Recently I have read a fair few posts about folks leaving SEO behind for pastures new. Jill Whalen’s “My Leaving SEO Post” was one of the most well written and insightful I have read. It was actually one of the things that motivated me to start my own business (Cheers Jill).
So when I chose to move towards delivering digital insight, strategy and analysis as a consultant, I actively sought to leave SEO behind. But in doing so I got thinking about what the underlying reasons are for agencies, individuals and businesses are leaving SEO?
But first, Disclaimer time: these are my (sometimes pessimistic) views and experiences of my time in the industry. You may not feel they are correct but that’s where the comment box comes in for some friendly debate/discussion.
Third Party Controlled
The SEO space is controlled by one major player and they like to play hard ball. I have been trying to “play” with Google and its algorithms for years. Every time you start to get the hang of it Google throws a curve ball into the mix which usually points you towards their paid advertising channels. Google have chums in all the high and low places which makes them fully aware of every SEO technique under the sun. Once they hear about it their Search Quality Team works to devalue that manipulation in their next algorithm update.
Hours vs Return?
Having been there myself, I have a lot of respect for practising SEO’ ers (veterans and novices alike). Particularly those who keep evolving and adapting so as to bring in results no matter what the changes in algorithms might bring. Agencies are trying to make this formula take place for SEO contracts to be worthwhile:
Charged Hours (Client £ ÷ £X per hour) – Spent Hours + Overheads = Agency Profit
It’s fair though to say that for hours charged out to a client, alot of the SEO methods are not only risky but also not commercially viable, taking far longer with far less results. Especially for SME’s who previously relied on £50 per month “SEO campaigns”,in particular, got penalised and now need link removal and ethical SEO campaigns.
SEO’s Magic Has Worn Off
Back in the day (God I sound old saying that) SEO was considered fantastical magic by some clients. A mystical language that certain ‘trained people’ could whisper to search engines to lift up their skirts. SEO still wasn’t an easy sell when the white, grey or black hat methods were all actually working. Now the majority of them aren’t, selling SEO to clients has never been harder. Half of these businesses hadn’t heard about SEO until Google released Panda and Penguin algorithms or they saw a competitor drop off the search engines after being penalised. So SEO now has a more negative rep and the risks are there for all to see. On top of all that it’s fair to say that sometimes it’s not even appropriate or applicable. Those clients that want to rank top 5 for three massively generic terms may need educating OR they may just need a different marketing approach!
Once Google pulled away our precious organic keyword data it made it increasingly difficult for SEO folks to justify spend, show return and gain user insight. Now I know that there are rumours that Google is looking for a solution” to the (not provided) issue but do you really think their solution won’t involve making them more money and SEO’ers less?Google can put privacy elements on their site, but who are they kidding? Pay enough and that information is available proving that the security updates were partly about data restrictions for SEOs.
SEO’s Identity Crisis
Having been in the industry over 6 years I have seen SEO go through many different phases. It’s been “dead”, “alive” then “dead” and now it seems to be suspiciously like “Content Marketing”. It’s now reached a point where Google changes the game so often, SEO’ers are having to re-brand traditional or digital marketing methods to achieve their clients KPI’s.
Like it or not when you say “SEO”, the majority of business folks think of gaining a Return through “Search Algorithm Manipulation”. If that person is signing an “SEO Contract” with an agency or consultant the chances are they expect the following apparently straight forward formula to take place:
£ + SEO Agency = Google Rankings + Traffic + Conversions – £ Cost = Client ROI
Instead, these days the formula looks very different with all kinds of methods being sold under the SEO umbrella just to make the client ROI visible at the end. The predictability of results from SEO has gone down the pan and these days you are just as likely to see an inexplicable drop in rankings are you are to see a rise.
Indiscriminate Wrath of Cutts
There are more and more SEO’ers signing up to follow the Big Book of Google Guidelines (sounds like a tedious kids story) and throwing down those black hats. But the same folks are seeing those breaking the rules being rewarded with every algorithm update that claims to crush such techniques. Then there are those who follow the rules who end up getting inadvertently crushed by Negative SEO or links built by previous agencies.
So to summarise my rantings I do think (like most in the industry) that there will always be a gap for SEO to fill. The size and shape of which will be determined by our ingenuity and Google’s greed. I saw a quote from a recent post by link boffin Jon (@PointBlankSEO) Cooper that rang true with me:
“I really believe Google is transitioning from being on the defensive, to being on the offensive.”
This got me thinking about the next animal themed Google algo update. So what better way to finish a dramatically pessimistic post than creating a Game of Thrones / Google mashup:
I would love to hear if your agency or business has moved away from SEO and where you think it will go during 2014 and beyond: