I’ve been extremely vocal about not only the lunacy of SEO “dying”, but also, the somewhat incendiary talk by SEOs about it that actually draw attention to those that make the statements. And while I stand by both of those statements, to me, it is not debatable that SEO has, in many ways, decayed. Before, there were several areas where pure SEO – in the most organic, create title tags and link building sort of way – could rule almost any vertical on the internet.
2010 has been a year where that has become increasingly not the case. With the onset of local-dominated search results, a seeming increase in brand trust (and a definite increase in brand presence in the SERPs), as well as regional entities showing up in national search results, more and more webmasters face the plight of facing the sweet chin music that, given that they aren’t a prominent, regional entity or a verifiable brand, the chances of ranking well are non-existent. When SEO might have previously been a 3-digit plus ROI opportunity, it may now be something that, in national-regional verticals like “CITY hotels” or “CITY movers”, that any new player trying to subsist on selling leads alone – would be fighting for slivers of bread on the SERPs, when other opportunities for Thanksgiving-sized feasts still exist somewhere else in the ether.
So, surely, SEO isn’t dead. But what it started as – an absolutely dominant player based on functional, basic SEO practices alone – has changed to not be the case. SEO, in that way, has clearly decayed.
Preventing Website Decay
The future of SEO isn’t as hard to predict as one might think. These sudden changes might have been shocking for certain verticals and businesses, but, for the informed webmaster, they were at very worst a predictive nod of what the future might bring. What verticals Google decides to change and completely eliminate from a “functional, basic SEO practices” perspective will all follow predictive characteristics – at least from a standpoint of what Google should hope to deliver to their users.
To ensure your sustainability, it is in your best interest to deliver and promote offerings that offer up the answer to a search query, on the page clicked on from that search result. If they redirect, require another click, or are otherwise not indicative of the true semantic nature of that query – then it is safe to assume that your result does not offer a long-term, optimal result for that search. An optimal search engine will deliver answers to the query at the point of the query – not three clicks later. For that reason, it is in your best interest to not invest in value offerings that don’t fit this schematic.
There are several current SERP derivatives that have this problem, and frequently offer up subpar or heavily manipulated results on the sole foundation of generating revenue in the form of adword clicks, affiliate deals, or something else. Here are a few – surely, there are many more.
These results tend to be higher the closer to the top of the food chain you get, because the competitiveness/popularity of the SERP means more links have come into the relevant websites with some kind of “company” anchor text. The lower you go, though, the more likely you are to find results that offer you the companies on the list, with the frequent intention of getting you to convert there – rather than go to another businesses’ website. The intention of this query is almost always to get the same result as “X” (e.g. they want to see the same things from “life insurance” as they do “life insurance companies”) – not to be served up “life-insurance-companies.com”. Because of this, the results do not fit the “one click away” schematic, and are not the long term solution to this query.
These same results are amalgamations of SEO-optimized pages that don’t fit what the users are looking for, because they aren’t true representations of the “best” or “top” for that search query – they are instead a layered page of well-optimized results that don’t fit the query intention at all. Google has a local results algo that weighs heavily on reviews – I imagine this could somehow be applied to merchants as well, while hybridizing the “X” search result which, undoubtedly, is a better representation of “best X” or “top X” than those search results ever have.
“Really/Super/Very Discount/Cheap/Cheapest X”
This query, again, never delivers the cheapest search results, because it is very difficult (and perhaps impossible) for Google to efficiently determine (on the fly) what qualifies as “cheap” for each vertical. They have the data to deliver a decent set of shopping results, but the actual organic ones aren’t based on the actual cheapness of the products at all. Zappos ranks first page for [cheap mens shoes], but is widely considered to be one of the more expensive shoe sellers on the internet.
Affiliate programs that redirect users to other pages or push surfers to off-page conversion funnels are universally detrimental to user experience. Google can, has and likely already is tracking things like conversion funnels, bounce rate and etc to determine probabilistic reasoning for user behavior. If a product is ecommerce based and there is a consistently high bounce rate, even if every other SEO factor implies that this page necessitates a high search result, it seems likely that Google will eventually phase out these results due to a disproportionally high likelihood that these pages are user-detrimental affiliate programs that are displacing the actual creators of the products.
Paving the Way Towards a Sustainable Search Future
These are by no means examples of what Google is sure to do. But what they’ve done so far, and will continue to do in the future, is return users search results that offer them the best, most accurate answer to their query – at the place of the URL they click on.
If you create a user experience that does anything different, you run the risk of becoming an obsolete search result in the future when Google turns their eye towards another potential area of improvement.
That might – or might not – make this post title a stupid idea. But that all depends on who you ask.