[Editorial note: Dr. Ken Evoy is one of the most successful entrepreneurs in our space. Back when a great many small businesses (today’s “savvier more experienced online businesses”) were coming onstream, Evoy’s company, SiteSell.com, was providing one of the first “bibles” of Internet Marketing, Make Your Site Sell!. Many Internet marketers cut their teeth on that book. SiteSell morphed into a tool and process providing company called Site Build It!, which over 40,000 customers use to build their own, independent, e-businesses. Recently, Ken and I engaged in some friendly discussion about some of the blackest of black hat tactics that are still lurking around, and the practitioners’ ham-fisted attempts to profit from them. Some of them are quite harmful to the ecosystem, but most importantly, after a time they stop working. And the howls and screams begin. We shouldn’t listen to those howls and screams. They’re about search engines doing their job: protecting consumers and competing businesses from shady, spammy, and often borderline illegal marketing tactics.
One Day, the SEO’ers Will Get It: But Not Today
[by Dr. Ken Evoy, Guest Post for Traffick.com]
I am constantly amazed by the “psychology of the herd.” Any herd. From Bernie Madoff’s super-rich herd to the Toronto Maple Leafs fans (who believe that one day they will win the Stanley Cup — sorry, Andrew), the ability of bandwagon psychology to blind us from seeing the obvious is powerful stuff.
The practitioners of Search Engine Optimizations (“SEO” and “SEOers”) form such a herd. This herd is the object of this article.
SIDEBAR: I define SEO as the manipulation of search engines to produce search results which rank their Web pages (or those of their clients) “incorrectly high.” I do not consider pure “white hat” practices to fall within the definition.
Pure white hats do not mislead the engines. The emphasis is on “keeping it real” (eg., quality content and links, optimal site architecture, etc.). Their practices fall comfortably within search engine guidelines.
Some SEOers fool themselves into thinking they are white hats. Here are two tests to help you find out if your white hat is, in fact, a little gray or worse…
1) The true white hat NEVER talks about doing anything to “avoid detection by Google.”
2) The truest of white hats can answer “yes” to the following question… “If Google announced that they are launching absolutely perfect, human-level, Artificial Intelligence tomorrow, will they perform better or worse?” Only the purest of white hats are ready for such an occurrence. Their sites should expect to see more traffic, IF their content is original and of high quality.
With that understanding in hand, when I use the term “SEOer,” I include black, gray and all but the purest-of-white-hat practitioners.
From the early days of keyword stuffing and doorway pages to today, the arms race between SEOer and search engines continues. But it fascinates me that SEOers just… don’t… get… it. It’s not a fair race.
NO SEO black hat trick has ever survived the propellorheads who work for the search engines. They don’t survive because they compromise the quality of search results.
What do you think would happen if an SEOer’s techniques succeed and degrade the quality of the SERPs? Nothing, at first. But when the engines find you, and they will, they will hurt you. Why? It’s elementary…
If you degrade their quality, surfers are less likely to keep coming back. Soon, you will be delivering fewer targeted surfers to your REAL customers, the advertisers. In other words…
If you degrade the quality of their SERPs, you threaten their very business.
Case in point…
I once knew two brilliant black hats. They were WAY beyond what anyone was doing or writing about. No one who is SERIOUSLY good at SEO writes about it.
These two guys were math wizards, the types who got 100 in advanced calculus… in kindergarten. Nicholas Taleb type of brains.
THESE guys, I respected. I didn’t agree with them, but I respected them. They broke no laws. They shattered every search engine guideline ever published (and a whole bunch more, I’d wager). They made 7 figures/year.
I would ask/tell them… “Why don’t you guys just take it to Wall Street? You’re smart enough and you won’t be facing off against hundreds of Computer Science PhDs whose entire lives revolve around making search better. Even if they don’t target your techniques directly, you will get swept away by the ever-improving ability to detect real, genuine and excellent content. You can’t beat that forever.”
I understand why they thought I was wrong. No one had ever outsmarted them.
But this was not a 1-on-1 fight. One got knocked out of the box around 2 years go. I can’t reach and have not heard from the other, who used to like to e-mail me about how well he’s doing.
It is simply not possible to stay ahead. The sheer complexity of ARTIFICIALLY ranking high goes up, up and up, making it continuously harder to manipulate.
Recently, a very large ring of sploggers was dismantled by Google. This ring consisted of thousands of people creating countless mini-money sites. They admitted that they took content from top-ranking sites for high-paying keywords, then altered it just enough so Google could not recognize it. They then created huge fake link networks (often coordinating efforts with each other) to prop the “money page up” at the SERP for that keyword.
The amount of spammy content and links must have been staggering. The major “gurus” had high traffic and they coached countless thousands of others how to do it. They taught this system publicly, which shows the degree of invulnerability they felt.
Note that this was not high-tech cutting edge like the black hats who should have gone to Wall Street. This was low-tech link-bombing, the simple overwhelming of one factor, inbound links, by thousands of people.
Well, it turns out they were not invulnerable. Reality is reality. You can recognize it earlier and adapt to it, or you can ignore it until it’s two inches away from your nose, when you can’t ignore it anymore, and it stomps you. The sploggers have been self-admittedly stomped, their blogs full of the gory stories of rankings and traffic disappearing.
Bottom line? No matter how cutting edge or low-tech-brute-force your black hat may be, it won’t survive.
I was slammed when I published that message in “The Tao of SBI!” in 2005, explaining why SEO is doomed. Everything in that book is happening. SEOers are morphing their job descriptions, some now calling it SEM, rather than admit that SEO is dead.
Look at just a few trends since then… Universal search, personalized search, Google Suggest, tools to help us search smarter. We all get something a little different from Mother Google, including influences by your social network, and on and on and on… And what about AI, where Google is doing cutting edge work?
Can SEOer really keep up and manipulate this? As they say in the Sopranos… fuhgeddaboudit.
And still, SEOers don’t get that it will soon be impossible to manipulate rankings.
There’s good news for all of us, though. Lao-Tzu (604 BC – 531 BC) said the following in “Tao te Ching”, 2500+ years before I said it in “The Tao Of SBI!” in 2005 AD (so I can’t take the credit)…
One who wins the world does so by not meddling with it.
One who meddles with the world loses it.
The good news? In the midst of the increasing complexity emerges the simplicity of how to generate free, targeted search engine traffic…
Add Value. Real Content. What people want. Love what you do, but make sure you can make some money at it (if that’s important to you — if it’s not, it’s a hobby but you likely still want an audience).
Sure, get the on-page stuff “right enough” to let Google know the page is about “Anguilla beaches” and not “chinese restaurants.” Secure some quality inbound links, not article-marketing spam or other link tricks (the next bad group to howl about Google depriving them of a living)….
Watch your snowball grow as Google sends you more traffic because…
You are delivering exactly what they want. As you deliver more if it, traffic increases further. Google tracks behavior and sees that visitors like your site, improving your rankings, increasing your traffic. And round it goes, like a snowball gathering momentum.
What started this virtuous circle of success? You gave Google exactly what their searchers want, which is exactly what Google wants.
And that takes me way back to when I wrote my first book, Make Your Site SELL! in 1997. Although I had been successful with black hat tricks when “working just for myself,” the critical question I had to answer for future readers of MYSS! was…
“Is this just a game, like counting cards in Vegas?”
“Or are search engines going to turn out to be real important for the folks I’m writing this book for?”
If you “play” only for yourself, you can afford to play a game if that is what you want. But if you are making business recommendations to people who will act upon them, you can only make one recommendation…
“Stop playing games against the engines and work WITH them. Give them what they want and you will never have a sleepless night.”
Life becomes so simple and worry-free.
[Editorial note: Ken, I am a Montreal Canadiens fan. — Andrew]
Brief bio of Ken Evoy:
SiteSell.com sold over 100,000 copies of Make Your Site SELL!, which received high critical acclaim, in the late 90s. The company self-published several other successful “Make Your ____ Sell” books. They stopped when Dr. Ken Evoy realized that most people need more than a book to build a business online.
As he says, “They need the step-by-step and the tools to execute.” SiteSell’s flagship product, SBI!, is based upon simple, “keep it real” principles. Ken calls SBI! “the living test tube that proved up the decision to give humans and search engines what they want.” But even that, he says, is only one small part of the bigger picture of building an e-business.