Just Why is SEO So Damn Hard?And What You Can Do About It! – Part I
by Leslie Rohde
If you’ve been doing SEO for a while, you might remember the “good ol’ days” when getting top ranking was easy. Wow, was that ever fun. Doesn’t it seem a lot harder today? Yeah, and it is too, but why? Better still … what do we do about it?
It is said that if we do not understand history then we will be damned to repeat it, so in Part 1 of this three part series, let’s take a look at what has changed these last few years and how these changes have made ranking more difficult. This will set us up to understand what has to be done today to command top rank in the major search engines.
Remember when businesses did not have web sites? That was not very long ago. Now pretty much every commercial vehicle has a domain name plastered across it. Doing business on the web truly has made it to the mainstream which was not true even just 5 years ago. This alone has created a huge increase in the number of websites in the index.
And then there is that Adsense thing. Just in case you are not familiar with it, the Google Adsense program allows web sites to place Google advertising on their site and share in the advertising revenue when visitors click the Google ads. This makes for a trivial way to monetize website traffic, so of course, in nearly no time at all about a billion (give or take) websites were launched with the sole purpose of attracting visitors to click Google Adsense advertising. This gave rise to the expression the “Made for Adsense” (MFA) website.
The net impact on the Google index can be understood to some extent by just looking at the number of pages indexed.
Even if nothing else changed in SEO in the last few years, from just these numbers alone we should expect ranking to be about three times as difficult today as compared to a few years ago. But the “business of search” itself has changed too, making top ranking more difficult still.
MOVING THE FOLD
Remember when Google had no paid ads? Now look at it! When Google first started selling advertising space, there were a maximum of two sponsored links and there was often only one actually taken. Today Google will show as many as three (Yahoo! will show four!) and Google results pages have sprouted a bunch of other stuff as well.
The screen shot here shows three paid ads; a result from my own computer because I have Google Desktop installed; and the #1 listing shows the expanded result. This kind of advertising-heavy display has become more common of late. In other cases you might find local search results that take even more space.
The result? It’s no longer enough to be in the top 10, or even the top 5 results. Almost all clicks go to the top 2 or 3 because all the rest have been moved below “the fold” – the point where the user has to scroll to see the rest of the page.
And this all feeds on itself. Because there is now way more competition for a reduced number of high value spots, more businesses are simply buying the sponsored positions, making the need to do so even more common!
By itself, the movement of the fold line has had the net effect of making SEO three to five times more difficult.
THE SEO ARMS RACE
Like it or not, business is a competition, and search engine ranking doubly so. For you to get top ranking means that someone else doesn’t, which they will likely not be very happy about, so they’ll try to take it back … and so will the next guy … and the next guy … and the next.
At some point, some smart guy or gal figures out how to “game the system” and for a short time is unbeatable – right up to the point that other people figure out his secret. And then the cycle repeats. I’ve been doing this for 7 years and it shows no sign of slowing down. If anything, it’s getting worse, and I’m partly to blame.
As ranking gets ever more competitive and complex, web masters find equally tricky techniques to gain an edge. In any competition, especially where money is the reward, people will always come up with new and better ways to win the game. As time goes on, this makes it progressively more and more difficult for new people to enter the marketplace because the seasoned competitors have developed so much more specialized knowledge.
This is not unique to search marketing, but is a natural process that is true in all business, and geo-politics as well – it is what us cold-war kids called “the arms race”.
And the stature of some of today’s players in search marketing is a real and valid concern as well. Who of us can afford to compete with companies with search budgets of literally hundreds of thousands of dollars? As more and more large companies become aware of and educated about search marketing, the opportunities for smaller players might become restricted.
So with each passing year, the competition increases, the existing players tend to be better funded and the knowledge and expertise required to be successful grows larger. No wonder SEO is harder today and unavoidably these trends will lead to more and more web business failures.
BUT THE GOOD NEWS IS…
This is actually the best time in the history of the Internet to get started in search marketing!
I realize that is counter-intuitive given all the bad news I just laid on you, but the bad news ignores the opportunity.
The economic rewards that come from effective search marketing today are simply huge and getting bigger at a rate that out-paces the increase in either competition or complexity by a wide margin. Sure, the “good ol’ days” were great and the ranking was easy, but the profits were nothing! Nothing compared to the level of success achievable today.
Right now, today, will in some future year be regarded as “the sweet spot”. In part 2, I’ll show you how and why this is true and how you can, and should!, position yourself to take advantage of it while it lasts.