SEO Is to Marketing as Day Trading Is to Finance

Is SEO Greed Good?
There’s been naive shock in the media that brands like JC Penney, Overstock and Fortune have dared to take steps to game Google search for higher results. And faux shock by the firms themselves to learn that their teams have been using tactics to inflate their rank with Google.

Last year I asked, Is it time to sunset the very idea of an SEO agency? Why? Not because SEO is bad, evil, or ineffective. Quite the opposite. What the firms I just listed have done is rational, legal, and beneficial to their businesses.  Google has every right to fix its algorithm, or exclude results its finds suspect, but wrapping this in moral terms of “black and white hat” is nonsensical.

Stripped down to economic terms, Google has made a market to connect searchers and content publishers. However, obvious imperfections to Google’s system remain, and these have kept SEO firms in business for a decade. Firms like Penney and Overstock are monetizing what an economist might call inefficiencies.

The SEO Arms Race in Competitive Markets
When one company in a contested area starts manufacturing “optimizing” success markers for Google, it causes a marketing arms race as competitors must either must give up valuable search traffic or join in a spending contest. As a result, firms then waste resources trying to beat each other in these ultimately worthless measures. And by “waste,” I mean once they are used they are entirely useless.  What are the fake links Penney invested in worth now? And how about the value of the crappy content written for SEO from the linking sites?

My objection to the SEO sub-industry is fundamental. Marketing seeks to build persistent market advantages. SEO in heavily contested spaces has become nothing more than a short-term arbitrage based on taking often valueless actions that Google overvalues.

Competitive SEO no longer adds persistent advantage and value to firms. It only exists because Google’s slow search innovation has allowed this sub-industry of SEO tricksters to blossom. Given that Google exploits the system it created for its own profit, the company shouldn’t then blame those who are trying to do the same.

This year will see a change in how search engine rankings are decided as Google relies more on social proof. This will — hopefully ? make it harder to generate rankings through mechanized efforts as real people will rank what they find helpful. Real people are even less likely to be impressed by link farm sites than Google’s bots.

2011 is shaping up to be the year that Google rediscovered search as an innovation priority. Its business depends on it.

6 Responses to "SEO Is to Marketing as Day Trading Is to Finance"

  • Louis Gudema

    March 4, 2011

    Dave – Agreed that some SEO techniques are worthless gaming, but content-centric SEO actually can add value to what are sometimes quite slim websites. And I don’t have high hopes for what social will add to search: how many of my friends have commented on the specific restaurants/movies/software/etc. that I’m considering? Probably not too many.

  • Dave Wieneke

    March 5, 2011

    One of the best, and few, great SEO tactics which also contributes to user experience and conversion are product reviews. My friend, Michael DeHaven at Bazaarvoice makes a great case for putting in systems that get real site visitors to ask questions and talk about products — and these naturally use the very words that other visitors search on. To really win at SEO players have to differentiate — and if you can do that in ways that make sites better, than that really is a win.

  • […] drive themselves and devices that could replace television networks, but along the way they let SEO gamers lower the integrity their organic search results. The use of social signals is a step to reduce the […]

  • […] to Search Engine Land’s readers, who will print it off to educate colleagues. I can imagine SEO practitioners posting this above their desks, as a cross between artwork and a professional flag. Infographics […]

  • Nida Simons

    May 28, 2014

    Although aimed at you About, this is a handy article for the emerging or mature writer as well, as it is a great resource to refresh one’s mind on every aspect of the writing process.

  • Mohamed

    July 11, 2014

    A rich content is the key to catch the users as well
    as the search engines by using prominent keywords and key phrases.
    If you are targeting some particular keywords, you should discuss the same with
    the service provider. More and more multi national companies are taking the
    services of Indian SEO and PPC expert companies
    to get best results.

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