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SEO Homesteading 2016

Happy New Year to all you entrepreneuring SEOs. May 2016 treat you well. I hope you have the guts to execute on your instincts in the next 2 quarters.

Remember when SEO was about executing on tactics that had influence in the search algorithm, and that effort would be rewarded with organic search traffic?

Remember when things like links and anchor text and on-page content had real influence?

Welcome to 2016. Don’t tell your cubicle-minding professional Junior SEO, but that stuff is all (mostly) working again. If you have patience…. and execute well… and avoid the traps that the modern SEO world has set for you.

I know what you are thinking… WTF is he talking about! Links no longer deliver. Anchor text is done. And content needs to be either so outstanding or so comprehensive, that it doesn’t make economic sense to chase that pig around the barnyard any more.

Oh, and there is no longer any organic listing in the SERPs anyway, so GAME OVER for “traditional SEO”, right?

If you believe that then yes you are correct. None of it works anymore. Go home, and try some other career. Sorry you won’t be getting one of those sexy Search Awards. Maybe you can get a Government Grant or perhaps you can get into the next wave of healthcare insurance enrollments?

But the rest of you SEO entrepreneurs would be well advised to check your SEO tests. SEO works.

What Works and What Doesn’t

The key to SEO endeavors as we close out 2015 is to keep perspective. I think we have advanced a bit too far, while Google has regressed, and the clash is confusing the hell out of the amateurs, inbound marketers, and wanna-be non-technical SEOs.

I remember what it was like to study complex topics in Engineering school. At first, I was totally lost. Nothing made sense, and all the work in the world didn’t give me clarity. But after a ton of work and repetition, things started to come together.

Some of my classmates never got that far… they dropped the class at withdraw time, or waited to see their future foretold by midterm grades, before bailing late. The ones who stayed either “got it” and were keeping up, or were starting to “get it” and therefore confident.

None of it was easy, but one thing was certain : until you got yourself past a certain point, which not everyone could do, it was all very confusing!

Just like SEO today. It’s not easy to “get” SEO these days. The data, the signals, the cause-and-effect… it’s all hidden and obscured.

There are time delays built in to thwart efforts. There are sandboxes and thresholds in place to block you. In addition to competitive pressures, Google has built in over-optimization controls and Google throttles many factors that influence signals, which you also can’t access directly.

How can anyone understand all of this? SEO just doesn’t seem to work!

Selling Shovels to Miners was Easy. Try Selling Ice to Eskimos!

For the SEO consultants, what used to be as easy as selling shovels and blue jeans to gold miners is now more like trying to sell ice to Alaskans. The days of “say you’re an SEO and you are one” are gone. SEO takes real work now, and many easy-money consultants are giving up.

When was the last time YOU ran an anchor text test of your own? When was the last time you did a keyword content test of your own? When was the last time you honestly researched the SERPs to examine just how much organic opportunity there is, and how it is currently filled?

And what will you do when your tests work, but don’t work when implemented for a money site?

I’m betting you haven’t done all of your homework. Just like the Junior WannaBee SEO bloggers. Because if you have been doing the hard work, you should be seeing that these things work, and often work better than ever… if you can wait and tune.

For some semantic spaces, it can take 6-9 months OR MORE of execution before you are granted to resulting power and influence in the SERPs. Who has time to wait that long?

The secret in 2016 is not that you should be executing careful, professional, tactical SEO. The secret, if there is one, is that the system has changed so much that routine quick-glance analysis and careless SEO work no longer work, no matter how badly you want them to work.

And “traditional” SEO consulting models aren’t economically feasible. The key to SEO now is perspective.

Owning your SEO Efforts

When there is no room in an organic SERP, it is likely because of competition, not any death of SEO. When your anchor text isn’t influencing Google it’s likely because of the combination of HOW and WHERE you are doing that, in what context, and against what competition (and you should know I consider Google a primary competitor).

Google doesn’t want classic SEO to work, but has to let it work. So Google inhibits it, and makes it costly, and withholds the rewards as much as it can.

Every time Google consumes a SERP with its own properties or ads, it damages its search engine while protecting its advertising business.

Thin content? Why is it surprising that as we advance, with more accessible tools and cheaper, faster publishing technology, plus more and more competition on keywords and semantic spaces, the thresholds for content depth change? And why is it shocking to learn that…. when you strip away all the ad-tech crap in certain contexts, thin content actually ranks again?

Except for the times when thin content doesn’t get any traction. LOL.

Bottom line : as the money got harder to earn, the work to earn that money increased. Logical? Of course! Yet I am still seeing the same shallow SEO voices proclaiming that SEO doesn’t work. Huh?

Cheap-ass, lazy SEO doesn’t work. But it never should have worked anyway. It worked because there was a wide open frontier of free landscape available for the taking.

Homesteading after All the Good Land is Gone

At one point in the 1800’s our government was facing urban crisis and needed money. They recognized that there was gold hiding out west, as well as natural resources, and they also knew they needed to settle the “wild west” before anyone else did.

The Homestead Act declared that anyone could travel out west and stake out a piece of land as their own, provided they would work the land. Over the next 50 years vast tracks of frontier were claimed by US citizens, who created ranches, farms, mines, and took private ownership of nearly every square mile of the wild west.

Where I live in Seattle was only settled less than 150 years ago.

Isn’t this like Google’s web? If you view the semantic landscape monetized by Google’s advertising as the open plains of the great unsettled Western United States, you had your chance to claim keyword space in the first wave of SEO. It wasn’t a permanent claim, but we can consider the top ranking positions to be like a claim.

Later, can we say “long tail SEO” was akin to choosing smaller, sub-prime plots after the best land was already claimed?

Perhaps, at this point in 2015-2016, all the good land has been claimed. Now what?

Google Still Controls the Traffic

A few years ago when we realized Google had a virtual monopoly on search traffic, we were aghast. Yet, YEARS LATER, Google still controls that search landscape, via SERPs.

Unlike actual land, semantic keyword space can be re-allocated by the landlord (Google). But I think the land analogy stands up to the test of time.

We “SEO homesteaders” are tasked with working our claims, or we risk losing them. Fair or not, Google can also simply re-assigns claims as it wishes. But we SEO Homesteaders also have a benefit that didn’t exist with land Homesteading – Google never actually runs out of landscape to allocate.

Instead of the frontier closing due to “all the land is taken”, we SEOs get a competitive landscape with an increasing barrier to entry. There is always additional land, but it gets harder and harder to claim it, often with diminishing rewards.

The frontier is still open to all comers, but they need to do more work to get a claim.

Working the SEO Landscape

It is true that you can’t expect to move in and take 10% of the market for some money terms anymore with a low-cost pure SEO play. That land is already claimed. You CAN challenge that claim, but it will take a lot of work to accomplish that.

However, the similar analogy also applies to longer-tail keyword spaces where the competition is not as strong. The land is “all taken” but much of it can be re-taken. Well-executed SEO can jump those claims!

Just as the first generations of SEO discovered, you start out analyzing chaos and trying to learn, and having to test test test. But as you start to see the results, you start to “get it” and earn your rewards (achieve those claims).

The work doesn’t stop… you have to work the landscape to keep the claim, and that work continues to increase with competition.

It’s the same process all over again, just more expensive and harder… so you must consider carefully whether or not the rewards justify the efforts required.

Fortunately for the die hard SEO entrepreneurs, there is no real way to KNOW the potential rewards without investigating, so we enjoy an infinite game of strategic and tactical challenge, with risk and hopefully surprising rewards. I love SEO.

SEO is not Dead

SEO is not dead. SEO is the “same as it ever was” but the stakes are higher all around. To the strategic minded SEO entrepreneur, that suggests that the challenge is not in the SEO but the strategy, where business goals (rewards) get aligned with efforts.

As before, testing and execution provide you with the tools for SEO success, as long as you do the work to understand your landscape.

My best wishes for your 2016 is that you uncover opportunities that provide suitable rewards for your efforts. Unlock that achievement, and you can enjoy another full year of success as a hard-executing SEO.

Then….Think about What Happens Next

If you have read this far and are continuing as a hard-core SEO, the real fun comes when you ponder what happens NEXT. When the rest of the SEOs drop out, because it’s the wise thing to do, what happens to your claim?

And with Google as not just your strongest competitor but your primary competitor, how will your strategic business plan hold up?

For me, that’s the real fun. And I so much look forward to finding out what happens then!