SEO is pretty straightforward isn’t it?

You make sure you get your keyword into the page as much as possible, putting it in <h> tags, the internal links to a page, and ensuring that it appears in the <title> and <meta> elements.  Then you go off and get a load of links to that page which include the same keyword in the anchor.  Then you rank.

And then Google comes along and tells you that actually, that’s not what it wanted at all, the industry lets out a collective shit, then moans about an over-optimisation penalty as though it is in some way a surprise, as though it should be simple to rank in Google and get all that lovely “free” traffic, as though simply by being the most optimised page according to a particular set of measures is justification for ranking.  It isn’t.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past couple of years, Google’s now a social platform.  In the same way as Pinterest is a place where you can share the images you like and discover new pictures that your friends like, Google is a place where you can find content that meets your needs and is similar to what your friends like.

Most people use Google with a cookie, and do so from a single machine.  Most people don’t switch from one browser to another willy nilly, and aren’t afraid of logging in to a service if it means better results.  Most people don’t care about Google’s privacy policies because they don’t feel the need to read them, and that’s because most people simply want the best results for them.

Occasionally in SEO, we don’t work for the best clients in a particular field.  It would be nice if we could, but there’s something called economic reality, which means that we’ll often take on profitable business because it means we are able to pay the bills at the end of the month.  Because we don’t necessarily work for the best company in a particular field, we need to try harder.  We need to do more SEO to achieve the same results as companies that are better in order to deliver on a commercial promise.  We need to be more aggressive than the market, outscoring the competition on things like page relevance and link density.  If we don’t do that, we don’t rank.

But that’s really not what Google wants.  Because ultimately, that’s not what users want.  They don’t want to have their choice about where to buy their goods made based on something like the number of artificially created links to a page, they want to buy their goods from a place which will offer them a great service, and a good price.  Those are not things that can be measured by things like keyword placement or whatever spurious buzz tactic you’ve just heard about.  Those are things that can only be measured by customer satisfaction, and recommendations.

Over-optimisation penalties are nothing new, sites which took the piss have always suffered (after a while), it’s just that more recently, the bar has been lowered in terms of what’s acceptable, and a lot of lazy marketers haven’t moved quickly enough.  They’ve kept doing what they’ve always done, links, more links, and a few more links, and they’ve discovered that it now takes fewer to tip things against them.

No-one wants a Google where only the big sites with massive brands can rank.  That stifles consumer choice, and cripples smaller businesses.  But at the same time, no-one wants a Google where sites which are poor quality rank because their SEO company did a better job than their customer service team.  Google’s pivot to a search engine which takes user feedback into account means that SEO companies will need to re-think their engagement with their clients.  It’s probably time to start talking about organic search traffic as earned media in the same way as word of mouth or genuine social traffic is.

Its probably time for SEO agencies to think about delivering a more consultative service where user analysis and satisfaction metrics take a bigger role in the strategy than they might at the moment, but most of all, it’s probably time to stop moaning about what Google does, and start moaning about what your business does.  If you’re not good enough to deserve to rank, you won’t rank.