What if…(The More Things Change, the More Different They Become)

As you ease into your ergo chair, or settle in astride your giant yoga ball behind your computer, you face another day. Another day of gathering data, auditing web pages, digging into keyword reports, meetings with engineering, design, marketing and others. Today will most likely resemble yesterday for the most part. Maybe some tedium, maybe some excitement, and if you’re really, really lucky, maybe a fire drill, too.

Big, sweeping, dramatic changes generally don’t ripple through the world of search marketing too much these days. Yes, algos get updated, and with those updates some sites see dramatic shifts in ranking, but if you look across the entire internet, the effects are on a low percentage of sites and pages. Algo changes do happen and will continue to happen. For as far back as most SEOs can remember, this has been the case.

But wholesale changes, overnight, that affect everyone? Those are rarer beasts.

What if…

So what if a big change happens today? Are you ready? Are you sharp and steady on your Bosu ball, or would a big shift knock you flat on your back?

What if links no longer mattered?

In this scenario, it would make sense to continue to grow links that generate inbound traffic for your pages, but with no value assigned in the algorithm towards ranking, what does your day look like? What reporting changes? Are there metrics that need to be realigned, or scrapped completely? If you’re *gasp* buying links in some manner, will you stop? Or, with no impact on ranking, might you actually start buying more links to drive more traffic?

What if usability counted as a ranking factor?

Would that make you invest more money is this often ignored area? Or do you feel you already have this so nailed down, you’re covered? Many businesses feel this way, but be careful. Usability success is defined by your users, not by you. Completing a project lead by a ‘usability consultant” that you hired doesn’t mean your usability is top notch. Likely it’s improved, but as with some many things (lookin’ at you SEO) there are usually more tweaks that can be made.

What if all keyword data ceased to be shared?

I mean everywhere. Across all the engines. Stripped completely from all reports. Are you prepared to make decisions around metrics which don’t include “keywords”? Have you even begun to think about what metrics you would follow? How you’d justify the work being done? This is a tough one given, since pretty much Day 0, SEO has been linked (pardon that pun) to keywords. But you’ve already seen a clear instance where keyword data you always had easy access to dried up. Now is the time to apply lessons learned from that in planning for future draughts.

What if ranking reports ended up penalizing you?

Most people like to think their meat comes from a supermarket. Pretty standard view in North America. We don’t want to know what it took to get to the sterile, wrapped, well presented product on the shelf. That’s a bit too grisly for us, and when you ask most kids today where meat comes from, they say “the supermarket”. We all know that’s not quite the starting point. Ranking reports follow a similar path. Businesses pay for them, or use tools which generate them. The reports are nicely wrapped and presented, but there’s a darker side to them. The tools used to prepare those reports scrape SERP pages. This harms kittens, was responsible for the extinction of unicorns and the engines don’t like it. Why would the engines care? Pretty straight forward, actually. Every query run costs money – actual, real world money. And every query run is intended to hold the promise of someone clicking on an ad, generating revenue for the engine. Automated queries, such as those run by ranking checking tools, spin up the servers, cost the engine money, and never yield revenue. So, when a search engine does an ROI analysis on “traffic” like that, it’s a net loss and we seek to mitigate it. This is why abusing those tools can harm your rankings. So how comfortable do you feel walking this tightrope?

What if everything went secure?

We’re already seeing the start of this trend, so how are you thinking of approaching it? It’ll mean some changes for your website, but there are other considerations to think through as well. Have you started formulating a plan for this approach? Will this have a positive or negative impact on your visitors? How will you communicate to them about it? Will this affect your ability to gather data and track metrics? Those any many other questions need addressing.

The job of an SEO, SEM, web marketing, online marketer, etc. is a tough one today. It seems we’re right in the middle of “mobile is the future, today!” and trying to grapple with all of the implications that come with this shift, and yet, there’s no let up. No relief. The work, from various angles, just keeps coming. This isn’t doom and gloom, folks. But it is a test.

What if only the strong survive?

Duane Forrester
Sr. Product Manager
Bing

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2 comments
  1. dscddoclou

    If all these things happen. I think it would be a greater good.

    I would like to see an era where what mattered was actual advertising augmented by things like SEO. SEO should make advertising strategies better and not a tool for how to beat the system.

    It is one thing to have a personal website that a website owner may be able to make some money on. It is a whole different story for a real business that is competing with people who want everything free and yet outrank real businesses.

  2. Aaranged

    Great stuff Duane.

    However, in regard any hand I've personally had in harming kittens and wiping out the unicorns (I sure do miss me those unicorn steaks!), the costly scraping of SERPs is unavoidable in this world where ranking reports indeed have value (as keyword data is of course actually, rather than hypothetically, disappearing).

    A pretty simple way of mitigating that cost is for the search engines to offer an API, for which (if it was justly priced)  most SEOs and SEO software manufacturers would happily pay.

    And no, the ranking data provided by Bing or Google or Yandex is neither detailed nor accurate enough to be a substitute for this. :)

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