The Google Blinkers are Coming Off…

Despite my overwhelming obsession with broadband campaigning (which has now consumed nearly two decades of my life) I do actually have a real job, one which was the actual cause of me getting involved in broadband in the first place. As one of the first Internet marketers in the world, back in 1995 I was having major problems delivering the services my clients wanted. Not only was I on dial up costing per call (roll on FRIACO), but I also regularly had computers blown up by power surges because of my rural location. and today, little has changed — my productivity is still minimal compared to my capabilities, purely due to the poor quality of my connectivity. I worry less about my connection, though, as the electricity problem has been reduced with surge protectors, UPS, etc., though, and I also no longer want to work every day and night!

Back in ’97, I think, I finally decided to move my site off GeoCities and all the other freebie sites I had created a presence on, and instead get a domain and a single point of presence. One of the discussions in the industry at the time was the importance of having keywords in your domain name. Having had a quite a few clients by that point, though, I already realised that relying on search engines to generate traffic was not the be-all-and-end-all of Internet marketing, and I hated with a vengeance the term “Search engine optimist” and all variants thereof. In fact, just that TLA on its own could set me off. SEO? Pah, don’t you know about webrings, or fora, or bulletin boards, or IRC, or who you can find on ICQ, or how good some of the niche directories are, or.. or…or…

Google, when I began, wasn’t even a gleam in a garage, and there were multiple engines with different ranking algorithms and rules you had to try to satisfy to get decent listings across the many engines to get traffic. I registered WebPR, as I felt that it was all about being open with the public and building relationships. I’m still very happy with my domain, though I no longer use it to get work. (In fact, it is deliberately set up at present to avoid that pain!)

As a bear with both a very low boredom threshold and a creative streak that doesn’t take kindly to being put in a boring box full of spreadsheets listing changes to content and metadata and what results could be gleaned from the latest changes, etc. etc., the basics of on-page optimisation (and, hence, SEO — the definition used by most) were not in my natural sphere of interest, anyway. The trouble was, though, that every client came through asking that stupid and pointless question first: “Can you get me to number 1 on the search engines?” My answers ranged from an out-and-out “NO!” to “Can your supply chain cope?” (which got me in the back office to look at the systems behind the front window of the website where I was able to find more out about the company), to “Your website is very slow, where are you hosting?” (which usually meant I could find 101 things wrong with the website designer as well — not keen on WSDs) to, “I just phoned your office and your secretary didn’t know you had a website.” (which opened the door to education and training). All in all, I could usually convince them quite quickly that being number 1 was irrelevant and could thus create a joblist far more interesting than re-writing meta tags and doing vanilla SEO. And I took up content writing instead for a while, as every website I visit seems to have content that can be rewritten.

Skip forward to 2012/2013, and all of a sudden articles are appearing that declare “SEO is dead”. I cheered, long and loud. People were finally getting it…or so I thought. It had only taken a generation, but a quick ask about on fora about evolution of ideas made it clear that this was quite quick for an industry sector. Luckily, many had been helped along by Panda and Penguin, and then Hummingbird (Google updates and algorithm changes that affect how a site is ranked in the SERPS (Search Engine Results Pages)). Turned out, though, that what was happening was a shift in perception only and not a wholesale move towards a more holistic form of internet marketing that is less reliant on Google results and algos. Oh well, at least everything was heading in the right direction…

Roll on 2014 and we are seeing a more welcome change. Some of those hit (read, in some cases: decimated) are well-known, successful internet marketers who until now have been selling themselves as SEO experts. Not only have they become dissatisfied with the terminology, now they are ranting about reliance on Google for internet marketing traffic.

As I sit here rubbing my hands with glee at all these new evangelists for the real stuff (and hence, the progress in developing really exciting tools and content and strategies that are worth knowing about), I also see a shift that is long overdue. Not because I am particularly anti-Google (I’m not, although my month without Google experiment from earlier this year proved to be very revealing), but because I feel that Google’s domination of so many things on the Web stifles innovation. And the constant acquisition of all the really funky stuff before the active developer/open source/wider community even get to hear about it leads me to believe that many things end up moulded and/or abandoned, thus missing their potential to bring about creative change in our world. Worst of all, business owners often concentrate harder on good Google rankings than on their own customers, forgetting who will actually be paying money into their bank account…

But the Google Blinkers are coming off.

For internet marketing, this is long overdue. Far too many clients still come around saying that they need to improve their search engine visibility, because that is what they have read online. SEO, SEO, SEO, on-page optimisation first and if you have any budget left, think about off-page optimisation. Sort of as an afterthought. ARG!! When you point out that their Twitter account is actually overrun with customer complaints that they haven’t been dealing with, or that the content on their site is three years out of date, or that there is no evidence that they have ever put a press release about their company out on the wires, or that the industry forum most used by their target audience ranks their company among the 10 worst, or that their product has been slated on four blogs written by respected authors, etc…well, there’s usually some traction in there for a contract.

If the whole site needs an overhaul, most of the CMS systems now have the basics of on-page optimisation built in. (This is not true for some of the larger e-commerce sites, but I only discovered how bad these were when writing a book on Magento recently!)  Introduce them to someone who can do graphics, find a decent copywriter, get them to build a website using WordPress or Joomla or something similar to keep the costs down, and then begin the process of explaining how their website can attract traffic without going anywhere near a search engine. That last is my job! Sadly, though, I have learnt over the years that you have to do all the drudgery from the outset or you end up hoping the website designer wins a Darwin Award…

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Lindsey Annison

By Lindsey Annison

JFDI Internet marketer, author, Fibre To The Home and rural broadband campaigner, idea merchant

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