I think 2009 is the year SEO went back underground.
I come to this realization through the back door. While trying to understand how so many “SEO websites” seem to succeed with their audiences, while publishing poor quality or low value content, it dawned on me that the continuing growth of the bottom of the SEO industry in 2009 (the new people) has overshadowed the transition away from public disclosure of real SEO knowledge. That, combined with the aging of the original SEO practitioners (the ones in those ancient closed-door communities, who rarely show up any more, and always via a name drop by their friends) has left us with junk.
Search any current SEO topic and review the results. Nice designs, lots of supporting testimonials, plenty of “awesome article” and “thanks for this essential reference for our industry” type comments. But look closely at the “information” published and you might find (as I have), very little. Not much fact. Lots of fluff and conjecture. Lots of soft statements that really don’t say anything concrete, and often say things which are incorrect, if taken as written. And I have considerable knowledge and experience with the material, so I assume I am qualified to conduct such a review.
Over the past few years many of my friends have left the public SEO world and gone back to their own communities and work. But I have continued to try and make new friends. Now I am noticing that most of those new friends, who clearly have extensive knowledge and experience, do not publish anything. I see them in social media, keeping in touch, and I see them in person at conferences. But they don’t write about SEO. SEO has gone back underground.
Which leaves me wondering what will happen when the still public SEO websites are completely free to say whatever they want, to accolades from their adoring (and non-critical) fans. I think I know what will happen. They will become authorities. They will become standards bodies, free to say how it is, unchallenged. And if any of them are any good at this communications game, they will band together and brand anyone who criticizes them as, well, pick a label: crazy, stubborn, a h8tr, grumpy, deceptive, unbalanced, or any of a number of adjectives intended to discredit. That’s how propaganda works.
Worse still, if the consumer marketplace buys the junk info, which they may simply because a Google search turns up little more than that junk info, then the providers of said junk become more powerful. Authority gets granted.
The smarter/slimier of them will spread the wealth around their fan bases (typically in the form of kickbacks and referrals), to cement their support. In the short term, they win “power” and their followers earn profitable gigs. In the long run, the marketplace will suffer as customers experience low quality product and discover how inaccurate/misleading the published information really was.
This is all good for those who went underground. Less real competition, and less distractions. Google also wins.
There are many ways for an SEO to “go underground” in this context:
- stop working on others’ projects and focus on wholly-owned projects
- collaborate with associates to build out specific projects (partially owned)
- focus on a narrow vertical marketplace where demand for state of the art SEO is lower
- build a search marketing community and sell into it, instead of actually doing search marketing
- publish software tools for sale to the seo marketplace or direct to consumers
- partner with industry leaders to make over affiliate programs and search marketing strategies, profit sharing
- start one or more small “firms” as partnerships, staffed by young ‘uns willing to work hard in “startup mode” for equity
That’s just a sampling… and the next step for me is to wonder, what happens when all of these endeavors stop performing, based on established SEO tactics? Will these players continue to conduct their own SEO research along the way, or keep coming back (and kicking back into) the community hoping to buy knowledge? Lots to think about…