I went to Searchfest 2009 on Tuesday and while attending a session on B2B Marketing, John Andrews from Upper Left Placement briefly mentioned that an SEO’s job essentially is to game Google – or atleast that is how an audience filled with SEO’s interpreted it.
John’s presentation – one of the better of the day – should have initiated a discussion on how SEO’s can use the search engines (well, Google) as a tool rather than being dictated by the search engines themselves.
John used the example of directing users to a whitepaper from paid search. John argued that the whitepaper likely would introduce a number of new terms to the potential customer’s lexicon. The customer is then likely to search for those terms on Google and potentially land on a competitor’s site, essentially sending users out of the sales funnel and into Google’s hands, where Google’s algorithm determines where the user ends up.
Interesting stuff, but once John used the words “gaming” and “SEO” in the same sentence, he was pretty much doomed.
The thing is, an SEO’s job absolutely is to game the search engines.
Search Engines Provide the Rules to the Game
Google and Co. have provided the rules to the game (albeit many of the rules are known only to Google and the rules are constantly changing), outlined on Google’s blogs and in Webmaster Central. Our job is to use the set of rules (known and unknown) to win (receive tons of traffic).
Other players in this game are our competitors, and there is no teaming up. For the most part, playing Google’s game involves every man for himself.
Just like any other game, cheaters will prosper until they get caught. If webmasters go outside of Google’s rules, they will get punished – essentially sent to a penalty box. And, when rules change, what may have been previously acceptable gets punished. In baseball, steroids get banned, and A-Rod’s reputation goes down the toilet. In Google, link buying gets nixed, and numerous sites lose their rankings.
The Game of PPC Management
Gaming search engines goes beyond SEO as well. What is PPC management if not a game?
Again, with Google, we are unsure of all the rules, but we get the gist. In gaming paid search, the goal is manufacturing a high clickthrough rate (making Google happy) while retaining a low cost per conversion (making upper management happy).
They set the rules; we play. Why not enjoy the game instead of jumping down the throats of those who point out that we play it?
Getting Out of the Game
A number of prominent online marketers have written posts essentially espousing the benefits of the fuck Google attitude, and it has been catching on lately. A noted vehemence towards Google has spread through the blogosphere.
While I wholeheartedly recommend focusing on the customer first (bots a distant second), I don’t quite get the f* Google approach. I think most of these posts are a backlash to feeling completely dominated and owned by one company. Google has 80% of search market share and YouTube and Blogger and gmail, and now they’re targeting user behavior – all very overwhelming. Without a competitor to Google in sight, SEO’s can feel pretty helpless in Google’s immense shadow.
But, Google is just a tool. Google is one path of entry for customers to learn about your site. Yelp, email marketing, blogger outreach, radio, newspapers, word-of-mouth – these are also entry points. I don’t see many posts shouting “f* iContact” or “screw Intercom”.
Conversely, ignoring Google is akin to ignoring any of these other tools to drive people to your brand, and with Google, the prize is just too big to get out of the game.
You don’t often hear people say, “f* the lottery” or “screw foreplay” – the reward is just too great.
Playing the Game Without Getting Played by the Game
Crazy whitehat SEO’s, settle down. Playing Google’s game is okay. Crazy anti-Googlers, relax. Google is not Microsoft reincarnate. The key to the game is to manipulate the tool that is Google either within the rules or at the risk of getting caught. Google should be an aspect of your marketing plan not a be all, end all marketing solution.
Rather than focus on Google’s control of site rankings, I think we would be better off focusing on the John Andrews of the world and initiate discussions on how to use Google as a tool to lead our customers down the conversion funnel.