I’ve always thought of Google as the all-knowing, omnipresent computer onboard the starship USS Enterprise from Star Trek.
Ask it any question and it instantly returns you the correct answer. Ask it to elaborate and it gives you all the relevant information.
Except instead of asking it the coordinates of a Romulan vessel, we ask it more mundane things like the phone number of the nearest pizza joint.
Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of trying to game search engine results so that you appear higher up in the results for a given keyword or phrase.
It’s so that when someone types in “best hotel in new york”, your hotel comes up preferably as the highest result or at the very least on the first page.
It’s the equivalent of rigging the Yellow Pages so that your hotel shows up at the top of every page in the “Hotels” section.
If that seems to you like corrupting the objectivity of the all-knowing, omnipresent computer then you’re absolutely right.
It’s been happening for years and many people have made a lot of money in the process – both those benefiting from search results skewed in their favor as well as those offering services to help customers game search engine results.
A Costly SEO Misconception
Part of the popularity of SEO is that it is widely believed to be a free marketing strategy.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
It’s only free if your time is worth nothing. Enormous amounts of time producing content and generating back-links are required to have the desired effect on search engine results.
This has to be done either yourself or be outsourced to an agency specializing in SEO.
In recent times Google and other search engines have been fighting back. Google was founded on the back of being able to offer much better search results than any of the search engines before it.
The gaming of search engines through various SEO methods has reduced the overall quality of search results. If users search Google for something and continually get spammy, gamed results they’ll start to look elsewhere for answers to their queries.
That will be the death knell for Google.
So Google has started fighting back. It is now actively looking for sites that are “over-optimized” or that are using shady tactics to game search engine results. It’s punishing these sites by either lowering their rank or in some cases completely removing them from its index.
When someone searches for “best hotels in new york” it wants to actually show you the real, most relevant and objective results just like the computer aboard the USS Enterprise would have.
Google’s quest is for objectivity. Its goal is to become almost a collective consciousness. If you were to ask everyone in New York what the best hotels were and then tabulate the results in order of the best to worst, that’s exactly the result that Google wants to put in front of you when you search for “best hotels in new york”.
Historically Google has done that through the use of back-links. It treated a link from another website as a vote and hence sites with the most “votes” for a particular keyword or phrase got pushed up higher in the search engine rankings.
However, back-links are easy to manufacture and those whose business it is to game search engine rankings have been busy generating back-links like crazy over the past few years.
So Google is now looking for new ways to give relevant and objective results and is lowering its reliance on back-links.
It’s the end of SEO as we know it.
One of the new methods it’s using to judge a site’s relevance is by looking at “social” signals.
When you “like” something on Facebook or tweet about it, Google wants to know. Other than hooking everyone up to a brain wave sensor, this is one of the best ways for Google to tap into the global consciousness.
Social media posts such as “XYZ hotel had terrible service” or “had a great time at ABC hotel” are valuable to Google. They are much harder to artificially manufacture on a large scale than back-links. These social signals are starting to play a much bigger role in search results served up by Google and most other search engines.
This is also the reason Google has plowed huge resources into Google+ which is their answer to Facebook and Twitter.
The Best Form of SEO
One thing you can be sure of is that Google is going to get better and better at producing relevant and objective results – it’s business depends on it and it has thousands of Ph.D.’s and propellor heads working day and night to achieve this objective.
Many businesses have been plowing huge resources into gaming search engine results. The results are dubious and often short-lived. In some cases it can cause negative results if Google catches on to what you’re doing – and sooner or later they will.
So what’s a business to do? After all search engines are a vital source of leads.
My advice is that you build an extraordinary business.
That’s not as airy-fairy as it sounds.
Build the type of business that gets “liked”, talked about and mentioned. Take the resources you would have put into gaming search engines and put them into building a business with raving fans.
Doing that is the best SEO strategy I know of, and it’s sustainable long term. As Google gets better and better, you’ll only continue to benefit.
If you run the best hotel in New York, as Google’s algorithm continues to improve, so will your rankings. Finally, the person searching for “best hotel in new york” will be shown your website as the top result.
But unlike a gamed result, you need not fear being wiped off the search index. And in the process, you’ve built an extraordinary business.