Road to MozCon: The State of SEO in 2012
Posted by gfiorelli1
The new edition of MozCon is getting closer. It will be three days of pure immersion into everything new in SEO, Social Media, Content Marketing, and CRO and a wonderful occasion of networking, meeting online friends IRL, and, maybe, giving your professional life a twist.
Twenty-eight speakers, an EMCEE, and Roger MozBot are getting ready during these days to make MozCon an unforgettable learning experience.
We decided to introduce the MozCon spirit with a series of interviews, which will try to offer the best exact snapshot of the state of things in SEO, Social Media, and Content Marketing.
The State of SEO in 2012
Since July 29th, the last day of MozCon 2011, many things have changed in the Search Industry and in our profession as SEOs:
- Panda got global (ruining half the world's vacations last August), and actually, we are at its release 3.7;
- A Penguin has been unleashed free to kill any site with an over optimized link profile;
- Google decided that only keywords referrals from organic searches were private;
- Google started an aggressive monetization policy in strong industries' verticals (Flight, Hotels, Cars...), making even thinner the presence of organic results above the fold;
- The Knowledge Graph had been released;
- Google+, with some hiccups, has started having some traction and surely an increasing importance from an SEO point of view;
- We all started talking about Author Rank;
- And we are still discussing about the relevance of Social Graph in the SERPs;
- Bing has improved its pro SEOs policy considerably;
- Mobile and its importance also for SEO is not a niche for fews early adopters anymore.
Another 10 or more points could be added, but these are the main events we have lived through this past year.
But let's what our interviewees have to say.
Panda, Penguin, private blog networks, and SEO directories deindexations. It seems that Google, after a few years during which it seemed surrendering to the fact that Search spam could not really be won, have decided to give an answer to all those ones who were complaining about the quality of its SERPs.
Personally, even though Panda caused at first some collateral victims and Penguin somehow seems being an overly too black/white solution, I consider that these updates and the other actions against web spam at least had the positive effect of making our industry reflecting and reconsidering years of bad practices, used because they were working out well.
What are your thoughts about the hyperactivity Google showed along these last 16 months?
Annie Cushing: Although I didn’t like the lack of ethics that underpinned the embryonic stages of Google’s sting operation on blog networks this year or the free pass it gave some bigger brands on egregious Panda violations that decimated smaller sites, I think both Panda and Penguin have engendered a net positive.
Ian Lurie: I’m happy that they’re finally taking positive steps against webspam. But I’m pretty discouraged about the way they’ve gone about it, which has left huge gaps and made it very, very difficult for companies who worked with lousy SEOs to get re-included. If you have 999 spammy links pointing at your site, and you get 990 of them removed, but Google’s re-consideration team finds the other 9 in their reinclusion spot-check, you’re rejected. That leaves businesses 100% at the mercy of the linking sites. With all the computing power Google has at its disposal, I’d think they could handle re-consideration requests in a more nuanced manner.
Paddy Moogan: As a company who have always encouraged clients to not cut corners and use spammy techniques, it is somewhat satisfying to finally see Google taking more action against websites who have pushed things too far. We are seeing Google do something which up until Panda, they said they’d never do – update their algorithms knowing that some innocent websites may be hurt too. They always said they would use caution and would hold back on an update if they felt that innocent websites would be caught by accident.
Panda showed they were willing to change this stance and they knew they were going to hurt some sites that wouldn’t have been. This is a brave precedent to set, and they have carried this on with Penguin; sites have been hit which shouldn’t have been. But Google are prepared to hold this tougher stance and want to make a point.
Wil Reynolds: I’m worried. This much change at once makes it harder to isolate variables, but I am assuming that Google has gotten much better at doing this. It like 3-4 years ago you could see a change, determine its impact, and adjust. Now, with not provided, personalized search results with +1, rich snippet spam, etc, it’s hard to isolate variables, which is maybe what they want. Ultimately, it is GREAT though; this much movement continues to help Google hopefully move to a better and better set of search results.
Rand Fishkin: I'm curious to know what spurred this change on Google's part, and whether they'll continue to make forward strides on this front or rest on their laurels for another few years. I'm definitely happy about the moves. They show that Google's not merely saying "don't manipulate the link graph"; they will actually enforce their guidelines.
Richard Baxter: Google’s development has really stepped up a notch in the past year – there are so many algorithm changes and product updates happening that it feels like a full time job just keeping track. I’m all up for change; the move towards filtering for *really* obvious link spam (and handing out penalties) has been interesting to watch. I do feel bad for the small companies who are fast going out of business because they’ve been working with very low quality SEO solutions. Anyone who knew anything about SEO stopped depending on link directories and article distribution a long time ago. So more often than not, Penguin has most impacted the ignorant, the little guys who just left SEO to their $600 a month agency.
Jonathon Colman: Personally, I love it. All of Google’s iterations help keep SEOs on their toes and make our work all the more interesting. And it’s clear that Google is working hard to close up all the obvious shortcuts and loopholes that we’ve been using as crutches for all these years instead of – you know – actually creating really amazing content and user experiences. So if a series of hard-core algo updates from Google is what it takes for marketers to start paying attention to their users’ needs and their goals rather than just driving traffic at any cost, then I’m all for it.
Peter Meyers: I’m glad Google woke up, but they’re like a bear who hibernated for two years and then suddenly started mauling people to make up for lost time. I strongly suspect that the collateral damage from Penguin is much greater than they originally predicted. It was a punishment, plain and simple, without regard for search quality (they’ve said as much), but the consequences were unpredictable. Since then, they’ve been making bigger changes faster than usual, and the side effects are getting worse. I think they’re trying to do too much, too fast.
Aleyda Solis: Google is reasonably trying to get rid of the significant amount of spam it has in its search results. But even if the latest updates have been much more frequent and faster than before, with many iterations, targeting the “fundamental” aspects of its algorithm -- strengthening the criteria that is taken into consideration to assess basic factors of content and links -- what they have shown is:
A lack of effectiveness: With inconsistencies causing that some of the spam Google was targeting with the updates wasn't filtered out from its results, but some of the sites showing useful information were. This situation has additionally generated poorer results to users.
For example, I’ve seen sites being affected and then recovered from Panda without changing anything; a crazy amount of not-so-relevant sites from Latin America ranking in Spain; sites being filtered out because of a bad site architecture without a “spammy” intend behind them; and others that continue pushing the limits with no consequence thanks to their authority.
Current assessment incapacity
Google’s inability to effectively identify relevant, quality information that is popular thanks to real endorsement with the factors it has been using up to now. Because of this, it’s clear that Google needs to keep updating and enhancing these “traditional factors” but is also increasingly important that Google builds alternative mechanisms to assess information.
AJ Kohn: I see this as a natural reaction to the acceleration of digital content. We’ve got more people online and more and easier ways to produce content and much of it just isn’t that good.
Outside of this trend, I think Google realized two things. First, that users weren’t best served by simply matching queries with relevant content. Instead, the content had to be relevant and valuable. I appreciate what Google is trying to do with Panda, but I still don’t like that it’s domain based. It strikes me as very un-Googly.
The second thing they realized was that quietly neutralizing link graph manipulation wasn’t going to cut it. Because it took too long for Google to neutralize manipulation (if they found it), and in the interim, it encouraged those who might not have thought to go down that road to ‘resort’ to these tactics.
In short, many believed that you simply had to buy links to keep up with your competition. While this isn’t something I subscribed to, I know many felt this way, and the proof was, unfortunately, right there in the search results. That stuff was working.
So Penguin removes a lot of link manipulation from the landscape, but also serves to shut off the demand for these types of tactics. Sites are far more wary to engage in this behavior and risk a more catastrophic traffic loss.
I think Google still has a ways to go though, and I see some real problems with SERP domain diversity in the last three months.
Rhea Drysdale: Google’s updates do not feel hyperactive to me, just a product of the times and more transparent. Google isn’t more transparent in the specifics of updates, but more visible in blog posts, Google Webmaster Central correspondence, Matt’s videos, forum responses, Amit’s appearances, etc.
Do I think Google is giving up much? No. But, I do think they’re intentionally speaking up about search quality more than ever before. There is a lot to talk about--the speed by which Google can crawl and process data has improved, so the rate of updates has increased as well. Without being on the inside, I have to assume that it’s easier to test algorithmic changes and return sound results today than it was five years ago. That means there’s more for us to track as SEOs, but likewise, when an update hits we see things simmer down faster than before and we’re getting feedback on what happened. This just speaks to the speed with which everything is moving, and I think it’s great for job security.
Cyrus Shepard: As someone who loves the Internet first and is an SEO second, I champion any attempt to improve search results and reduce spam. To this end, I think the improvements by the Webspam team have been mostly positive, with the exception of asking Webmasters to jump through hoops to remove bad links and possible shift in plausible effectiveness of negative SEO.
Now, if only the rest of Google would only work as hard as the Webspam team to improve results by reducing paid results and links to Google properties, then the Internet would really improve!
Wil Reynolds made some great points in his post about how Google makes liars out of all of us, and it’s good to see them finally stepping up to the plate to remedy some of the glaring issues. I don’t think we’ve seen the worst/best of it yet though. There is still much work to be done, and I’m happy that content marketing has at least become trendy even though I’m not so sure too many people are able to sell it just yet.
When I am asked about the Penguin update, I usually answer that it is the most bitter confirmation that links still matter a lot, and that the Link Graph is far from being dismissed as others, maybe fascinated and dazzled by the effects that Social Graph and Author Rank may have on rankings, started preaching. I do not deny the correlation Social Media, for instance, may have on rankings, but I think that we are still at the beginning of what can be the evolution of a new Google based over Link Graph, Social Graph, and Author Rank.
What is your opinion about the current importance of backlinks and the evolution of Google that we are seeing?
Annie Cushing: I think that links will always matter; what’s changing is how Google evaluates them. I think, in the end, social signals will continue to provide valuable insights into that evaluation.
Paddy Moogan: Backlinks as a ranking factor are not going away any time soon. It was the use of backlinks and anchor text which allowed Google to breeze ahead of their competitors all those years ago. The mistake they made was putting so much weight on anchor text, which, speaking frankly is not a good signal in reality. Most exact match anchor text links are built by SEOs – not users. It just isn’t natural for lots of users to use your exact keyword as anchor text, and it has surprised me how long it has taken Google to realize this. I still feel that exact match anchor text is working, and we can all see this from various SERPs. But the threshold to over-doing it has been lowered in my opinion.
Wil Reynolds: I went into extreme depth on this topic in this post published previously this year on SEOmoz. It saddens me to think that several companies are going to get duped into believe that social is the new signal and that better rankings in SEO will be about social. Do I think its coming? You betcha, but is so far away from being prevalent NOW that I think we all need to realize that we still have a lot of time before the social graph starts to overtake the link graph.
Rand Fishkin: Links are still very important, but the kinds of links that will count long term are changing dramatically. What works today and will likely keep working tomorrow is far closer to what we think of as content marketing, social media, public relations, etc. than what we've classically called "link building" in the SEO world. In all honesty, I care less about which particular metrics Google does and doesn't use directly vs. which tactics (i.e. holistic inbound marketing) get me the results I'm seeking.
Richard Baxter: Links are as important and valuable as they have ever been. It’s just that the situation is more complex. I think of social as reach. You could rank well in the SERPs targeting a limited audience for a competitive keyword simply because you cast a wide net socially, and lots of people happen to like your stuff. You still need links to reach the people who don’t know about you, yet.
Jonathon Colman: Yes, I think that links are always going to be important. Remember that PageRank was initially based on the concept of citations in scientific papers. Those are still a mainstay of authority after nearly 150 years of use.
But how and when are links most influential? I like what I see coming from Justin Briggs on the subject of the ROI of link-building. He shows how links can be a good investment of your time as you’re ramping up brand awareness; but that ultimately, the best returns come from building awesome experiences, not just links (especially if those links are of poor quality and get devalued). It seems to me that the search engines are beginning to understand this as well, and we’re seeing them pivot the SERPs and rankings to reward sites that strike a balance between authoritative content by expert authors who earn high-quality links.
I also like what Ross Hudgens has to say about Google needing the “Manipulative Web” to supply better results to users because just plain content doesn’t rise to the level of findability and discoverability on its own.
Peter Meyers: I think Google knows that no single set of ranking factors is going to solve the search problem in 2012. Links aren’t going to be replaced by social – they’ll be augmented. The algorithm is only going to get more complicated.
Aleyda Solis: Links still matter a lot despite of other signals, such as social-related factors which importance is still too low in comparison to links. Google has relied in links up to now to identify popularity and cannot simply forget about them from one day to another.
Nonetheless, Google also knows links can be easily manipulated and is having a hard time effectively assessing them lately so it’s increasingly important that Google builds alternative mechanisms to identify the “real” popularity of information, that shouldn’t be absolute, but relative to each user.
This is the idea with the Knowledge Graph, Schema, Author Rank, and Google+, and we’ve just started to see the real shift.
AJ Kohn: Links are (and will be) a huge part of how Google understands trust and authority. The link graph had gotten rickety, in large part because the motivation to link was for SEO benefit. By measuring the link graph, Google ultimately changed it.
What I think we’re seeing now is a way for Google to understand whether that link is ‘organic’ or ‘inorganic.' They’re really only interested in the organic link graph. Better identification methods, the addition of social signals, and, down the road, authorship can all help to mend and improve the link graph, not get rid of it.
Rhea Drysdale: Links are still incredibly important, we just have more precautions to take and patterns to avoid. It’s further proof that we need to diversify link building efforts, focus on building brands (not rankings), and become less reliant on Google for traffic.
When it comes to the evolution of Google, I think we should be less worried about the traditional SERPs and more concerned with personalization. That’s where we’re seeing Author Rank and the Social Graph have the strongest effect.
When every search returns personalized results, we have to stop clinging to old metrics and reporting methods and develop a new standard for success.
Cyrus Shepard: Instead of links, social metrics, and author rank, we might instead look at the situation in terms of popularity, relevance, and authority - 3 metrics which the search engines will continue to use, no matter what form they take.
Popularity used to mean links solely; now it means a mixture of other signals which may be more natural. Google’s evolution beyond links is forcing SEOs to work more like true marketers across all online channels. It’s harder now to fake popularity, relevance, and authority - and that’s a good thing.
Mike King: Well, first I see Author Rank and the Social Graph as the same thing. Author Rank is basically a way to apply authority to the Social Graph much like PageRank is a way to apply authority to the Link Graph. In any event, links will never be obsolete simply because no one is going to tweet about “diarrhea medicine” or any other number of topics that pages will continue to need to be ranked for. Social signals may not be so powerful right now, but as Google gets better at connecting people to their content, you will definitely see a sliding scale of link value being passed based on how authoritative their data model appears for a given topic across Google’s ecosystem.
What seems sure is that now, on the one hand, user experience and, on the other, user involvement have become a key to the success of a site from an SEO point of view too, even more than just few years ago. This cannot but remind me how Marketing has been the forgotten facet of the SEO disciplines.
Do you think is it still - and maybe unconsciously - undervalued by the SEO community? How much an SEO should be a "real" marketer?
Annie Cushing: I think that’s probably one of the greatest outcomes of some of the changes in the past couple years. Having come from an editorial background, content was always king and the bedrock of marketing. It was disheartening at times to see some of the slimy practices that caused websites to rank. I’m glad to see that scale tip in a positive direction.
Ian Lurie: The SEO community as a whole, and the folks who hire them, focus on stuff that doesn’t require site changes. That’s because getting site changes done is so damned hard. So link building and social media become the more expedient avenues. I don’t think the SEO community deliberately ignores site quality and/or on-site SEO. I think they’re forced to because it’s so hard to do anything else.
Wil Reynolds: Oooh, you are hitting on another one of my themes: its more important than ever to be a real marketer. I started hiring SEOs in 2004, after years of doing it in an agency and an in-house environment. Even back in 2004, I hired marketers not developer/programmer types for SEO. I made the bet back in 2004 that marketers would win. This is not to say that devs don’t have a place in SEO; I am not saying that at all. But every dev I interviewed looked at SEO as a scale problem, oh I need links, how can I scale. It’s the way you are trained to think. So we hired our first dev in 2008, but it was to build tools to make the marketers more efficient so they could spend more time solving content problems, building links of real value, etc.
Marketers, since before search engines existed, thought about things like this:
- How do I create content people will want to share?
- How do I connect with my audience?
- How do I tell a story people can relate to?
If you met our developer Chris Le, you can watch him geek out on tech, but he’s great at bringing it back to marketing, adding value, connecting with the SEO team at SEER (his audience).
Just because some trick worked and scaled to create wins on Google 3-4 years ago, we knew that eventually marketing would trump scale. I’m just glad to see that time coming!
Rand Fishkin: Absolutely. SEOs, because of the technical and often very tactical focus our practice involves, have often ignored the principles of truly great marketing. Creativity, user experience, branding, and many more have fallen to the almighty practices of keyword optimization and link acquisition. I've been plenty guilty of this myself, and it's been a frustrating, but eventually gratifying and educational experience to see what it takes to build a real brand and a successful company on the web.
Richard Baxter: SEOs should be (are) real marketers. Multi-channel, multi-discipline, technology savvy marketers who know where their audience is and how to reach them. I’d say the key point is that as a marketer, an SEO’s goals extend beyond classic marketing, i.e “I need to grow my links to compete for this term”, but that the SEO is using classic marketing techniques to achieve those goals.
Jonathon Colman: Absolutely. SEOs should challenge themselves with the notion that they are not just traffic drivers, but also information architects and user experience professionals. But then we must also rise to the challenge of building breakthrough experiences for our users.
This is easier said than done; most SEOs – self included! – only scratch at the surface of these complex disciplines. So just as we challenge ourselves to learn web development and design, we should also challenge ourselves with structuring information and metadata, building taxonomies for content and products, conducting user research and testing (both online and in-person), developing user profiles and detailed personas, and so on. Folks like Vanessa Fox and Michael King already know this and have been doing it for a while.
Unfortunately, mixing SEO with user experience is sometimes a controversial idea, especially in organizations where domain experts are territorial about their disciplines rather than incentivized to work together for the benefit of the customer. IA/UX professionals can see the intrusion of SEOs/inbound marketers to their areas of practice as being a threat. And nothing riles an SEO so much as being accused of being a spammer who focuses on robots over people. So our goal will be to dispel these myths in order win them over with our understanding of users’ intent, our strong business cases, and our fluency in analyzing data.
Peter Meyers:Look at the progression from on-page to links to social – it’s a progression that naturally favors brands and offline marketing. When SEO was strictly an on-page endeavor, anyone could create the right formula and succeed. Now, a powerful company offline could screw just about everything up on-page and still attract links and social mentions. I know it frustrates people, but there’s a certain logic to it; the online world is naturally going to reflect the offline world. Arguably, it should. Search is a representation of the world, with all of the faults and influences of that world.
Aleyda Solis: SEO is online marketing. An SEO is an online marketer. If you haven’t been aligning your SEO strategy along your online marketing one, then you’ve been underusing SEO.
If you haven’t been taking into consideration your site's consumers or users and their experience in your SEO process then you haven’t been implementing a real SEO process but just doing independent optimization activities.
I think that you cannot understand SEO without taking users into consideration, since your main goal as an SEO is to attract those users through search engines’ organic results to generate conversions by providing what they’re looking with your site.
AJ Kohn: I was a marketer before I began in SEO and think that experience and perspective helps me. Then again, I don’t view SEO as a narrow industry. My brand of SEO includes user experience, conversion rate optimization, product refinement, market and audience definition, information architecture, business intelligence, and more.
Sometimes SEO isn’t the best way to allocate your resources or accomplish your goals. A good SEO should tell a client just that.
Rhea Drysdale: It depends on the SEO. I’m big proponent of not just building links, but understanding the business strategy behind everything we do for a client. Without the ability to inform enterprise-level marketing and even basic business decisions, I think we make our jobs more difficult as SEOs.
Cyrus Shepard: There’s value in being a pure technical-minded SEO, but at a certain level you have to find your inner Don Draper. Ideas can be more powerful than spreadsheets.
Mike King: I wholeheartedly agree that SEOs need to know more about marketing. SEOs are Marketing Technologists; we exist very much at that intersection of marketing and technology so if you don’t know at least the basics of both sides, you’re definitely operating at a loss. For example, I talk about personas a lot which seems to have brought valuable insights, but for people that have studied marketing that’s Market Segmentation 101. The very fact that these basics are not a prerequisite is part of why we don’t get the traction we deserve amongst C-level marketing executives. A lot of SEOs just don’t know how to speak their language.:
The previous question pushes me asking you about the evolution toward very specialized SEO professional figures: Local Search, Video & Image Search, SEOcial, Technical SEO, Link Building... Do you agree with me that this same specialization is making the old classic figure of SEO Consultant/Head of SEO even more important in any businesses and or agency?
Annie Cushing: The fact that marketers are becoming more and more specialized is a sign the industry is maturing. I place greater value on people in the industry I can trust to rock their specialty. I always want to stay relevant and informed in all things SEO, analytics, and social media, but specializing in a particular area of the industry adds shelf life to a consultant or agency’s portfolio, in my opinion.
Ian Lurie: Definitely, as is an SEO’s cross-training as a marketer. Link building now means marketing. Panda-related SEO means marketing + tech. You have to be ready to wear a lot of hats if you’re going to lead an effective SEO team.
Wil Reynolds: Once again, you are asking all the right questions here. So SEER used to be very SEO consultant centric, with each consultant having a specialty. Now we are still that way but for certain areas, like content and tech, we are starting to move away from that model. It doesn’t build expertise. I'm strong at link building and content generation, but average at technical SEO and editing copy. So for instance, wouldn’t it make sense for me to focus on my strengths and find others who love technical SEO and copywriting to help round out the BEST solution?
Now I will say this, we needed to get our SEO team to about 25-30 SEOs for me to realize this. Early on its impossible to try to get specialists in everything because you are just resource constrained, but now that we are big enough, its our goal to take certain parts of SEO and start to compartmentalize them. It also helps the people on those teams to have better consistency across the company. If you have two people doing all tech audits or all outreach management, then you end up with a consistency that a checklist can’t always provide as you get larger. A job I see on the horizon is SEO project manager, which I can see more and more clients needing an in house person who gets the big picture and plays traffic cop between the social, seo, affiliate, email channels, etc. As the specialists are doing the deep dives, but very often they go so deep that they don’t respect the other channels like they should meaning opportunities for synergies are missed. How often do SEO’s launch infographics or contests and NOT include those things in the email list? Or even worse tell their own internal teams about the content piece they may want to share.
Rand Fishkin: Definitely. The specialized knowledge and constant changes/updates in these categories require a professional who can store, retrieve, and apply a massive amount of unique information about how these channels operate. Google's ongoing complexity and the broadening of the SEO field to involve other mediums and tactics (content, social, UX, etc) are big contributors to the job security of SEOs.
Richard Baxter: You need a head of SEO, an all-rounder who understands all facets of an SEO campaign and the channels that campaign should be delivered via. Most senior SEOs I know are extremely well-versed in this way. More and more though, we need specialists in our teams. I have someone to turn to with a video SEO question, a Facebook question, a Google Shopping question, etc. This just makes sense.
Jonathon Colman: I’m a “Big Tent” practitioner, meaning that I’m happy to welcome and work with anyone who’s willing to support findability and discoverability, no matter who ends up getting the credit for it. I figure that when one of us makes an optimization that succeeds in helping users while growing the business, then we all win.
After all, the “killer app” for most SEOs isn’t their title in the organization; it’s their ability to keep learning and pivoting to where their users are – and where the search engines are going to be.
Aleyda Solis: Indeed. Thanks to the multidisciplinary nature of SEO (content development, technical optimization, link building, etc.) and the verticalization of search (local, video, image, news, etc.), the SEO role is becoming more and more specialized.
This specialization also makes more fundamental the role of an SEO Manager / Head / Leader who has an integral vision of all of these activities and that can lead specialized SEOs from a strategy perspective and coordinate their work.
AJ Khon: If it’s a large enterprise then yes, I think having an SEO generalist who knows how to assess the quality of all the various SEO specialists is critical. More so to ensure that the left hand knows what the right is doing.
Rhea Drysdale: It depends on the organization. In a company where search drives a substantial percent of the businesses’ traffic and conversions, yes, there should be a dedicated SEO. In organizations with less dependence on SEO, this can be managed fairly well by a more traditional Director of Marketing or Digital Manager who works with an outside SEO consultant to manage this channel, as they probably do with other channels like paid advertising, email marketing, etc.
Cyrus Shepard: I realized a couple years ago I could no longer be good at every aspect of SEO. I rely on the help of specialist at every turn. Doing so hasn’t hurt my career one bit.
Mike King: I personally think overspecialization is a weakness just like being a jack of all trades. For example, at one of my former agencies, we had a team that specialized in optimizing Yahoo’s feeds and then Yahoo killed the feeds; some of those guys had to go to paid search or do something else presumably because feeds was all they did in organic.
Granted things like local search are becoming incredibly nuanced, and I wouldn’t want to come up against a David Mihm or a Darren Shaw in the SERPs; but I still feel as though every SEO should know enough to be able to adapt to that if need be. At the end of the day, nothing we do is that hard; you just have to have the patience to do your research and test things out.
Ian Lurie: I actually don’t like the move towards specialization. SEO is a marketing specialty. Further sub-dividing it doesn’t serve anyone well – you end up with folks who are so hyper-specialized, they can’t do any good. For example: Say I want to improve local rankings for a client. Yes, knowing local SEO is important. But I also need to understand link building, usability/marketing (to get reviews), and technology (to add markup). There are exceptions, of course. But I see a lot of folks specializing because it’s easier, not because it makes them more effective marketers. That’s bad.
The specialization of SEO is obviously a consequence of the "verticals" explosion and the vitality Google has shown also in fields other than SEOs (Social, PPC...). Many professionals complain the fact that old organic searches are somehow a species under menace of extinction.
What is your take about this topic? And what is your take about other polemic decisions done by Google, as the "not provided", or the paid inclusions in Products or, last but not least, Google hiding the social connection pages?
Rand Fishkin: I see no reason to complain about Google or Bing changing the SERPs to include more verticals, and I'd think, as SEOs, we should be thankful they continue to make the practice challenging (job security!). However, on the decisions around "not provided," paid inclusion in product search, and hiding social connections, I'm, quite frankly, infuriated. Those moves suggest Google is abandoning its core values. Microsoft must be cheering, and I hope and assume many Googlers are thinking about new jobs. Going against values the company regularly espouses - transparency, serving the web, doing no evil - will bring about terrible things for Google, the web, and its users.
Richard Baxter: That’s two questions!
Yeah – if you’re an SEO, then your main aim is to drive traffic from any or all channels provided to you, not just organic.
As for (not provided) here’s how that feels…. [leaves blank answer]
Jonathon Colman: I’m saddened by Google’s draconian and hypocritical decisions to both hide referring organic keywords as well as reduce the real estate that organic results use in the SERPs versus paid/sponsored ads. Their expressed rationale of acting in the interest of user privacy doesn’t hold up to even the slightest amount of scrutiny and – especially for an information-driven company – they should be embarrassed and chastened by their increasingly pitiful attempts at explanation. A misbehaving child would be more honest and direct, which is all I can really ask for from Google.
Which is why I’m actually pleased by their emerging tact of stating that they’re a business and that they need to compete with other businesses that are encroaching on their space. I think this makes all of their actions far more understandable and predictable, from moving Google Product Search from a free model to PLAs to cleaning up SERPs with Panda/Penguin so that publishers have incentive to either create higher-quality user experiences… or to open up their wallets for paid advertising.
So let me be clear: I don’t have a problem with Google earning money for providing great experiences (which they absolutely do, IMHO), and I certainly don’t expect them to be impartial or unchanging; no one can be held to that unattainable standard. But I do appreciate it when they’re straight with us and clearly let us know what works, what doesn’t, and what their expectations are. The awesome updates and iterations I’ve seen over the past few years in Webmaster Tools signals to me that Google’s trying really hard to do exactly that.
Aleyda Solis: I understand vertical explosion as a consequence coming from the user need of more specialized results in specific formats with some particular characteristics and from the ability of search engines (not only Google) to identify and assess this information in order to provide a relevant result that fulfills this need.
Another thing is what Google does with its vertical results, social presence with Google+, and any of its products, giving them more visibility in its results and try to keep users in its properties in order to increase monetization.
The same happens with PPC ads, that have been gaining more visibility in Google’s results pages. Google also only provides keyword referral data for AdWords traffic but eliminates it from organic visits arguing privacy concerns.
How far can Google go with these controversial decisions? It will depend on:
- Users satisfaction - How Google’s results fulfill users need of information.
- Competition - The ability of an existing or new player in the search market to provide a qualitatively superior search experience and results than Google.
If users are not satisfied with Google’s search results and a real competitor that provides a substantial enhancement to what Google is already giving appears, then Google won’t have the flexibility to make these controversial decisions as it has now.
AJ Kohn: I like search because it is always changing. I might question what Google is doing or react emotionally when a client site suffers at something like Panda, but cooler heads prevail and then it’s a puzzle to solve. I like puzzles.
Specifically, I thought ‘not provided’ was a non-issue for the most part and may have actually helped raise the bar on keyword research and analysis. Mind you, if we get to 60% ‘not provided,’ I may think different.
Paid inclusion in Google Shopping is another non-issue for me. Maybe it’s my marketing background, but I never really understood why they didn’t charge in the first place. Google still doesn’t understand retail nearly as well as it should, but I think they’re finally starting to figure some things out.
And the social connection page is another example of what I see as SEO entitlement. It was never a service that Google promoted to any great extent, and I don’t think there was any expectation that it was a permanent repository that you could use.
They exposed the social public web to you. That was cool even though it showed that Google was doing many of the same things that got Rapleaf in trouble. Now it’s gone. So be it. Move on.
Cyrus Shepard: In the old days, you wanted to rank #1 for “shoes." Today, these shifts have caused us to focus more on quality traffic from a variety of sources than individual rankings, no matter the source. Multi-touch attribution reporting in GA is a perfect example of this. SEO is becoming much more holistic.
Mike King: I think vertical specialization is very important especially in lieu of content marketing. How can you truly be awesome at creating content in a space that you don’t understand? I think market research is key. I believe in that so much that at iAcquire I grabbed a guy that spent 7 years doing market research for Nielsen. As far as what Google is doing… 'Not provided' is maddening. Paid inclusion is hypocrisy. Hiding social connections is corny, but that is public data anyway; if you really want that, you can scrape the web yourself for it. Hint hint.
On the contrary, Bing seems strongly decided in becoming the SEO-friendly search engine, apart from potentially being the real social search engine thanks to its contracts with Facebook and Twitter. Do you believe Bing will really be able to have a stronger appeal on the public, professional and not, and become a real serious competitor for Google?
Annie Cushing: People are creatures of habit. To break their habit of Google, there will have to be a cataclysm of some sort that sends the masses running. I think people have made one thing really clear to Google: we want to still search with you, but we don’t want to rely on you for social.
Ian Lurie: Bing is saddled with a huge, non-search-dedicated company behind it. They have brilliant people over there, but I don’t see how they ever get out from under Microsoft’s cultural influence. And if they don’t do that, they can’t compete.
Wil Reynolds: In a word. No. But if Google continues to launch new businesses (glasses, tablets, home music devices) they just might take their eye off the ball long enough for an upstart to come along.
Rand Fishkin: I generally agree with Danny Sullivan, who noted that until and unless Google makes major missteps that cost it public trust and belief, they will continue to be the monopoly in the field. Bing has got some great features, and I've actually switched to make them my default engine recently (after being so disappointed in Google's abandonment of their own core values), but slightly better isn't enough to make people switch.
Jonathon Colman: I sure as hell want them to be a strong competitor to Google so that both search engines continually challenge each other and get better and better at meetings users’ needs. And I know the folks at Bing are working hard at innovating and testing so that they can poke at Google’s weak points. I love a lot of the things they’ve been first to market with that provide incremental value for their users while acting as a wake-up call for Google.
That said, while I love that Bing’s actively reaching out to the SEO community, that’s not likely to help them build market share, which is what SEOs really need them to do. Bing’s challenge is to make use of all of Microsoft’s expertise and resources so that they can skate to where the puck is going to be in 2-3 years from now, not to where the puck is today. That’s what’s ultimately going to build sustainable awareness and traffic.
Peter Meyers: I admire what the Bing team is trying to do, and I think they’re sincere, but they also have a vested interest in becoming SEO-friendly to demonstrate how different they are from Google. While I see good things from the Bing team and like Duane and his team, I’m not that optimistic about the larger Microsoft culture. Look at what Google spends on search vs. what Microsoft spends – it’s clear which company treats the industry as a top priority. Google has to compete in the social space to survive. Microsoft could give up search completely and still make a fortune.
Aleyda Solis: It’s great that Bing provides SEOs with the information and features that Google doesn’t. Unfortunately, most of users don’t search with Bing, and we need to work with the search engine that is used by our target audience and not the one that is more SEO-fr