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SEO a waste of money?

SEO a waste of money?

SEO is not the wysiwyg thing we’d all like to believe

SEO – the process of search engine optimisation as we’ve all come to know and love may appear to be about cause and effect but is it really so?

Whilst it’s nice to think that our seo efforts are a simple case of do action x, wait, montitor record, rinse repeat/reduce the reality is very often, much, much further from the truth.

Do not believe the lie of the algorithm

SERP’s are a monitored thing – do not believe that it’s an algorithmic thing. It is not true, it really is not.

Whilst it may be kinda cool to think that there’s this cool algorithm that sorts out bits and bytes and densities and semantic relationships and link structure and magically puts them all together to create a list of relevant sites for your inputted keyword, the reality is that this is only part of the equation.

Some SERPs are editorially controlled

This is especially true when the space in which you play just happens to be a touch more competitive than the rest. Be it ‘Hotels in $place’ or ‘$service in $place’ or ‘$product $common_search_string’ you can be pretty sure that SERP positions like those will be looked at both by your competitors vieing for the same and by the search engine that monitors them. If you happen to be ranking for a term and a competitor finds something to report you on then, you might just find yourself thrust into the unwelcome gaze of the search engine death squads.

If what you produce that lands in these pages isn’t up to some loosely defined subjective opinion of a search engine rep using some ‘vote based opinion scoring system designed to weed out anyone who doesn’t happen to fit the criteria of the day’ then you can be pretty sure that an action  affecting how your page performs in the SERP will be levied against you. The only notification you will receive will be your inability to rank where you once were accomapnied by significant drops in income.

The reality is that if you are doing things that in the view of the search rep are  ‘designed to manipulate the outcome of a SERP’ , then you may find that your efforts have been in vain.

Search engine guidelines are a site zappers charter 

There is an certain irony in that whilst we are told not to do things for the benefit of the search engine, to not even try and push the boundries would dictate that we would simply not rank for most of the words we would like to. Humans like to figure things out. If a person knew that putting a hidden pink fairy on their web page would help boost them to page one, then they’d be a fool not to do it, especially if everyone else was doing the same.This one of the many idiocies that exist within search engine guidelines.

The facts are that in order to keep up with our competitors we must do similar things to them and hope that our content or profile allows us to be teflon too. We are damned if we do and damned if we dont,  by taking these actions, we give the search reps a green light to downgrade or reduce our ability to rank, if we choose not to then we’ll never rank for jack. An example could be a series of site wide navigational links that link through to various pages, do they exist to help manipulate the search bots, or do they exist to help our visitors under some BS view of usability?

Link juice is vital to SERP performance 

SEO’s learnt a long time ago  that by pointing a variance of differing keywords from differing places in sufficient numbers will have the effect of boosting our target pages’ SERP performance. They do so because in their view they happen to believe that the page that they want to get there is the best page for this particular term. It’s laser focused and relevant to the theme or set of words they wish to rank for. Just go look at any keyword SERP and you’ll see evidence of this in effect.

Yet to do so, could be interpreted as highly manipulative and could get you kicked out of a SERP overnight. Should this happen then you can forget about tweaking title tags or going out and getting more links, or playing with keyword densities or disallowing duplicate content or insert_any_other_number_of_random_suggested_groovy_moves as you will be basically wasting your time. The only way to repair such an action is to get the manually applied sanction lifted. You could try de-optimising or scaling down your seo efforts, yet what is the point in doing that? Who really wants to rank on page 6 for their natural efforts?!

The SEO is a waste of money message

So it would seem that taking the SEO route is a risky business. It would seem that a subtext of the ‘we want the best pages for our users’ mantra gievn to us from search engine mouthpieces is really about don’t employ SEO, advertise with us instead and if you can’t afford to then maybe you should consider why you are here in the 1st place.

The message we are being sent is that whilst SEO can be immensley profitable, it can also be taken away in a heartbeat too. Don’t spend money on SEO, spend it on our search engine advertising programs.  

SEO is honest versus Search engine penalties are not 

SEO is Honest – Every single thing an SEO does is open and available for public scrutiny.Can the same be said for a search engineer?

Via the use of a combination of the various reporting tools of Y!, Msn Live, Ask, Google, GigaBlast, search caches, user agent switchers etc you can pretty much determine the reasons why a page ranks well. It’s there for all to see, nothing is hidden. All you then do is either replicate those aspects or do it better.

What’s that I hear you say? What about invisible text, or javascript redirects, or cloaked pages, or keyword spam, blog spam, domain spam, keyword stuffing etc etc..the simple answer is, none of these are SEO. They are tactics that the search engines were too dumb to filter out,so chose instead to paint them in some evil kind of guise.

Don’t buy the whole blackhat vs whitehat argument as it’s simply not true.

Silent search engine penalties are dishonest -If you happen to come under the scrutiny of a search engineer in a bad mood then the reality is that you can find yourself pretty much blown out of the water overnight.

Your site or page will no longer be adjudged on the basis of its content, its link structure, its html composition, its popularity, its age, its relevance. It will be adjudged on one factor and one factor only, that factor being the opinion and mood of some random stranger hiding in the shadows deciding that you’ve breached some loosely defined guideline. They are too cowardly to say  hey dude we didn’t like that so we did that.Unless it’s otherwise politically expedient to do so, you can be pretty sure that he (or she) won’t afford you the  courtesy of letting you know as christ, that’ll just make your life easy, and easy isn’t what they want your life to be. You are after all, playing in the playground of SEO, you are daring to purposely manipulate the output of their SERP’s and worse still you know how to too, you dastardly SEO you.

SEO IS worth it

The upside is, that it really isn’t so difficult to look at any site in any serp these days and see what terms a site is targetting. If you have the requisite site authority score then you can pretty quickly attain good serps for a good number of keywords. It’s just a matter of generating the right inlinks from the right places with the right content.

Fly below the radar and you’ll do ok, alert the attention of a SERP cop and you could find yourself sunk, especially if you aren’t an important brand. The view is, there are 100’s of other equally relevant pages waiting to take your place. You can’t insulate yourself completely, and it’s probably best to just plug along and forget that search engines exist, at least from a  monetisation perspective.

Risk versus reward and a long term view

As mantric as it sounds, you are far better served building something that you have a genuine passion for, or products for, and promoting it without search engines in mind as ultimately the resultant loss of any business accrued via some kind of hit, will then be much easier to cope with.

Yet of course too to say such a thing would be to ignore the massive competitive advantages that your competitors taking more aggressive stances could be acquiring and leave you well behind in the race.

I can recall a site that used to perform well for some pretty big hitting keyword terms using all manner of tactics that for their time, were pretty off the scale as manipulative SEO went. I watched them stay in their position for 3 years, whereby every other week I’d see them still there and think, hmmn their days are numbered.

I’ve no idea how much money they earnt whilst in those positions but can say with confidence that it was considerably more than the already considerable sum of money a site I ran was attaining for just a fraction of their targetted market. Had I acted like them and replicated their tactic then I too could have done as well as they did. By refusing to compete as they did, by taking the choice to play it safe in the mistaken belief that being a ‘good’ boy would serve me well, I lost out. I may have stayed in the game longer than they, yet ultimately my fate was the same as theirs. The search guidelines we’re changed, my competing site become a thin affiliate, and the rest as they say is history.

Moral of the story – make hay whilst the sun shines as there are plenty a raincloud on the horizon

Rob Watts
Kickstart your business today - Get an SEO Consultation or just talk to Rob about your online aspirations. With over 20 years experience in building traffic he's pretty much encountered most markets and scenarios

12 thoughts on “SEO a waste of money?

  1. robwatts Post author

    Free auction – you might find it extreme, just as AndyBeard and myself and 100’s of other bloggers found the TBPR penalty a little extreme, but extremes they were and extremes they did happen.

  2. robwatts Post author

    Well, perhaps! SEO circa 2007 is much more than a little rejig of content, as you well know it’s also about tuning in to the variety of other signals out there and using them to get the boosts that you’d like, without looking like you went and did it on purpose or too blatantly! The point is though whatever it is you do, however it is you do it, the goalposts move and change and what wins today may well lose tomorrow, especially when set against the competing forces of others all trying to do the same albeit better. Christ, its an economic liberals wet dream whereby market forces of metrics and clickthroughs and bounce rates and social media activity all come in to play and push the cream to the top, at least thats what some would like us to believe, yet what isn’t revealed what isnt transparent is how all that can be snatched in a heartbeat and there isnt a thing you can do about it. Therein lies the risk, there’s the real message and its one that most would be foolhardy to ignore completely.

  3. Dallas Condos

    True Google giveth and taketh away. That’s why you need to sites in the top ten 🙂 Seriously though its a shame that Google can bring the hammer down whenever they want, especially when it comes to someones livelihood.

  4. Marty

    SEO is a waste of MONEY. That’s why you don’t spend money on it, you do it yourself =p lol. Search engines are un-predictable and they chose whether we get our traffic or not… Not a good way to be really is it?

  5. robwatts Post author

    Good point Marty 😉 DIY SEO is much much cheaper, provided of course you know what you are doing. I agree with your point though, ultimately they are completely unpredictable andc an be counted on for very little. Best create a little jar on the sideboard called SERPs and stick any monies in there, it’ll be appreciated when the trafiic suddenley goes awol. 😀

  6. Jeff Quipp

    Good post Rob. I think you’re moral of the story stands to reason for absolutely everything. Every form of media will ultimately be replaced by others in due time …. its otherwise known as the product life cycle. And its a truism.

    That said … everything is fleeting, and must be used to its maximum advantage in the time it exists. SEO exists now, and produces superior ROIs in the hands of the skilled. Should we encourage people to be over invested in SEO … no. Its but a piece of the marketing mix, and SEO has a synergistic affect on all other forms of marketing (see

  7. robwatts Post author

    Thanks Jeff, interesting link too.

    As you point out Jeff, we have to work with what is in front of us and adapt as it changes. Those that don’t won’t succeed, a bit like life really 😀

  8. Jeff Quipp

    Thanks Rob … I love that study! I would think that’s the type of thing SEMPO should be doing, but they appear so busy promoting themselves, how could they find time to do something beneficial for the industry like this?

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