SEO Turned on Its Ear

21 Aug

Iago, whispering to Othello, “SEO is dead!”

Since the first search engine began to provide results for our on-line queries, there have been extensive efforts made to divine exactly how they determined what results to display, and in what order. Usually, someone who was thought to possess some golden information would utter a statement, and like lemmings, millions of wannabe SEOs would hoist their banners, and follow them… anywhere.

In all fairness, it’s easy to be wrong about some of what it takes to make a site rank high in the SERPs. By necessity, the search engines keep their formulas closely guarded secrets, in order to minimize unfair manipulation. Even the formula, called an algorithm, is suggestively mysterious (algorithm – alchemy… coincidence?). As a consequence, many people tend to cling to one or two aspects above all others, often to their own detriment. Even more often, to the detriment of their clients.

Such things as links, pagerank, keywords, sitemaps, URL structure, QDF, pagerank sculpting, meta tags, keyword density, load speed… very few SEOs can agree on the importance of even most of them, much less all. At any given time, someone can be found espousing the theory that one or more has no value, or is soon to disappear entirely.

Oooh... Oooh... Oooh...

For instance, in October of 2005, Steve Gilmore published Links are Dead, Doc, followed shortly thereafter, by W.G. Moore’s Are Reciprocal Links Dead? Both were preceded in their dire pronouncements, by Jeremy Zawodny, who blogged PageRank is Dead in May of 2003. Danny Sullivan, in June of 2009, published PageRank Sculpting is Dead! Long Live PageRank Sculpting! Then, in January of 2010, Paddy Moogan guest-blogged on Richard Baxter’s SEOGadget, SEO is Dead – Long Live SEO. Some preached death, some not. But all gave light to the issue.

As you can see, there’s a great deal of death in the SEO community… or at least, predictions of death. If we wait patiently, someone will probably soon predict that the internet itself has met its demise. Given the dearth of information as to what the Google alchemists consider most important, none of this should be surprising. Then, consider the new factors that seem to pop up just when we think we’ve got things nearly figured out… is it any wonder that we begin authoring hopeful obituaries?


At this point, not to be outdone, I’ll make my prediction. First, however, I must admit that while I came to this conclusion on my own, I am not the first to give voice to it. For one, my Sensei at SEO Dojo, David Harry (@theGypsy), recently wrote a guest-blog on WordStream,  entitled, The Evolution of Ranking Signals: Google is Getting Past the Link.

Stole my thunder, well and proper, did he! Good on ya, David! Everyone really needs to read David’s piece… it’s spot on!

So – my not-so-original prediction is that links will have a diminishing role in determining the ranking of a page. Many others are saying it, as well, in varying degrees, such as Eric Enge, Nichola Stott and Kieran Flanagan to just name a few of the most recent voices.

Why do I believe this? First, the multi-headed link-beast is Google’s own creation. Oh, I know that Google didn’t create links, per se. But they DID feed the beast till it became unmanageable, thus providing the single greatest tool ever, for gaming their own system. Manipulation of rankings hit a new high (low?), owing to the sale, barter, hacking and spamming of links. I have to believe there were a few palm-to-forehead slaps around the conference tables at the GooglePlex, when they realized what they had spawned.

So it stands to reason that some thought must have been given to the process of taming the critter, and replacing it with a more manageable, more capable creature. Which is where I think we find ourselves now.

Google has been focusing much of its collective talent on behavioral, temporal and semantic analysis. As these all come together, links will no longer be necessary, in order to serve up the best response to a user’s search query. Entirely new algorithms can be developed, giving far less weight to backlinks. I’m not saying that I think links will go away completely… they’re bound to still be rolled into the equation. I’m simply saying that they’ll no longer be playing the lead – they’ll be reduced to a bit part.

As links take on less importance in the ranking of pages, the efforts to link-spam will diminish too. The crap-hat SEOs will always go where they can get the biggest benefit with the least effort. In my opinion, with links no longer providing the biggest bang for the buck, there’ll be a lot of scrambling to find a replacement activity. Well, guess what, folks? Link-spamming may well be the only aspect of SEO that actually DOES die! And it appears that its stand-in will be virtually un-spammable!

As the search engines polish their application of personalized search, tempered with temporal data, RDFa technology and CTags, the crap-hatters will find that the only spamming they can do will be against themselves. Query results will be greatly improved, link-spam will be reduced, and the user experience will be enhanced.

Don’t think for a moment that this means SEO will be dying. On the contrary, it will grow in depth and intricacy. Which means, I sincerely hope, that the crap-hat SEOs… those scumbags that give decent SEOs a bad name… will be dramatically reduced in number.

They needn’t worry, though… I hear McDonald’s is hiring.


15 Responses to “SEO Turned on Its Ear”

  1. searchbrat August 22, 2010 at 3:48 am #


    Thanks for the mention and good article. I agree, Google will and are looking to other metrics to determine rank. But it should be noted, although it could be argued the move towards links created a link economy, it did work and their results were a testament to that.

    However, the web is evolving and Google will have to evolve too. I do think it’s going to be a massive job getting away from links. Personalised search results may be the solution, but aren’t the most user friendly at times.

    The next couple of years are going to be interesting.

    • Doc August 22, 2010 at 6:51 am #

      You’re right, of course, Kieran. It worked, and rendered tremendous results. I’d go so far as to say it was the best possible means, given the technology available at that time. The fact that it created problems of its own isn’t unique… that often happens. I don’t think anyone can deny that the evolution of the web has been phenomenally rapid, and I think it’s fair to say that Google has played an important part in that.
      Interesting? Yeah… to say the least! There’ll be many new opportunities presenting themselves to those that are ready and willing to stretch a bit.
      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comments.

  2. Todd Morris August 22, 2010 at 12:47 pm #

    Hi Doc,

    Very thought provoking. I’m personally looking forward to the day when “building links” isn’t looked upon as a “required” activity for a successful website. It seems to me that it defeats the whole concept of popularity, if you have to go out and make the links yourself ???

    • Doc August 22, 2010 at 1:04 pm #

      Thanks for dropping by and chiming in, Todd! I’m looking forward to it, myself. I’m “old-school”, from the old web-ring days, when reciprocal links were the order of the day, and essentially the only way to get new traffic. But even then, I’d never ASK someone for a link! I’d link to ’em if I thought their site would be of interest to my folks, and if they returned the favor, cool! Ah…. the good ol’ days!

  3. David Quaid August 24, 2010 at 5:10 am #

    The “SEO-is-dead-post” clearly isn’t dead 🙂

    You’ve raised a problem with raising a solution…

    Think about Links – is that groups of high quality sites can share that with sites they want to link to.

    Ideally, low quality, spam-ware and copy-ware should have been kept in a lower circle, with all authority/value being kept in a cyclical 0 rank rank. But of course, crap-hats (as you term them) are getting links from good quality sources. So a certain amount of housekeeping and responsibility falls on webmasters, forum admins, article sites (sheesh).

    But if you just go on “Quality of Content” – then sites will just be tempted to grow indefinitely. Google already has an issue where it doesn’t index more than x% of a site – so just adding content, for most low-PR/low-authority sites, just means the content is never crawled/added to an index/cached (pick you favourite term).

    Some people might be very good at implementing a business process or creating a piece of art or good at being an accountant but lousy at writing a blog or content. Content isn’t king on it’s own.

    The “we dont like links” cause is strongly championed by Brand Builders, Copywriters and designers – who maybe don’t see link development as maybe mirroring real-life connections (partnerships/relationships/supplier~vendor tree) in an online space.

    Google has been great as a promoter of globalisation and letting people buy products and services based on merit : Price, Quality, Recommendation, Supply, Ethos/other values. By not paying attention to brands (Hey, we’re the Brand – Buy us because we said so) means that you can’t allow a site to self-validate/self-promote. Other people (3rd parties) – have to confirm that validation – voting via linking/recommendations/3rd party reviews.

    Google has empowered the shopper – and big brands don’t like it.

    • Doc August 24, 2010 at 11:06 am #

      You make some valid points, David. The main thrust of my rambling (I do that sometimes ;))was that I believe that THIS time, we may actually be witnessing the phase-out of links as the all-important aspect of pagerank (not to be confused with that totally worthless “signal”, Toolbar PageRank). As I said, I don’t believe for an instant that links will go away altogether. I just think they’ll be relegated to a much lesser role in establishing PR.

      And I think it’s high time. Links are too easily abused by the crap-hatters and wannabes, which does nothing for search quality. Links served their purpose, and well, but much as in nature, parasites have forced evolution’s hand.

      Thanks for stopping by, and commenting. Hope to see you again!

  4. weight September 27, 2010 at 9:21 pm #

    yeah my dad will like this

    • Doc September 29, 2010 at 12:12 pm #

      Why’s that? Does your dad work in SEO?

  5. prepagos bogota, acompañantes colombia January 8, 2011 at 9:51 am #

    La verdad es que cuando se habla de buscadores, lo más importante es Google dado que es el buscador más usado por el mundo entero desde hace años.

    Translated: The truth is, when speaking of search engines, Google is the most important, since it’s been the most used worldwide for many years.

    • Doc January 8, 2011 at 11:20 am #

      El hecho que Google sea grande o antiguo realmente no tiene nada que ver. No se que quieres decir, pero si pones tu nombre, en lugar de tus “keywords”, tal vez tendra mas sentido. 😉

      Translation: The fact that Google is large or old really has nothing to do with it. I’m not sure what you’re trying to say, but if you were to use your name, rather than your keywords, maybe it’d make more sense. 😉


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