SEO: Past Performance is No Guarantee of Future Results

SEO (search engine optimization) has been around for a very long time. During that time, SEOs have found creative ways to move the needle, abused them, lost them to algo updates, found more and generally repeated the cycle 3 billion times.

I’ve been on both sides of this, and made a decision about a year into running my first successful website: content would be the focus. Now, mind you, this was before “content was king” and before the engines really nailed that message. It just seemed like the right approach to me. Serve the searcher, not the engine. To be clear, I still use tools like the Bing Webmaster Tools and other webmaster tools to understand what’s up, I do some light keyword research, etc. All the usual best practices most sites perform every day. Remember, it’s all about balance today and moving forward.

And while everyone today is all about “content”, many still seek shortcuts. So many businesses have flawed plans or approaches. And so many have business models that will be flawed as time moves forward.

I was recently told a story from a friend about a meeting he had with a startup. Their CMO detailed their plans to strike it rich with a site full of “educational videos”. They’d “optimize the videos and drive organic traffic through the site, keeping costs low” he claimed. He then explained how they’d sell ads on the pages to generate revenue. The best place they could think to start their approach to Mount Gazllions was…contextual ads. This is a flawed approach, obvious to so many people. Contextual ads might be a solid start for a hobby website, but you won’t keep the lights on with that revenue stream for long unless you suddenly find millions of people on your doorstep. Even then, it might not work.

Another flawed approach: thinking your traffic from an engine should remain static, or grow, continually. Now, I’m not talking about “static” as a bad thing here. Most people would love to see a steady stream of inbounds from organic search. But building a business predicated on this as a traffic source, when the source can make one algorithmic change and your world tilts? Flawed.

I am continually amazed at how SEOs tell me I’m wrong when I answer questions for them.

SEO: “Does getting the H1 right matter as much as the <title> tag now?”
Me: “They’re both important. Think of the user and write for them.”
SEO: “But if I can focus only on one, which should it be?”
Me: “You need a balanced approach these days.”
SEO: “Well, I think if you just nail the title it’ll be fine.”

SEO: “Should we spend the big money on a keyword rich domain?”
Me: “No.”
SEO: “But it’ll help us rank better.”
Me: “No, on its own, it won’t.”
SEO: “Yes, I think it will.”

SEO: “We’re going to have a bunch of guest blogging spots open to build unique content, that’ll work, right?”
Me: “Guest blogging has been overdone for a while now – stay focused on producing quality content.”
SEO: “Well, every blogger is an expert consultant…”
Me: “I give up…”

SEO: “We’re going to pull in data from 3 or 4 sources, build a dynamic page filled with the best from across the web! The engines will love this, right?”
Me: “You know we see all that content from its original source, right?”
SEO: “Yeah, but our experience will be better, and then we can charge businesses to add more data to the pages!”
Me: “You understand the engine’s job is to get the searcher to their objective faster, right? With as few clicks as possible. You’re talking about adding more clicks to their path.”
SEO: “But we have more choices for them to look at!”
Me: “The role of the engine is to surface the best, most relevant result. This shortens the path from query to objective for the searcher.”
SEO: “People love looking through options! They spend hours clicking through Facebook/Pinterest/Instagram every day! Why wouldn’t they do it with us?!”
Me: #facepalm

Hinging your future on a single tactic, whether it’s social, seo, paid search, email, etc. is a recipe for disaster. Over time, things change. And that change may just happen to you. Sure, I hear you saying, “we’re diversified”. Are you? If you’re investing most of your time in SEO, you’re not diversified.

What if a business idea or vertical falls out of fashion? Or becomes so lucrative, the only way in is to pay? Is your business capable of weathering that change?

Too many businesses today stay laser focused on one idea or approach and when a change happens, they are stunned by their loss of traffic.

Times change. The web has changed. What users expect from the web has changed. Search must therefore keep up with the times. Business models that made sense 5 years ago might not be viable moving forward. Tactics that worked 3 years ago might not work tomorrow. So, what do you do?

Provide real, useful content, services and tangible value to a searcher. Do that, and become loved by your customers, and you’re almost guaranteed a place near the top of the organic stack. Still lots of work, to be sure, but as you’ve seen over the last couple of years, short cuts work both ways.

In the end, it’s worth repeating, there should not be an expectation that an engine will send you traffic, or that the volume of traffic seen up to a certain point should remain the same or grow. Change means just that. Change.

Duane Forrester
Sr. Product Manager

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