I’ve been in this business long enough to remember when there was no Google. Nowadays, when we speak of SEO, we mean Google-specific SEO, largely because so few people even realize there are other search engines. (BTW, for most of the searches that I do outside of Internet Marketing topics, I usually get better results from Bing or DuckDuckGo, and occasionally Wolfram Alpha.)
Google has become the 800-lb gorilla in the search business. The first time I heard of Google was when they acquired the failing Deja News, which had compiled an enormous UseNet database. Maybe not really all that big by today’s standards, but several hundreds of gigabytes, back when a gigabyte hard drive cost around $1000.
They then introduced a free email service with 10 Mb (IIRC) of storage. In a brilliant viral-marketing maneuver, they made Gmail by “invitation only” without even advertising it. But their primary claim to fame was still simple, easy-to-use web search.
As a side note, they published a motto “Do No Evil.” Which helped a lot in making them more popular. However, that motto slowly morphed into “Do no evil unless we think we can get away with it.” It has been convincingly demonstrated that Google’s rules do not apply to Google, nor do they apply to a handful of Google’s largest customers. They have also been slapped by various governments for violating privacy laws. Their abandonment of “Do No Evil” may eventually lead to their downfall.
Before Google burst upon the scene, SEO was pretty easy, bordering on trivial. All you really needed to do was keyword-stuff your page(s), and your website got good ranking. The more keyword-stuffing, the better the rank. If you discovered that you were being outranked by your competition, you just added more copies of your keywords.
The main problem with that was that a lot of people (including me) got really tired of useless search results, where whatever it was that you really sought was being drowned in a sea of irrelevant garbage. In response to user complaints, Google learned to recognize keyword-stuffing, and eventually rendered it useless. Overall, that was viewed as good, despite some whining from marketers.
Naturally, marketers then tried several other variations of that to get around Google’s new search rules. One was “invisible” keyword stuffing, making keywords the same color as the background. Google caught on to that.
Then, some “genius” figured out how to show a completely different page to Google than was shown to everyone else. Google caught on to that, too.
Google’s incremental changes, while mostly positive, spawned an entirely new industry in SEO services, since it was getting pretty much impossible to handle it alone any more. Techniques that worked well one week might backfire next week. SEO got to be a lot like painting the wheels on a moving train.
SEO grew into a very big business. You hired somebody to “optimize” your site, and just a few weeks later, you hired somebody (maybe the same company) to undo what was no longer working, using some other technique that somebody invented in order to game Google’s system.
A few years ago, Google decided that back-links were more important than keywords for establishing “authority” and “relevance.” In a predictable market reaction, all of the folks trying to game the system pounced on that like a duck on a june-bug. So Google had to figure out the difference between good and low-quality back-links. At first, they just discounted low-quality links.
Then, after promising they would not punish bad links, they proceeded to do exactly that.
A side-effect of the new policy of punishing low-quality back-links is a new, and very effective, negative SEO technique. For less than $1000, you can get a competitor completely de-listed by just buying a half-million or so garbage links from link-farms, pornsites, and gambling sites. That type of attack is extremely difficult and expensive to counter, and you won’t get much help from Google aside from a “disavowal” tool that you can use to manually disavow all those bad links. Good luck with that! What you end up doing is hiring somebody at premium rates to use some expensive automated tools, which may or may not help.
“Free” traffic from SEO has become very expensive.
SEO is now a fool’s game unless you can afford to play it on a very high level. Anytime your competition discovers that you outrank them, they can analyze whatever you have done — and simply do more of it than you did (or run a negative SEO campaign against you). Then, when you join in that escalating game, Google changes the rules again, and you end up starting over.
I don’t want to play that game.
I don’t pay for SEO services(*), and I don’t spend a lot of time on it, because I don’t really care much about it. On the other hand, you have to do some SEO, or nobody will find you.
What do I do for SEO?
First and foremost, I write for people, not search engines. I also don’t use “spinners” in an effort to submit several “unique” articles in different places. If Google hasn’t already caught on to that, it’s only a matter of time.
Next, I do a bit of back-linking — although very sparingly. Basically, if you don’t do some backlinking, you are unlikely to ever be found. The purpose of those first few back-links is to get real readers to come to your site via those back-links, and not necessarily from search. If you have done a good job of writing interesting stuff on your site, those readers will share what they found, and maybe your site will go “viral”.
Part of my backlinking strategy is the use of forum articles. That’s one of those things that takes time and effort to do well. Another part of the strategy is to actually buy links, which is a Google no-no. I don’t buy very many, and I’m not really concerned about violating that rule because the initial traffic comes directly from the links, and not from search anyway.
Then I go off and do something else for a while (maybe work on another website), because this is a very slow process. But I have succeeded in getting several sites ranked well in Google that way, even though that was not my primary concern.
The main reason I don’t do much SEO because paid traffic is cheaper. That sounds counter-intuitive, but it’s true. But that’s also a topic for another article.
(*) I get several emails (and sometimes phone calls) every week from SEO companies who have “discovered” that one of my sites “doesn’t appear on page one” [for whatever incredibly obscure keyword he is using, the choice of which reveals that he has no clue about my site] and offer to “help” me with SEO. In the case of a phone call, I like to play the following game:
1) I ask the caller what his company’s most important product or service is.
2) I type whatever he answers into a Google search.
3) I ask him for the URL of his company’s website.
4) I look for it on the first few pages of the Google results.
5) I ask him why his website doesn’t show on the first two or three pages of my search for what he just told me was the most important product or service offered by his company.
6) I offer to “help” him with SEO, for only $35,000/month.
The call usually ends there.
You see, the person calling me was able to find my site and contact information using a web search — but his company has to cold call potential customers! Obviously, I’m doing a better job of SEO than his company is.