Feel Big Changes Coming For Internet Marketing, SEO

In social media, websites by Michael Michelini11 Comments

While I don’t normally use this blog to talk about my business, I think with the recent news in the internet world you may be interested. While I still am overworked guy doing too many things, one of my biggest projects is SEO and internet marketing. What is SEO? Stands for Search Engine Optimization, which is the craft of both building your website and promoting your website to be found in search engines (which is primarily Google these days, for the english / USA market). I have been doing this since 2004, maybe a bit in 2003, having built a couple websites before that in 2000 and 2001, but not thinking about how to promote them online.

I remember being in Stevens Tech university, in a class, and my friend showing me google.com as a way to find information and websites I was searching for. I remember how everyone said it was so amazing and quick and relevant…we were tired of altavista and ask jeeves or other search engines that had to search again and again, going through pages and pages of crap to get to the answer or site we were looking for.

So people just started to believe what Google said, whatever came up on the top of google had to be the answer, right. Don’t know what you want to buy, or where to go, google knows. “just google it”

But then….companies and businesses realized this is the best way to get customers….and studied more and more how to do it. Read books, attended seminars…and industry called SEO and internet marketing emerged to rank on google. Then when I came to China end of 2007…not many people really knew about web marketing (or marketing in general really)…seemed like most of the SEO and internet marketing was done in Europe or USA…..maybe some outsourcing projects in Asia….but the main projects were being done in the west.

So many people in China were curious how to improve their rank on google….to get direct access to American buyers….they mostly would use alibaba and globalsources to promote their business. I would preach Chinese need to learn online marketing more….(and still am preaching) but in the back of my mind…I wondered what would happen when 1 billion people learn also how to market online, as well as indians….and filipinos…..and everyone else in the world. It would have to get more competitive.

Sure, Google says it is always updating its algorithm to ensure only the best sites come to the top of the search engine…..but when you create an internet marketing industry of people working hard to optimize websites….and rooms and rooms, or departments and departments of workers building pages, building content, cross linking, networking in groups and on forums on how to build their website to be the best for GOOGLE. And come on….sure webmasters all over the world can say “make it for the user”, but you can’t kid me they are making it for the search engines at the same time.

So what has SEO become? A couple months ago, New York times reported on a online seller of eye glasses who would use negative online feedback to boost his website (notice later its again New York times doing these articles about negative SEO), and then google was defending itself that it had ways not to allow these kind of bad customer service websites to rank in their search engine and punished the website.

And we have social media exploding now, with the news and people mostly talking about Facebook, Twitter, foursquare…..none of which are owned by Google.

Then recently in the internet world, right when the superbowl came out, Huffington post was bought by AOL. Many said AOL was buying an SEO optimized website, other bloggers criticizing that huffington post “keyword stuffs” by writing the content with an emphasis on keyword desity for target keywords, and grabbing other website’s hot content and re-writing it for SEO purposes.

Now, we see Google punishing jc penney deparment store for black hat SEO and buying links to specific pages that would rank the website to the top of google, breaking Google’s webmaster guidelines. This story was covered by new york times actually, just as the earlier article with the reputation management SEO issues in the eye glasses above…..strange to me, but seems NY times has a lot of SEO people of their own to understand and cover these stories. (kinda cool, would like to meet them!)

We also have to think about a company called Demand Media which is a massive company of contents all over the world who are paid (rather low) to write content…..cranking out tons of new articles every day….and most of its traffic coming from Google and SEO. Many claim this Demand media is simply a “content farm” (there is a defensive article from Demand Media stating otherwise) which adds little value to the internet, and is one example of how the internet is polluted with low quality webpages made just to receive advertising revenue. There are others like answers.com and ehow.com that also are often called this, filled with advertisements and low amount of valuable information.

Then this week, we also have google coming out with a chrome extension to filter websites YOU choose, which is pretty cool, if you are tired of some annoying websites that you never go to (that have pop ups and are just full of advertisements. But this seems like a strange timing…like a defensive move by Google to do anything it can to have users stop saying their search results are full of spam and sellers who have bad customer service. BUT….thinking as an internet marketer…I can always see how this can be used negatively, maybe competitors in the industry will add this function to their browser and have as many people as they know DOWNGRADE their competition’s websites. Maybe Google has ways around this, but the idea Google gets is that they see enough people blocking a website from their results, I am sure they will look into the site.

People in the past used to 100% no questions asked believe anything that came to the top of Google. now seems…there is more questions there, and Google is getting desperate. Maybe they feel overwhelmed by social media (facebook, twitter being the center), and all this negative press about content farms, black hat SEO, and irresponsible ecommerce sellers….they are doing everything they can to keep the loyalty from their users (those of us who search google.com each day). I do love Google, lets hope they can adjust…..but as they adjust, so do many internet marketers and SEO guys.

For example, Social media keeps growing, and its said Google now is looking at tweets from twitter.com as links and counts this in their ranking algorithm. Also we have companies like klout social media optimization and this has nothing to do with google at all, the tools or the companies and services used….and more and more people are looking to facebook and twitter for experts and services….asking their friends for advice and help.

Lets see what happens.

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  1. Hey Mike,

    I’m not sure how you churn out this stuff every couple days and still find time to fly all over the place, but I wanted to drop a few notes on my personal experience with this type of marketing from a stateside perspective. I’ve got friends that one or two degrees separated from HuffPo and the content-farm industry, and I’ve got some up close & personal experience with SEO.

    On the AOL purchase and HuffPo, I think that was a “good move” from the perspective of how HuffPo fits into AOL’s corporate strategy (see the incredible the-aol-way document http://www.businessinsider.com/the-aol-way); it worked on a few levels: HuffPo is already a working model of this “new media” strategy of catering content to traffic driving keywords. Whether these keywords have relevance due to search engines or social media might change over time, but visits are the key metric to them, and while I don’t think this drives any kind of censorship, it is self selecting for short link-bait keyword-laced articles. This move was talent & brand acquisition: HuffPo is a tiny shop with a sharp growth curve over the last 2 years, and the brand (Ariana Huffington included) has more clout in political media circles than AOL.

    On content farms (Mahalo, Demand Media, et al), there was an interesting talk by Calacanis decrying the state of that “industry” recently: http://searchengineland.com/mahalo-calacanis-time-to-end-the-content-farm-arms-race-64109

    I think that content farms are an unavoidable consequence of the practice of SEO in general. Indeed, SEO is basically just a modern type of sales, which being based on algorithms rather than people, is game-able.

    My own personal experience, and a cautionary tale I suppose, is that SEO is kind of like the HFT of the online media landscape. Despite its pundits claiming its benefits, I think the practice in general damages the ecosystem as a whole and makes the web a worse place for users.

    I worked for a shopping search engine startup that started with a grand idea of integrating a wiki for community-edited buying guides. The monetization scheme was ads + affiliate purchases (IE search results for some stores included a % of sales). Despite having gained some momentum in the shopping search arena (esp. in the UK), by the time the series A ran out, the board did not want any more stock dilution and decided that it was time to attempt to make its income self-sustaining by increasing traffic towards an exit of some kind. So an SEO guy was brought in.

    An extensive, sophisticated A/B system was developed that tested the traffic impact of many changes. The actual page structure, which at this point was becoming outdated, became stale, and adding features or fixing obscure rendering bugs in browsers became more difficult. The A/B testing yielded some immediate and some surprising results, and some important ones that drove traffic to the site. Based on the understanding from those results, work was done to improve the amt of interlinking in the site by developing various areas of the site that were not meant for human consumption but were, at a stretch, theoretically useful to a user. Despite this, a lot of traffic-positive changes were completely baffling to everyone involved. Absolutely nailed-on improvements to user experience were discarded because of marginally negative SEO imapct.

    So where does that leave a product? On the one hand, it leaves it in the black and operating, whereas sacrificing any attempts at increasing traffic (and monetization) leaves you bankrupt and destroys the technology and the service altogether. However, a significant amt of resources were dedicated to traffic, at a significant impact to the user experience of the site. Those resources could have improved our shopping search results (which were littered with items that were improperly spidered; things costing trillions of dollars because an SKUID was mistakenly determined to be a price, etc), or towards hiring a full time designer to improve the UX and the design of the site.

    In the end, I quit my job because of this focus on traffic rather than on product. The guys there were earnest in wanting to balance the two, but could not ignore the business realities. Because the market was competitive, and SEO is in widespread employ, it was important to squeeze more and more blood from that stone. I wanted to build software for people, not for googlebot. A few months later, the company had a successful exit and was purchased by a domain parking company. The guys there were smart and genuine about wanting to create a good product, but it takes an uncommon amt of bravery and brashness to accept a product/SEO balance when the bottom line is a razors edge from the red void.

    So, does any of this actually make the web a better place? Twitter and Facebook and digg accounts that exist to flood the internet with links and astroturf advertising campaigns? Doesn’t this drive the internet-equivalent of the housing bubble; tons of money invested in social media and services companies vying for eyeballs, trying to become the next de-facto platform for marketers and advertisers?

    So say what you want about Google; I think they recognize that they are at the front lines of a fight to keep the web itself a relevant technology; with the ever-increasing size of low-quality dross like Demand Media churns out, if search becomes irrelevant we are searching for islands in the pacific without any navigation.

    1. Author

      Wow Jason,

      thanks for the comment, very comprehensive! As for your first point, about how I churn out my content farm (haha!) while I’m flying all over the place…..I blog the most when i’m traveling….as really its wasting so much time waiting for planes, trains, and buses…that I blog when I’m on the move…as I don’t have internet, so I just whip out the laptop and crank out a few at a time.

      Yes, I have always known you as the programmer, and I’m more the “engineering manager” (as my degree in Engineering Management from Stevens Tech confirms, hah!) its interesting to see your perspective. Reading this, and thinking from your side as a true and deep technologist is valuable to me. We all need to be passionate about the overall product we are building and the value for the user.

      On the side of me, as a “technology manager” balancing between the IT and the marketing/business. I am often consulted by companies as the SAVIOR. I am the SEO who will turn their company from “x” to 10x in a matter of months…..you should listen to the conversations I have with the companies.

      I had one client from Los Angeles….he was selling gold coins, physical form. So he was a massive HYPE kind of guy…..and he just left a chop shop (whoops I mean brokerage firm), and had now started his own. He got my name from a friend and we talked on skype for like an hour. He was so excited to find me. I was gonna get him to the top of google and he was gonna have phones ringing off the hook day and night. He told me in the last company he worked for their SEO was good and they would do regular PR blasts and it would explode phone calls.

      He pushed me down on price (but price doesn’t matter,right?) and then he got pushy and said why didn’t results come in 15 days. He was even spam linking within his own blog…..I was worried he would get punished by google and blame me and my team over here. Finally we parted ways (he still owes me money) and he went with an India SEO firm, he should me their quotation and promises….unbelievable.

      Sure we all find these clients in any business….while he was an extreme case, the majority of people talk to me see SEO as their answer for riches. Get to the top of google and you are GOD. So everyone seems to lose sight of so much more….

      I’m not knocking google….but the “one place for your answer” is quickly fading, I even find myself going to aggregator sites (I love http://www.techmeme.com for tech news) and I have tried twitter search more then a few times for real time news.

      Whats after google? I think we all see it, or its obvious to me – facebook search. Its all over the web with this “like” button. If people like it, and you are friends like it, then its more relevant. One day you’ll log into facebook and it will look like google….a facebook logo with a search bar underneath….clean, simple – ask YOUR FRIENDs for help, not GOOGLE. There is no more “god”, its what your friends recommend. At least this is what I see happening.

      1. I hear you on the plane/airport thing. Asia (or at least HK) has pretty good wifi availability.

        Also, I take your points, with all of the natural caveats that popularity doesn’t really positively correlate with quality. Despite companies thinking that SEO is the 1x => 10x silver bullet (It isn’t, short term), that type of growth for a small value of x is still small potatoes. Innovating compelling products can take you from 1x to 1000000x, which is why engineer/designer/innovator types poo-poo SEO. The people who are looking to game SEO are the ones who are creating the content that nobody wants, so obviously it’s going to get (and maintain) a bad rep.

        Do you think that social-search (facebook or otherwise) can’t or won’t be gamed and paid for, jc penny style? Like our fan-page for coupons, etc. The signal to noise ratio always zero on these online communities, and the people who figure out how to stop this degradation without an enormous investment of human capital are going to win big. It’s the nature of these things to either boom or bust; Techmeme (whether it’s good or not.. I tend to stick with ycombinator news) will grow too big to be good OR shrink too small to be good, and then it’l either die or become the next digg, overrun by a cabal of professional users who game it for marketing purposes.

        What keeps google relevant is that they’ve got billions of $ to fight this. I don’t know how baidu fares, or is this less of a problem on the relatively less matured chinese internet?

        I think that Facebook looks at search as a resource black hole, and assumes (hopes?) that friend networks can lead people naturally to things that are in common. They’d have to get into search *just* the right way, or it could really become an albatross.

        Still, Facebook’s a closed loop; knowledge has to have a way to enter the system, and while knowledge comes from places other than the internet, I don’t see search engines declining in importance any time soon. Google covers the whole web, so while the web is a closed loop itself, it has more participants.

        1. Author

          hey Jason,

          Had to digest this last one over the day today to give a good reply – nice stuff!!!

          Yes, I know how people look at SEO but there is still relevant reasoning for a designer or programmer to understand the way a search engine works and build a site for crawlability….as a great product that cannot be found is a waste……and there are great products, that by themselves, are awesome, but so many people do not hear about them, and that “build it and they will come” some techies think exists – DOESNT always exist, and product die because they are not actively marketed…..

          Social search will be more difficult to game…because it takes people, and reputations…..jc penny had bought backlinks from spammy sites pointing to specific inner pages on its site……to do that with social, you would have to get PEOPLE with relevant, established social graphs (profiles) to point to those inner pages with specific anchor text links , and/or to like those pages in facebook, retweet in twitter. This will take more work, and to do it, you would have to build up an empire of “fake social profiles” that are relevant for those specific topics and industries, then pumping in links…..BUT they will not be influencial people of friends you know….I just see this as harder for a outsourced company far-removed from society to “Game” as much as building up websites and pointing them to other websites.

          Yes, google has Billions of dollars….but are they keeping the top talent today? Seems top talent is moving to social media. Again. I am far away from silicon valley, being here in Asia, but this is what I seem to read overall in tech news.

  2. Changes are a ‘comin for sure, but we still get about 80% of our traffic from Google. The reality is that as long as Google is driving all this free traffic, people are going to try to game it. Ironically, once Google is less relavent, then its results will become more accurate again as less people try to game it.

    1. Author

      Thanks for input Marshall – yes…..its kind of this love/hate now….people want convenient, GOD of answers, Google…..but webmasters are so afraid to lose this source of free traffic…..

      I’m just mostly afraid of people now doing NEGATIVE retaliation…..meaning competitors reporting each other to google.

      By google saying they manually remove / modify results when NY times tells them opens the floodgates to other webmasters reporting other sites…..for the benefit of their competitors being crushed/punished by google.

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  4. THE POST IS REALLY NICE. Its really very true that if you have got a commercial website that is properly optimized, then it can be option for generating traffic.

    1. Author

      thanks Webvantage, though I know you are a SEO worker trying to get backlinks, appreciate it was done by a human 😉

  5. Pingback: Feel Big Changes Coming For Internet Marketing, SEO

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