Google confirmation: forget SEO

If you are a search engine optimisation specialist, brace yourself, this will be a tough read. If you are a business owner, you too should sit back and wait for it; you are most likely not immune from the criticism coming, either. The fact of the matter is we’re all doing badly online. We are pretty much rubbish at making it work for our businesses.

First, some background. Considerable numbers of businesses have yet to get a website. Yes, I know it sounds unrealistic and daft, but according to the US Census Bureau, for instance, in 2012 only 25% of American businesses had their own website. In other words the majority of American businesses do NOT have a website; three quarters of them…! The lasts statistics I saw about the UK were from a study conducted a year or two ago, which said that only 48% of businesses here had a website. But whichever study you look at, here we are 20 years on from the first website being launched and most businesses still have not got one.

The head of search spam avoidance at Google, Matt Cutts, makes this astounding point in his recent video (see below) where he is answering questions on how businesses can do well online. “Get a website…!” he says.

Of course, having a website is one thing. Making it successful is what’s more important. And herein lies the problem. The vast majority of websites are just not successful. Take a look at this graph.

Share of Online Audience

The graph shows the percentage share of the web audience for the Top 60 websites in the world. That’s out of 400million websites. Even the BBC is getting a paltry figure compared with Google. Facebook is number two, by the way. The traffic on the web follows this typical “long tail” curve. In other words, the vast majority of traffic on the web is concentrated on just a handful of websites. So even if a business does have a website, it doesn’t tend to do very well in the grand scheme of things.

So, the video from Matt Cutts of Google should make required viewing for any business wanting to do well online. In it he reveals that concentrating on building links – a favourite of SEO “experts” – puts you in the wrong mindset. Instead, he says the best thing to do is to create compelling and interesting content that people want to share. He also, as an almost throw-away line, says that this means newspaper reporters will be interested in your material. Goodness me, he is recommending good, old fashioned public relations….! Er, hang on a minute, Google and Facebook do a lot of that, a massive, stonking great pile of a lot.

Admittedly, the video does make some rather basic “SEO” suggestions as to ensuring you use the right words in the page title or getting the meta description right. But as he points out this is principally about making people interested in your content.

Indeed, what he is really saying is what I have been saying for a decade or more; good of him to catch up.

What you need to succeed online is to focus on what people want and then write good quality compelling content that they will want to recommend to others. “SEO” it isn’t. Common sense it is.

4 thoughts on “Google confirmation: forget SEO”

  1. Hi Graham

    As always, an entertaining read but not as crushing from an SEO perspective as you imagine.

    Let’s start by throwing the SEO specialist out of the equation and examine what we have and what they do…

    Business owner – runs business, let’s say she has 10% of her working week to spend on the website amongst keeping the accounts dept, sales dept, buildings, etc. She has 4hrs a week to spend on the website.

    Let’s also assume she has some help:
    A developer to deal with the programming (NB: cares about code)
    A designer to deal with all the images (NB: cares about design)
    A hosting package that also keeps the emails running

    Then a few questions:

    Adwords – does she deal with that in the 4 hrs?
    Content creation – does she do that in the 4 hrs?
    Analytics – studying/looking for anomalies?
    Webmaster tools – ditto
    a/b testing – does she do that?
    Conversion testing?

    Or does she employ someone to be responsible for the business the website delivers? Let’s call that person a SEO specialist… how has that person’s role just disappeared?

    And the point that Matt Cutts starts with is the point that the biggest problem Google has is not being able to crawl sites… c’mon how many business owners have the time to find and wield xenu and screaming frog once a month?

    How many want to? Business is about specialising and right now an SEO is probably the only knowledgeable person who cares whether a website is delivering anything useful to its owner

    • I knew I could rely on you to comment, G. Thanks.

      Obviously I am being a bit controversial in what I say. Besides as you know, my real “beef” is with the “SEO experts” who are anything but. As I have said before there are some good SEO people around – you for instance – but the industry is tainted by a large amount of bad. I really think that people who do all the good things you talk about here need another name. They (and Matt Cutts) need to stop talking about SEO – after all, he gave five answers in his video but mostly did not talk about “SEO”. Getting PR from newspaper reporters is basic business….! Focusing on what your audience wants is basic business…! These are two points he makes in his video. Yet he labels it as SEO. It isn’t and that’s my point. He is saying good stuff and so are you, but it needs a different name.

      • Hi Graham

        I took the bait!

        Yes, SEO has some bad apples… sadly every industry/profession has.

        Yesterday, I came across a particularly nasty web of deception of a man selling websites to companies – I’ve emailed you the details… 80+ businesses that could write content every day for a year and still not get a penny return.

        If you buy a building you pay a surveyor to tell you about the aspects you cannot see and don’t know about; SEO are the surveyors of the web. Trouble is the web shifts quicker so best keep a good SEO close!


  2. This is a very good article on social marketing. I liked the suggestions given here on making our websites more prominent and how one can share them with others. This is a useful blog post for social marketing.

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