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Never Worry About an Algorithm Update Again, a History

Posted by wilreynolds

A few months ago at a keynote I asked people to embrace the HARD work of building a business [video]. We all fall in love with the concept of the four hour work week, don’t we...how can I make money and work less, right?  Who wouldn't. It’s natural.

The hard part is that almost every SEO I know who has a natural focus on scale has burned a more than their fair share of sites or clients in their career. There is just a mentality that comes along with the "scalable SEO", and it brings risks and baggage to many projects. I want to start getting people to think differently. If you can check out Bob Rains’ presentation from Distilled’s Search Love conference - (yes you have to pay, it's worth it) on why he’s turning white hat, you’ll get it. Scalable SEO is becoming HARDER work than you think and he's turning from Blackhat to White-ish. :)

Embracing the hard work, the time consuming, foundational building blocks needed to build almost any sustainable business (notice I am not saying a sustainable SEO strategy, I am talking about a sustainable business) is the key to long-term success. So copy this, print it out and tack this up in your cube...

There is no algorithmic update coming to correct rankings for tactics that are "doing hard work & connecting with customers".

Algorithmic updates are often targeted at those large-scale low quality SEO strategies, so lets just stop doing them. Let’s start with a historical view… 

PHASE I - It starts with cloaking...

Anyone around doing SEO pre-2000 did this, and especially scalable SEOs loved cloaking because they could create some page full of garbage text, and just insert keywords to hit a target keyword density, and boom page 1 of Excite, Lycos, or whatever.

Then came PageRank - Google realized that their search engine would be most successful if people had to "EARN it" by getting links from quality sources that had anchor text in those links. Google realized that too much money was at stake to just "trust" people to not keyword stuff, use white text on white backgrounds, and cloak (and they were right).

PHASE II - Scalable SEOs turned to reciprocal linking

Reciprocal linking sites sprung up quick to provide relief for the scalable SEOs hit by cloaking that was becoming less and less effective.

Reciprocal linking sites were not about finding sites to reciprocate with, who were quality, the strategy was all about scale...there were tools & scripts that were built PURELY to run reciprocal link exchanges. There is no added value or hard work associated with a script that lets anyone post a link to your "links page" and constantly checks to see if they have their link up to you still. Scalable SEO's loved it... run the script, get rankings. No real hard work required. Cash the checks.

Eventually Google updated the algorithm to hit sites who got most of their links in this scalable pattern. Leading to our next scalable exploitation... directory links.

PHASE III - Directory linking on a tragic scale

It wasn't long before scalable SEO's came in again this time with one-way links in the form of directories.

Awesome, now people are getting links in directories for rankings, but many of those directories don't really quality control the links either, pay to play. Remember, there are 230 quality directories for the taking.

As if that wasn't bad enough another cottage industry sprung up, you know the kinds of companies that will submit you to hundreds or thousands of directories for a very low cost.  This allows the 4 hour workweek loving SEOs to just pay some company to do all of their directory linking, sure clients might be at risk the day it stops working, but the scalable SEO doesn't worry about that, they'll just find the next exploit.  I believe that anchor text is going to be on the way out, maybe not in 2012, but soon I hope.

When that does happen, expect several sites to take hits because they have their eggs in too much of one basket, if directories are working for you now, start balancing you link portfolio.

PHASE IV - One-way bought links

Once directory links started working somewhat less (I believe they still work more than they should) next up were link networks. You know the ones that created the golden brick road for SEO's. Pay us, we put your one way, non directory links up on pretty quality sites. Instead of making legitimate relationships with bloggers, authors, site owners and journalists or doing things that are newsworthy, creating awards, badges, etc to get your links, you could just pay. So the scalable SEO once again rubs her hands together in utter joy...because creating relationships with bloggers is hard work, buying links on those blogs through a link broker is so much easier, all I have to do is charge enough, and get back to my 4 hour work week.

PHASE V - Panda smackdown, did you wake up??

I LOVE the fact that none of our existing clients were hit by panda, we (like many of you) picked up new clients, and we learned a ton in the process.

You know what we learned more than anything?

People who made tons of money mashing up databases of info into extremely low quality pages got a major hit. Well let's think, again, that scalable strategy worked for a while, but eventually caused a lot of (much deserved) pain to a bunch of web sites, who saw major drops in traffic. Most SEOs who embraced the hard work of adding value, saw no hits.

Let me give you a peek into what caused a consulting client to get hit by panda. We had a client that we were training, in an emerging international market, the company has hundreds of properties and millions of web pages.  It’s a HUGE task to manage this.  As we interviewed different members of their team, you could just sense in your gut that the goal was drop everything into a database and create pages from the database. This is not always a red flag, obviously large sites run this way.  The issue was that there was no focus on making these pages quality, I mean NONE.  When we would ask why does this page exist, how does it help the user...we were told not to worry about it, we pushed back, but ultimately the client didn't take the advice. 

That was almost 2 years ago, but at that time we knew that without any bloggers, no outreach, no unique content, nothing, just making pages from databases and aggressive interlinking was going to be a recipe for disaster. We knew that deep down Google & Bing don’t want this in their index. One day they got hit, why? Because they fell in love with what was easy and didn't invest in the hard work of adding value.

Scalable SEO's - Zappos is going to eat your lunch 

Are you in the clothing / retail business?  Here's an example:

Zappos is producing 60-100 videos a day according to this video! There is no way to scale that, it’s just hard work. Building studios and making the investment, and their rankings will convert better than your rankings due to that hard work!! They have proof of the conversion increases when videos are on product pages. Eventually video could become a barrier to entry / ranking signal to the search engines, and if they do, you are WAY behind. So are you waiting for that to be the case to start the investment or are you doing it NOW? 

I have been working more and more on evaluating real connections my clients have in social media, and in real life, looking at top forum posters, evaluating their top community members, or heck even looking at their LinkedIn connections as ways to build links.

Final thoughts

Many years have passed since our beloved first search engines have gotten acquired or went out of business, you know Excite, AltaVista, Lycos - even though they never became Google, they all worked towards the same goal Google and Bing do every day...reward the websites who create real businesses, good content, connect with the community and earn links with high rankings. Unlike my buddy Eric Ward, I am not 100% sold that 2012 is the year when all of this comes together, but even if it is 2013 or 2014, he is right in the fact that its coming. It’s been coming since the inception of the first search engine, I've been watching it for 13 of those years...search engines will figure it out. The question is do you want to always stay just one step ahead and have that stress or do you want to start adding value?  

Disclaimer: Every SEO (including us at SEER) has to seek out efficiencies and opportunities that scale to some extent, so I am obviously all for that. But you know when you meet someone if the core of their view of the world is more about scale and less about embracing the hard work. That is when I get worried.

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