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by Mike Essex on 4th January 2012
Last year it seemed like everyone was having a go at the SEO industry. We had newspapers complaining about paid links. We had congressmen trying to control the Internet. We had people telling us what to do about cookies, where to place them, how to use them, what we can track, what we can’t track. We had Google making massive changes, impacting the whole industry overnight.
We even had members of the public complaining about black hat tactics and things that they didn’t understand, which is why I think, in 2012, it’s really important that we fight for the things that we believe in if we want to keep our industry safe, because more and more people are coming in trying to control the SEO industry and trying to make it something it doesn’t need to be. Also, I think people are trying to control the Internet in a lot of ways that could damage everything, not just the SEO industry. It could be even bigger than that.
What we’ve got here are eight things that I want the industry to fight for. I’m going to tell you how to fight for them and the things that we’re going to do as well. Hopefully, by the end of the year, our industry will be even stronger than it is now.
The first thing is the Stop Online Piracy Act, which was the hot debate at the end of last year, which is continuing on now. What this means is that if this act passes, any website that has unlawful material can be shut down, even if that material is uploaded by a user of the website and not the fault of the actual website itself. Websites with user generated platform holders like YouTube who are going to be massively under threat from this, and although they’re probably big enough to fight this, the smaller players like DailyMotion could be taken out with something like this. To fight this, if you’re in America, write to your congressman now. Matt Cutts has actually written a really good blog post on this issue. If you’re in the UK, this is an American issue, but it will impact American websites that we use all the time, if it does pass. The best thing you can do is to blog about it, to tell people about it. If you know people in America, ask them to write to their congressmen as well.
The second issue is Not Provided, which was the worst thing that Google did to us last year. Unfortunately, it’s not an issue that ended there. We lost 10% to 15% of our keyword data, depending on the industry. In theory, that’s only going to keep getting bigger. There have been predictions of it being around 25%. In really niche industries where a lot of people are logged into Google, Econsultancy reported it at 33%, which is a horrifically scary statistic. Because that’s going to keep getting bigger as more people will log onto Google properties, like Gmail and Google+, we need to watch this and we need to fight. We need to be prepared to say, “This isn’t okay.”
The problem is that although Martin MacDonald and a few others did various petitions, which got over a thousand signatures, with SEOs saying, “This is wrong.” But we’re still here, and it still exists. I think the problem is that the public really need to be made aware of this issue. We need to make the public aware that, without keyword data, we can’t provide the pages that they want to see on the Internet. We can’t write content that they like, and we can’t see why they came to our website in the first place and then give them what they want, which is really going to be problematic.
The only way that’s going to happen is if we can speak to the mainstream press and they can write about it and say to the public this is wrong. I’ve contacted a few places, but if anyone has any contacts in the mainstream media, speak to them about this and say, “Hey, members of the public, this is wrong. You’re being used to make Google more money. It’s damaging the Internet. It’s destroying the pages that you see.” I could live with Not Provided at 10% to 15%. I’d survive. But if it keeps getting going up, we’re going to have a serious problem.
The other thing is that as our industry grows, I think there’s going to be more effort from people to protect things. If you’re working on a SEO project for the likes of Coca-Cola, you’re going to be on an NDA. You’re not going to be allowed to talk about anything you’ve done for them or share any of the research that you have. Also, if Coca-Cola hears that you’re speaking at conferences about SEO that you do in general, they might be unhappy, and that risks us being able to talk about what we do as an industry.
The way we can resolve this is really just to explain to our clients, when we get them, what we do to depersonalise the data when we present it at conferences, and also just to be nice to each other as well as an industry. I met a lot of the speakers at SearchLove, and even though some of them have been doing SEO for ten years, and I’m junior to them in a way, they were all pleased to have conversations with new people and fresh faces. I think that’s fantastic, that there’s no snobbery in the industry that I can see. But we’re going to need to fight to keep that. That’s not the kind of thing that stays that way. I’m sure there are a lot of bigwigs out there who make a lot of money who would love the industry to be closed off and everyone to keep everything secret. So we’ll fight against that one.
Content quality. In the last year, it seemed like the Internet got worse. Every query that I did seemed to bring up ridiculous results or spun content or content that had clearly been outsourced or of a low quality. The SEO industry seems to be stamping that out now and using those tactics less, but the spammers and scam artists of the world aren’t stopping it. If anything, they’re scaling it up with PLR content and other shady tactics to flood the Internet with rubbish content just to get a few AdSense clicks or affiliate clicks.
To fight this particular one, I recommend blocking any website that you dislike. If you go to a website and hit the back button, it says “block all results from this webpage.” Click that. If nothing else, your web results will improve on a personal level. But I hope that Google starts to use this data and to realise that if 100 people block a website, it’s probably not very good content. Hopefully, that will see it removed.
Lies. A few years ago, a lot of clients were approaching me at my previous agency asking me to write fake reviews and testimonials about them, even though I’d never used their product. Nowadays, I wouldn’t use that tactic at all. The first reason being, if you do use it and if you do spread lies about a company, positive or negative, websites can figure it out. There’s an algorithm that a university has made that actually can tell if a mention or a review of something is fake, just based on the kind of language that’s used, compared to an honest review from a normal user of the product. Because you can get caught for it really easily, it means a lot of sites, like Trip Advisor, are displaying notices on pages with fake reviews to say, “Don’t trust anything on this page,” essentially. Also, just the moral ramifications. Do we want to be the kind of industry that runs around leaving fake reviews about things, that has no moral conscience, and is just happy to say, “Yeah, buy this product. Give us your money,” and just to take it and sleep at night? That’s not the way I want to be in the industry. Personally, if I spot fake reviews now, I’m going to report them, because it just seems wrong to trick customers in that way.
Fake SEO companies. Again, this is lying that directly impacts us. We’ve seen some SEO agencies, not the reputable ones or the ones that you hear of often, but little one-man band or startup companies, making ridiculous promises to their clients, like, “We’ll get you number one for insurance, Mr. Two Person Insurance Company.” Every time they do this and it damages that company’s opinion of SEO industry in general, they’re less likely to come back and come to a reputable agency. Also, their opinion of SEO in general is going to be really bad.
If you spot a fake SEO company, so that’s one of these companies that says, “Hey, we can ring Google up and get you a number one position overnight,” that kind of ridiculous claim, then report them. Post about them on your blog. Expose them to people. We exposed a couple last year, and if we see any again this year, we will definitely expose them because it’s just not right and it damages every agency that’s reputable.
Google Results. Last year was a rapid year of change for the Google search results. One example being the paid ads seem to have got bigger overnight, and if you have a shopping result, they can take up almost a whole screen. Rand Fishkin spoke about his in his 2012 predictions. It was interesting to read, because he predicted that we will have an uprising against Google because of this, which is sort of what I’m saying. We need to fight the things that we disagree with. So, if you feel that’s wrong, you obviously need to contact Google and make the press aware of it.
The other thing they’re doing as well is aggregating results from other places. The reviews industry was pretty much killed off overnight because Google aggregated all the reviews and showed them directly on their webpage so you didn’t need to click to the review websites. They then killed it off completely with the Panda update, which was just another nail in the coffin. They could do that to many other industries. They’ve started aggregating hotel and flight results now, which makes customers really price conscious, to go, “Oh, that’s the cheapest one. I’m going to have that one.” Anything that costs more just doesn’t have the chance anymore. The car insurance industry, for example, they could aggregate car insurance prices. They could put Confused.com, MoneySupermarket, and all the rest out of business, just like that. So, if you’re not fighting it now, it could impact your industry very soon, and you’ll wish you were fighting against it.
Last up, we’ve got the Cookie Law. I’ve put this last on the list, because I think personally for a lot of us, this is last on our list of things to do. It’s going to happen on May 26, 2012, whether we like it or not. You’re going to need to be compliant. I don’t think we can change the law as it is. It’s passed. It’s been implemented in Europe. It’s going to happen in the UK, but we can certainly keep an eye on it and make sure it doesn’t get expanded or even worse that it is. There’s every possibility that this could expand to mean that we could never use Google Analytics anymore. We can never have AdWords’ tracking code. We can’t do re-marketing. We could lose all of that if this law gets out of control. I think we need to keep a closer eye to what’s happening with legislation in the SEO industry. SEO by the Sea looks at patents in the SEO industry, and I think that’s a good place to look. But also, just general news sites, just to see what’s happening in the world of technology, will help us to predict these kind of changes, blog about them, and tell other SEO people about them, and say, “Hey, this is wrong.” That’s what’s happened with the Stop Online Piracy Act. We’ve all jumped in to help and say, “This is wrong.” A lot of companies have backed away from it now because of the exposure that it’s had, which is proof that if you fight for something that you believe in, in this industry, you can help to stop it or delay it.
If there is anything this year that you need to fight for, look at these things, look at the ones that are wrong and try to change them. Our industry is not the victim of all the forces that impact on us. We can change things that we don’t agree with, and we can fight back. If we do this, the industry will be better and stronger at the end of this year than it is at the start. I think that’s really what we all want to see.
Thank you for watching, and for more information, visit Koozai.com, or any of the profiles below, or please leave a comment with the things that you feel we should fight for this year.