You can always distinguish between any truly advanced search engine optimizer and someone who only believes they are advanced by asking how long they are willing to wait for results. The Advanced SEO practitioner recognizes that is a trick question. I am not going to explain the trick in this article.
Search engine optimization is only about one thing: achieving optimal performance from natural search listings. A natural search listing may benefit from links but it’s not there because of the links. Real optimization is about getting the most bang for your buck, not about achieving instant results.
Measuring the Most Bang for Your Buck
You may be able to establish a top listing for new content very quickly and earn a lot of organic search referral traffic from that listing for years. I do this all the time. So do many other people.
But in most cases, especially in competitive Web marketing, you’re invading well-defended territory and if you really want the most bang for your buck then you have to look 5-10 years down the road. A 10-year Website promotion strategy can afford to take a two-year hit on performance if it does well for the remaining eight years (AND if the query value remains viable for most of those eight years).
When it comes to measuring the value of search engine optimization where you rank today is virtually meaningless. How much traffic you get from the queries relevant to your content is the only metric that matters.
Add up all those clicks over 10 years, not 1 month, to determine if your efforts were worthwhile. Most pages will never stay at the top of a query for 10 years, especially if other marketers believe there is money to be made in that query. You can easily lose a lot of money trying to defend a top position in the SERPs, especially if your efforts lead to a penalty.
Optimization is Always about Efficiency
I have often said that competing through links is inefficient. That is why your link-based SEO is not “SEO”. You are not optimizing for search if you are just pumping links into the index hoping to reach the top and stay there for as long as the wave will carry your surfboard.
Instead of surfing a wave you should be sailing the seven seas. Short-sightedness is the most common flaw in search marketing strategies.
Your efforts today should provide value 2 years from now, 5 years from now, maybe even 10 years from now. But while the 10-year SEO plan is a great objective most people lack the vision and patience to execute a 10-year plan. Most people don’t realize that the payoffs from 10-year SEO begin within the first year, and that they accumulate over time.
Seriously, if everyone thought about search engine marketing this way they would not be falling for the latest scam technique.
You have to be able to see the value in efficiency in order to appreciate it. You will only pursue the value you think you see, even if it’s an illusion.
Short-term Website Promotion Works but not Optimally
I have dissected numerous churn-and-burn SEO budgets and although some of them have been very clever they are really not efficient. For example, suppose you use a tool that builds 10,000 links every day and you only paid $50 for it. That seems pretty efficient, right?
Of course, the 10,000 links don’t last very long, most of them won’t pass value, and your Website will eventually be penalized or downgraded. Based on the data I have reviewed about 1-2% of Websites that use this method of promotion have any staying power.
A 98% burn rate for limited to no return on investment is anything but efficient. Let’s be generous and assume for the sake of discussion that 1-in-5 Websites (20%) actually survive on this link method for 2+ years. An 80% burn rate is anything but efficient. Ergo, mass link building is not efficient. Q.E.D.
Chasing Keywords is Not Optimal
The other side of the spam coin is the keyword chasing strategy. Instead of plugging links on other people’s Websites all day long you actually spend your days (invest your money) in writing “great content” based on some massive keyword matrix in a spreadsheet. If you’re lucky the spreadsheet is so large you will never run out of interesting topics to write about and they are easy to find. But just because someone can grab a lot of keywords with estimated (usually paid view) traffic above an arbitrary threshold does not mean the topics are very interesting.
Worse, in many cases people just don’t find thousands of keywords to work with. So your insurance Website eventually ends up with 200 articles on the SR-22 form.
Content spam is the single most serious problem in “white hat” organic Web marketing today. It only serves to pump more useless junk content into the search indexes because someone, somewhere wrote an SEO book or article that said the miracle cure for no traffic is to publish a lot of content. But wait! Am I not the guy who has been telling people to publish lots of content for years? Yes, but I have always stressed that you want to be useful. Nothing more, nothing less.
If you are not publishing useful content then all your keyword research is for nothing. Being less useful than the next guy is useless when it comes to efficiency and if you’re not being efficient with your content then you are not optimizing for search.
Search Engine Optimization Follows a Simple Cycle
When you are optimizing for search you do these things:
- Keyword research (but “topic research” is better)
- Publish useful, helpful, unusual content
- Acquire links (in an efficient way, of course)
- Measure your results
- Make adjustments where required
That is the classic SEO cycle and it still works just fine today, when used appropriately.
But you’re not really applying the SEO method very well when you just run through the steps and look only for formulaic opportunities in adjustment. Where to place your calls to action, how to mark up your section headings, and what words to use in your page titles is mechanical busy work. It’s not search engine optimization.
The optimization really comes from analyzing the results and making adjustments which may or may not be intended to fix problems. You may find no problems, no inadequacies, and yet still need to make adjustments.
In the end, the search optimization process has less to do with your marketing goals and more to do with your Website performance goals. A Website performance goal really has nothing to do with money. Monetization is the layer of work that stands atop Website optimization. Monetization usually has a detrimental effect on optimization and you have to make a trade-off in objectives.
There is no money in SEO, only performance as measured in terms of search referral traffic and the quality of that traffic. The quality of your search referral traffic may impact your monetization but your monetization may be so poor as to squander your opportunities.
In which case it is better to have 10 years’ of opportunities to squander rather than 1.
Website Marketing is About Getting Traffic to the Site NOW
Really, even long-term branding tasks such as embedding promotional links in page footers are only designed to be measured in terms of “how much money did I make from these visitors this day, week, month”. Rare is the company or individual who delights in the money made ten years ago (unless it is still around and still being useful today).
Your marketing efforts lose value when the money they bring in (if any at all) stops impacting your life. Today’s marketing campaign may generate $100,000 in sales over the next 3 months but after that $100,000 has been spent and you no longer benefit directly from use of that money the value of that marketing campaign is gone.
Search Engine Optimization is about Maintaining Website Performance
You may have a Website that brings in $1,000,000 a year and then suddenly the market dies. Your income falls off and the Website continues to perform well in search but makes no money. That is SEO, baby! The Website continues to deliver the results even when there is no money to be made.
The value in such a Website is measured in terms of its future potential rewards. Your inability to think of a way to make money with a “dead” Website that still receives traffic is not a measure of the quality of the site.
Search engine optimization brings in the traffic. Everything that happens after the traffic arrives is something else. It’s not SEO. It’s maybe “Website marketing (to bring in revenue)”.
Website marketing (to bring in traffic) can include SEO (and sometimes does) but if it’s managed on a monthly traffic reporting basis then it won’t be placing much emphasis on search engine optimization.
You build great search referral performance and maintain the capacity for that performance with SEO. You may have to change directions at some point, but as long as the Website is “search healthy” that should not be a problem.
The decision to allow a domain to expire cannot be made on the basis of search engine optimization. Search engine optimization has nothing to do with the value you place on a domain name. The domain name has nothing to do with search engine optimization (not ever). Keyword-rich domains seemed to work so well in the past because the people who preferred them were focused on keywords and links, not on SEO.
Keyword-rich domain names still work just fine today. But the marketing practices once used to promote EMDs have fallen into ill-repute. If you started optimizing your EMDs for search today instead of abandoning them you could bring in a lot of organic search referral traffic. You just have to get your minds out of the keyword gutter.
If you invest a lot of resources in building up value and brand recognition for a Website and then just walk away from it because suddenly the money stops coming in, how optimal is that? Not optimal at all, not in terms of search engine marketing.
Search engine optimization is just a process, nothing more, and it doesn’t pay for itself directly in terms of generating money. It pays for itself in terms of the value it creates in a Website that can, ultimately, be used for whatever the business needs. If you undermine that value with spammy tactics and bad business decisions then you are not optimizing for search no matter how much you want to believe you are.
Author: Michael Martinez