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  • Diana Schneidman

Help! SEO has fallen and it can’t get up

The purpose of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is to get your content on the first page of Google results or at least on the first few pages, right?

Apparently that’s not the purpose of SEO any longer.

Last week I listened to a webinar by a so-called expert that expanded on recent themes I’ve recently seen elsewhere: The purpose of SEO is to prevent Google from smiting you and banishing you from Google entirely or at least its first 50 pages of hits.

Be scared. Be very scared.

Once upon a time, the purpose of Google was to get to page one or two or three so that you would enjoy free (called “natural” or “organic”) traffic to your site.

Then the experts realized they could not guarantee top placement. So instead of admitting their powers were limited, they decided the problem is unrealistic customer expectations. Customers who pay top dollar for results—or for training so they can achieve their own top results—are silly and naïve.

Results cannot be guaranteed so customers shouldn’t expect anything specific. If you do expect specific results, you are asking to be exploited, just like someone whose wallet sticks out of an outer pocket in a busy train station.

As the amount of content out there grows and Google algorithms become more sophisticated and mysterious, the experts have redefined what they teach so they can’t lose. The expert I listened to last week and other advice I’ve read don’t provide a clue as to how to reach page one. Instead, they focus on how to stay in Google’s good graces.

Whatever that means.

We have to wait for months to assess the effectiveness of each SEO tactic we test, and meanwhile, so many variables have changed—for both ourselves and our competitors for rank—that we don’t know what the latest rankings prove.

Unfortunately, progress in ranking means nothing unless you are darned close to the top. Most searches yield hundreds of thousands or even millions of hits. So rising from item number 250,016 to number 54 sounds like a massive accomplishment from a statistical viewpoint but is almost useless in a practical sense.

Furthermore, in real life, different people get different results for the same search depending on where they live and their own search history, I am told.

Remember the expert webinar presented I referred to above? A perky woman who positions herself as Matt Cutts’s best bud.

(Matt Cutt is a big muckety-muck at Google. Apparently he’s like Justin Bieber but bigger.)

Here is some of her advice: Use your keyword phrase only once or twice in a single piece of content. Then sprinkle individual words from that phrase throughout the piece. Then change the forms of some of the words. Make singular nouns plural . . . present tense verbs into past tense . . . stuff like that. And throw in some synonyms for good measure.

The reason this all works is because Google is so gosh darn smart. It’s called “artificial intelligence.” If you write about “Apple,” Google knows you mean Apple Computers. If you write about “Jobs,” Google knows you mean “Steve Jobs,” not go-to-work “jobs.” And if you write about “Golden Delicious,” Google knows you mean fruit.

The solution, says the giddy-with-excitement expert, is to write for the human reader. Pay her and she’ll teach you how in her upcoming course.

Plus I have distilled a second lesson she did not isolate for her audience: Stick to the subject. (This is my own contribution to Google advice.)

But wait! That’s what I did back in olden times without benefit of paid tutoring. I wrote for people and I stuck to the subject.

Apparently I was ahead of my time by a decade or two.

The webinar then offered another piece of breathtaking advice: Research your keywords online to make the perfect choice. Not so popular that you are competing against too many other sites and not so rare that no one is searching it. You can start with Google tools but then you should consider paying money for other tools.

What do you do with these hallowed keyword phrases? Well, as I wrote above, you insert them conversationally once or twice somewhere in your copy, and then you scatter the individual words and duplicative terms throughout.

Don’t bother inserting your keywords into designated keyword spaces on your website programming or elsewhere. Google doesn’t value something so overt.

Since you have a pure heart and you have not “stuffed” your keywords, you are vying with only a few million other pages that have inadvertently used your keyword phrase once or twice (the result of their inadequate research, I am sure) and the many millions of more that use some of the wide array of words that the Google computer knows makes their content as relevant—or more relevant—than yours.

So what does work?

I haven’t a clue from the webinar. I’d guess incoming links? Tremendous quantities of content beyond what a small company can reasonably generate? Tagging of photos to helpfully identify a Golden Delicious apple as a Golden Delicious apple?

As I clicked out of the webinar, listeners were gushing over the speaker, profusely thanking her for all her valuable advice.

I’m not sold on the latest SEO practices, are you?

Originally posted 12-17-12

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