The Reasons Behind the SEO Zombie Apocalypse

Posted on November 19, 2012 in

This isn’t an “SEO is dead” commentary, but there certainly are a few signs of upheaval in the current state of SEO.  After massive algorithmic changes to target rank manipulations, there are plenty of SEOs that just don’t know where to go next.

This is the walking dead of SEO.  It’s a Zombie Apocalypse.

How did we get here?

There was a time when the methods for ranking a site were far simpler than they are today. The general principal was to stuff as many keywords as possible into key areas of a site.  Some died out completely, like meta keywords, while others still hang around in tactics like optimizing title tags.  It was a singular focus.  This meta keyword stuffing is a hallmark of an SEO that hasn’t kept up with the times, as the search engines themselves have stated it to be currently ignored as a ranking signal.

SEO changed quite a bit when it moved from on-page to off-page.  The links pointing at a site were used as votes to determine the importance of a site.  It didn’t take SEO very long to figure out ways to manipulate this signal, and a war began.  Search engines wanted rankings to be purely organic, so they would look for signs of manipulation and penalize those presumed guilty.

The signals used by engines got more complex.  There are estimated to be over 200 separate ranking factors.  SEO developed lists and experimented to determine them.  Hit enough of these signals and everything would work out well.  SEO became a punchlist, rather than a strategy.

But this year, everything changed.  Three major changes have targeted the core of ranking manipulation.  The first was a manual action against private networks and directories which existed almost entirely to provide backlink value.  The second, known as Penguin, targeted unnatural link patterns.  The final was targeted at manipulative domain names, created to exactly match common searches.  The search engines had gotten out the heavy artillery, and it left plenty in a Zombie state.

It’s not to say that these algorithms are perfect.  There are certainly false positives, and an opportunity was created to target competitors in ways to trigger these penalties.  Some said that Google thought of SEO as a virus and wanted to eradicate it.  These major shifts were part of the vaccine.  Vaccines have some side effects.

Quite a few easy methods of ranking a site have been eliminated, or at the very least are riskier than ever.  Yet the zombies persist.  There are some zombie SEOs that believe in a turn and burn strategy.  This strategy involves using multiple sites, and if one gets penalized moving on to the next.  Others have gotten aggressive enough to hack legitimate sites to redirect to their own.

These aren’t the methods any real business would pursue.  How much can you possible care about a customer when you’re willing to commit a crime and hurt other businesses just to acquire them?

The Silver Bullet

We have always wanted the “silver bullet” for SEO.  If we just do this one thing, everything will turn out great.  For a while it was keywords.  More recently it was links.

Most modern SEOs would ridicule a practitioner that suggested “meta keyword” stuffing today.  We know it’s a deprecated signal, so working to manipulate it is a lost cause.

Low quality links are the new meta keywords.  If you don’t believe this you are among the walking dead of SEO.

However, I think it goes a step further.  SEO has never had a silver bullet.  The search engines hold the weaponry, and will use it against those that seek to manipulate.  Looking for silver bullets leaves SEO out of touch.  Silver bullet thinking is tactical thinking.  “Just do this one thing”

SEO needs to move beyond silver bullets and grow to true strategy. This is the only sustainable SEO

There’s a reason behind the complexity of all of the ranking factors.  They are designed to eventually reward businesses that are creating the highest quality products and information, not those that have figured out a temporary loophole.

That’s not to say that great businesses don’t need help.  Nike makes great shoes, but they also pay hundreds of millions in endorsements, PR and marketing.  SEO needs good technical foundations, content creation and relationship building.  These element’s aren’t easy or cheap to accomplish.  The only people that think so are SEO zombies.

By Steve Hammer

Steve is the President of RankHammer. When he's not working with clients to grow online, he's probably looking for a great restaurant no one's heard of yet. He is fully Adwords Certified (Analytics, AdWords and Display) and a graduate of the Kellogg School of Management.