weird set of incentives. They want to make their organic algorithm effective enough to provide an excellent service so that their users keep coming back yet not effective enough to discourage advertisers from placing ads. To justify this opinion, I’ll break it down to both the perspective of Google and that of the advertiser.

A business must acknowledge that there is a finite set of people in the world that will buy from them. From an economics perspective, a customer that had perfect information about the market would always choose the same company to buy from. This is because they would always select the deal that gives them the most value by their preferences. As we know, however, perfect information is a poor assumption to make and customers often buy from the “wrong” business because of this inability to process the entire information set.

When businesses are advertising, their goal is to spend the least amount possible to reach the maximum amount of those people that otherwise might buy from somewhere else. In paid search you must target the keywords with the highest conversion rate (and low bid price). Inevitably there are other customers out there, not worth pursuing as they exist amongst keyword searches with such low conversion rates as to be prohibitively expensive to capture.

Google must retain this need to advertise, as it is their primary source of revenue yet they must also release enough information to let businesses set up their sites correctly to facilitate a good organic search experience. They also don’t want to release too much information lest unscrupulous spammers learn to exploit their algorithm and drive unnecessary amounts of traffic to their sites.

So why would businesses want to drive unnecessary amounts of traffic to their site if they only have a finite set of customers that would choose to buy from them?

Well, firstly they’re banking on the customer’s lack of information. I.e if a business gets in front of people, they may choose to buy from them even though it may not be their best deal (read: lower ranked sites that are potentially a better match to their needs).

Secondly, it’s too hard to exactly identify your entire set of ideal customers so SEO manipulation (read spam) casts out a net in the hope that, despite dragging up lots of seaweed, they’ll also catch all the fish in the sea.

It is only economically feasible to adopt this approach when the method of catching fish is free i.e organic search. Obviously SEO is not free but it is so scalable that it's costs decrease drastically when it is scaled up (this all assumes you've figured out how to exploit the algorithm). Thus the laws of low hanging fruit / diminishing returns don’t apply as harshly as they do in paid search.

Assuming you can figure out how to exploit the algorithm there is no incentive to only chase the economically attainable customers as you would in paid search. You cast a wide net knowing that your customers will be somewhere within that traffic because casting that net doesn’t cost you much. Thus the quality of the average Google user’s experience deteriorates because they are exposed to the spammers attempts to capture the last fish in the sea.

This is my long way of justifying why Google, in my books, has a sort of conflicting set of incentives. They want to prevent spammers and retain their advertising revenue yet they also need their organic search to work well to maintain market leadership as a search engine.


Part 2:
On a different note, the more I read into SEO the more sceptical I become. It appears to be a world of misinformation where any time you read something, there is a layer of sales pitch involved either for SEO consulting or for some allegedly fandangle software to help you with your ranking. And that’s all before you get started on the independence issues associated with bloggers not declaring their affiliation with the products they “review”.

I find myself being sceptical even of those who appear to be educating purely for the sake of spreading knowledge.

I do actually have a question, one of the firms I consult to has outsourced SEO and they are always talking about official releases etc from Google. Where do they go for this information? I did some googling and couldn’t find an official Google news feed to keep up to date on . I found this, which is a start I guess. But is there some central repository for this info?


Secondly, is there anyone who has taken a more rigorous approach to SEO research? I’ve never read anything that would amount to more than anecdotal evidence about the cause and effect of actions taken in SEO. I guess if there were someone out there developing that level of reverse engineering, they sure as hell wouldn’t be releasing the results…
I do share most of your sentiments, but I believe that effective SEO techniques have been made public ever since. It is the high level of competition that makes SEO difficult and costly.

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Old 07-08-12
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Default Re: A few thoughts on SEO as an industry and the learning process.

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Originally Posted by Opulence View Post
It appears to be a world of misinformation where any time you read something, there is a layer of sales pitch involved either for SEO consulting or for some allegedly fandangle software to help you with your ranking...

I do actually have a question, one of the firms I consult to has outsourced SEO and they are always talking about official releases etc from Google. Where do they go for this information?

Secondly, is there anyone who has taken a more rigorous approach to SEO research?
Hi Opulence,
I think you may be referring to G's series of "Search Quality Highlights" that started late last year.

I think I grabbed them all here:

Search quality highlights: 39 changes for May
http://insidesearch.blogspot.com.au/...9-changes.html

Search quality highlights: 52 changes for April
http://insidesearch.blogspot.com.au/...3-changes.html

Search quality highlights: 50 changes for March
http://insidesearch.blogspot.com.au/...0-changes.html

Search quality highlights: 40 changes for February
http://insidesearch.blogspot.com.au/...0-changes.html

17 search quality highlights: January
http://insidesearch.blogspot.com.au/...s-january.html

30 search quality highlights (with codenames!): December
http://insidesearch.blogspot.com.au/...ghts-with.html

Search quality highlights: new monthly series on algorithm changes
http://insidesearch.blogspot.com.au/...w-monthly.html

Ten recent algorithm changes
http://insidesearch.blogspot.com.au/...m-changes.html

The trouble is that they are written in G's typically way - "we have made a change but we are not going to give you a clue about how important it is".

In fact, the impact of any single change can be totally different depending on whether you are searching on G.com, com.au, co.uk or one of the 100+ other country search engines. (Multiply that out by all the broad change descriptions...)

I agree with your comments about many SEOs. They have plenty of comments from G's announcements to beat their drum about.

If you search for "google panda" or "google penguin" you will find millions of pages published about these 2 upgrades.

In reality, these had very little impact on most websites. It is only the miniscule percent of sites who used the link building techniques that these upgrades hurt that were affected.

Then there are the offers of free website audits.

Talk about misrepresentation! These are spat out in 2 minutes by software programs. They report errors for parameters that have absolutely no influence on SE ranking or when no one knows if the parameter is important. All we know for a fact is that Gs algorithm will have changed the importance of specific paramaters scores, hundreds, or thousands of times since the software was written so they are all out of date or using inaccurate databases anyway.

Some of us do spend a lot of time researching what is happening in G's search results. If you hunt around in the SE forum you will find there are a few SEOs who swap notes and experiences here at a boringly technical level.

Pssst!
Do you want to know the secret of what's driving the biggest changes to G's search results over the last 18 months?

The answer is mobile phones. G is trying to reduce the need for typing keywords with dinky little keyboards. The search results are frequently screwed up at the moment and there will probably be another 12 months of significant algorithm changes while they fix things. (IMHO)

If you want to improve your SE referrals, think like a mobile phone user then implement that on your website. So much for HTML code and external links.
Regs,
JohnW

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Last edited by JohnW; 07-08-12 at 11:42 PM. Reason: typo
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