Last Friday I was scrolling through Google checking the top rankings when I made some terrible, no good, very bad discoveries.
Let me back up. In my profession as an online marketer, I’ve found it necessary and helpful to evaluate my clients’ competition on a regular basis. It’s a responsibility I have to them. Thought I realize everybody has their own individual philosophy on whether or not you should evaluate your competitors, in truth, surveying the competition is one of my favorite things to do. I do it to learn, to get inspiration, to understand what’s going on in my clients’ industries, and to be a better marketer. And usually, I bounce off of their ideas - checking out the competition gets me excited, or motivates me to keep working hard.
But last Friday it just made me furious.
Outdated techniques are still winning
As you’d expect, our client is in a competitive niche, which means everybody is pushing and shoving to get that high-volume search traffic. I scroll through those top search results and can just smell the blood and the sweat. A lot of motivated marketers are scurrying to claim the coveted top spots. This is capitalism - I like it. Let’s compete! May the best man win!
What I don’t like is finding out that many of these marketers are using scummy, pre-2013, bottom-of-the-barrel tactics to shoot their clients to the top of the search results. And it’s not just the fact that these marketers won’t shed their black hats. It’s that they’re using black hat techniques, and they’re still ranking at number one.
Here’s what I found on Friday. I did a link analysis on a certain competitor of my client’s who performed well in the search results, hoping to get some ideas and gain a little insight into what it takes to achieve a top result in this field. Using MOZ’s Open Site Explorer, I scrolled through their linking domains and found an interesting site linked back to them that seemed relevant, high quality, and awesome. I thought, I should check this out. When I clicked through to the website, I realized the site belonged to the company I was surveying. They had created this separate domain as an extension of their own website. At first glance the site appeared to center around a separate service than their official website.
But when I read the content, I realized the entire domain was focused on linking back to the original site. There was no original or new content to share. Nothing! Just pages and pages of useless words with links to the company’s official website. They also had a blog site that served the same purpose.
What boils my blood the most? This company sits at the top of Google.
Google still hasn’t caught them.
Yes, SEO is changing - but not fast enough
Now, I realize black hat techniques are headed out the door, Google is perfecting their algorithms, and eventually these guys will reap the consequences of their shortcuts. I know in my heart of hearts that all of the battle cries rallying SEOs to create great content, delivering what the user wants, and amazing websites are working. Things are changing. Just not fast enough.
But in the meantime, while sly companies skirt around the rising standards and enjoy the benefits of links not yet realized for what they are, what am I to do? And what am I to tell my clients? I thought we were making progress in 2013. I thought we had all held up our right hands and sworn off bad SEO techniques, so help me God. Heck, I thought Panda and Penguin were shifting the scales, righting wrongs, and rewarding the virtuous for their user-focused, quality-centric work!
- Well-performing websites still masquerade as sheep in wolf’s clothing.
- Bad SEO tactics still get results.
- The good guy doesn’t always win.
- We have a ways to go before the world goes white hat.
- Life’s not fair.
There’s nothing worse like feeling virtuous in a competition where everybody is breaking the rules. We know SEO is changing, but it hasn’t completely turned over yet. What do we do?
All we can do is keep pushing back with an ethical, well-rounded SEO strategy that should help our client attain visibility and great business online in the long haul. Because at the end of the day, it’s not about just having the top spot for one keyword. The charge for SEO is still to create websites that people love, provide satisfying content to the searcher, and create relationships that extend beyond one website visit.
Besides, Google’s 10 blue links are not going to shape search for forever. Search is already changing. Long-tail search results, social recommendations, and location-specific results have already messed with the traditional search results. Who knows how search will continue to evolve?
My hope is that over the long haul, we win - and these guys who currently claim the throne will find themselves toppled by techniques that had short-term rewards and long-term punishments.
In the meantime, I’m going to keep my hands clean, keep working hard, and try not to let the bad guys get to me.