Reality Check: Organic Search is Not As Easy As Reading A Blog

With the explosion of social media’s popularity and the advancement of search algorithms’ ability to account for personal thought, motive and behaviour, it’s no wonder that the blogosphere is cluttered with hip jargon like, “forget about SEO, it’s all about the user experience“.

As a Director of Organic Search, I’ve noticed a significant shift in the mindset of brand new search marketers and content developers who, at no fault of their own, are largely left to their own devices to learn what search marketing is all about.

Because of this, most recent college grads turn to various online journals for information on how to go about building content, developing key-phrase strategies and creating the “best” possible experience for the end user.

While most experienced search strategists understand that organic results are relative to a particular vertical and brand, college grads and those with one to two years of experience seem to genuinely believe everything they read online, despite the well-known concept that just because something is on the Internet, doesn’t mean it’s true.

This is where I often hear new employees regurgitate popular, sexy taglines about how strategies should be put together and what makes sense in 2014.

“Well, I read that word count doesn’t matter on landing pages and that you don’t need more than 200 words to rank”.

“I saw a video from Matt Cutts that said guest blogging is dead”.

“I saw a blog on Moz that showed every single ranking factor in Google’s algorithm”.

While all of these statements carry some weight, it is critical for the success of our industry in the long-term that those who are in positions of mentorship train their teams to discuss strategy based on experience and continuous testing.

Why Popular Belief Is Not Enough For Results

Let’s take a look at the validity of the three statements I offered above since they seem to be what I hear more often than not.

Popular Belief #1: Word Count Doesn’t Matter For Organic Visibility

This concept seems to stem from the rise in content developers who originally left college wanting to be journalists or writers, but quickly discovered just how difficult it is to find a job at a newspaper or publishing company.

Now, I left college wanting to do the same exact thing so I certainly don’t mean any disrespect to my fellow journalists out there. However, it is very important to understand that just because you may be a great writer, doesn’t mean that automatically equates to understanding the intricacies of organic search.

Yes, to a degree word count does not matter and search strategists shouldn’t take the approach of creating landing pages and blog articles squarely for the purpose of cramming in as many words as possible.

However, there are a tremendous amount of studies that demonstrate how lengthier content does successfully attracts more traffic, social shares and influences conversions at a much higher rate than shallow content.

According to a 2012 study conducted by SerpIQ, landing pages that contain 1,500 words dominate first page search results, while those that only had 400 words or so were stuck in the “dead zone” on the eighth, ninth and tenth page listings.

Considering the ever-growing influence social shares has on organic visibility, Quick Sprout reviewed over 300 landing pages, dividing them into two groups between those that had over 1,500 words and those that had less.

The results demonstrated that posts with more than 1,500 words received 68% more tweets and 22% more Facebook likes than those with less.

Even in my experience working with brands like Duracell, when we were able to create in-depth landing pages that described a particular battery’s:

  • Longevity
  • Purpose
  • History
  • Storage Instructions
  • Competitive Advantages

We typically saw 25% more organic traffic than those that were limited to a few bullet points and a couple of images.

Reality Check

As I said before, no one should create content with the intention of only building something that has a tremendous word count. Search strategists and marketers should of course consider the end user and figure out what language, terms and incentives solicit the highest levels of engagement and interest.

You also have to be realistic about organic search and understand that at the end of the day, you need to please the “Google Gods” before they will introduce you to their client, the online user.

When search crawlers assess the authority of a particular landing page or website, they consider a number of factors including depth, size and diversity of information.

So strategists can kill two birds with one stone by simply researching what a particular brand’s target audience demands out of their online experience and write 750 – 1,500 words about:

  • The history of the brand, product or concept
  • Competitive advantages
  • Use, purpose and/or directions
  • How the brand and its products affect particular demographics
  • Seasonality
  • Customer testimonials
  • Ratings, awards and/or affiliations
  • Location, geo-relativity

And the list goes on and on.

Just remember that you can’t offer a phenomenal user experience if your content isn’t found first.

Popular Belief #2: Guest Blogging Doesn’t Work Any more

This is a topic I’ve discussed in previous posts and is a concept that doesn’t seem to be disappearing.

The fact of the matter is that the form a particular piece of content takes on does not matter as much as its authenticity, originality and intelligence.

Guest blogging remains as a critical key for improving online authority as long as the right connections are being made.

This refers to search strategists using intuitive tools like GroupHigh to carefully research and identify particular voices of authority that are dedicated to specific verticals.

Tools like this allow you to understand:

  • The domain authority of a particular host
  • How many social connections they have
  • How often they engage their followers
  • How selective they are with publishing third-party content

This insight allows you to be in complete control over whom you work with. As long as you connect with relevant consumer advocates who possess a significant amount of online credibility, guest blogging will continue to offer excellent results around building keyword and online authority.

Reality Check

The fact of the matter is that the Internet is only becoming more social with each passing day. The idea that connecting with other relevant hosts to create meaningful dialogue and to exchange rewarding information is somehow frowned upon by search engines is contradictive to the nature of what the World Wide Web is all about in 2014.

Just remember to diversify your search tactics and do not only use guest blogging as a means for increasing visibility and rankings.

Popular Belief #3: We Actually Know All 200+ Points of Google’s Algorithm

Back in January 2013, the founder and CEO of SEOMoz (now just known as Moz) Rand Fishkin performed a Q&A with his audience, which I participated in.

At the time, I had been in the industry for about five years and was managing and directing P&G’s home care lines in North America.

I asked Rand,

“In an industry that only ever knows about [a handful] of Google’s 200+ algorithm, the term “expert” seems to be used very frequently in the SEO world. Do you think anyone is ever an “expert” in SEO besides Matt Cutt and Google’s webmaster team, do you think we should take on a more realistic approach like Doctors and Lawyers and say we “practice” SEO?”

Rand responded by saying,

“I suspect you’re very new to the field Jason. Most good SEOs know most of the major factors that Google uses to rank pages”.

rand-fishkin-answer

It was at that moment that I stopped reading Moz.

Reality Check

It’s not that I have an issue with Rand or Moz, it’s just not realistic to believe that we do in fact know most of Google’s algorithm.

The cold hard truth of this concept simply rests with the idea that if anyone did know Google’s ranking factors, two things would happen:

  1. Those with the insight would write a book and become millionaires working as consultants
  2. Google would change it, leaving the book outdated and the consultant out of work.

Conclusion

The SEM/SEO blogosphere is an excellent channel for understanding the delicacies of digital marketing and for staying up to date with growing trends, industry updates and case studies.

If it weren’t, you would not be reading this article and I would not have an interest in contributing!

But the fact of the matter stands that continuously testing tactics, measuring their results and teaching others about your findings is the only way to really understand what actually influences visibility, traffic and conversions.

Just like anything else, practice makes perfect and offering opinions without experience just creates noise.

Note: The opinions expressed in this article are the views of the author, and not necessarily the views of Caphyon, its staff, or its partners.

About Jason Corrigan

Jason is a Director of Organic Search and Strategy with over six years of experience developing complex, wide-scale search and social strategies for Fortune 1000 brands including Duracell, Febreze, Papa Johns and others. He is also a published author on the concept of "Social SEO" and a frequent contributor to some of the industry's most popular search journals. Corrigan owns the trademark to "SEO Without Borders" and is currently developing a non-profit organization that will connect victims in third-world countries with qualified donors across the world using digital resources and organic search.

  • http://igostartup.com/ iGoStartup

    Agreed.
    How could the algorithm be open-to-the-public? Then the Google Search would be open-source.

    Moz has it terribly wrong here I guess…
    I think that Rand Fishkin self-cancels his own statement: “we know…the algorithm” and then “even if we had a copy of the algorithm”… it just doesn’t make sense.

    • Jason Corrigan

      Thank you for your comment and I agree that the response seems to be contradictive so his point. Not to beat up on Rand because he is extremely knowledgeable, but it just doesn’t make sense that anyone would actually know any search engine’s complete ranking factors for the reasons I mentioned.

  • Katie

    This is a good article with a lot of information.

    However, in my opinion, Rand Fishkin has a valid point and is not claiming to be an “expert” (although I have the word expert thrown around a lot in discussions with inexperienced SEOs). From what I understand he is stating that experienced SEO specialists/directors are educated on “most of the major factors that Google uses…,” which is not the
    same as every factor.

    Also, he has spent many years claiming stake as one of the leading influencers in the industry so I think his opinion holds a lot of merit.

    SEO and content marketing are powerful tools when used as integrated approaches
    and whether you agree with it or not, this industry is growing to include brand
    journalists, brand storytelling and brand marketing using quality content. This
    is not because journalism graduates are just that convincing, it’s because
    there is a need for this kind of skill within the industry.

    The great thing about marketing is that there is room for fresh opinions,
    innovations and new ideas to improve search strategies. From what I’ve
    experienced in my job, collaboration among all employees (not just “directors”) is the best tool when creating effective strategies for clients and agencies.

    Resources on the role quality content and not just number of words on a page from well-established publications:

    “Content marketing” is beginning to replace the term “SEO”
    http://www.forbes.com/sites/jaysondemers/2014/04/30/the-top-7-seo-trends-dominating-2014/

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/gabriel-shaoolian/search-engine-optimizatio_b_5506912.html

    “When content and SEO overlap, they come together as a team. Have the
    technically-minded SEOs and creatively-minded content creators work in
    tandem to weave data and SEO recommendations into compelling content.”
    http://searchengineland.com/content-seo-king-queen-line-marketing-189170

    • Jason Corrigan

      Hello Katie,

      I completely agree with your last note as great search marketing is not dedicated to just traditional SEO or how well optimized a landing page/website is. It’s the combination of and the inclusion of user experience that is supported by optimization.

      My argument is that lately it seems too many people focus on the UX and think that compelling story lines or attractive images are enough for producing premier rankings and attracting qualified traffic.

      Thank you very much for your in-depth response and perhaps we can collaborate on a similar topic in the future :)

  • Katie

    It appears my initial comment didn’t make it through somehow.

    Good article!

    However, Rand Fishkin has a valid point and in my opinion is in no way saying that
    SEOs know everything (although I have heard the word “expert” thrown around
    a lot in discussions with inexperienced SEOs). From what I understand
    he is stating that experienced SEO specialists/directors are educated on
    “most of the major factors that Google uses…,” which is not the
    same as every factor.

    Also, he has a few years on you in his experience so I respect his opinion as a
    leading influencer in the industry.

    SEO and content marketing are powerful tools when used as integrated approaches
    and whether you agree with it or not, this industry is growing to include brand
    journalists, brand storytelling and brand marketing using quality content. This
    is not because journalism graduates are just that convincing, it’s because
    there is a need for this kind of skill within the industry.

    The great thing about marketing is that there is room for fresh opinions,
    innovations and new ideas to improve search strategies. From what I’ve
    experienced in my job, collaboration is the best tool for clients and agencies.

    Helpful resources I’ve found throughout my research:

    “Content marketing” is beginning to replace the term “SEO”
    http://www.forbes.com/sites/jaysondemers/2014/04/30/the-top-7-seo-trends-dominating-2014/

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/gabriel-shaoolian/search-engine-optimizatio_b_5506912.html

    http://searchengineland.com/content-seo-king-queen-line-marketing-189170

  • Larryful

    Jason, excellent observations here. As long as Rand has been around, he doesn’t know as much as he thinks he does. And Eric Ward, who has also been around for a very long time, loves to toot his own horn. These guys do a wonderful job of coming across as having a wealth of knowledge; they are fantastic in their portrayal and presentation. They are experts in communicating to many about what they would like you to know and what they would like you to think that they know. They market themselves brilliantly. I’m sure they are fine people, but they aren’t the whole enchilada. In fact, many SEOs that are not as celebrated as them have a pretty keen understanding of search marketing. Many go about their work quietly and humbly. And they, knowing that they don’t have all of the knowledge and answers, are very astute in their testing. They don’t get caught up in the hoopla, and don’t believe everything they read. They innovate, and are the real thought leadership in the space.

    Imagine there was a handful of search engine signals that we don’t have knowledge of that taken together are much more important than links. It’s possible that Google’s attack on links could be in part to get webmasters to continue their focus on links (just changing the types of links and the way they acquire them). Most “expert” SEO’s would scoff at the idea that a handful of other signals could in fact be more important than links (it may just be that the websites that garner the most relevant and powerful links are ones that have these possible other signals intact). Fact is, we just don’t know, and to pretend that we do, or to even believe what the front men Matt Cutts, John Mueller (or whoever else) say is futile.

    Google is genius in having head of web spam be the one that most publicly addresses their algorithm. But that concept is lost on most people. Is Google going to have the engineers that work on the most important ranking signals themselves (someone other than a spam fighter) go to all of the SEO conferences and allude to any of the secret sauce? Of course, not!

    Another thing that Google is genius at is having good relations and holding out as authoritative those most well-known SEO’s that will generally syndicate and repeat what Cutts and other Google employess want known about SEO. One thing that Matt Cutts has said that I agree with is (paraphrasing here) to come up with your own ideas, and don’t just follow the herd. That applies to your approach with SEO.

    • Jason Corrigan

      Hello Larryful,

      Thank you very much for your thoughtful, indepth response. You make some great points about how strategic Google is in who they have representing and presenting search trends and industry updates.

      To your last point, just because we know some general principles that influence search does not mean that results are universal. Each site, vertical and brand is unique and what helps brand X rank does not necessarily mean it’s going to help brand Z.

  • http://www.advancedwebranking.com/ Philip Petrescu

    Hi Jason, great article! Thanks for sharing it with our community.

    I need to play devil’s advocate here and say that if you knew Rand personally you would know that he did not mean to offend you with what he said. I’ve known him for years and he is a very humble guy who doesn’t like to draw attention to him if he does not deserve it.

    That being said, I think what he meant to say is that even if someone would know all the intricacies of the algorithm it would be very hard to implement all of them for every piece of content we create.

    So instead of doing all the hard work to give Google the signals it needs to rank a piece of content well, it would be a much better use of our time to create a great article and let other people (through links and social shares) give the algorithm the signals it needs to rank instead.

    But I do agree with you here that just by creating a great piece of content doesn’t mean that it’s going to rank well. You need a lot more than that. You need to have an audience to share that content and later, enough links that point to it, with more or less relevant keywords.

    From my experience, social sharing is the fastest way to have a piece of content indexed by Google and I’ve always noticed a temporary boost in rankings because of those shares. Once your content is established though (which usually means a week or two), you better have hard links pointing to it or you will lose the temporary boost in rankings. Again, I’m not saying that this is how the Google algorithm works. It’s just what I have experienced with my own content so far.

    So which is the better option? Create a great content that people would naturally link to or create an average content and go through all the pain of outreaching and painfully building all the links manually?

    Would love to hear your comments.

    • Jason Corrigan

      Hello Philip,

      Thank you very much for your well thought out comment and for your time.

      I completely agree with you on the benefits and rewards that come from creating a well-integrated Social SEO campaign, as I only seen continuous improvement in visibility, rankings and conversions when great content is supported with a particular volume of social shares.

      As for my comments on Rand, I have no issues with him and certainly respect his experience, knowledge and authority on the subject of search marketing. I was not offended actually by his response; I am just making the point that there are already enough people in this industry who make enormous claims that are picked up by others who are new to the industry or have only been in SEO for a year or two.

      It’s hard enough trying to convince new clients that SEO is not a snake oil product and my point is that those who are in positions of leadership should foster and promote education based on real data, insight and experience.

  • Scott Cohen

    I think you’re missing Rand’s point. What he meant, I believe, is that he runs his company based on quality content and uses a great product and blogs to gain rank. While he might make some tweaks technically to the site based on algorithm (although considering his site is already ranking #3 for the term “seo” maybe not), the point is that he wouldn’t change releasing frequent content and a great product with value to the user just because an algorithm was released to the public.