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PSA: SEO Isn’t Really So Different Today

Google loves to rattle its sabers and tell the world about how they’re changing the rules. With the Panda and Penguin updates a few years ago, they actually had a good chunk of the SEO world believing that there was effectively no SEO but the white-hat kind left on the table.  Well, it’s been a few years since then, and the SEO community today is divided into three very distinct groups: the good guys who earnestly believe that high-quality content is the key to life, the bad guys who never stopped spamming and just more careful and more crafty when Google started talking big, and everyone else who has been trying to figure out how to ride the line of ‘lazy enough but effective enough.’

But take careful note: there totally are black hats out there who never stopped spamming and never stopped making money, either.

I stumbled upon an article from 2014 called “The Art of No F***s Given SEO” by now-well-known black hat spam artist Jacob King. The gist of it was drop-dead simple: King never stopped spamming links, and he never stopped applying the basic principles of “find flaws in Google’s algorithm and exploit them,” and he made a crapload of money doing it.

“If you think [content matters], then Google has you right where they want you. The game is based on two things…Links, and…Anchor text.”

This sent me into a tailspin of researching some of the contradictions that Google has spat out over the past few years.

  • Here’s a video of Matt Cutts (Google face-man) saying social signals are a ranking factor. Here’s a video of John Mueller (Google engineer) saying social signals are not a ranking factor.
  • Here’s an in-depth look at Matt Cutts bending over backwards to excuse one particular search aggregator who had literally no self-made content during a speech about how that wasn’t a cool thing to do.
  • Here’s a Popular Mechanics article featuring Google’s Uri Manber claiming that Google cannot manually change search results. Here’s a Google Blog post discussing the fact that Google can, and did, manually change search results.

And all of this, in turn, led me to a realization that has more-or-less got me rather cold and distant toward Google: despite all of Google’s hype and wizardry, their greatest accomplishment over the past few years has been convincing all of us that things are different now.

They’re not — at least, not for everyone — and the proof is all over the Internet if you look carefully. I linked to the NFG SEO blog post up above. But there’s also this blog post explaining that, for a huge number of keywords, freshness seems to be so much more important than quality that there’s no reason to attempt to create quality content. And this blog post explaining how you can get around Penguin’s spam filters just by having a large enough website. And this blog post naming several currently-used black hat SEO techniques that all revolve directly around quick linkbuilding when Google has specifically said over and over again that rapid-fire linkbuilding for SEO was dead.

Don’t get me wrong — there are definitely some things that are different now. But it’s dawned on me that Google doesn’t particularly have any good reason to be telling the SEO community — it’s avowed enemies — the truth about what works and what doesn’t. I’d like to leave you with two more links that kind of sum up where I’m at right now: the long-form and the snackable version of ‘my opinion of Google today.’

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