Will Google Obliterate SEO?

31 Oct 2012 – Nell Terry – Featured –

Before any webmasters out there get all riled up in the comment section, I urge you to stop and think about this article title’s question in light of recent events.

Google has declared a full-scale war on spam – heck, it even employs an entire webspam team headed up by the infamous Matt Cutts to deal with the issue.

Google’s rise to power has been nothing short of fast and furious, and many webmasters who’ve depended on Big G for their income have lost everything in the wake of massive algo changes this year.

Google doesn’t seem to mind about much of the collateral damage – although the search giant has been kind enough to give webmasters a heads up a bit before something’s about to go down. But providing details? Not so much. Does Google offer advice in the aftermath? A little, but it is vague and often includes the blanket mantra of “make great content” amidst other cryptic suggestions. Ugh.

I’m all for Google keeping its algorithm a step ahead of the spammers, but after this last wave of updates, I can’t help but wonder whether the search giant is more concerned with protecting the user or its bottom line. This intentional vagueness and consistent (often overkill) usurping of ranking power does make you wonder – is Google out to kill SEO?

Small Biz and Algo Updates

Many industries have taken hits across the board after algorithm updates have rolled out, but not a one has suffered as much as those in the SEO industry. Search engine optimization is the industry itself – so every time Google blackballs another practice or technique, another SEO company shuts the lights off.

And, no, I’m not talking about shady enterprises like blog networks or other outright methods of cheating the system. I’m talking about legitimate providers of SEO goods and services that are out of commission now that Google’s implemented such radical changes.

For instance, Google Webmaster Tools now offers a suite of free services (if you consider unlimited access to your personal and website data “free”), and the tools have effectively killed a number of small online businesses that provided similar services for a fee. Further, many SEO professionals who help companies show up in the SERPs have taken major hits as well. The successive algo changes have made it nearly impossible for these pros to provide reliable results for their clients on a consistent basis in such a turbulent search landscape.

So, is Google actually trying to kill SEO and small business? Marketing forums certainly seem to think so. In fact, here’s one sample of current discussions in a popular marketing forum that showed up in the SERPs today:

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Forums for site owners such as Webmaster World have entire sections devoted to the “SEO is dead” discussion. People are really starting to panic out there. Although I personally don’t think Google is intentionally trying to target SEO as a whole, I do think they’re bulldozing search with little (if any) regard for the SEO industry.

Profits are Driving the Google Train

Google is a publicly traded company. Obviously, it has a primary responsibility to its shareholders. Google says that it wants to serve the users first, but it’s hard to trust that assertion when 95% of the search page real estate is made up of Google ads these days. The organic listings are pushed almost entirely below the fold, and for many keywords, users must scroll down to view even the very first organic listing.

It’s hard to justify this change as “benefiting the end user” above all else. After all, almost every paid link, the user clicks that’s displayed on a competitive page in the SERPs will lead the user to a sale pitch. Not everyone wants to be sold to – many people just want to find an answer for their problem without having to buy anything in the process. Google taking this ability away from people seems to point to a profit-driven business model as opposed to the one of innovation that G was founded upon many years back.

And who could blame the company in this economic climate? Does anyone remember the dotcom bust that happened in the late 90s? Tech stocks are notoriously volatile, and although Google has achieved a mind-boggling level of success very quickly, there’s still room for the company to fall from grace – and fall apart – literally overnight. When faced with the likes of competitors such as Facebook, Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft, it’s dog-eat-dog Internet out there. With the latest changes, it appears that Google took its eyes off the target during its struggle to stay on top, and now both users and the SEO industry are suffering for that loss of focus.

The Future of SEO

So, in light of all these changes, is SEO history? Surprisingly, I don’t think so. However, I’m 100% positive the way we play the game from here on out will be dramatically different. Here’s a great little snippet about the potential longevity of the SEO industry from The Guardian that will help put things in perspective for you:

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I completely agree with this viewpoint. I think many techniques are outdated – think keyword placement, strict numbers games, community optimization. It’s about creating a presence in your industry and making a name for yourself in order to climb the SERPs.

Funny thing about this new technique? Even if you don’t reach the top of the search results, you’ll still explode your traffic and gain massive exposure for your brand by leveraging the traffic of your peers. Wow. Think about that. Google’s indirectly weaning us from our single-minded focus on the SERPs and turning us head-on toward one another. Whether or not G meant to do this, we’ll never know. But I for one like where things are headed.