At Pubcon last week, I noticed my teeth were starting to hurt. Turned out it was because I was grinding my teeth.
I’ve been a lot mellower of late, so it took me a little while to remember the sensation. It took me even longer to realize the cause:
The entire SEO industry, including me, is living in happy dreaming la-la land.
Here are three hard truths we all have to come to accept if we’re going to continue to be a viable piece of the internet marketing picture:
1: It’s Still About the Keywords
I’m the first to protest that this isn’t about keywords. I insist to clients that we’re targeting topic areas. I train my team to focus on lots of long-tail terms.
But clients continue to ask about their rankings. And, with Google’s not provided going from “Oh, don’t worry, it won’t affect more than 10% of queries“ to “Where the hell did all my data go?!!”, our search data’s going to get more and more obscure.
And, we all still thump our chests about that One Great Ranking We Got. Admit it. It’s OK.
So yeah, it’s still about the keywords.
Solution: Don’t make it all about the keywords. Talk about overall organic search. Compare branded to non-branded search via Google Webmaster Tools. Show overall revenue from search, and show improvement over time beyond rankings. Provide a more complete picture, so that clients get used to a more holistic view of search and marketing. And for God’s sake, learn to write.
2: Google Doesn’t Need Us
Understand that we and Google are on the same side of the see-saw. That means we have no leverage over them. So give up on the idea that we’re going to force Google to behave differently. Stealing a bit from Scott Adams: If you’re a soup cracker, you don’t stand up to a sand blaster.
I’m not saying Google hates us. They don’t. As long as we don’t muck up the rankings, I doubt they care about us at all. But we can all save ourselves some oxygen if we stop complaining about Google’s organic search changes, and stop pretending we can somehow influence Google to reverse algorithm changes.
Note: I do think the commercial world can influence Google. They’re the ones buying the advertising. The tipping point will come if advertisers get sufficiently ticked off that they buy fewer Adwords clicks. But we can’t make them do that.
Solution: Carry on. As long as the 900-foot-tall lizard doesn’t step on your house, you’re good.
Solution, 2: Don’t violate Google’s terms of service unless you’re willing to suck it up when your sites get obliterated.
Solution, 3: Google may get a hard smackdown from the US government. But that’ll take a while. And it may hurt us as much as it hurts Google. So don’t pray too hard for this one.
3: We’ll Continue to Fool Ourselves
Someone will always pop up and say,“I never have this problem with my clients, or I can attribute 100% of organic search revenue, man, what the hell’s your problem?!” And we’ll listen and take notes.
Now, I’m not, er, the most diplomatic of consultants. So I’m sure I’m less successful than many when it comes to convincing clients to pay less attention to keywords, or follow a different set of success metrics. At some point I inevitably get my Dr. House on and, without realizing it, burn, explode or otherwise disintegrate bridges.
But, as long as people type words into a little box, and then see pages listed according to the words they typed into that little box, this is going to be about the words, and the listings. And, as long as Google has a net worth of well over $200 billion (that’s enough money to buy 2,500,000,000,000 pencils, by the way), it’ll take more than angry SEOs to change their business model, their algorithms or anything else we care about.
Solution: Deal with it. Understand our role in the ecosystem: To improve our client’s bottom line. And enjoy the ride, because (on the bright side) things don’t look like they’ll change any time soon.