Practical Ecommerce

Is search engine optimization worth the effort?

Is search engine optimization a dying trade? Just because there are a large number of firms offering to do the work, is there really a need for it? Whilst there is clearly a need for decent on-page optimization, I am less sure about off-site work.

In the U.S. and in Europe, the search engine giant remains Google. So, in the main, any optimization is done to improve rankings on Google. Google, in its constant effort to improve search results, downgrades any site that artificially boosts its position. In the distant past this was done by techniques like keyword stuffing, and serving up a different page to a search spider verses a real visitor. Then the manipulation moved on to artificial link building and link exchanges.

Manipulating Search Results a Bad Idea

These deceptive practices worked for a while and sites got their prime position on the results page. But Google’s algorithm became a bit cleverer; these sites vanished from the results. As the cheaters get more sophisticated, so does the search algorithm that roots them out. It is a constant battle and it is all to easy to get caught up in it and try the latest fad and keep investing in firms that use ever-more-clever techniques in an attempt to boost a site’s rankings.

In the end, these will all fail. None of these techniques are secret. To promote their ever-more-clever methods and thus sell their services, the SEO companies will inevitably tell people what they will do to manipulate Google.

But Google is not stupid. Once it hears about a new and improved method, it will start updating the algorithm to beat it. Then, depending on Google’s opinion about the new technique, any offending site may get severely penalized.

Is the Site Authoritative?

It has often been said that content is king. These days, more than ever, this is true. A site with good and well-presented content will inevitably be the kind of site that Google wants to show high up in its results. Google can spot traffic going to that site and will start to believe that this site is authoritative and thus push it up the rankings when people search for that topic.

Google collects vast amounts of data. Indeed it collects so much data that there are moves on both sides of the Atlantic to try and limit this.

As Google gets more sophisticated, I can see it serving up search results almost completely personalized to you and your history of interests. I can also envision Google building up a search profile that matches your typical phrases and terms you use in searches with the typical sites that you visit.

After all, at the most basic level, Google wants to be everyone’s search engine of choice. One of the best ways to do this is to serve up the most relevant results for the person doing the search — to basically read her mind and know exactly what site she wants to see.

SEO vs. Advertising Revenue

In addition, Google presumably wants to maximize its advertising revenue, either from the pay-per-click adverts that appear above the search results, or from the adverts that appear on other websites. So every dollar a company spends on search engine optimization is one dollar less to spend on advertising on Google. This is another reason why Google would try and eliminate any offsite optimization that affects the search results.

If Google manages to eliminate search engine optimization, then the only easy route these companies now have to promote themselves on Google is to advertise.

So, the next time an SEO company tries to sell you its services, consider that it might actually be both cheaper and better to advertise on Google, instead.

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Comments ( 16 )

  1. Prashant Telang October 30, 2015 Reply

    We followed antithesis of traditional SEO to get our best SEO results. The premise was “ Have such a top quality content on the website that if Google don’t rank us high something is wrong with Google algorithm not with our website” Based on this premise we created absolution top quality content (we never cared for Google or SEO anyway) . It turned out neither our premise was wrong nor Google Algorithm was wrong. We were getting featuring on top of relevant keyword results. Even the most competitive keywords.
    To Summarise: Google algorithms are too smart to be fooled by SEO optimization tricks.

  2. Elizabeth Hollingsworth October 31, 2015 Reply

    I would have to agree with you that most SEO companies aren’t worth the money.

    My latest website has had far more success in page rankings – and sales – with a Shopify platform, automatically designed to be mobile-friendly the day it was launched (23 April, two days after Google’s new MF requirement), than the $3,000 or so I spent on SEO for my former website.

    Plus, it certainly it helps your SEO by writing long tail style product titles and descriptions, and never copying the supplier’s copy.

  3. Dave Snyder November 2, 2015 Reply

    I was surprised by the ignorance of this article. I have personally used solid white hat SEO techniques to get both our eBay listings as well as YouTube videos well-ranked on Google without paying a single penny. These rankings are often on the first page. Long-standing companies like Search Engine Land would have a heyday with this piece of dreck.

    • Richard stubbings November 4, 2015 Reply

      Interesting, would you like to actually comment with details, or do you just do insults.

      • Dave Snyder November 9, 2015 Reply

        I am forced to reply to Richard Stubbings this way, as the reCaptcha feature is not working when I attempt to reply to his comment.

        There was no insult. I stated my opinion, and that opinion is shared by those who know far more than myself.

        Example 1:

        https://www.google.com/search?q=selling+cds+internationally&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8#q=how+to+sell+cds+on+ebay

        The ugly mugs are both mine. I’ve done the same process with all of the videos from that series.

        Example 2:

        https://www.google.com/search?q=erie+tri+fold+fan&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8

        The first result is our eBay listing. The sixth is that same listing on ebay.ie, and the first two images are from the same listing.

        All of this was done using basic SEO techniques this article ignorantly bashes. It took a little time, but it cost absolutely nothing.

        • Richard stubbings November 10, 2015

          I am not sure what you are trying to prove. The first Url prongs up a search topped with an eBay article. No mugs, ugly or otherwise. The second is a long tail key phrase which I suspect does not have much competition. I wonder if that result would be the same with just on page SEO, I wonder if the off page SEO would make any difference.

          I wonder if you get a different search result because Google is serving up what YOU want to see.

  4. Jason McDonald November 11, 2015 Reply

    If you define SEO as communicating with Google vis-a-vis one’s keyword targets, and using tactics such as the correct placement of those keywords in HTML tags, the encouragement of off-page links and social mentions, and a constant effort to blog on timely and relevant topics… then to say that SEO does not work is not supported by evidence.

    This article is an example of using a “straw man.” It describes SEO in crude, off-putting terms and then knocks it down as not workable.

    In addition, the author simply believes the propaganda of Google that SEO cannot work. What type of SEO?

    At any rate, ignorance is bliss, and those who know SEO adore this type of article. The more who believe it impossible, the fewer who do it, and the easier it is for those of us who use factually-based methods to succeed.

    Google ‘SEO Expert San Francisco’ or ‘AdWords Expert Witness.’ Respectfully, Jason McDonald

    • Richard stubbings November 11, 2015 Reply

      Have you actually read the article? Did you miss the part where I said that there is clearly a need for on-page optimisation. This is as you say correct placement of keywords tags etc. As you so nicely say communicate with Google.

      All I am questioning is the long term viability of the off page techniques. Previously massive link farms could push sites to the top, now it does not. Previously having someone spinning content and putting key phrases in links on lots of blogs and forums placed a site on top. Now it does not.

      Google tries to eliminate artificial techniques used to build the popularity of sites.

  5. Jason K November 12, 2015 Reply

    As an SEO expert for over 17 years, I don’t understand the purpose of this article. Mr. Stubbings indicates that content is still king. While developing content is part of the user experience onsite, by nature this still an act of optimization. Of course spammy link building and other questionable tactics won’t work long term, but the “SEO is Dead” mantra has been around for many years and it just doesn’t fly. While it may change and evolve, it’s not going anywhere.

  6. Rob Willox November 13, 2015 Reply

    “Is search engine optimization worth the effort?” Yes!

    The idea that SEO is dead, as has been already mentioned, is a recurring mantra, mostly put about by proponents of ‘new’ technologies, social media, content marketing being just two.

    In fact, content marketing is what good SEO has always been about; good, relevant, informative information focused on the search terms users enter into the search box.

    The idea that Google wants to eliminate SEO is ridiculous.

    Admittedly, Google wants to maximise its ad revenue, but not every search made has commercial intent initially, and without relevant search results they would suffer as searchers would abandon google search in favour of one that did. And, there are some that would just love that to happen.

    Relevant results and ad revenue are two sides of the same coin. Without the first there is no second. No-one would use search if all it returned was ads.

    So, to reiterate! “Is search engine optimization worth the effort?” Definitely!

  7. Ted Parry November 13, 2015 Reply

    “All I am questioning is the long term viability of the off page techniques. Previously massive link farms could push sites to the top, now it does not. Previously having someone spinning content and putting key phrases in links on lots of blogs and forums placed a site on top. Now it does not.”

    Okay but what in fact you are actually saying is that black hat offline strategies don’t work, which is common knowledge for anyone practising SEO when Penguin hit in 2012 – 3+ years ago!

    Also Google is much more complicated now. It looks at bounce rate, usability, time on site, social signals + quality & volume of links and relevance of page. SEO is not a one man job.

    There is room for good offsite link building. In fact where I work, we created a piece of content that got shared over 1,000 times and linked to from the Mirror, Sky Sports, Squawka etc.

    There are ways to build links but they have to be done in more effective ways than the ones you mentioned. I would recommend reading Paddy Moogans book on Link Building if you are looking for inspiration. Good luck!

  8. Reed November 13, 2015 Reply

    We have been an online retailer for over a dozen years and have always done well in SEO because we focus on on-page optimization and content. In order to best accomplish this we have used the services of an SEO service company in the past.

    I don’t think there is much disagreement with the gimmick approaches that you mention. I think the problem with this article is that it switches back and forth from pin point comments to something like “So, the next time an SEO company tries to sell you its services, consider that it might actually be both cheaper and better to advertise on Google, instead.” It is reasonable to assume from that comment that no SEO companies offer value services.

    We also advertise on Google as well as use many other approaches to generate sales. The relative value of different methods has changed over the years so it is always important to keep an open mind about what might work and what might not work well any longer. I think for a commentator you became a little too defensive in how you have interpreted and responded to the remarks to this article.

  9. Richard stubbings November 14, 2015 Reply

    The important message is to question assumptions and to measure results over time. At the end of the day its not traffic and position on Google that actually matter, its sales. Money earned from the eCommerce site.

    The title of this article is not my choice, it was edited thus, no doubt to increase readers. SEO remains a valid tactic to gain more visitors BUT it should be seen as one marketing method and there are other options. Likewise there are a variety of SEO techniques with a range of costs and return in investment. Some techniques which were promoted in the past are now discredited. Some techniques valid now and effective now MAY likewise be discredited. The closer your techniques are to real world genuine customer and general interest traffic building then the less likely that Google will have a problem.

  10. William November 28, 2015 Reply

    It still is for SEO is not dead yet, it only evolves and adapts with all changes in the processes and algorithms implemented by Google. More information on why SEO is still very important these days can be found here – http://www.squarefishinc.com.

  11. Rebecca Wright June 21, 2016 Reply

    Some good points here!

  12. Muhammad Amjad Butt December 18, 2016 Reply

    Very well written on “Is the Site Authoritative?” i am really impress with your seo knowledge. thanks for sharing and i try to adopt your policy