SEO revisited in brief

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is one of those things that keeps circling back into my life. On the one hand, SEO sort of makes you feel dirty when taking part in it. On the other hand, as a research topic, it can be fascinating.

I have worked on SEO in various capacities, from a number of angles, over the years. Much of the information I’ve gathered I cannot share under NDA or otherwise. However, I find some of these results so unexpected, I have to share, in at least general terms.

When you mention SEO, a lot of people roll their eyes. It is so yesterday. But the reality is, you cannot get away from it. A slight change in Google ranking can mean a difference of thousands of visitors per day and potentially a lot of money. It was worth enough for J.C. Penny, a $17.8 billion company, to allegedly risk so-called black hat SEO practices to improve their ranking.

Everybody in SEO knows its easier to get ranked highly than it is to stay ranked highly. It’s difficult to say if this lowering of rankings for some sites over time is due to algorithms or manual intervention – it’s probably a bit of both.

Fresh content will move up quicker, with Twitter and other social media, and Blog “juice” helping a lot in the short term to move a site up in the rankings – and Google says as much. However, we also notice some very stale content stays at the top of the results seemingly forever.

Speaking of Social Media, here’s the result of many hours of analysis of vast amounts of data collected over many years boiled down to one sentence: In terms of “free” (viral/guerrilla) marketing, Twitter gets you many more vistors quicker but Google gets you way, WAY more vistors in the long run (if you can move up the rankings). You’re welcome. In other words, Twitter is great for some initial buzz and driving some traffic to your site/service almost immediately, but it peaks fast. Google (and Facebook) on the other hand are harder nuts to crack and take more time to build effect, but once achieved, these “old school” media services blow Twitter away in terms of drivers of traffic. Maybe the days of the web search engine are numbered, but for now, it is still the absolute king in terms of driving traffic.

If that doesn’t blow your mind, here’s secret for SEO success #2 (and this is for real): If you’re on a tight budget, focus on keywords with a large volume of queries but that don’t have much competition (i.e. they aren’t targeted). Forget the most hotly sought after keywords with a lot of competition. For every one of those, there are some keywords that get a lot of hits too (often almost as many as the highly coveted keywords) but are not targeted very much, if at all, by other sites. Implementing this trick alone properly will get you significant results, if you’re not already doing it, and is worth the price of reading this post. (Of course we’re assuming your site is actually related to these keywords and is worthy of clicking and is useful to the visitors etc.).

SEO success secret #3: Blogs still have a powerful effect on rankings. Twitter has a huge valuation and blogs are supposedly in decline, but they still have a much greater impact on search engine ranking than Twitter does. Don’t ask me why, but the data doesn’t lie. However, a blog with Twitter integration (like our service – gratuitous plug) has far more effect than a blog that isn’t in some way linked with Twitter. It seems like Twitter, Facebook, and other social media mentions help keep your blog appearing more relevant and fresh to search engines.

And finally, one thing I’ve also learned in this is that, frankly, Google results kind of suck. Google introduced a supposedly big change earlier this year that received a lot of press. Google said the change was “designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites” which insiders claimed really meant going after so-called “content farms” – I have a whole contrary post to write about that subject some day – but back to my point. In testing results for lots of keywords, I can tell you that there is still plenty of “pollution” in the Google results (and Bing and Yahoo too for that matter). Every Google search result page has at least a couple of sites that have essentially nothing to do with the search query – but there it is, getting a coveted high ranking.  This may be because of the issue stated above where it is relatively easy to move up the rankings in the short-term, so there are always a few sites that have successfully gamed the system but have not been detected yet, so they temporarily have an artificially high ranking and thus appear in the top Google results.  However, some sites seem to manage to stay in the top rankings despite not being relevant or useful.

Anyway, hopefully you find this information interesting, as I do.