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The Future: This is Not your Father’s SEO

While everyone left and right of me is either not really doing much SEO or is deeply engaged in hard-core SEO, the middle ground is an active battle field. That middle ground… which I refer to as Competitive Publishing, involves smart, strategic deployment of publishing (using technology) to achieve business goals (specific to search and search marketing).

Under the Competitive Publishing scenario you :

  1. Decide to publish into a market as a way to achieve specific business goals
  2. Choose and implement technology to enable effective and efficient publishing into the corresponding search markets
  3. Execute for optimal results, which may include SEO tactics, content strategies, market shaping, etc etc.

While you do this, you are under constant pressure. Sometimes extreme, constant pressure.

Pressure from Direct Competitors : You’re not usually the only one chasing an opportunity, so you have to deal ith direct competitors as well as copy-cats. They can take the wind out of an opportunity very quickly, and sometimes shift the winds of opportunity in unpredictable ways.

Pressure from Indirect Competitors : Like it or not, Google is not your friend, but a competitor. In fact, just about every tech company out there wants the money you take out of the Internet ecosystem. If you are monetizing attention, you have indirect competitors that are also some of the largest and most powerful companies in the world.

Pressure from Technology : Technology is constantly advancing, and the forces driving change these days are closely tied to effective monetization of Internet consumers. In other words, if something makes money, technology adapts to reduce the costs of executing that, at scale… while those arge tech companies also create platforms that foster a “race to the bottom”. You are forced to maintain older technology while upgrading to newer technology that is not clearly better for you — and may turn out to be bad for you (overly commoditized, or lacking differentiation needed for success along your business plan).

Pressure from Economic Systems : Every time I meet up with non-Internet people, I am reminded of how desparate everyone is for an economic opportunity. Savvy people always want to know where your money comes from, and how they can get some of it. They don’t want to go to school or get training or do an Internship. They want to execute as business people have always executed:  pay for a Realtor credential, pay a middleman for a “launch your own local town website” package, hire a designer to “build a WordPress site” so they can join an affiliate program, etc. And as the economy shifts to move the pressure around (real estate, student loans, day trading, vitamins, pre-paid legal programs, etc etc etc) those pressures impact your efforts, your markets, and your ability to execute (hire, sell, market, etc).

Pressure from Markets: Search markets themselves are quite dynamic, even after separating out the major economic pressures noted above. While many in the SEO Media seem to think search is search and Google’s algorithms are what matters, the truth is that Google is chasing markets just as much (if not more) than we SEOs are. I’ve hinted at this before… if you follow Google, you are following a big heavy truck down a steep hill. Pressures from shifting markets are very real, and those shifts can be quite fickle.

The Future of SEO is Different

Now, headed into the future, we see the big players working hard to lock up segments of the Internet marketplace, seemingly as a way to protect their interests before executing sub-plays into the portions of the market they are able to corral.

Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft… nearly all of the large consumer players are creating software tools and platforms that actually foster sub-Internets. Segments in the “walled garden” style, that are on the public Internet but published in ways that are not universally accessible.

I’m not referring to apps vs websites, but websites (including mobile experiences) that in the near future will be required to run on proprietary platforms that are likely to be publicized as “open source”, but are not, really.

We are 4-6 years away from Google specifying coding languages and “platforms” that enable Google to manage published content for search, discovery, and monetization. Google comes at this from the angle of search and advertising systems, which it has mastered. Webmasters will have to comply, in order to participate in Google.

Facebook is more obvious since it started as a closed system, but Facebook also developing new systems (including coding/development platforms) that will be public yet work best for Facebook, and will be required for publishers who want to participate. Again, from its existign perspective, approach the same goals.

Apples is also, from its own perspective, executing hard on this and other approaches to the same desire to segment the Internet into manageable segments. Apple already has commerce, OS, platforms, app stores, etc. from which is executes. Coming are development environments and tools to lock up some of the future — more than we’ve seen already.

Amazon has the underlying technology base and ecommerce, and is working hard to own things from the transaction outwards, eventually as far as discovery, to the extent it matters. Want to participate as a publisher? You will need to comply.

This is Not Your Dad’s SEO

The SEO of now and tomorrow is quite different from the SEO of yesterday. I think this fact is a major contributor to the failed SEO Media we have today. But I’m hopeful for a new SEO media tomorrow, focused on what actually matters to us.

The existing SEO Media will focus on segments that care about Google keyword research and Penguin updates… as you can see has already happened. That stuff is simply not relevant for true SEO any more… it only matters to a smaller subset of people…who remain passionate about it.

For the rest of us, things like the shift of WordPress from an open source code base to an API accessed via specific development tools (integral parts of practically dedicated development environments) is more important. Microsoft’s “open sourcing” of  dotNet and its new version of C# (known as M#), Facebook’s new “open source” tools that require very strong commitments from developers, are signs of what’s coming.

Have you noticed that browsers are no longer following “standards” for viewing web content? The very thing that enabled the world wide web… a standard interface to published content, has already fragmented along paths that lead to proprietary browsers and “systems” such as ChromeOS, iOS, FAcebook’s Apps… consumers may not be fully aware, but they are not all on the same Internet.

Your new Plan for Success in SEO:

Given these new systems and what they will bring in the next 2-6 years, all you need to do is:

  1. Decide to publish into a market as a way to achieve specific business goals
  2. Choose and implement technology to enable effective and efficient publishing into the corresponding search markets
  3. Execute for optimal results, which may include SEO tactics, content strategies, market shaping, etc etc.

Simple, right? All you need to do is read up on all the latest SEO blogs, press a button to install WordPress, and hire a bunch of low-cost content creators from overseas, to fill out your sites.

Or maybe it won’t be that simple. Sigh. I guess we will have to wait until Search Engine Land tells us what is working, or SEOMoz adds the new tools we need to make it work, or GreatSEMToolio shows us impressive data revealing the tactics all the winners and cool kids are doing to rank now.

Or maybe we just need to make good content that users want, and mark it up into classifyable bits that Google can harvest automatically. Whatever.

So tell me, “what do you do for a living, is there good money in it, and is it something I can do, too?”

Footnote: That is an actual quote from an interaction I had at the local yacht club. I was on the race committee boat preparing for the start of the last kid’s race of the season,  and we were chatting about a recent boat sale/purchase that was a great deal for the cash buyer. One of the men was also selling his 43′ keel boat, and he feared suffering a similar fate at the hands of cash buyers in a soft market. He was pressured to sell his boat since his last venture was over, and he didn’t have a new revenue stream. There are always two sides… liquidate something, and get somethign new going. Today, it seems you just cut to the chase – what do you do, and can I have some of that??

This picture is to reward Jon Henshaw for reading all the way to the bottom of this essay.

This picture is to reward Jon Henshaw for reading all the way to the bottom of this essay.

It’s Your Move, SEO

These days I really want to say “it’s your move!” to all the SEOs out there. It really is. Go for it.

The world has a search engine at that is filled with crap, sponsored listings, and placed listings. The algorithm is fooling around with new ideas, offering “how’s this? Anything good in here?” style search results, and it’s ok because, frankly, nobody cares. Most people are staying inside their favorite, daily addictions (apps, sites, SM channels).

Google is busy building the next big thing… the current search thing doesn’t matter…. it is what it is. So where is YOUR stuff in Google?

The Yahoo! search engine is not really a search engine any more. Yahoo! is a portal, like it was when it started. Millions of people start at and get sent somewhere, for a fee. The ones who do search, get a mish-mash of junk, plus some remnant of Google’s (often experimental) search results. What are you doing to benefit from Yahoo! referred traffic?

Bing’s engine is stable and opinionated… and hasn’t changed that opinion much in what, years? It’s pretty clear what it takes to get into Bing’s index, and pretty clear on how to rank. So where is YOUR stuff in Bing?

Many of the “I can rank you #1 in Google for money terms” SEOs are gone. Off selling Content Marketing, hawking SEO tools, or doing audits.

Social media has admitted the truth… it’s chaos in SM world, like it was on the old AOL was before everyone learned how to get on the web without AOL. In fact each social media channel is now clearly unique… and deserving of dedicated attention on an ROI-justified basis. Either it’s worth playing, or worth paying, but there is little doubt once you test.And pretty easy to test.

So where is your stuff on social media?

The spammers have automated their methods so much that spamming is cheap and scales incredibly… and is incredibly easy to detect and counter. Those guys are either killing it or keeping really busy executing and re-executing again a week later, to skim profits off the SERPs. Some things never change.

Really it’s your move now. What matters is what YOU do with your URLs.

The important thing in SEO is no longer what Google is doing. The priority is no longer what spammers or social media gurus are doing. The Guidelines are pretty stable, and of minor importance. Content Marketers are off to the side, struggling to draw budgets capable of producing what has to be produced to generate results. And the link builders are also grinding hard for their paychecks.

What are you doing?

There are few excuses now. You either do the SEO, establish and advance your positions over time, or you don’t (and don’t enjoy the traffic). You are either in the game or not. There is little room for talkers these days… the chatter doesn’t hold water. You need to be doing, or you look bad. Real bad.

It’s your move.

Bullish on SEO : RankBrain vs. SEOBrain

Google has begun promoting a new name for their advanced search technology, which they claim is far superior to prior manually-tuned algorithmic approaches to search. They want you to refer to their Artificial Intelligence engine as “RankBrain“. They claim RankBrain has been controlling much of what you experience at since early in 2015.

We SEO practitioners have clearly noticed the changes, but not everyone agrees that the new RankBrain is better. In fact, most of the people I know have been complaining about a decline in search quality for specific searches since around the same time Google claims to have deployed RankBrain.

What has not changed is the ongoing battle between RankBrain and SEOBrain. That will only heat up now.

SEO is Dead. Long Live SEOBrain

Let’s call the collective innovation efforts of SEOsSEOBrain“. SEOBrain has been challenging Google since Google incorporated.

Back when Google finally went public on the stock market, the leadership listed SEOBrain as a primary threat to Google’s success as a public offering.  That’s right… one of the biggest risks to investing in Google stock was SEOBrain – the practice of strategically publishing in order to rank highly in search engines. SEOBrain was not Artificial Intelligence. SEOBrain was human intelligence, executed by thousands of human brains hell-bent on reaching audiences.

Now that Google has handed TheAlgorithm off to an artificial intelligence engine, we can visualize the battle between SEOBrain and Google’s RankBrain as Man vs. Machine. Can you predict how that will go?

Google Always Loses Against Clever Human SEOs

Throughout search history, Google has lost the battle against human SEO. Google even acknowledged this, when it hired thousands of humans to work on its own anti-SEO team, battling SEO efforts directly mano-a-mano.

Manual intervention, as distasteful as it was to Google’s leadership, was the only way Google could maintain its canned search results in the face of the world’s overwhelming desire for fresher, smarter, more helpful results.

You’ll Get Brand Results, and You’ll Like it!

Google wanted us to accept stale, sanitized, Big Brand results for our search queries, when in reality we all wanted fresh, smart, interesting, and helpful results. Stale corporate pages led to advertising revenue for Google, while innovative and more interesting results were untamed and unpredictable.

As most humans shifted their publishing off of individual websites and onto 3rd party platforms like Facebook and Twitter, Google didn’t know what to do. Those were controlled by competitors.

If Google was to manage risk, and ensure a predictable corporate revenue stream, innovation had to be stopped. Guidelines were written to stifle innovation. An almost mercurial penalty system was developed to constrain innovators, under threat of lost rankings. Blogs were assigned special management, and older, established sites given renewed power to help stabilize volatile SERPs.

Google needed stability, but didn’t know how to get it out of a rapidly-growing and super dynamic web it didn’t own. Enter humans.

Google is an Algorithm… except… Quality Raters! WebSpam Team!

When TheGuidelines and TheAlgorithm couldn’t stop innovation, humans were hired to do it. The WebSpam and QualityRater teams grew thousands strong. Google invested heavily into technology that could be used by humans to judge and penalize web content, to prevent it from ranking. Google decided to sacrifice search quality as needed to protect its advertising-supported business model.

Backed by a coordinated PR effort, these “quality raters” and “spam fighters” diligently clicked through Google’s tasking orders, collectively generating the signals TheAlgorithm needed to slap down web pages that were risky for Google. Even as Google claimed in public that only TheAlgorithm could determine search results, it knew it needed humans to battle the humans behind SEOBrain.

And there are reasons for this. Basically I will sum it up as this : until Google’s search customers are as dumb as machines, human SEOs will always outsmart Google’s AI and win at search. This is because SEOs follow and influence the intent of searchers in the marketplace, while Google’s algorithm (and AI) merely monetizes it.

Go back to business school of you need a refresher on why a sales team has to wait for product R&D to be completed, or why Marketing needs to wait until market shaping is well underway.

My Bet is on SEOBrain

I’ll put my chips on SEOBrain for the win, especially as RankBrain is given more and more influence over the Google SERPs. My team is already being forced to Page 2 of Google SERPs for most of our commercial research queries. Google is not delivering reasonable results sets on Page 1. And one thing we know for sure… the market influencers.. the people who search and then influence consumers with their publications or talks or leadership, will search when they don’t find what they want or need, even if it means clicking to Page 2 (or using another tool).

You can fool the masses for a while, to get your ad dollars, but you can’t suppress the power behind the markets. Cashing in on brands will get Google rich, but it will kill those brands much more quickly than they can be built or restored.

Fools Watch the Rising Tides while Leaders Predict the Floods

The currents of insider knowledge, empowered by specialty product development and increasingly valuable personal experience with those products, are noticeable now and growing fast. SEOBrain will dominate RankBrain for as long as Google search is considered essential by the valuable users.