There’s a lot of debate lately about what Google is ‘thinking’ and what Google ‘likes’. There’s nothing wrong with that (other than the possible dangers
of anthropomorphizing something that is, at heart, a mindless, emotionless algorithm.) But the discussion has kind of, in my mind, gotten sidetracked. Let me explain.
The Danger of Experts
The SEO community is filled with experts, and we tend to, as a group, hang on their every word. Not that I’m saying the people at SEOmoz, Search Engine
Land, and Higher Visibility aren’t worth reading — but there is a definite danger associated with learning from and parroting the experts in any field. In short, it’s like the adage: a little knowledge can be a very dangerous thing. If you read the experts and then try to act on their ideas without understanding them (which can be a very laborious process), you run several risks from merely not getting the same results they did all they way up to getting your site sandboxed.
The Failure of The Majority
Meanwhile, all over the world, there are hundreds of thousands of people doing SEO as a profession. Some of them fail, but by and large I’d guess that the majority of them do a decent job of getting their clients ranked on Google. The failure comes because, as a whole, they don’t do a particularly good job of documenting why they succeed or fail — and I suspect it’s because most of them don’t actually know. Tracking variables is the least sexy part of SEO, but it’s the part that helps you understand what works and what doesn’t. Unfortunately, most professional SEO people seem to have the impression that they don’t have time to engage in that level of ‘busy work’ — after all, tracking variables doesn’t bump anyone up any SERPS, right?
The Power of Amateurs
The other thing that experts are really good at is getting stuck in a particular pattern or paradigm. If you invented the idea of ‘branding signals’ and it took off and gained popular momentum, it’s a psychological near-certainty that you’ll look for any way you can to justify the invention and make it apply in as many fields as you can. Amateurs, on the other hand, are responsible for the vast majority of real innovation in SEO (and most other fields), because they’re willing to try things that the experts say are impossible and work their butts off to make it work anyway.
The Trickle-Up-And-Back-Down Effect
After an amateur has a brilliant idea, makes it work, and then shows everyone else, it quickly moves up into the expert realm. The experts take the idea apart, analyze it, and (hopefully) figure out what makes it tick. Then they parley the information back down to the professionals, who avidly take it up and turn it into Best Practices.
What does this mean for the typical SEO client? Actually, it means that in general, a mid-level professional SEO company is the right kind of group to
hire. If you go with a group like Higher Visibility, you’ll end up paying quite a bit more for a fairly marginal improvement in end result. Hire an amateur and you’re basically playing the lottery — will they turn out to be the next Mad Hacker, or will they turn out to be some guy in Bangladesh who is building backlinks on his 2004 laptop while his 16 kids sit at his feet watching fansubs of the latest Spongebob Squarepants episode? (Guess which is more likely?)
By going ‘mainstream’ and avoiding the widely-acknowledged experts, you play the Pareto Principle (getting 80% of the results for 20% of the cost) and you get consistency at the same time.