Numerous articles including my own tell you what kind of changes to expect in 2014 in the volatile Web environment. New trends sell better than old news of course. Despite this I’d like to stress that 99% of things will stay the same. SEO is not just about following hypes.
When it comes to Google both change and progress is so fast that we sometimes get dizzy while looking at it.
It seems as if the search marketing industry is completely different every year. SEO has to reinvent itself every few months it appears. Of course all of these are mostly apparitions. In general the foundations of what we deal with when it comes to Google and SEO stay mostly the same. We just tend to overlook the obvious and take it for granted while every change or hype gets our immediate attention.
Google has a monopoly on the search market
The judges in the US have decided that Google is not a monopoly because Bing etc. is “just a click away”. That of course only applies to search users. When you own a website you can not choose usually where your visitors come from.
In most countries with the exception of China or Russia , Google has an overwhelming market share when it comes to search.
In countries like Germany (where I live) not being on Google means not existing on the Web. Google has a crushing monopoly of 95+% here. Sadly this won’t change soon. I have covered how
outperform Google for many searches but it will take years before any of them can get just a few % of the search market in the US or Europe.
Google makes money from ads
Despite Google acquisitions in the military robotics, artificial intelligence or domestic surveillance and all the hardware and services Google offers the money still comes from Google ads, mostly AdWords (ads in search results) but also AdSense (ads on websites). Google tries frantically to get more revenue sources but more than 90% are still ads.
That’s why Google clutters their search results with even more and bigger ads each year.
It will take a few years before Google can make other business models work for them. Until then they will keep on subsidizing them. They offer many services for free until they crush the (paid) competition and then they will be able to charge a lot when there is none left. Google doesn’t earn money when you rank in their search results organically or when you build links.
Links determine the ranking of sites
No matter how much Google’s Mad Cuts tries to scare people not to link to strangers hyperlinks are still the most important determining factor for the Google algorithm. There is no replacement in sight yet. Of course Google is working on their proprietary walled garden type of Web all the time.
Google+, authorship, rich snippets are just some techniques to push the “GoogleWeb” but the adoption is still way too low to make it a useful hypertext replacement.
No matter how much they’d like to control connections between sites and people with Google+ they still have to resort to counting true blue open source hyperlinks. There is a ton of other ranking signals that help to prevent spam and validate site quality but links are still crucial to determine what’s important and what not on the Web.
On-page optimization is standard
For years manipulative bloggers and other irresponsible or downright stupid writers were trying to convince us that SEO is dead and so on. At the same time their blogs were perfectly search engine optimized and the articles with the catchy headlines they have written were meant to generate links to get a higher ranking on Google.
Many of them simply were taking on-page optimization for granted to the point they didn’t even realize that they practised SEO themselves. For the “SEO is dead” bloggers SEOs were always the other ones, the bad guys, the ugly spammers of course.
To this day most average people have no clue what the acronym SEO means.
They may use WordPress, Tumblr or Pinterest among other well optimized sites and publishing tools and abide by the SEO best practices that are built in into them but they wouldn’t even know when you asked them.
SEO, especially on-page, is standard. Average people only notice SEO when it doesn’t work or appears spammy. They wouldn’t recognize SEO on the New York Times. They wouldn’t even know that the NYT employed SEO specialists for several years by now.
Getting genuine links is hard for everybody
The popular term link building is pretty misleading by now. You don’t build links in most cases like some workers on a construction site. You get links, you earn links. In the early days of SEO link building was often about sneaking in a link on third party sites or openly placing your link there. Low quality SEO practicioners still work by building links only on sites that allow to add links to them.
Getting real links, that is hyperlinks from people who appreciate you on the other hand is hard.
It’s hard for everybody. Even large brands try to bribe people into linking to them or heavily interlink their own numerous websites because it’s so hard. So when you do link building the modern way properly you can outpace the dinosaurs too.
Google needs your content
Google always wanted you to “create great content”. Why? It’s not only because they want people to have something to read or watch. They even force you to create content for sites that would work perfectly without additional text, images or videos.
Google earns money by placing ads along content. They need to display your content on Google Search, Image Search, News, Books etc. so that they get the eyeballs to see their ads. That’s why they try to make everybody a publisher.
Google’s competitors like Facebook, News Corp or Apple keep their content for themselves and monetize via their own ads (Facebook), paywalls (News Corp) or sales (Apple).
Small time publishers like you and me on the other hand are forced to give Google our user generated content for them to monetize. In 2013 Google even started to penalize webmasters who didn’t want their images hotlinked (displayed without context) on Google Image Search. It’s called an image mismatch penalty. So you have to understand more than ever that Google wants your content for free to make money off it. They don’t earn a Cent from your link building efforts.
Large brands can get away with murder
When I started out in SEO around a decade ago, one of the first things that I noticed was that average webmaster would often get hurt during updates while larger brands would get away unscathed. Google would just temporarily ban them for a few days.
The best example for this double standard came up in February 2006 when BMW Germany got banned for a week. After a call by the BMW execs who of course blamed the people responsible for SEO, the ban got lifted. It still happens in the exact same way. Well known cases were JC Penny, Overstock or Interflora. Rap Genius was the last such example in my opinion.
When you are big enough to raise a public fuss or buy so many Google ads that you have your own dedicated support team over at Google you should be fine after a few days.
Otherwise you will need months of tedious clean ups, removing and disavowing links with an uncertain outcome. A client of mine has been penalized for one single paid directory link for half a year. We have wasted awful amounts of time, money and energy on wrecking our own links. After the penalty got lifted we never reclaimed our old rankings. Meanwhile the spammy competition has been ranking above us with often questionable techniques.
Google is hypocritical
Google will always tell webmasters how they have to behave. Then it will act as judge, jury and executioner without even telling you that you under suspicion until they penalize your site and endanger your business. On the other hand they won’t act accordingly.
Just search for “sponsored by Google” on Google and you will find numerous examples of paid links that lead to Google and other brand sites. I have never seen someone complain or penalize those.
Of course average webmasters are obliged to use the so-called nofollow attribute on paid links so that they don’t count for better Google rankings. So it’s always “do as we say not as we do” when it comes to Google. Google doesn’t use nofollow on their own widgets. Matt Cutts doesn’t use nofollow on his own guest posts either.
Issues with longevity
These are just a few of the common issues you are up against as a webmaster, publisher or search engine optimizer. They haven’t changed much over the last decade and they won’t soon. They will probably just get worse.
So when doing SEO for Google don’t change your strategy following every single of Google whims.
Don’t just create content because they tell you to. Don’t abide by the rules when they are disadvantageous for you. Google doesn’t care about you unless you are their AdWords client.
Creative Commons image by Duncan Hull.