The latest crisis hitting the SEO industry where, once again, a pay-to-play model that flouts the rules and skirts what’s traditionally acceptable by the SEO industry is outed, highlights everything that’s wrong (and right) with SEO.


More than that, it shows, what you can do to win in search without trying too hard.

I know you’re interested because that’s what everybody wants. Looking for shortcuts is exactly what we are hardwired to do. It’s what has got us here from the caves and it is what keeps us reading, researching and thinking as we try to find the ‘secret recipe’ that will give us the best ROI for our efforts.

I have some good news on that front but, in line with the complexity of our modern world, I also have some bad news.

Let’s start with the bad.


Links Still Work

A linkless search ranking is something everyone has been hoping for since semantic search and search engine focus on quality and thematic completeness and end-user value, kicked in. The hope has always been that mentions, sentiment, context interdependency, and thematic density will trump links in determining page quality, and therefore search visibility for a website.

We are not there yet. Spamming, by way of link-building activities that focus on the activity rather than the quality of the website still go on and they take many different forms as the latest scandal Buzzfeed writes about, shows. Link-building as a commercial activity is bad because it changes the structure of the link graph associated with a website and can trick a search engine into believing it is of higher merit than it actually is.

This undermines trust in the quality of search and search results, changes the competitive landscape of websites and gives the SEO industry a bad reputation. Unfortunately the practice of selling links and touting services that include “aggressive link-building strategies” in order to rank high in the search engine results pages (SERPs) are unlikely to disappear any time soon. The reason is that links still work when it comes to ranking content in SERPs and though being outed for them is bad for business the repercussions may still not be bad enough to dissuade those who employ them that the ROI isn’t worth their trouble.

Now, for the good news.


Links Are Worth Less

Link spam is bad for business. Websites that are artificially boosted in SERPs are bad for search engines and bad for the end-user who wants to find the most relevant answer to a search query quickly and is unwilling to try two-three passes trying to get the right results.

Google has been painfully aware of this which is why the company has implemented and will continue to implement a variety of quality score (QS) techniques that are designed to reduce the spammy link problems.

A seminal in-depth study carried out by Stone Temple Consulting that examined hundreds of websites and thousands of search queries, multiple times, determined that in the time intervening between 2008 and now Google has worked hard to practically destroy the link-buying and selling industry by deprecating the value links have to rank a poor quality website.

This means that while instances of search engine-gaming such as those reported by Buzzfeed will still occur they will be fewer and fewer and deliver diminishing returns. And that’s not all.


Do More With Less

As Google bakes artificial intelligence (AI) in all its products, including search, the true shortcuts are to be found in the alignment of day-to-day operational processes in a business that creates alignments which aid marketing, branding and search.

More specifically, the marketing and branding practices of a business now need to be itemized and critically examined for areas where better internal communication can help amplify what each does by making better use of the efforts of one to aid the aims of the other.

As search engines now look at things like semantic density on a website and examine consistency of values, expressed sentiment about a brand and perceived trustworthiness, smart website owners need to:


  • Make sure brand values are clearly articulated, promoted and expressed in both internal and customer-facing practices across a business.
  • Clarify the business identity. The “What” and “Why” a business exists and does what it does and then make sure that this is experienced at every touchpoint.
  • Plan content creation activities to achieve the first two points.


All of this sounds like a lot of task-orientated, detailed work. It is. But then again it isn’t anything most website owners and online businesses don’t already do albeit without actively thinking about alignment and overlap. This small change in approach however can deliver huge dividends in search engine visibility and SERPs ranking and, ultimately, this would allow a business to thrive.

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