Perhaps you've heard of a thing called search engine optimization (SEO for short). SEO was defined as the intentional manipulation of on-page elements to influence the ranking of a web page in the search results. That definition no longer holds true. When Google first launched, and for several years after, the techniques of SEO worked great! But then Google got smart.
From Florida to Penguin, Panda, and Fred (names given to the major updates of the Google search algorithm), Google continues to make significant changes to the way they index and rank web pages in their search results. These changes have had a huge impact on search rankings.
If you care at all about your position in the search results, you pay attention to the changes Google makes. It's a game of cat and mouse. Webmasters seek out and find a possible foothold to manipulate the search results then exploit it. Google identifies the threat and reacts to level the playing field again. Back and forth and on and on it goes.
The game is much, much more difficult now. The level of skill and attention to detail required to ante up and play is very high. According to Search Engine Land, SEO is NOT dead. – if you're willing to master and leverage machine learning and artificial intelligence. I don't know about you but those skill-sets are "nice to haves" but not high on my immediate list of priorities.
The best guess among professional SEOs is that Google uses at least a few hundred different data points to determine the value of web page. Back links, link neighborhoods, social media profiles, click throughs (remember when these didn't matter?), and many more points of evaluation. On top of this, the competition for keywords you're hoping to be found for can be impossible. It's a very complex game of chess and poker rolled into one. Does this sound insane? In my opinion it is. Is this the level you need to play at in order to succeed? No.
Back when Google's chief spam cop Matt Cutts attended Pubcon I very much enjoyed his attendance. Imagine the sheriff and the bad guys all in the same room – fully aware of who was testing the defenses of the bank and who was in charge of defending it. But back then, the game and the tools were much simpler. SEO as we knew it back in the early 2000s has since morphed into something completely unrecognizable.
There are those that still play the game but the bar has long risen far above the skill of most webmasters and in my opinion, I'm glad it did. You can still play effectively if the market space isn't too competitive but it takes a lot of skill and experience. Imagine driving a Formula One race car at top speed. All skills being equal, the one with the best car will win, but one mistake and it will cost you dearly.
Today, there are so many possible data points that Google could be using. And that's the crux of it. SEO is a guessing game with a very low percentage of players that actually know the game. Personally, SEO is dead for me – I don't have the time to learn all the nuances and suppositions nor can I afford to gamble. The days of Google dances and making a minor change to see big results have long passed. Now it's a game of making a minor change and hoping it has some effect. It takes an enormous amount of attention and effort to earn a win. If you hit it right, you'll win big – today. Tomorrow? The algorithm will change and the game starts again.
For those of us in charge of our organization's online presence we must ask ourselves, is it worth the time and effort for so little gain? Remember, we're busy with so many other responsibilities – SEO is just a small portion. So is it really worth our time? I say no. It's better to follow Google's guidelines – it's their sandbox. Better to play by the rules and maintain our good standing than to risk it and waste our time chasing something so elusive. If we do our due diligence and produce websites with quality content and good code, we'll be rewarded.What say you?