The Google Endgame: the End of SEO Cheats and Shortcuts
This is why there's no more room for SEO cheats and shortcuts. Being "honest" with your content will produce better payoffs at the end. I know - I tried them all.
Let's say you're engaged on social media, you've optimized your site to the hilt, you've even added some email outreach and a little PPC. But traffic is still a trickle and your site rank is still in backwoods territory. What do you do next?
For a surprising number, the next step is a SEO cheat, or at least a shortcut. If you're considering this move, know that everyone without a $5k/mo PPC budget is having the same problem. And when the money is gone, back the backwoods! There's a lot of wishful thinking in how to solve the traffic/ranking problem. I've done a considerable amount of it myself. This website, heavypen.com, once ranked in the top 100,000. How'd I get there? I used hundreds of of link farms. I packed dozens of ghost links on every page; stacked every imaginable variation of the word "free articles" and "freelance writer" into "featured articles." There were other things I did; see a list on this blogpost, SEO: The Temptation and Peril of Spamdexing. One guy I was affiliated with ran a very successful link farm. His main domain soared into the top 5,000. For a while, it all worked. Those were great times. But then, Google got smart.
One by one, Google, then later Yahoo and Bing, knocked all of us down into the pit of irrelevance where we belonged. My friend with the 5k rank sank to the bottom. My site and everyone else on the 'farm' went down with him. Now, Heavypen was quite a bit different than the affiliated sites. In fact, the link farms loved the fact that all I did was post articles. No ads. No ecom. Just a lot of words. At that time, more than 40k worth. Of all the spammy sites with which I was affiliated, only a handful of them nominally recovered; the ones with substantial word counts seemed to do better. Sites that had fewer than 5,000 words total on site, never came back at all and were ultimately abandoned when their business model became defunct.
What I learned from that experience was that the real 'sure-fire' method to entice search engines is producing content that takes advantage of the semantic algorithm magic of modern the search engine spiders (Google, Bing, et al). If you do the things I suggest here, your website will be automatically enrolled into a database that will match you with high quality, relevant traffic, straight from your target demographic: people who are fully engaged in searching out your product or service (or nonprofit mission). Once you get started, you won't believe how easy it is to keep going. It takes little investment. There no new software or subscriptions to buy. And - know what? It's totally "white hat." Years of work has proven that THIS method is the single, most effective way to generate high-quality traffic. Sound too good to be true?
All you have to do is learn one trick: write high-quality, topic relevant content. In effect, turn your website into a repository of active, engaging information. I have posted a few articles about how to do that. Here's one on rewriting existing content with a slightly different angle. If you follow the guidelines, you'll be safe from Google's anti-duplication rules. Another article examines content "geometry"; strategies for writing content that almost seems to anticipate your target audience's interests. And here's one about content silo strategies; literally stacking your content for your target audience; give them more than enough reason to reach out and contact you as their expert.
You don't have to write long 1,200 word articles; some of mine run nearly 2,000 words. Chances are, all you have to do is keep up with your competition. In many vertical market segments, that means adding about 300-400 new words to your website per month. In segments where there is higher competition, you may have to bump that up to 600-800 words; very high competition, upwards of 1,200 new words per month. As part of content writing services, I perform a complete analysis of the competition: total word count of competing websites, keywords used by the competition, emphasis and word count all in one swoop. THEN, I keep on writing. As long as your site GROWS (in terms of word count and other content), the spiders will come.
Don't shirk all automated processes. Some automation is fine as long as it doesn't put a great big Blacklist Target on your website. For instance, get accounts on Hootsuite or Communit and distribute your key messages on social media. These are work productivity tools that will help save you gobs of time. They'll also help you devote more time developing high quality content and engaging with my audience.
Remember that SEO agencies are still selling some form of backlink generation software. There are new schemes popping up all the time. All but the most common linking solutions were banned because of persistent abuses that went against Google's "endgame." One very important factor: they were easy to detect with a large quantity of links that were not anchored, not relevant, and massively static. Even ones that claim to be "dynamic" or database driven are suspect.
Some claim to have built "content networks" that have automated "safeties" that prevent the automation from violating spam rules. For instance, they try to generate links limited to the number of relevant keywords available. They claim that links have to pass pass content relevance "filters" to ensure that they don’t have a bad influence on other linkers, which is understandable, but I'm not sure how you do that without some pretty amazing programming. They also claim that the generated links are reciprocal and that software regularly refreshes links. Sounds like a whole lot of trouble and worry. Also, they charge a bundle - $500 or more. I have evaluated these services and to be blunt, I'd rather spend the money on a PPC campaign.
Stick with what we know: Google/Bing want you to connect with your target audience. All you have to do is act like someone the audience wants to meet. Be bold, but be interesting. But also remember that Google, Bing, Yahoo hold all the cards. And their endgame can work to your advantage.
Historical perspective: Why Google Does What Google Does
If you were online in 1996 - 1999, you remember Alta Vista and the utter chaos of pure machine-driven search results with none of the semantic results we've come to rely on.
On AltaVista - and about 10 other top search engines - search input was based purely on the keywords used for the search. If you typed in "dog trainers," you'd probably see a list of trainers in every city in the country - except yours. I once inputted "vegan restaurants" (to arrange a lunch for a relative who is vegan) and got pages of various vegan organizations, but nary a restaurant.
Search engines have always relied on software (called "spiders") that crawled every bit of content on the net. The spiders did a really good job of recording links and words that were used in the associated webpages. It was so easy to game the system. All you had to do was join a link farm or link network. There was very little incentive to create useful content.
Google algorithms now watches for old SEO cheats (like link farms) - so don't try them. You'll get yourself banned. Clearly, this is what's pushing Google's seemingly unstoppable success. In the last few years, Google now generates the most relevant search results I've ever seen. Now if I search "vegan restaurants," I may still see some vegan organizations, but now "vegan" and "restaurant" are weighted with my actual geographic location. I will see lists of local restaurants that serve to the vegan target market along with photos, menus, food ingredients, and directions on how to get to the restaurants. This is Google's next level search world. Each search query deserves more accurate and relevant results.
They've moved away from delivering results purely based on keywords. They're producing results that are heavily weighed in favor of the searcher. Everything about the searcher counts: the context of the search, location of the search user, time of day, search history, and the device that they’re using. Google even checks word usage to weigh context with the requested search. It's called semantic search, where software ranks content based on the fuzzy value of the searchers intent rather than fixed values like the number of times that keywords appear in the text. Therein lies the Google Endgame - all of this is in service for the true master: the advertisers. Google HAS to get this right.
And that... my friends... is why there's no room left for bad SEO cheats and shortcuts.
I am a reformed spamdexer. I did everything that could be done to an HTML website to scam the search engines. My conversion began in 1999 when I won a contract with the California Courts. I was brought in as a consultant to solve a problem. The official California Courts website was absolutely buried by a mishmash of attorney offices, nonprofits, bail bonds agencies, and even porn sites. By the time I got on board, they had already developed an impressive quantity of content for a self-help section that covered a wide range of court-related topics - the every detail about the courts and proceedings. My recommendation was to convert that content into individual PDF documents. We optimized each doc to the max with good titles, descriptions, and tags. Then we imbedded the docs into link pages that were also fully optimized. In less than 6 months after posting these new pages, California Courts completely dominated the first two results pages for wide swath of legal search terms in California. We effectively bumped off the "spamdexers."
And we had lots of links.
Besides good content for the search engines to nibble on, we had a mountain of links to just about every law school and lawyer in the state. This is well before social media, so we didn't have that resource. But to be honest, we didn't need anything else. What caught me off guard was how quickly things changed. That's when I turned the corner and went all "white hat."
Since then, I've expanded my understanding of search engine ranking. First and foremost, I have long since accepted the fact that what I'm calling the "Google Endgame" is really the endgame for all search engines. They run a business. They offer a free service that draws in eyeballs, but their core business is advertising and website promotion.
What's not to get?