To a lot of people, SEO is a form of spam.Â Over the last 10 years, affiliates and webmasters have invested an endless amount of time trying to arbitrarily â€œfixâ€ Googleâ€™s ranking algorithm and cash in on the 1st page rankings.Â Users have complained, Google has invested in countless updates to trim the spam from their search engines, and webmasters have lost their income source.
What people forget however is that there are also A LOT of big brands and marketing agencies who use SEO.Â Whether Google likes it or not, SEO has become an integral form of online marketing in the 21st Century.
There no two ways about it – SEO isnâ€™t going to disappear overnight.Â I remember reading in the WebmasterWorld.com Forums, after one of the Panda updates in October 2011, that it signaled â€œthe end of SEOâ€.Â It was now impossible for one-trick ponies and black hat gurus to rank their sites in the search engines.
SEO still continued however.Â Webmasters just worked out how to beat Panda. They, you, and me evolved.
Will Google be Able to Penalize Websites in the Future?
In a lot of competitive industries, such as gambling, porn and pharmaceuticals, everyone is engaging in some form of grey-hat SEO.Â Even the biggest brands and companies are breaking Googleâ€™s Guidelines about link purchases and manipulating the search results.Â I was at the LAC (London Affiliate Conference) last week listening to a lecture from UniBetâ€™s Head of Search, who was talking about grey-hat tactics.Â In industries like this, grey-hat has become the norm.
But whether or not the biggest brands are engaging in SEO is irrelevant.Â The big issue for Google is that SEO is going mainstream, and it isnâ€™t disappearing overnight.
The search engine index has become the new â€œmarketplaceâ€ for ecommerce and retail sites, which are rapidly encroaching the high street market demand (particularly here in the UK and USA).Â SEO is becoming a legitimate, cost-effective, method for companies to market themselves online – just like Facebook adverts and PPC marketing.
Some of the top SEO experts, working for big brands such as Amazon and BMW, have already estimated that grey-hat SEO marketing is around 10th the cost of running an Adwords campaign for the same traffic and keywords.Â Grey-hat SEO can also generate an ROI of 130%-500% depending on which industry you work in.
The problem for Google is that if SEO continues to become the norm for online marketing then theyâ€™re going to be limited to the extent to which they can penalize websites in the SERPs.
Think about it.Â If everyone is doing it, it creates and ethical dilemma for Google.Â Of course itâ€™s impossible for them to condone link purchases (Googleâ€™s own SEO Guidelines literally havenâ€™t changed since 2003), but there will come a point where Google has to realize that everyone is buying links.Â The â€œnaturalâ€ link graph wonâ€™t be legitimate anymore and neither will the â€œsocial graphâ€.
Companies have a â€œrightâ€ to market themselves through SEO just like any other form of online marketing.Â Itâ€™s not even just about Google.com.Â Itâ€™s about marketing through all of the majors such as Bing, Yahoo and Baidu, to which Google cannot simply say, â€œNo, this is wrongâ€.Â Google penalizing sites for engaging in SEO will be like a TV network prohibiting companies from marketing themselves during adverts.
Google Will Continue to Rank the Best Results for Users
Naturally, Google will aim to promote the best results for users and will continue modifying, adding or removing factors to their search engine algorithm, which currents stands at over 240 unique variables.
I think thereâ€™s some interesting economics data to think about in the future of SEO though.Â If grey-hat SEO does become more mainstream, for example, then will the companies that invest the higher amount in SEO marketing deserve to rank 1st in the search results?Â Surely just like offline marketing, the most efficient companies will be able to outspend their competitors, which will also be the ones that provide the best user experience and value.Â As such, maybe the top SEO spenders will be the best sites for users.
Google will get better at finding unique signals that indicate higher quality sites.Â But the problem is that if all of the high quality sites are engaging in SEO, and all of them already have positive signals such as social media followers, return visitors and strong analytics then there will always be â€œsomethingâ€ left in the algorithm to game â€“ hence SEO will never die.
Why Most of the Information your Hear About Building Brands is Wrong
One of the things thatâ€™s starting to drive me crazy is the number of bloggers and affiliates now providing guests posts talking about how you have to â€œadd valueâ€ to the Internet.
Itâ€™s really easy to say this, but 95% of the time I think the people writing this are talking the talk but not walking the walk.Â These are the same â€œinnovative mindsâ€ that think paying someone to design a few info-graphics on their site all of a sudden makes their site amazing!
It doesnâ€™t work like that.Â The best sites and brands on the Internet have slowly grown over time, either through takeovers, re-designs, partnerships or mergers.Â You canâ€™t just take a 1-month old site and turn it into a brand overnight.Â Brand building takes time and hard work, in addition to a HUGE amount of investment in human capital, coding, editorial staff, marketing teams, and resources â€“ something which Iâ€™ve never seen anyone mention when talking about building online brands.
Everyone acts as though the difference between a low quality affiliate site and building a brand is just about a change in mindset.Â It requires a completely different set of skills and investment though.
Trust me, I regularly talk to webmasters who spend $xxx,xxx on premium domains and then $xx,xxx on design and coding.Â I know a huge company in the finance niche who are about to launch a site that theyâ€™ve invested over $x,xxx,xxx in the last few months.Â These are the real success stories that will get you the â€œband metricsâ€ youâ€™re looking for.Â Not the smaller affiliates that decide to hire a slightly better writer for $0.04c per work.
Why you shouldnâ€™t Worry Too Much About SEO Changing in the Next Couple of Years
First of all, SEO hasnâ€™t changed much in the last 5-10 years.Â Itâ€™s still more then 60-70% about links, keywords and optimizing your page titles.
Sure, the latest 2011 search engine ranking factors from SEOMoz.org shows that social signals and brand signals are a tiny bit more important then they used to be. But so what?Â The fundamentals have stayed the same.Â Build good content, make your site good enough for users, and buy a bunch of links.
Facebook has remained a closed network, which prevents Google crawling a lot of its data, and if Social Media signals start replacing link metrics in SEO then youâ€™re going to get a wild amount of social â€œnoiseâ€, and social media brokers selling Facebook Likes etc over the internet.
Even if content becomes more important, you have to remember that users prefer to read short 500-600 word articles rather then reading 1,000 â€“ 2,000 word essays.Â Long articles turn off users and if anything it will damage your user metrics and increase your bounce rates.Â Hence, improving the rankings for sites with longer articles doesnâ€™t make that much more sense if youâ€™re Google.
The only thing that we can say for sure is that Google will likely be highly dependent on the link graph for the next 3-5 years.Â As long as you keep building good sites, which are relevant and provide some sort of value to the visitor (such as recommending the top online casinos) then you are good to go.
This guest post was written by Adam, who has been successful in affiliate marketing in a number of industries such as gambling, trading, binary options and banking.Â He also runs his own affiliate blog at AffiliateFYI.com.