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Old 03-08-12
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Default A few thoughts on SEO as an industry and the learning process.

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…

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Old 04-08-12
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Default Re: A few thoughts on SEO as an industry and the learning process.

@Opulence - why is it that everyone seems to think that there is some secret formula to SEO that is hidden except to a few? SEO has two parts; technically getting your website created correctly using good HTML conventions; and more importantly have good and relevant content. "Content is king" when it comes to search engine results.

In the past there were SEO companies who offered grey hat or black hat services to artificially get a website to rank well regardless of its targets or its content. Those days have long gone, thankfully. Google and other search engines are now starting to penalise over-optimised sites.

So basically don't over-think the issues and don't even try to "exploit the algorithm".

Google search engine and Google Adwords don't compete or overlap. Adwords is about advertising your products or business and ensuring that you get relevant clicks. There are no "conflicting incentives". There are many similarities in the issues when trying to achieve good organic results and good paid results. Adwords looks at keyword relevance, landing page content, performance and results in determining who wins the click auction and how much it will cost. You could create a poorly built Adwords campaign that never gets a click through and therefore never costs money in the same way you can create a poor website that never gets ranked well.

Google is providing some good tools to assist in understanding SEO and a place to start is the Google Webmaster Academy.

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Old 05-08-12
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Default Re: A few thoughts on SEO as an industry and the learning process.

Quote:
Originally Posted by John Debrincat View Post
Google and other search engines are now starting to penalise over-optimised sites.
Why would they do that unless people had figured out how to exploit their algorithm? If there was a way then then there'd a be a way now.

I have no intention of exploiting the algorithm but I assure you there'd be people out there figuring out how to. With so much of commerce going online, getting high amounts of convertible traffic through your site will always be a priority.

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Originally Posted by John Debrincat View Post
Google search engine and Google Adwords don't compete or overlap.
If the google algorithm was able to drive the perfect set of traffic to your site, would there be a need to advertise? For example, now that Google recognises geography much more intelligently, when I type in plumbers, it shows me the ones that are closest to my house as I'm more likely to call a plumber here in Sydney than in Perth. Compare this to a few years back when you'd get results from all over the place, the incentive for a Plumber to advertise would have been much greater when they couldn't rely on Google to deliver the most relevant traffic to their sites. That's what I mean by the conflict of incentives between bettering their algorithm but still maintaining the need to advertise.

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Originally Posted by John Debrincat View Post
Google is providing some good tools to assist in understanding SEO and a place to start is the Google Webmaster Academy.
Thanks for the link, I'll definitely be having a look through that stuff.

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Old 05-08-12
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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
Why would they do that unless people had figured out how to exploit their algorithm? If there was a way then then there'd a be a way now.
It is like (RSA) responsible service of alcohol, it is because the ones that over optimise cause problems. Their websites get drunk on their own self importance. So like RSA the search engines just turn them away from the bar.

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I have no intention of exploiting the algorithm but I assure you there'd be people out there figuring out how to.
To a real commerce website it is not worth the risk. And sure there will be dodgy operators out there that promise number one ranking and they are as believable now as they have always been --- NOT.

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If the google algorithm was able to drive the perfect set of traffic to your site, would there be a need to advertise?
Why do Coles and Woolworths advertise? You are basically looking at two different objectives and outcomes. What advertising is about is presenting your unique selling proposition. Getting the punters to the table for a close.

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

Quote:
Originally Posted by John Debrincat View Post
It is like (RSA) responsible service of alcohol, it is because the ones that over optimise cause problems. Their websites get drunk on their own self importance. So like RSA the search engines just turn them away from the bar.
I agree.

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Originally Posted by John Debrincat View Post
To a real commerce website it is not worth the risk. And sure there will be dodgy operators out there that promise number one ranking and they are as believable now as they have always been --- NOT.
Also agreed.

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Originally Posted by John Debrincat View Post
Why do Coles and Woolworths advertise? You are basically looking at two different objectives and outcomes. What advertising is about is presenting your unique selling proposition. Getting the punters to the table for a close.
They advertise because they feel that they aren't getting all the possible customers they could sell to. If they knew that they already had every single customer that they could possible sell to in the store, there'd be no need to advertise. That's obviously a very unrealistic assumption though as its both unlikely and unmeasurable. I'm exaggerating here to justify what I said about Google's conflicting incentives.

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Old 06-08-12
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Default Re: A few thoughts on SEO as an industry and the learning process.

I'm often churning this stuff about in my head as well and its to have an opportunity to discuss it.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Opulence View Post
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.
While I understand the apparent conflicting incentives I don't think that Google actively constrains it's organic search quality in order to make sure some people click on the ads, at least at the moment.

I suppose you can imagine a situation where the organic results are so good that no one clicks on the ads but I don't think we are anywhere near that now. The sheer complication of search coupled with the ability of copywriters to entice people to click on ads are just two factors that will prevent this becoming a reality for some time yet.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Opulence View Post
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.
While I mostly agree with this statement I think your missing out on some key aspects.
-People like variety, so even with perfect info they might choose something different just to get variety
-People are lazy, even if they know that there's probably a better option out there, they'll take the option they currently have to avoid having to look for it
-You can't actually know whether an option is good until you try it
-Even with perfect information its not always the case that there's a clear winner. Two businesses might offer pretty similar value (Woolies vs Coles for example) but only one can get the customer

Of course you could argue that both of these points are included by default within an assessment of ones "preferences," I think they're still worth highlighting.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Opulence View Post
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.
Under the current setup, there will always be people willing to advertise so, again, I don' think Google is or needs to limit the effectiveness of their search results. There can only be 10 organic listings on the first page but with advertising there's another 5-10 spots available and in increasingly prime real estate as well.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Opulence View Post
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?
I don't really know what you mean by "unnecessary amounts of traffic."

If you've cracked the algorithm and can drive as much traffic as you want to your site just by pulling the right strings then its just a question of whether the return is worth the cost. If the traffic is not very targeted then you'll probably see a lower conversion rate but if its still positive ROI then there should be nothing stopping you, except...

The threat of a penalty in the future! This is the main reason that people are weary of manipulative techniques, not because the traffic is less targeted.

To answer you part 2; if they're talking about regular Google news and updates then they're probably getting it from one or several sources such as;
-Google's official blogs
-Matt Cutts
-Google Webmaster Help threads
-GWH youtube channel

As for SEO research, try these;
-http://www.seomoz.org/article/search-ranking-factors
-http://www.davidmihm.com/local-search-ranking-factors.shtml

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Old 06-08-12
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Default Re: A few thoughts on SEO as an industry and the learning process.

Thanks Nick, fantastic post. I think you've brought my musings down to a more real world level rather than the perfect assumptions of economic theory etc.

You'r right, I doubt they do actively limit the efficacy of their organic results chiefly because of your second point that it has so far to go before they would need to anyway.

Cheers for the resources too, I'll look into them.

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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 John Debrincat View Post

In the past there were SEO companies who offered grey hat or black hat services to artificially get a website to rank well regardless of its targets or its content. Those days have long gone, thankfully.
Totally untrue. There are still loads of things you can do to 'influence' the algorithm, there always will be and there always will be companies that generate a profit from doing these things. I know people who offer purely 'grey hat' SEO services and have plenty of business - a lot less competition after penguin too.

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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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I know people who offer purely 'grey hat' SEO services and have plenty of business - a lot less competition after penguin too.
I know dodgy motor mechanics who can make your 1975 Holden Commodore sound like a Ferrari (at least to the ear of the driver). The drivers of those dodgy makeovers are the fuel for the magistrates courts. I class the SEO makeover artists in the same dodgy league. There is no such thing as safe "grey hat" SEO services.

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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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There is no such thing as safe "grey hat" SEO services.
Agreed, but you didn't include the word "safe" in your original post that Dan was quoting from. You shouldn't consider any traffic (or revenue) stream safe, always diversify.

Manipulative techniques are far from becoming completely ineffective. As long as there is significant economical benefits to be gained from gaming the system, there will continue to be a cat and mouse game between the "black/grey hatters" and Google.

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