If I were Google, I would have been working hard for the past 6 months on something new, and it would now be “almost ready”.
In early spring of 2007, if I were Google I would have recognized the strength of search marketing in the world today, (SEM/SEO and especially SEO), and reflected. I would also have recognized the serious weaknesses in the SEM/SEO model right now, and likewise reflected. That activity would have hatched a plan. And the plan would have taken about 6 months to implement. At SMX I would have felt good about how SEM/SEO was getting more user-centric and supportive. I would have marveled at the growth of the search industry from the user side, as less-obnoxious “SEM”, and I would have felt good. My plan, which would have already been generating useful information as a research project by then, would be back-burnered for implementation. But in San Jose at SES in July, where the anti-Google edginess peaked and one-way, inflammatory communications seemed to be welcomed by the audience, I would have gotten pissed and thrown off my hesitations. No more Mr. Nice guy. The plan would go forward.
What sort of plan? Well, what sort of weakness exists in SEO today?
SEO is about optimizing a web business to garner free organic search referrals. It has also become about managing Google, as Google tries to manage commerce. SEO had a reputation as a way to “game the system” but now Google has a reputation for gaming that same system in a much bigger way. SEO is now a response to evil. But therein lies one weakness: SEO still has a bad reputation, and Google still has a good reputation. The plan has to capitalize on that before Google has a worse reputation.
SEO was formerly based on greed. More #1 rankings means more traffic and more profits. But the SEM/SEO industry is now built upon the “see a need, fill a need” philosphy. In the last few years, Google flip-flopped from “don’t be evil” to “don’t be too evil”, and alienated a ton of web publishers. Now there is an almost universally recognized need for search optimization services not for greed, but for survival. Everyone needs SEO today, and most business people know it. It’s not optional, but is required. As long as it is obvious that people need SEO to survive, SEO will prosper. And therein lies a weakness.
And so we have unearthed the clues which define The Plan:
- Increase the RISK asociated with SEO. Highlight the evil side of SEO in a very prominant way, to win over the audience on the issue of “SEO is gaming the system, bad for everyone, and a dirty, slimy, parasitic endeavor”. Show SEO as evil. Define good SEO (enabling search inclusion, promoting relevant text, effective linking etc) as not SEO but good webmastering, leaving only the ugly stuff to define SEO (“keyword stuffing”, “sneaky redirects”, “off-topic linking”, “paid links”). Use the SEM community to help in that regard, since they are Business Partners (thru PPC) and thus beholden. They will help — they have no other option. Yes I know this has been done, but I’m thinking it now needs to be done much more thoroughly, clearly, and with conviction.
- Show the world that they don’t need SEO. Leak the existence of high-profile web sites which do well in search, but which do not look “optimized”. Make sure some crazy URL structures are well indexed. Make sure a high-profile selection of pages are parsed perfectly, so core relevance is emphasized and rewarded with search traffic despite overly-templatic page layout or bad information architecture. This might take manual assistance, but nobody cares about that anymore. Show the people that SEO is not necessary, so they can see only the risks. Ignore the fact that SEO is about competition, because people are too distracted to notice that. They want their entitlements, so give them entitlements so they don’t need SEO.
- Lower the cost of PPC for entry level and small markets. This is more easily done than imagined, as there are simply so many hooks available to Google for “managing” the total costs (thank you QualityScores). Show success stories of small merchants earning profits without the overhead of SEO. Again, the SEM army will be happy to help with this, since they understand how easly the flock can be managed once so engaged. Free targeted traffic is what they want. They will accept low-cost targeted traffic (they did it before). Yes, it’s a lot like the Long Tail carrot, and the “but you can rule the world of rainbow sandals!” approach to search marketing, but it will work if you make them feel relief from the stresses of competing with the BigBoys of eTailing.
I agree most of this is not new, and pre-exists in smaller, uncoordinated doses. But I’m waiting for The Plan to be implemented very soon in a coordinated fashion, at a level not seen before. Maybe after the upcoming disappointing end-November online sales figures are in to the web mechants, and they see just how Google and the BigBoys of eTailing now have it, at their expense. Just before those masses of small businesses can throw their hands up and say “I need a darker hat”, will Google implement The Plan? Was the earlier-than-expected Page Rank demotion part of ThePlan? Will Google say “we nailed a bunch of evil SEO spammers, threw their customers and anyone who looked like them out of the index, and are now rewarding the loyal Flock with a new, lower-cost targeted traffic. Oh, and you need to become a Google Business Partner… ”
If I were Google, that’s what I would do. And I would do it during the next 90 days.
And if I were a merchant/publisher, competing with Google and the Big Boys, I would fully engage smart SEO right now. Let the Flock get scared and sign on with Google. Let the script kiddies trade links and play their SEO tricks, setting themselves up as scapegoats for the Google slaughter. In the end, those who compete will win, and real SEO is about competition for rankings in Google’s pages, playing Google’s game. Pick any analogy you want for SEO, but the bottom line is you must be in the game if you want a chance to win. To be in the Google game, you must engage smart SEO.
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