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Developing Developing Developing Developing…

My friend Peter Askew recently remarked about the power of “developing domains” to build audiences and achieve success:

domain-development-infographic

He was following up on a preior tweet where he showed traffic growth of an older dormant domain he has “revived”. The chart shows significant traffic success:

domain development for seo

This is what domainers call “development” and what SEO practitioners call “a website”. Development is a process… a technical process of building a web asset (in this case, on a domain). As the famous former Microsoft CEO Ballmer once chanted….

Well, close anyway. While Ballmer was courting software developers, Internet business people are courting audiences. Domain development is how audiences are earned. Domains are Internet assets which can be used to store a portion of the earned attention, at least for as long as search engines permit.

The Root SEO Problem, Often Overlooked

The reason Peter (and many domainers) referred to “development” is because before Google became a search monopoly, there were actually people who build web assets on domains without content. Compared to the performance of such minimally-developed domains, a developed domain thrives.

Domain parking was one pathway to content-free publishing, and SEO was another. Parking is largely gone now, and SEO remains as a form of competitive webmastering aka publishing.

The root problem, is the SEO marketplace. As SEO became valuable, various practitioners commoditized it and broke SEO into discrete pieces, to be executed a-la-carte as budgets allowed and profit margins recommended. In most cases, the most profitable parts of a web site search optimization (or “SEO”) were split off and sold as stand-alone services.

While website building (or “domain development”) was the true path to success, those other fast-money options were more attractive. Today, however, there are only a few known ways to draw an audience to a URL, and fewer to store that attention in the domain. A primary channel is search. But since search engines like Google became Internet monsters managing large portfolios of interconnected web properties, so did “search” become a massive traffic channel that spans beyond users searching on a search website like Google.com or Bing.com.

Me, Too Marketers Use Many Names

Oddly, even though there has been shake out and many SEO firms had to exit the audience-building business, some marketers still try to segment the marketplace for audience-building services, using new monikers like “Content Marketing” and “Inbound Marketing” and “Social Media“.

Isn’t this really just a case of marketing services?

When they tried to market just-one-part as “SEO”, they ramped up and crashed. The smart ones ramped up and cross-sold general services into the client base, but most “so-called-SEO firms” died.

The people behind them tried to do the same thing again, only selling something different. With “link building” and “guest posting” and “Content marketing” etc., but they, too, failed or are falling.

The reasons are obvious to insiders. SEO (or “competitive web site development”) requires a lot more than a tactic or two. Plus, one or two tactics executed out of proportion with the rest of publishing calls unwanted attention from the web spam police at Google.

The profits weren’t flowing much beyond an initial engagement for these folks, as tactics and methods failed to deliver promised performance.

Dear Domainers: It’s Called “Owned Media” Now

As marketers attempted to segment and label various facets of successful audience building around a reliable domain asset, they gave interesting names to the parts they understood. Earned Media, Social Media, Blogs, and now Owned Media.

What the marketing world is waking up to, and Peter is again demonstrating, is that Owned Media works. In other words, web sites work.

Developing Successful Web Sites is Hard Work

It should come as no surprise that developing good websites is hard work. It costs money, and labor. I might even be so brash as to suggest that the costs associated with web site development are proportional to the successes gained with audience-building, on average.

What else would you expect? As smart companies like Google build monopolies around Internet audiences and traffic, they assumed control of a significant portion of the profit associated with those audiences. Capitalism would have it no other way! Market efficiency, and all that. If you are ater Google’s traffic, in order to monetize it, then, I hate to have to remind you but…. Google is your biggest competitor.

Why should I Blog?

SEO Industry Growth, Widespread Failure, and SEO Industry Challenge

Google is doing a good job managing SEO. It has positioned itself such that it has so much cash and so much control, that it can manipulate the search experience to counter SEO efforts, even while hurting users and in many cases wrecking the search quality,  without much risk to it’s own success.

And now we search industry professionals find ourselves dealing with a new problem: ourselves. We’ve gotten to the point where crappy, irresponsible SEO is hurting everyone. I didn’t say bothering everyone. I said hurting everyone. Hurting other SEOs, hurting marketing partners, and hurting client businesses and other players in the Internet ecosystem.

The solution is not more sloppy, deceptive, or ignorant SEO industry organizing. The solution is not pretending not to be an SEO by re-branding as Content Marketing or UnBound or whatever. And the solution is not limiting your service provision to SEO “audits” as if you were immune from the problems.

The Solution I See

The solution I think will work has two parts: 1. Let the failed & fake SEOs go away and become realtors or whatever else they want to pursue next, and 2. Stop tolerating the crap some of the remaining SEO firms put into the public eye (especially the scammers).

Is it Time to Quit SEO?

The first part is easy. Even the laziest SEOs can simply not do anything and let the losers walk. They came for the easy money and fast credibility. Now they will leave, and do the same somewhere else.

Can the Survivors Make It?

The second part might be too hard, though, because it requires some courage and some work, two resources I believe the SEO industry media and leadership lacks. And also because there are still a lot of crappy SEOs who are in denial about their ability to deliver SEO results for their projects. They are likely to hold on, band together, and pretend they are still awesome, that their SEO still works, and that the world is a happy place filled with rainbows and ponies that never age.

What is “Grey”?

It’s also not “easy” to agree on what is a scam. There seems to be a real failure on the part of many search marketing practitioners, when it comes to recognizing the color grey. Grey is not a shade of black. But it is also not a shade of white. And there is not one “grey”. In a monochrome world, such as we have with ONE SEARCH ENGINE, there is a continuum of shading from pure white to deep black. It is a FACT that the line of allowable tactics actually moves, both with topic and time.

Grey is Everything

The grey issue is super important. Perhaps a third component of a clean-up of the SEO industry should be a sort of color-blindness test, to measure whether or not we can recognize “grey” and demonstrate suitable skills to manage the shifting shade bar that is the continuum of SEO between white and black. Many of today’s self-proclaimed SEOs would fail that test, in my opinion.

I can just imagine certain players jumping in to suggest that an “ethics program” is the solution for that…. LAUGH OUT LOUD. We don’t need a badge program hidden under an “ethics” label.

If You’re Winning, You Have What It Takes

The solid truth is much simpler than that: if you are successful as an SEO, you’ve proven your ability to judge the gray, and adapt as the borders of greyishness shift with Google’s whim. If you cannot succeed in today’s SEO climate, you should move on, or “go back to school” which in this field might mean return to testing and studying.

Alas, though… so many have poor business skills as well, and so no cash in the bank to fund such re-investment. It was a good ride up till now, but if you didn’t save a war chest, it’s just basic business logic that you need to go home now, because you’re not equipped to keep playing your old cards.

But the Winners Aren’t Safe: Survivors have Bigger Problems Now

Right now, we have new big problems that will challenge even the prepared SEOs who would otherwise be able to continue successfully and prosper. We are now at a point where enough people who are NOT search marketers know enough about SEO to make big mistakes that impact the online businesses that are trying to achieve search marketing success.

Combine that with the continued presence of ineffective SEOs refusing to walk away, the seemingly deliberate abandonment of those businesses by Google, and a few well-equipped scammers boldly taking advantage with no push-back from the SEO industry players, and we have a recipe for disaster.

SEO Opportunity being Drowned in Nonsense

If real businesses encounter real difficulty achieving search marketing success, that fact is supposed to spell opportunity for professional search optimizers. When players make big bets and stall or suffer failures, it should generate great business for real consultants who know how to right the ship, and for real independent SEOs competitively working those same SERPs. But it’s not.

It’s Clean Up Time – It’s a Matter of Survival

It’s time to call a spade a spade. If your SEO practice is all about pushing tactics today until they get penalized, and then pushing the counter-tactics tomorrow to clean up after your own mess, it’s time to go home.

If you SEO consulting business is limited to audits that give you a one-way opportunity to criticize others’ work, while attempting to use the opened door to sell web development or packaged monochromatic tactical services, it’s time to get out of the way. You’re just hurting people, and abusing trust.

If your SEO business survives by collecting a front load fee (“setup” or “research” or “market analysis” etc) that you hope will carry you through to some future time when your SEO actually works, it’s quitting time. Give yourself a break from the stress… Google isn’t going to get dumber. SEO isn’t going to get easier. You don’t have a viable business.

And if you’re an association or agency or trade group and the only prospects you see for growth and survival are old school badge programs or extortion, or if you are planning to survive by selling re-packaged SEO tools, please…. give it up. It’s a dead horse.

But if you are a real SEO, get back to work. Study the SERPs, test your hunches. Over build, work harder, and just try to win. If necessary, pick a less-competitive sub vertical to re-start, just like you did last time. Hard work is the only way to recover as an effective SEO.

SEO Still Works and It Always Will

There is no reason why SEO won’t work today, just as it worked yesterday. Except for a very few keyword spaces, there is plenty of organic SERP to develop business. If your domain isn’t in the SERP, getting it there will give you more reach. If your marketing message isn’t convincing, rewrite it to be effective, or re-analyze your customer’s market to better understand their perspective. If you are losing to your competitor, figure out why. If Google is giving you trouble, solve the problems.

And if you honestly see that you don’t know what to do, don’t know why the things you do aren’t working, and don’t have a plan to change that, it’s time to get another job.

Quit Whining. You’re Polluting the Cesspool

Stop complaining, and stop being an easily-recognizable target for the increasing numbers of ill-informed business people who are making bad moves because they think they understand SEO. Left on their own, without you to blame, they will seek “real help” and that supports effective SEO and the real SEO industry.

When you publish ignorant blog posts, irresponsible claims about SEO, and rants calling for clarity from Google on SEO tactical issues,  you are just splashing around muddying the waters without any chance of taking home fish. You’re becoming a simple nuisance, ruining the fishing for everyone, for no valid purpose.

And if You were really only in SEO for the Celebrity…

If you were only in SEO because it was rewarding to be an instant entertainer, micro-celebrity, and self-proclaimed “successful Internet entrepreneur”, it should be easy to make an excuse and take a quiet exit at the top of your game.