On Tuesday Wil Reynolds published a post on SEOmoz entitled “How Google is Making Liars Out of the Good Guys in SEO“. I enjoyed the read and Wil’s passion behind it (it’s one of the first posts in a while that I’ve read quite in-depth), and I don’t disagree with the principle behind his post, but I think the examples don’t match up and the post doesn’t convey what he set out to convey (sorry Wil). In fact, I disagree that Google is screwing us over and I don’t think their wording is telling us what Wil’s post is telling us it is. If anything, they are lying by omission by not talking about outreach, but we all know that outreach is necessary for content.
Instead, I think Google is dealing with a broken algorithm and are dealing with it in a different way. I do agree, though, that what Google says works isn’t always what works best, but they do not deny that anchor text works. In fact, they know spam is a problem. Why else would they have a spam report? However:
I personally think Google is moving in the right direction and actually dealing with this issue in a way that will fix the problem, not require them to keep fixing a broken algorithmic problem that will always have holes for people to exploit.
I’m going to break this post into a few sections. First, talking about “good SEO”, because I find the discussion worthwhile. Then, let’s talk about deserving to rank, if you should decide it is necessary for you to rank. Finally, I’ll show some examples that will hopefully give us some hope that Google is indeed fighting, and starting to win, this battle. Yes, we’re going to talk about Search Plus Your World (SPYW), which I am increasingly liking.
In case you were wondering, I have deliberately chosen to not respond to Wil’s post point by point. I am trying to get at the heart of the issue of what he was talking about, that Google is not doing anything to help out the good guys. I’m no Google fanboy, but I disagree.
What is “good SEO”?
There is a difference between “good SEOs” and “good SEO”. I hate using that language, but “good SEOs” are SEOs that seek to add value to the search index while also getting their clients ranking. “Good SEO” has been redefined.
SEO has historically been about getting rankings and increasing organic traffic. SEO has been broadening on us in the past year or two to include more “inbound marketing”, where our work to increase traffic through organic channels has to touch social, content creation, analytics, paid search, and all parts of the SEO ecosystem. But we are still responsible for increasing traffic, and one way to do that is through getting keywords ranking. The higher your rank, the more traffic you will get from that keyword.
This is a pretty old-school way of thinking about SEO, though. What’s the point of ranking for a head term that does not convert for you, but the boss wants to see it? Maybe it will keep the boss happy, but ultimately it is our goal to build businesses through online channels.
To Wil’s point, [seo company] is a spammy SERP, to be sure. But let’s not waste our time trying to rank for this term, as much as it pains us to see how bad it is (so yes, Wil, I do agree with you that Google has been perpetuating the cycle and fighting a losing battle. We’ll get to their solution).
My point is this:
Good SEOs add value NOW while building for the longterm at the same time.
I know Wil knows this, but we have to get anchor text in order to rank our terms. We have to work harder than the spammers to get this anchor text as well, but it is possible through guest posting and other means. And as we well know, better content = more links from better sites = higher rankings. Throw in the anchor text, and you have even better rankings. This is a fact of life. In fact, SEER is ranking mid-3rd page for [seo company] with 36 links saying that term. I bet if they built more, they could rank first page in not too long.
Getting good anchor text also does not exclude creating content that will build value for the long term. Directories are a fact of linkbuilding life at this point. But just because you have to do some low-level linkbuilding in almost all niches (though I don’t think any directories have ever been done for Distilled, and I bet not for SEER or SEOmoz either) does not mean that you cannot go create awesome content guides, visualizations, and position yourself as a market leader. Plus, once Google turns down the knob more on the value of anchor text, those of us creating value will still be the ones ranking. We just have to do the work upfront to rank now as well, and decide if the terms are important to us.
I’d argue that we are not “bad SEOs” for getting good anchor text. In fact, we are bad SEOs if we don’t get anchor text at all, because we’re not going to rank! Not “bad” in the sense of “unethical”, but “bad” in the sense of we’re not doing our job and doing well for our clients!
Good SEO is adding value now AND getting your clients ranking. And no, I’m not saying to go do comment spam and that crap. Write some good guest posts that you get you traffic + links. Invest in a PR that understands the value of linkbuilding. Do outreach for the awesome content you create. Create awesome content to target terms you want to rank for. THAT is how you can win in a whitehat way. And most importantly, set your client’s expectations about how long it will take to rank and what will be required (aka it’ll be risky and not sustainable).
Deserving to rank
We can’t expect to rank for terms like [seo company] if we don’t have the foundation to rank. Distilled has not optimized at all for [seo company] or [seo agency]. If we wanted to rank for this term, we could. We could spin the spam up to do what is required to rank. But why would we?
Russ Jones expressed in his comment exactly how I feel about it:
Similarly, for Google to even begin to index and rank the entire Internet (wow, that’s a big job!), they must do so in a scaleable way from the beginning. Because different keyphrases, and ultimately different niches, are more or less competitive, they must find a way to rank sites accordingly. Now they focus on page authority (via links), site authority (via links and probably social buzz to balance it), and the other factors that we know about (on-page, etc).
Google is moving away from this static search algorithm and more into entity search (see Dan Shure’s video about it here).
It is becoming possible to rank without Anchor Text (with SPYW)
Even today, you ARE getting rankings to people on Google+ that you engage with. Check this out for [seo company] when logged in:
Also, check out this search for [philadelphia seo] logged out:
The guys above SEER have 83 linking root domains saying “Philadelphia SEO”. The guys below have 23.
SEER? NONE saying just [philadelphia seo]. In fact, there are a lot of partial match anchor texts and they rank #2!
So yes you have to work harder to beat the low level crap. You can do it. SEER did above. Get on it.
Let’s not forget what quality links get us
Quality links make your site stronger and you can rank for more keywords. Obviously I don’t have access to SEER’s Analytics or for any of the people who rank for [seo company] in depersonalized organic search (which is meaning less and less these days), but I bet SEER’s traffic is better than anyone who ranks in the top 15 for [seo consultant] or [seo agency].
Let’s look at what has happened to companies who have been creating awesome content and building few links:
Let’s also see that Distilled ranks for most of the articles that have 10+ linking root domains that Wil mentioned. We’re not getting our sorry butts handed to us for [linkbait guide], which is MUCH more important for us than [seo company]:
Huh. Good content wins ultimately.
Search is changing
Let’s remember that search is changing, precisely for the spammy reasons that we all know about and see working. To hear more about the details behind it, read this awesome post about not breaking search.
I did a search on Google+ for [seo company]. Look what I got:
Then I did one for [seo agency]:
Google’s getting better at this.
Check what happens when I search for [seo] (depersonalized):
Google is starting to win the battle. They’re getting there. I, as well as Wil, am interested to see what unfolds over the next couple of months and years with Google+ and search becoming more and more social.
There have been some awesome posts written about how to do SEO and get found within Google+. I highly recommend you read them. This is the future.
As I said above: I personally think Google is moving in the right direction and actually dealing with this issue in a way that will fix the problem, not require them to keep fixing a broken algorithmic problem that will always have holes for people to exploit.
What I think is inconsequential here though. What do you think?