Long time SEOer and losing faith
I'm feeling very down about Search Engine Optimization (SEO) at the moment.
I'm a seasonsed SEO expert and up until <year>-19 had no issue ranking great content with great links. I've work for some of the biggest UK brands agency side and in-house.
But everything is now feeling very hard…almost pointless?
It feels like Google is relegating almost anything "product/service" related to Paid Ads, and only choosing to organically rank "advice/awareness" content.
Awareness content needs to be SUPER indepth (read: expensive for clients) that then requires decent outreach…all to rank one awareness blog which wont drive many real sales for a customer. So the ROI on this work is non-existent for clients.
The competition is also fierce, with every major publishing conglomerate spending BIG money on expanding their audiences and topics by launching new sites with big teams. As a smaller brand, how can you compete with Conde Nast or Nestle etc?
Am I just in a funk? Or is SEO actually reaching "Peak" and dare I say it…maybe dying as a viable agency channel for small/medium businesses?
It's worse in paid search. Google Ads is a disaster. Google Ads is making it hard to sculp precise campaigns and to do anything that requires marketing sophistication.
Google is just trying to route everyone to Google Local Services Ads, which are garbage.
Google needs to be broken up for antitrust.
Hear you on Google Ads!
I know some great Pay Per Click (PPC) freelancers who struggle to make profitable shopping campaigns with products that really should be able to generate profits. Too much competition and crazy cost per acquisition (CPA)s. Big brands can coast of average lifetime value, which pushes up CPA and crushes small business.
It's all just reaching
Running a website for a client, our budget almost got ripped off because of ads. We've set up and tested thousands of keywords, and all sudden the ads were performing shit. Glad I was on pc to pause everything, been refreshing the same keywords and they are performing as well as before, but what is the case? I still don't understand.
p.s the website is selling custom-made jewelry and 85% of the market is from Google Ads.
This is all accurate and has been for a while.
IMO, the best approach now, for organizations that can afford it, is to have a full-time SEO specialist working client side who's also responsible for some other things like analytics, tracking, Pay Per Click (PPC), programmatic ads, maybe some help with dev work, etc. This is very doable for many Software as a Service (SaaS) and e-commerce companies, but obviously isn't practical for local businesses.
Personally I think the agency approach is going to become less and less viable as Google releases more and more updates in this direction.
no more hats please, most doing all that will also then be doing things like dev work and then all sort of other roles and you've watered down a role to a frustrating point that isn't even doing e.g. SEO!
You can decide not to do those things if you want to, but if there's a position open and it comes down to you and someone else who is both willing and able to do all of those things, that might result in them getting it over you.
SEO is definitely changing a lot. It used to be that ranking top 5 was enough for decent traffic if it was spread out around the site, but that's just not true anymore. Lots of pages who's main keywords are in the 3 – 4 position range now get something like 3 – 4% CTR depending on the keyword. When I started, that was the Click Through Rate (CTR) for the 7 – 10 pages.
The Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs) are pushing the traditional 10 blue links further down and down and sometimes the position 2 result requires as much scrolling as a position 10 result on a 10 blue link page.
Now the user has to scroll through 4 ads, the top organic result, People Also Ask, and then maybe find the second organic result. This is the SERP structure for more and more of the keywords I'm targeting and its frustrating as hell.
It used to be that ranking top 5 was enough for decent traffic if it was spread out around the site, but that's just not true anymore. Lots of pages who's main keywords are in the 3 – 4 position range now get something like 3 – 4% CTR depending on the keyword. When I started, that was the Click Through Rate (CTR) for the 7 – 10 pages.
That's so depressing, but doesn't surprise me. I've seen some local SERPs where even the map pack is below the fold! Above that it's all ads.
Imo, though, it was probably only a matter of time before things ended up that way. Started gradually, I would think, with Google marking the ads just a little less clearly ever few years.
This could just be cynical, but I feel like at the end of the day, it's not in Google's interest for organic SEO to be viable versus ads. The latter are where they make their money.
End game is click revenue for every click in search. Like a toll of some sort. Also, ad revenue for every view on YouTube.
You need to be top 2.
Yup, you're right.
It's becoming more important to generate demand too. It's still possible to support a business through SEO alone, but it's more of a squeeze than it used to be. I'm looking to bring on elements of traditional marketing to help fill the gap with my clients.
"It feels like Google is relegating almost anything "product/service" related to Paid Ads, and only choosing to organically rank "advice/awareness" content.
… all to rank one awareness blog which wont drive many real sales for a customer. So the Return of Investment (RoI) on this work is non-existent for clients…"
Yes I feel this is what Google has been EXACTLY doing for at least a few years. I also think SEO peaked years ago, likely around <year> for me.
We got a service related keyword to number one organically on Google, based on a "how to" detailed blog post – once in place we redirected it to a service page which has held in number one spot, how long it stays there is anyone's guess.
So maybe writing up blog content and then redirecting to a more commercial page *might* work in the short to mid term?
I also think SEO peaked years ago, likely around <year> for me.
That's when I started my career. I have long gotten the impression it was easier back then.
Tbh, if I had a time machine, I'd take what I know about the history of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and how tactics have evolved over time, then go back to <year> or thereabouts. I really do get the impression that things like, say, making truly significant money from an affiliate site, were easier and more accessible for small-time players back then.
A million times easier. I remember I could go and find something that was heavily promoted , but productnamecouppn.com 15 pages of content and bam first spot no prob. No buying links anything.
Now it's like pulling teeth, then Google starts just trying to take all the traffic with snippets etc , wait till they push their shopping shit. People won't even get to sites anymore.
Just for fun I made a 100% white hat sites. At about 2k pages now 300 visitors a day for very specific , deep funnel customers. I think I have 4 links to the site and just lol at it. There's nothing to optimize of that one as we are 1st spot for the things we targeted.
But I had other sites just get murdered. Some updates were good then the past couple months just nose dived.
Was funny as the white hat site got hit in an update then the latest got our top spot back so that was good.
then Google starts just trying to take all the traffic with snippets etc , wait till they push their shopping shit. People won't even get to sites anymore.
This honestly seems more and more likely, tbh. I'm 31, so old enough to remember what the web was like in the 2000s. It felt a lot more diverse and open. More small sites and blogs, more variety. Yeah, we had Myspace and then Facebook, sure, but like, I feel like we did things like type in a specific URL directly more often back then.
I feel like one of the biggest differences, landscape wise, is the centralization. These days, people use Google and/or social media platforms/apps as kind of a "hub" for their browsing experience. I've read that a fair number of people pretty much do the VAST majority of their internet-ing almost exclusively through Facebook, with little exploration of the wider web other than maybe clicking the occasional link.
This seems to be like, compounding itself and intensifying over time, imo. More and more, I feel like the web has gone from this big, diverse place with tons of popular sites people actually go to, to being disproportionately dominated by Google, FB, Amazon, and a couple other major players that increasingly offer a "one stop shop" for people's internet browsing needs.
Kind of saddening, imo, but it was surely inevitable.
Yup and Google is testing out aggregation of products too so instead of a site selling stuff you'll get a rich snippets version.
Yeah I'm 36 and been doing online sales, SEO etc since 2004. Things change and it always gets harder. If there's one thing I've learned it's always test but never try to outsmart Google.
All their updates cover exploits like spam comments with unreal anchor text saturation , excessive repetition of keywords / stuffing , the buying of dropped domains with redirects to your site even if it's no related etc etc.
Yeah I'm 36 and been doing online sales , SEO etc since 2004
Wow, you got in early af. I actually didn't get into digital marketing until a full decade after that.
(Kind of stumbled into it by pure chance, knowing little about it, and then ran with it. Needed a full time job to help out my folks financially during a rough period, found a listing for something called an "SEO Content Writer." Landed the job, ended up realizing how fascinating marketing can be on an intellectual level, and ended up making a career of it. What else am I gonna do with a non-graduate-level educational background in psychology? Way I see it, I got lucky af, and could so easily have ended up trapped in eternal retail hell like so many other Millennials.)
What was the digital marketing landscape like that early on?
Iirc that was like, pretty early in terms of when Google really rose to truly dominate search. I remember reading an article in SciAm back in like 1999 or 2000, in elementary school, that talked about a bunch of different search engines of the time and how search was rapidly improving and evolving. I also remember learning in ~5th or 6th grade Technology class about how to use Boolean operators for web search.
So weird to think back to a time when "search engine" wasn't pretty much synonymous with "Google." They may be evil, but back at the turn of the millennium or so, they really did change the world as far as web search goes.
It was amazing. I worked at a software company and handled e commerce , affiliate program, and SEO. You could bid a fraction of a penny and get crazy traffic. Didn't even matter conversion rate really as traffic was so cheap.
An example , bidding on Facebook was 6 cents as it was competitive but could advertise anything. Weight loss rebills etc.
SEO was also a joke. Xrummer ruled the SEO world. For $60 you could make infinite comment links etc that all counted as good links. So it came down to who had most links. Not much skill and people became so rich off it.
Google was still a baby then too right so their algo wasn't nearly as complex.
I stumbled into it too. I started in customer service ended as director of marketing. Great learning lessons for sure but wish I was on my own earlier.
Now it takes brains and imagination as everyone follows such a similar style that if you figure out a couple small things it's a huge deal
I think you are in a funk buddy. I feel like that occasionally. I started spending extra time really emphasising to clients how long SEO can take, 6-8 months etc etc.
But then I have had some huge successes over the last year or so that really just changed how I saw everything, really got my confidence back.
When I worked at an agency they were always trying to stack me with as many clients as possible, low budgets, high expectations, short time frames… that is the problem – not SEO itself, IMO.
This is an interesting take and I appreciate it, thank you.
I've been doing Search Engine Optimization (SEO)/audience work for a very long time. I see a little funk in what you're saying, but you're also not wrong. I always tell my clients is that SEO takes a long time, it's an ongoing/constant thing AND (most importantly) all of your competitors have someone just like US involved trying to take away rankings.
SEO is getting much more complex and I think that there's more things that matter that we might not be looking at (maybe because the data could be too complex or it's not available).
SEO blues is a thing. I'm sure of it.
After over 20 years in this industry I've seen a lot. About 10 years ago I was in your shoes. What am I doing? I even changed up how I did things for a couple months. I got caught up in the "white hat" hype and started to ignore what I knew worked and I never recovered. My business site now languishes in organic rankings all because I foolishly listened to Google's "best practices".
I've since switched back to doing what I know works and I've never looked back.
The truth is, if you focus on "white hat" techniques you will never be successful. There I said it. Because it's true
My techniques have never worked better. Unfortunately too many here will disagree with me on what works, so I don't share as much as I used to because there's so many haters out there who don't seem to understand what is needed, or are unable to do it.
What I see is changing in this industry is fewer and fewer people who call themselves "SEO experts" truly know what to do. Everyone pushes content and there are fewer and fewer of us who know that links are what drives rankings.
Sure content helps. I have pages of my own showing up in discover results getting hundreds of thousands of views every year with about a 8-10% CTR to my site. So I do know that content can rank well. But I wouldn't have gotten those discover rankings without LINK BUILDING. Pure and simple.
I'm super interested to hear your Point Of View (POV) for what it's worth
Well, I've been doing Search Engine Optimization (SEO) for 20+ years and pretty much the best way to get ranked is link building.
I've done countless tests over the years, using my own sites to test Google's spam threshold and I've found that when it comes to link building specifically they're pretty generous on defining what is "spam". Most people would be pretty surprised that G is pretty lenient on that.
A few years ago I purposefully did everything you aren't supposed to (short of black hat – never went down that road) but basically I TRIED to get my site penalized and it took a lot.
Surprisingly what did it wasn't a bunch of spam links, but placing footer links on less than 6 client sites got my site penalized. And removing them wasn't enough. That site never did fully recover in Google.
But I learned a lot about link building over the past couple decades, and what I've found is even unrelated links help. Basically EVERY link helps. It's just the amount of help that varies.
That's why You'll see me say 2 things over and over: 1) Link building is the BEST and QUICKEST way to improve rankings and 2) NEVER DISAVOW links.
New guy here appreciating your take. Anyone online/YouTube teaching this effectively in your opinion
TBH I've been doing it for so long I pretty much ignore most of that stuff :)
But I'm sure there are. Just be careful because there's lots of snake oil salesmen out there.
Unfortunately I can't help you much because even if I were to do one on one training I'm sure there'd be things I'd forget – important things that are just so ingrained in my process that I forget they are there.
Copy that, thanks.
Is placing links on the footer bad for Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
You have to focus on creating a silo structure across the site, and adjust it if needed.
There are some SEO users who say footer links do work for them. I would take that with a grain of salt. They CAN work, as long as you don't abuse it. Don't just add footer links to hundreds or thousands of pages at once. Spread it out if at all possible. Start with smaller sites first. Assuming most of the sites you work on are WordPress or something similar, footer links are generally site-wide unless you can control it. If you can, I'd suggest 1 footer link on the home page, or some other page relevant to you.
Footer links are what ultimately got my one site penalized, as I added footer links to about a dozen client sites. But that was 5 or 10 years ago now, and that site has since recovered.
never disavow? Why
Because you never know if those links are actually giving value or not. You should only disavow if a) Google penalizes you, b) you suddenly notice thousands of spam links which is likely someone performing negative SEO, or c) you yourself at one point created spam links for your own site and it's now negatively effecting the site.
Other than that, you should never disavow no matter what Ahrefs , SEMrush, etc etc tell you about your backlink profile. Your spam links may be giving you value you don't see, despite what software telling you.
Only Google knows. So unless they tell you, don't disavow.
Why never disavow links? Thank you.
Finally! Someone else who gets it! Thanks for replying!!!
It feels like Google is relegating almost anything "product/service" related to Paid Ads, and only choosing to organically rank "advice/awareness" content.
I get this. I think it's the inevitable conclusion of the "every local company must have SEO services and those cheap SEO services do nothing but churn blogs" thing. Someone realized that people performing searches don't want to wade through pages of garbage listings for local businesses unless they're actually looking for local businesses.
As long as people use search engines to find products and information, SEO will continue to be a viable business. The strategies and skills needed to implement them will evolve, but the need isn't going away anytime soon. Just stay on top of the latest tools, trends, and best practices and you'll be good!
Until their monopoly ends, nothing will improve. Bing is a fake, compliance competitor.
Bing is a joke. I was ranking dynamically created pages for years. Literally changing the keyword and putting it up. On page was awful and and o links. Some were actually landing pages for a Bing Pay Per Click (PPC) campaign that they indexed and gave it a high spot
Probably gonna get downvoted for this but…
Is ranking still everything though? Dare I say it, but with some of my clients that get steady organic traffic, I focus on on-page, Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO), and content a lot. If I can use strategies to actually get users to engage more with a site and actually convert into leads/customers, then I don't care if I can't get a client's content ranking on page 1.
A client can get 1k visitors daily but 0 leads. Rough example but what's better for the client, me working to increase to 2k daily visits but still 0 leads, or just let them continue getting the 1k daily visits but getting those visitors to actually convert into 1-2 leads per 'x' visits? And that's where content, User Experience (UX), Search Engine Optimization (SEO), and Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) all collide.
Don't get me wrong, some of my clients still care about ranking for keywords and I don't always de-prioritize that. But as someone else said here, SEO will be around as long as people use search engines…it's just the game and strategies that you have to be okay with changing with.
Because so much "SEO content" these days is straight up trash.
Everyone does the same thing – pay a content writer 200 or 300 bucks for an in-depth article, optimized to the hilt, but lacking any unique character or value.
I think Google has figured this out and that's why SEO users are having so much trouble getting all this cookie cutter generic crap to rank.
You're failing because your site looks like the next site.
I feel like we are writing mindless blog posts at the encouragement of Google to feed some AI somewhere that's just going to make google's algorithms even more of a black box. Oh and Google just how many blog posts do you think a roofer can write or have written about roofing before the subject is beyond exhausted? Cranking out endless content to build "clusters" is a waste of time and the best outcome is you become a Q&A hit in the search results where the whole point of a click has been stolen by google, the internet's only authorized duplicate content creator.
Take advantage of how knowlegable everyone is and hire overseas SEO users using a standard process.
Its gotten three of our clients 50-60% growth month over month for 6 months straight with a budget of like $100, and one of our sites hit 2M/yr in traffic.
You can do this too – but not if you think you can go against the 100000s of SEO users in india offering to work for $2-3/hr. If you compete against that you're doomed.
So just hire them.
I run my SEO agency with $2/hr workers and they are so productive they out compete literally every white hat content or technical SEO at my last jobs.
I just focus on new sales, and THERE is where I think the opporunity is.
A lot of cold calls are done by people who aren't doing the SEO themselves.
Idk hope it hleps
Way back I was running an SEO agency and had same problem of getting jucy keywords ranked. No matter you write any good content at some point the topic would be duplicate as SEO started in 2007 onwards in a big way and since lot of great content is already written and published, no point in rewriting the same story again with little twist in age of Google Artificial Intelligence (AI).
So what I have understood that creating engaging content is best done by the companies internal team rather than a one gig content writer at Fivver.
Yes organic CHEAP SEO IS DEAD
Brands are capturing the E-A-T high ground so that the rich get richer, I work on a website for a major brand and everything we add almost instantly ranks on page one for its intended keywords simply because of the scale of the rest of the site and the tons of backlinks the site has.
Google is pushing people to use there Google ads network instead. You just have to follow the big SEO guys (subscribe to there websites, podcasts or YouTube channels) and copy what they are doing to beat the regular Google updates. SEO is getting tougher and tougher, you just have to roll with the punches.
Niche down. Don't just take on any client and check what the competition is like. If I check Aherfs and the Keyword Difficulty is too high I would give the prospect a "no". I've been sticking to SEO for local trade and construction businesses and in the last month I've landed over $100k in new work. It's not hard when you just systemise and work out where there are gaps in the marker
Ya I agree I think product pages are going to dissappear from search results. But I think that's good for users. If you're shopping for "running shoes" what would you rather see: Nikes single shoe page, or an article about "top 10 running shoes and why". It makes sense if Google is trying to optimize to user behavior.
We don't even work product pages anymore just lots and lots of articles on long tail variations. Conversion rates are definitely lower, but that's how it has to be now.
I don't know what to tell you (I wish I did) but what is your niche? I've been good at dominating specialty niches and somehow get traffic without ranking on the top spots according to programs. In other words, I think the programs used to check rank are inaccurate. I am getting organic traffic for pages that are allegedly ranking too far back for people to see.
I think stuff like the knowledge graph & PLA pack have essentially gutted a lot of "traditional" SEO as they've become more sophisticated. As a user, why would I bother scrolling even to position 1 if I can get my answer in the KG?
Previously, we could route around this effectively by targeting the long tail, but as you point out OP the bigger players have sort of cottoned on to this and have spun up teams to do this for themselves, further pulling traffic away from the Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SME)s that have traditionally been our bread and butter. This has got particularly egregious in the last 12-24 months I think – I keep seeing stories pop into my feed from "news" sites that literally just exist to answer long tail queries/user questions that are entirely unrelated to actual news.
Personally…not that I saw this coming specifically but, seeing the pace of change in the industry and the increasing difficulty as a smaller player to win gamechanging links, I a) transitioned away from "pure" SEO practice to mixed mode "digital marketing" (starting 4/5 years ago) and b) moved from freelance to in-house (3ish years ago). I can't see how my practise would've survived otherwise tbh
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