SEO WARS: Fear, uncertainty and doubt

A LARGE PART of winning in the SEO game is to anticipate new algorithm updates

I SUPPOSE A LARGE PART of winning in the SEO game is to anticipate new algorithm updates and to ensure your SEO strategy is as future-proof as possible. How can you predict an algorithm update, you may ask? Well, the answer to that question is simply by understanding what makes a quality search engine result and what signals are available to Google to make a judgement.

Before we get into what constitutes a quality search result or what signals Google has available at its disposal, I'd like to hammer something home.

Yes, the ability to search 'about 309,000,000 results in 0.08 seconds' may seem to be magic, but it isn't; it's clever and is made possible through massive raralleiisaron. But it's not magic.

Often, we give too much credit to what Google can and can't do to identify and remove spam. For years, Google officially maintained that it didn't manually intervene with results and that every search result was calculated mathematically. On multiple occasions, I've seen circumstantial evidence to suggest this was not the case and now, through Google's own admission, we know this to be a lie - fact! It begs the question, 'what else has it been lying about?'

Ultimately, it boils down to common sense; for instance, when Google launched its toolbar in December 2000, you could be sure that it was gathering and storing user behaviour with a view to applying it in the future. The same had to be assumed when Google launched Chrome in September 2008 - it was only in early 2009 that we really started to notice how the deposit match bonuses in the title and description tag influenced rankings (presumably this was by combining relative click though data and user behaviour such as time on the site, bounces, etc).

When I asked a 'Googler' about what data they use, he said that toolbar data (and presumably Chrome data) was very important to Google internally. Naturally, he didn't go into detail, but his response confirmed that user behaviour data was indeed a big deal and not just the concern of the natural search quality team.

Future proofing

"Yes, the ability to search 'about 309,000,000 results in 0.08 seconds' may seem to be magic, but it isn't; it's clever and is made possible through massive parallelisation. But it's not magic."

Remaining mindful of Google's technological developments is key to remaining future proof. Always ask yourself, "If I were Google, how would I use this data to improve search results or identify spam?" Keep an eye on its patent applications both current and historic, and don't for a moment think that just because a patent was applied for over 12 months ago, that it means it is currently in use. A great resource for keeping up-to-date with Google patent applications along with very well informed analysis is www.seobythesea. com by Bill Slawski. If you don't already have this guy in your RSS reader, you should make this your number one priority.

Keeping ahead of the game requires an understanding of what has happened in the past and how it impacted the SERPs. When Google rolls out a new filter, it rarely stops there. In all cases, to my knowledge, it spends time adjusting and tweaking the parameters of the filter, and fine tuning which sites it impacts and to what degree. When there is no clear pattern to a shake up or the impact is isolated to just a very small number of queries or you see big brands being pushed upwards, it's likely to be a purely manual adjustment where human reviews are transposed into white lists and black lists.

If you are impacted during a shake-up, don't make any sudden moves. It may well be that as the algorithm is fine-tuned, you simply pop back into the position you were in before.

Don't fear the reaper

Avoid Google tilt at all costs. Don't fear Google in so much as you become paralysed to take action - this is Google's aim. The classic 60 position brand-based penalty was a tool used to create fear, uncertainty and doubt. It acted like a warning shot across the bow and usually impacted a big brand which had been behaving outside of the acceptable norm, or had been taking the piss!

Google is smarter these days, but is by no means perfect. Providing you don't take the piss, you can push any site into an enviable position with good SEO and war chest. A penalty isn't something to be feared; it can always be fixed. Let's say you're a casino and you've been penalised. Maybe you came clean and submitted a reconsideration request (not that I would ever recommend such a thing), perhaps some of your rankings have entirely or partially recovered. Should this stop you from aggressively pushing to regain the revenues you formerly enjoyed? Surely this is a simple commercial decision.

The choice is simple. You either play nicely or you earn crazy money!

You can't do both for big money keywords and there are no prizes for being on page two or below. So what are you going to do? You could spend years playing nicely and following Google's best practice guidelines, but it is likely to be time and money wasted. You'd be better spending that money on PPC or even display advertising.

Modern warfare

Firstly, you need to make the decision to fight! Once you have this clear in your mind and you are determined not to let anything get in the way of victory, then you need to allocate budget from your war chest and set out your strategy. Let's assume you want to take on the big keyword, "Online Casino" in This will be a costly battle, but may also be a very lucrative one. It will cost somewhere in between /7,000 to /30,000 per month, depending on a number of factors. The affiliate deals you negotiate and how well those operators convert, retain, cross-sell, etc, will determine the commercial feasibility of this battle.

The same can be said for when a coalition launches hundreds of million-dollar tomahawk cruise missiles on an oil-rich North African dictatorship; the cost of war must be balanced against the commercial value of victory.

In both SEO and warfare alike, getting buy-in for the campaign usually comes down to good old fashioned politics. OK, so this isn't a platform for geo-political debate or assertion, but I've made my point clear. Big SEO battles are expensive, I know this because these are the battles I fight on a daily basis. That said, the rewards are huge:

• Do not allow yourself to be psyched out by Google; psychology is used to fill the gaps where the algorithm fails.
• Don't take the piss out of Google. It's crucial that you operate within Google's acceptable norms and tolerances.
• Be mindful of Google's sample points and data.
• Keep up-to-date with Google's patent applications.
• Aim to provide a quality experience that stands up to human scrutiny (you don't even have to be the best - just good enough will suffice).
• Don't be scared of a fight providing your financial department is prepared to support you.
• Never, ever, give up. Even if you've been penalised before, don't be paralysed. Keep pushing!

And remember...

• Always seek professional advice before engaging in any SEO!
• Picking a keyword is picking a fight
• Don't pick a fight unless you're sure you can win.

"In both SEO and warfare alike, getting buy-in for the campaign usually comes down to good old fashioned politics."
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