This is the time of year that I hear the phrase SEO is dead. This morning I went to a networking event to kick off the year. Now I’m with a new company so in discussing that, the feedback was that SEO in a company name has outlived its usefulness, because after all, Google doesn’t like SEO anymore. They prefer PWA now.
Let’s first clear this up. Google NEVER liked SEOs. Google has whole departments that are working to improve their rankings. The reality of that statement is that they are trying to push down the people that know how to game their system. There are some companies that outright cheat or game the system to such an overt degree that there had to be safeguards put into the system. Then there companies like mine that have a deep understanding of the Google guidelines. We don’t work to game the system, but rather work to meet the criteria so well that our clients benefit from the first-page placement. I said Happy New Year and headed to my office. No point in even trying to have that discussion.
Simultaneously, today, I have another client that is great about trusting my judgment but does ask a lot of questions. Often, as with any entrepreneurs, myself included, we are always thinking about how to do things that may gain better traction, which often means we focus on different aspects of the same theme trying to get the world to fit into how we see it. Google however, is very rigid, in other words black and white. And, as I did with my thoughts on the pluses and minuses of having two websites, I decided that I needed to write this down for them, so they can reread it when they have questions about this. Plus, it really is a fascinating topic because it needs a more advanced understanding of Google’s Guidelines.
Truths about Google
So first let’s understand a few truths about Google.
- Google is a king maker. A first page ranking from Google on the right word can be the equivalent of winning the lottery for a small business owner. Rank number one on the right term and you are well set.
- Google is not in business to support your small business. If you are a commercial entity, it is not Google’s job to create leads for your business using their organic search. They have a program for that and it’s called AdWords. You can bid on commercial terms and participate in their auction and pay. Now the pros and cons of AdWords are a different blog post but walk away knowing that Google’s job is not to make you rich. Its to provide the most informative page to their end-user. Basically matching the query and the website
- There is a definite shift in organic lists that gauge user intent and informational searches rule. If you ask Google 98% of all searches are informational; who won the 1978 world series for example. So only 2% of their searches are transactional. 10ft Douglas Fir pre-lit artificial Christmas tree. Best SEO Web Hosting company and if I want to rank on those items, they have a program for that, AdWords
- Google has a double standard when it comes to big business vs. small/midsized businesses in my opinion.
Google’s Double Standard
When the internet first started to gain traction, it was the great equalizer. Any business could compete and there was no institutional bias built-in. If you did the most onsite things right, you would be rewarded. It was pretty rudimentary and not too hard to game if you had a basic understanding of mathematics. Enter Google.
In an effort to produce better results Google added a system of votes into the mix. So, you did things right on the site and then got votes from other sites in the form of links. Those were the people that got promoted. That is still a governing principle to this exact minute in time. However, the computation on how links impact a website has changed. Link spam is prohibitive. There is punitive punishment handed out when caught breaking the link rules. Buying links is prohibited. Buying ads for links is prohibited. Each link profile must be natural. This inherently tips the scales in the favor of big publicly traded companies or companies in the news.
True story I had a client who had a shooting in his store, no one was hurt but he made the news all over south Texas. And for a while, his site ranked even higher than it did because of the boost from all these news source links. Eventually, it calmed down and started to settle in. Shootings are not a method of link building, however, it does make the point that the more powerful links you have the stronger your website is. Big business clearly has the upper hand in this system.
How Does a Small Business Compete on Google?
The natural question to me is how do small businesses compete in this type of climate? Well, you can pony up and just buy AdWords. And that will get you traffic and possible leads. It can help support your brand. But is that viable? Probably not, especially for smaller businesses.
This is where on-page or on-site SEO becomes essential. So what do I mean by that? There is a series of behaviors that Google looks for to decide what your website is about. These are what are called signals. And if you generate the signals properly you can compete with websites that have these powerful link profiles. However, the more competitive the terms are the less accurate that statement is. But what you should take away is that creating the exact right set of signals is the most important job any SEO company or marketing manager can do, especially when they do not have a powerful link profile. Honestly this is where I always see the greatest deficiencies in websites as well. And I might even argue at this point that Technical SEO is second to links in ranking success. Some will say content, and of course nothing works without it but if I do not present content in a technically sound manner, it more than likely will not rank.
Which brings me to my client, he doesn’t know it, but what he’s struggling with is the technical SEO aspects of the site and how those items are the signals that are fed into Google to help the machine understand what the website is about.
Value of Technical SEO
Now I’ve written about Technical SEO for years, really before it was a ‘thing.’ It was always a fundamental building block and if you look at it, it makes sense. However, this has gotten more complex through the years because that is how Google makes a determination about what it thinks your website is about. And just like a large cruise ship, it is very difficult to steer a website in a different direction. Should you confuse Google and not provide the right hooks, it very quickly moves on and goes to the next website. It is imperative to get these signals right.
It initially was based on the page, but back in 2013 Google went through and created its own lexicon and decided what words mean. For example, the words resources became an instant penalty. The word products mean only count these times with 1/8 of the credit because the website was transactional and not informational and therefore should belong buying AdWords. There are a few of these words that exist that people innocently use that immediately put their website into a category. When I teach in person, I use the example of a painter. A painter to google only paints houses but isn’t Monet a painter….no he is an artist. So, one of the biggest things you must do is understand how Google defines a word and then how you can best interact with that word. How do words relate to each other and how well do they support what your website and business are about?
The next thing to worry about is your navigation structure and what those words say. This is one of the biggest tells. How is a website siloed, the equivalent of a high school outline? If siloed properly, it builds a support structure and interlinking though out the website that sends signals with proper keywords. Without it, it’s a wishy-washy mess. Think about your house without support beams. Your navigation are the support beams or guideposts.
Innocuous terms like Services and Products are used as delimiters of how your website will appear in Google, identifying what they think your website is about. This is the single biggest mistake business owners make. Services are also disciplines that your business provides. They can be informational or editorial in nature. It is much harder to make an argument about products. Remember Google is not in business to promote your products. If you want to sell products Google has a program for that called AdWords. The need to define your goals is great because products predominantly in your navigation send and reinforce a very bad signal for a lead generation website. And should you want to do that, you better have a plan to water that signal down with a very well-defined informational section that is nested to help offset this. Or be willing to lose the capital you already have if you are adding this after the fact.
If you did not set that informational section up to offset a product section it will force an entire rework of the entire website. You then have to hope that Google understands what you are doing and steers the cruise ship in the right direction, or you will quickly become the titanic. My best advice is when you have a victory, you don’t gab defeat from the jaws of it and why I would be reluctant to start sending bifurcated signals to Google about a site is has a clear understanding of and ranks well.
How Come the Big Guys Can Do That?
So, then the popular question is why can the big guys do that? Well, they have links. Strong links and those links also send signals. Because those links are coming from the outside they have more sway because the assumption is you did not manipulate that signal. Because most small businesses do not have that luxury their on-site SEO must be pristine to overcome this challenge.
In closing, understand, a small business can compete on the large stage in Google but must deeply understand the rules so that they can capitalize on big business’ shortcomings. When your goal is to beat a website understand where you can score points, and where your opportunities are. And if you have a well-placed website, understand how you gained that success and then decide if you are willing to live with the consequences should things not go as you planned. Once Google gets an idea in its head, it is very hard to change it.
And to my friends that say SEO is dead, as long as search engines are used to find answers to their questions and drive millions of dollars….change maybe, dead never.