The Changing Game of SEO

Written by Zac Johnson
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When I look back at the last six years I’ve spent in the Internet marketing world, it’s amazing to see how much SEO has changed since I first started. Back in 2006, you could buy an exact match domain, throw up some average content, hit it with loads of site wide sidebar or footer links, and be in the top three in a few months.

Since then, Google’s algorithm, filters, and spam detection strategies have changed significantly, and nowadays I don’t think the aforementioned strategy is even a viable option.

This article is going to cover three topics that I think are changing as well as important for affiliates and SEOs in 2012:

  1. Ranking an affiliate site for commercial terms like “buy (product) online”.
  2. My updated thoughts on exact match domains.
  3. How news/local/social injections are changing keyword strategy.

Before starting, I want to mention that everything below is simply my opinion. I try to back up my thoughts with examples, but I’m in no way an absolute authority on any of this.

Ranking Affiliate Sites for Commercial Terms

One of the most affective strategies as an eCommerce affiliate is to rank your website in Google for commercial terms related to the products you promote, such as “buy (whatever product) online”. Users searching this term are looking to buy now, and are highly likely to click through your affiliate link and make a purchase.

The only problem with this strategy is that it’s gotten a lot harder to actually rank an affiliate website for these sorts of terms. I attribute this to Google’s preference for brands over affiliates, in combination with how easy it is to differentiate between actual brands/retailers and affiliates. For example:

  • An actual retailer will almost always have a mailing address and phone number somewhere on the website, while an affiliate usually won’t.
  • An actual retailer will have links/pages like Cart, My Account, Checkout, Track My Order, Contact Us, Testimonials, FAQ, etc, while an affiliate usually won’t.
  • An actual retailer will often have customer reviews/feedback pages elsewhere on the Internet, like on the BBB website, at Epinions.com, or on industry-specific forums/chat rooms, while an affiliate usually won’t.

In my opinion, Google factors these sorts of indicators into their algorithm, especially for commercial terms, as people searching commercial terms are looking to buy, not land on an affiliate page then have to either back out or click through the “Buy” link to land on another landing page at the actual retailer’s website.

Assuming this is correct, affiliates are already at a big disadvantage to retail sites when it comes to ranking for commercial terms, simply because Google is aware that they don’t actually sell the product the searchers are looking for. However, I think there are a few things you can do to increase your chances at reaching the top:

Provide Value

If your affiliate site is a simple collection of product pages with standard product images, specifications, and a “Buy Now” affiliate link, in my opinion you don’t have a chance. The affiliates who are ranking for valuable commercial terms go above and beyond to ensure they provide actual value to their visitors.

For example, my friend Kevin runs a website about supplements at BuySupplementsOnline.org. He makes money by referring customers through his affiliate links to supplement retail websites like BodyBuilding.com, but that is not the primary focus of the site.

I personally am into working out, and occasionally try out new supplements to break through plateaus. Whenever I’m thinking about trying a new class of supplement, the first thing I do is go to Kevin’s website to read about that type of supplement, as well as see what exact products he recommends in that category.

The reason I visit his site first is because someone who has actually taken the product and knows what he or she is talking about writes every supplement review on the site. Kevin didn’t hire some $10/article writer to regurgitate the standard information about each of these products; he (or his authors) actually took the supplement while working out, and wrote an in-depth summary of their thoughts on the product’s effectiveness, value, and taste.

Besides being an extremely useful resource, his website also has a real about us page that offers information about the writers on the site, contact information, and a disclaimer – all of which probably help his TrustRank. When you combine all of these factors together, it doesn’t surprise me at all that his site does well in the search engines.

If you have an affiliate site that you’re struggling to rank for a commercial term, take an unbiased look at the website from a user perspective and ask yourself “If I am looking to buy Product X, why would I want to visit my affiliate website first instead of going straight to the retailer?” If you can’t come up with a concrete answer, you have some serious work to do.

Exact Match Domains in 2012

The next topic I want to touch on is the effectiveness of exact match domains in 2012. Most Internet marketers know that using exact match domains was an extremely effective SEO strategy over the past five years or so, but I am not sure it’s such a good idea nowadays.

(Before explaining why, I want to specify that I’m talking about extremely top-tier domains – ones that you might spend five figures or even six figures on. If you can get a good domain cheap I think it still provides some value.)

When you buy an expensive exact match domain, you are tying your site pretty closely to one “trophy term”. If you fail to rank for that term, you probably end up with an enormous sunk cost, and even if you do achieve a top ranking, it might not be as valuable as you think (I expand on this later in the article).

Also, it seems to me that ranking EMDs isn’t nearly as easy as it used to be, and it’s also easier to get filtered/penalized than ever before. I personally have one very expensive two word .org domain that I have put an enormous amount of effort into over the past 14 months, only to see it stuck at #30-#40 in Google due to some sort of filter or penalty. In my experience, this website should be ranking at least top five in Google for its main term, but due to whatever filter I’ve tripped (probably over-optimization), the site has very little revenue and I’m basically stumped.

If you do decide to buy and go all out with an exact match domain trying to rank for a super competitive term, I’d recommend you take it extremely slow at the start, and focus all your efforts on building a useful resource and creating brand power. I’d also be very careful with anchor text, even on your own internal links (for example, I would internally link to my homepage as “Home” as opposed to “Keyword”).

I wouldn’t pronounce exact match domains as “dead”, but as my finance friends would say, I’m pretty “bearish” on them nowadays.

The Lessened Value of Ranking for Top Terms

As I mentioned above, even if you do reach the top of the organic SERPs for a “trophy term”, it won’t be nearly as valuable as it would have been several years ago.

Assuming you’re #1 in the organic rankings for a major term, you still have to potentially compete for clicks with:

  • Up to three PPC listings above you in the search results page.
  • Up to eight PPC listings on the side of the search results page.
  • News injections that might end up above you in the organic listings.
  • Local injections that will probably end up above you in the organic listings, pushing you below the fold (with a #1 ranking!).
  • Social injections that will probably end up above you in the organic listings.
  • Image injections that might end up above you in the organic listings.

And not only do you have to compete with all of these PPC listings/injections, but with Google’s new privacy policy which displays many searchers’ keywords as “Not Provided”, you can’t even properly track how many clicks you actually are getting for the “trophy term”, making it hard to decide how much to reinvest in your SEO efforts for that term.

There are some niches (like gambling) where the PPC/injections aren’t nearly as bad, but most mainstream commercial searches will produce tons of ads and injections, significantly lessening the value of an organic ranking for the term.

So… Now What?

With all the doom and gloom I’ve spoken of in this article, what is an Internet marketer to do in 2012 and beyond?

Well, I’d recommend focusing on three things:

  • Provide value. No matter what niche you are in, take a long look at your website vs. your competitors’ sites and figure out why you’d visit your site instead of theirs’. If your only focus is pure SEO, and you forget about the user, you are in trouble.
  • Build a real brand. If people aren’t searching your domain name or brand name in Google right now, you need to increase your site’s value and brand awareness so that starts happening. Also, you can do this as an affiliate or as a retailer – this isn’t limited to big retail brands.
  • Get the long tail. This isn’t a new strategy, but I think it’s going to become more important than ever before. With all of the injections and ads showing up for the big, one/two word terms, you need to focus on ranking for the longer, more specific key phrases with less injections to maximize your ROI on your SEO campaign.

By focusing on creating an extremely valuable Internet resource/company, not just a gimmicky SEO-driven site, you can be confident that Google will rank you where you belong as their algorithm continues to change in 2012 and beyond.

This guest article was provided by Michael Wittmeyer – a longtime Internet marketer and co-founder of JMBullion.com.

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6 Replies to “The Changing Game of SEO”

  1. The amount of websites on the internet have also skyrocketed in the last couple of years.The internet hold about a trillion pages I know that but have no clue of amount of actual sites.I can imagine probably a few hundred billion websites are on the internet including zacjohnson.com and bradleyiscool.com.
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  2. Wow! There are many changes in SEO. Why is it important to lessen the value of ranking? SEO is important in online market nowadays, without it, you do not know if your website is in successful track or not. Thanks for the insight about the changes in SEO games.
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  3. Woah! Loads of stuff to digest there but well worth the read! You are 100% right about offering value. I know a few who went down the 'fake it 'til you make it' route and they've lost a lot of friends along the way. I've had many emails from my subscribers thanking me for my straight up, honesty. (My IM journey has seen more bumps and bruises than a moshpit!) Great post.
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  4. When it comes to SEO or one can say online marketing then changes have been there for the all time. Before few months or years the SEO was something different method, and now it has some changes. The things which were really easy to do, now they are not so much easy. Changes are always been there, so one should have passion and follow the guidelines of search engine to apply proper SEO.

  5. Awesome post Zac very in depth and I agree totally. You really have to provide unique valuable content and know what you are doing to rank on the first page of Google especially for the super competitive keyword terms.

    The game is channging and it is getting a little harder to rank for those buying keywords if you do not know what your doing.

    People reading your post will get a little headstart if they take your advice and apply your strategies.
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  6. It is good that google algorithm changed and it effects the whole SEO strategy because there will be no more spamming websites anymore, and therefore the quality of resources in internet become cleaner and more useful.

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