It’s unfortunate that Google’s ranking system (quality/quantity of links) forces SEOs to try to scale everything. Reciprocating cycle.
— John Doherty (@dohertyjf) January 21, 2013
I tweeted this about a month ago when I was frustrated at Google for still allowing sites in some verticals to rank off of bad content or links simply because they are a brand and “belong” in that search result. In fact, one could argue that users expect these companies to be there. After all, it makes sense for a company like John Deere to rank for [tractors], no?
Is this fair of me, though? Is it Google’s fault that SEOs have to scale their efforts of content creation and linkbuilding to become competitive in competitive verticals?
I’ve stewed on these thoughts for a bit of time and come to a few conclusions. Many of these might not come as a shock to you, but I think they’re worth stating.
Sometimes SEO Isn’t The Answer
Let’s be honest – SEO is a subset of online marketing. Sometimes I even wonder if it really is marketing, or if it’s website tweaks and links, and the real marketing comes in with the content we produce and outreach we do.
SEO is a slow burn of traffic. One of the biggest mistakes that people make when they think about SEO is thinking that all they need to do is rank for a few choice terms, and they’ll win the Internet. The problem in some verticals, like travel, is that many of the head terms are incredibly competitive:
I would argue that a healthy SEO campaign reveals results like this:
To win online, you need to invest in more than just one channel. I wrote here about the importance of varying your traffic sources, and this especially applies in competitive verticals where you have to pay handsomely to play.
Choose Your Vertical Wisely
Following on the last point, some verticals are going to be easier to enter than others. Before you enter a vertical, you should do extensive competitive analysis to know what it will take to rank, or even better just make money, in that vertical.
This includes, but is by no means limited to:
* Cost of keywords for paid search
* Competitiveness of keywords
* Competitors (amazon is hard to unseat, for example)
* Types of content needed onsite
You then need to calculate the amount of traffic you need to generate to turn a profit, and the amount of effort required to achieve this traffic. The equation is actually pretty simple:
Traffic*avg conversion*avg sale = revenue
Time*hourly rate = cost
Quite simply, can you put in the money up front to generate a return later?
If you want to read the most exhaustive piece I’ve ever read on this subject, check out this post on SEObook from January 2013.
Quality Wins Longterm, Quantity Burns
Some wise people have said recently online that anything good can become bad when you try to scale it, such as guest posting. Multiple examples have shown that the slow and steady approach to marketing and brand building is the way to really win online.
Mike King recently gave an example in his Searchfest presentation about the one guest post thst he wrote on SearchEngineWatch. He had just spoken at a conference and discovered that it was possible to migrate your social share counts when you move URLs. Through this one guest post, which sought to answer a real problem, he landed a client worth about $250,000 to his company.
One of my favorite examples of quantity burning you down was this test done about what happens when you build 10,000 dodgy links to a site. The site ranked well for a little while, but then suddenly disappeared off the face of the SERPs.
Distilled has taken the approach of building our brand steadily and purposefully. Last year, we had over 852,000 visits to our website. What other consultancy do you know of that does that? We publish content twice a week on our own blog, once a week on SEOmoz at minimum, and engage on social media channels. No scale here, but it works.