A couple years ago, SEO held a lot of secrets. But, no more. If you earn a lot of money in the United States, it behooves you to hire the best tax lawyer in order for you to exploit tax loopholes to the full extent — and letter — of the law; however, what would happen if all the loopholes were closed? When I am talking loopholes, I am not including tax exemptions, deductions, and credits — advantages that the IRS and the US government planned as incentives — I am only talking about the unintentional — albeit technically legal — consequences of poorly-written tax law and policy. Loopholes. It’s the same thing with search engine optimization (SEO) and Google.
Google’s sort of the IRS of the Internet, I guess, and SEO has become a war between Google’s vision of what quality and valuable search results should look like — and the rewards conferred onto anyone and everyone who can just produce content that meets those stringent standards — and an entire industry that is committed to finding every shortcut and loophole possible, as soon as they’re discovered, and systematically exploit these loopholes for as long as they exist and until they’re closed. The entire SEO industry has been almost entirely fueled by exploiting shortcuts, loopholes, link syndicates, link conspiracies, strategic linking, shadow linking, and shadow content. And it’s mostly worked, too, until recently. Until Google really started rolling out Panda and Penguin algorithms.
Google’s tightening and closing as many loopholes as it can get away with. In the past, Google’s treated the cancer of link spamming and black hat SEO with very broad treatments, similar to radiation or chemotherapy, that would harm way too many honest citizens to make it worth the number of black hat SEO practitioners. Now, however, Google’s algorithm have become much smarter than just links, robots, and spiders. It includes an army of well-trained, savvy, human reviewers (10,000 as of 2007, surely legion by now), as well as us, the greater Internet, who are part of a very active social media attention economy. From legions of active Google-paid reviewers to a billion passive reviewers who create very useful patterns that Google can now recognize real-time and then put it through a Turing test, if you will, to check to see if various and sundry memes, virals, videos, and popular content are propagating for real or as a result of a promotional command and control structure aimed at gaming search for fun and profit.
Google used to be easy to fool because every time it tried to shut down SEO hijinks, it would also shut down thousands and millions of amateurs who are just doing dumb things with their own fully-legitimate websites. Things that seem almost exactly as suspect as a black hat SEO campaign. Partially because amateurs just do dumb stuff when they’re learning, partially because gray- and black-hat SEO consultants are everywhere and are giving bad advance to just about anyone, and finally because most ORM and SEO professionals have mastered the art of making content that is pitch-perfect as-good-as-but-no-better-than beginning blogs, sites, journals, and social media profiles. If you can’t hide your (hundreds of) spam sites in plain sight, then you’ve failed.
Even Google’s human ninja reviewers often get fooled. However, they’re never fooled by cheap, half-assed, good-enough SEO strategies that had worked until recently, as I said. So, what to do, what to do? Now that Google’s being cruel and is no longer rattling sabers but taking very powerful people’s corporate sites’ heads off (and I am not joking, there are some sites that make hundreds of millions of dollars a year that have been relegated to bankruptcy based on some decisions, over time, that some SEO consultant or another was able to sell them and implement. Good bye, Aloha, auf Wiedersehen, good night.
Here are the answers to all your prayers — though I have a feeling that this list is going to make you hate me:
- Be newsworthy: any earned media outreach or social media propagation campaign needs real legs and being timely and newsworthy is essential — just like any PR or promotional campaign. This will mean you’ll need to become way more strategic and need to spend more money on talent than on technology. Do you have something to announce? No? Well, can you do something announce-worthy, newsworthy, that you can then ride? It’ll take time, creativity, and cost some money; that said, it’ll all be worth it if you can break into all the noise and reach through all those deaf ears and touch people in a profound enough way that they help you move your brand forward. If you can do that, the links will count and so will the tweets and Likes. When the social media sphere and the blogosphere actually end up opting-in, it’s legit and passes Google’s Turing test.
- Be interesting: You don’t need to be newsworthy if you can be interesting. The Internet is rife with people laughing at their own jokes. Compelling personalities with good senses of story, humor, narrative, and charm are very rare. I dare you to be interesting. It’s not as easy as it sounds.
- Be social: Even if you’re boring, you can still be social. Some people are artists, some people are art critics, and other people are curators. If you can’t be the interesting artist, you can instead be the acerbic art critic or the curator that digs through the online mediasphere finding other people’s art and getting recognition for it. Either way, be social, be engaging, and be online. Grow your online influence (it is easier if you’re newsworthy or interesting, surely, but it’s not essential) and you, too, can encourage coverage and pass Google’s Turing test with the power of earned media and engagement.
- Be better: If you suck or if you’ve sucked in the past, you can always crow about your getting better. Sort of like a fat me bragging about all the weight I am losing, all the weight I am lifting, and all the miles I am riding and running. So, work on getting better — but don’t do it in a vacuum, do it out loud and let everyone know. But, don’t fake it. Why? Well, Yelp! for one.
- Be funny: If you choose this one, don’t rely on your own perception of your ability to be funny. Also, don’t ask people you pay, they’ll laugh at anything you say. If you want to know if you’re funny, ask people you know from high school or college. Actually, if you’re really funny — like witty, insightful, and laugh-out-loud funny, you’d probably know already. You’re probably already known for it. if not, is there anyone else in your office who’s a laugh riot?
- Be compelling: Camp counselors don’t have to be talented, funny, or interesting, they just need to know how to make amazing experiences happen through some sort of compelling nature. Being compelling means that you can create an environment that is safe, generative, nurturing, and structured — can you be a compelling social media camp counselor? Can you become the man or woman who make Prom happen instead of needing to become the King, Queen, or the Band?
- Be committed: Even if you’re a real dud, you can win the war by just creating content, engaging online, blogging, tweeting, engaging, socializing, connecting, Liking, retweeting, sharing, and then doing this from now and then forever — if you can commit to creating a little content every day, connect with other people in your space a little every week, and to willfully and with purpose making sure you get invited to all the coolest parties — even if you’re not cool and have nothing to wear — then you, too, can benefit from the new Google.
The long and short of it is that you’ll need to become your own newsroom, creating content and newsworthiness and interest, all on your own; you’ll need to then push that content out, share that content out, engage with influencers online, see if they may well be interested on knowing more about your newsworthy news, your interesting self or content, asking them for their help in getting the word, and then following-up with them a couple times to make sure they do what they said they’d do — and not because they were BSing you but because everyone’s too busy, distracted, and behind to do anything anyone says they will — unless you hold their feet to the fire.
So, goodbye shortcuts. Aloha loopholes. Now, you’ll have to buy a few more hats for your job: PR hat, entertainer hat, comedian hat, writer hat, social media geek hat, party planner hat, camp-counselor hat, and any other hat that encourages others to engage with you more, to share of you more, and even write about you more — and as long as they get the link right, it doesn’t really matter what they say about you, mostly.
Good luck. Please let me know if you’d like me to break things down more. I have written a million articles about blogger outreach, online engagement, social media marketing, Twitter prospecting, and digital PR; however, I need to write a new post every week, so I am happy to write more and more and more about this favorite topic of mine. I am a man obsessed, obviously. You need to become obsessed as well — or find one or more people in or close to your organization who can be. It’s a must. Mandatory.
- Recover from Google’s recent changes to search (chrisabraham.com)
- How to recover from the ravages of Google Penguin and Panda (biznology.com)
About Chris Abraham
A pioneer in online social networks and publishing, with a natural facility for anticipating the next big thing, Chris is an Internet analyst, web strategy consultant and advisor to the industries' leading firms. He specializes in Web 2.0 technologies, including content syndication; organize search engine optimization (SEO), online reputation management (ORM), content marketing, online collaboration, blogging, and consumer generated media.