The Death of SEO

Author: Ken Krogue @ Forbes

I had lunch back in March with Adam Torkildson, one of the top SEO consultants in Utah and one of the best in the country.

He said something to me that blew me away. “Google is in the process of making the SEO industry obsolete, SEO will be dead in 2 years.”

I posted his statement on my blog and immediately received a flurry of comments; many from his colleagues in the SEO industry who wanted to:

1.Weigh in on my statement that Adam is great (or crazy)

2.Promote themselves

3.Accuse me of writing a title for “link bait”

4.Declare how absurd Adam’s assertion was

5.Agree and prophecize their vision for the future

I have often used the (recently re-proven) phrase from the bomber pilots in World War II, “The flak only gets heavy when you’re over the target.”

Adam’s explanation about his claim made a lot of sense. I’ll quickly summarize and add some background information.

“SEO” means Search Engine Optimization.

There is internal and external SEO. Internal makes up about 15% of the process (I’m told it may be much higher now) and it means to design your site so it follows the best practices proven to rank high on Google. External SEO used to mean to write articles, press releases, blogs, comments, and content with embedded keyword “backlinks” to your site. Now it is changing fast to include social media strategies.

SEO has been traditionally divided into “white hat” or “black hat.” Black Hat is the obvious villainous practice of gaming the system by doing things to raise rankings that Google doesn’t want, and White Hat is just more subtle.

But what does Google want? They want relevant, real content on the internet that people want to read and tell other people about. If Google doesn’t bring you the most relevant content when you search they aren’t doing their job.

So by definition even the word Search Engine Optimization (SEO) means to “game” the Google search engines (and others) to get your valuable content ranked higher than it would be if left alone to the forces of the Web.

Google proved Adam right one month later (to the day) with the “Penguin release” that is a code name for the algorithm that decreased search engine rankings of companies who were using schemes to artificially increase their rankings. Google decided to change the weight of their emphasis from “backlinks” more towards social media likes, shares, tweets, reddits, and 1+ (Googles obvious favorite.) In the world of digital media the emphasis is on follows, comments, and views as well. (Note: I have changed the wording slightly to clarify my meaning and make it more precise since I wrote it four days ago.)

What does that mean? Google used to think if you linked to someone on the Internet they must have valuable content. Now Google seems to believe that if you promote content with social media it is more indicative of relevant content and less likely to be faked. Though many point out social can be faked as well.

The bottom line is that all external SEO efforts are counterfeit other than one:

Writing, designing, recording, or videoing real and relevant content that benefits those who search.

If you generate content and place it all over the web promoting and linking to your specific content, it is obviously fake. (And that is basically a big part of the history of the SEO industry, both black and white.)

And hey, I’ve done it myself. That is how I met Adam in the first place.

It is the overly aggressive marketers that always spoil it for everyone. Mmmm, let’s see… false advertisers, telemarketing at dinner time with predictive dialers, unsolicited faxing, email spamming, now SEO.

It was Seth Godin that said “all marketers are liars,” I’m a marketer, so I can say this.  I think it means that if you have to advertise a lot to change perceptions, it’s probably being “spun.” Think media, the lack of advertising on fruit and vegetables, and the current presidential race.

Adam told me that it is hardly about the links anymore, it’s about the metrics of engagement on your site.

It’s about social “shares”, and you can’t fake that (easily). Now with recent policy changes, Google knows who everyone is once they open themselves up on the social realm. They will be able to tell the fake people. Facebook already knows. Adam did a test by creating 1000 fake accounts a year ago, but today they have all been banned.

I asked him how they figured it out, he said “I’m pretty smart, but I have no idea. That’s why they hire PhD’s! That’s why Google bought Twitter’s data. They failed to get Facebook data, but they rely on Facebook’s internal API. Now social signals are a much bigger part of the Google algorithm.” He continued, “I’ve already seen them using it, I know.”

So what do we do?

Adam grinned with resignation, “It’s the Hubspot strategy of great blog content with a massive opt-in audience of social followers. It’s your InsideSales.com approach with strong industry research that people follow. And it’s old-school PR. PR has made a full-on 180 degree swing. I started in PR as a major. Now it is the ultimate, because it is about who you actually, really, know. It’s the buzz you create. And how much value you provide your community of followers in return.”

I summarized:

“So great content is king, and communities of avid followers make the king? And my friend Cheryl, of SnappConner PR will rule the world?”

“Yes, basically.” Adam went on, “Dell does a really good job. They have 1M followers on just one account in Twitter. Their team answers all direct messages from their community, and stays on top of their brand and reputation.”

I asked, “So how has this affected you?”

“We hardly do any of the old SEO stuff. It still brings results, but not like it used to. Google is pulling the rug out to provide better search for their audience. They are routing out the counterfeiters. Now it must be real, valuable, content, and lot’s of community value and interaction.”

So how does it affect entrepreneurs and business executives?

Simple.

Invest in real, valuable, relevant content that your audience wants. Grow your internal thought leaders to where they can add value to your audience and positioning in the market. Follow internal SEO practices to make sure it is found and sees the light of day. Take the time to make it so compelling so people talk about it and share it.

Look to real social media community support, compelling PR, and real content; for that is where true SEO practitioners are turning more and more also.

Common sense, but not common practice.

You Deserve the Team You Get!

Authors: G. Michael Maddock and Raphael Louis Vitón @ Bloomberg Businessweek

Whoa.

We have received thousands of comments, scores of e-mails, and a bunch of phone calls in response to our last two columns, Three Kinds of People to Fire Immediately and Three Types of People to Hire Today.

So, what are the takeaways?

The biggest one is this: Whether you are a happy or unhappy worker, a good or bad manager, an enlightened or naïve leader, you deserve the team you get. Said differently, we all play a role in what our teams and companies become. We must choose to take control of the results or risk making ourselves victims of the situation.

Either way, we must live with the results of our choices. For some, this means complaining more; for others, it means leaving for another opportunity, and for others still, it means creating a different reality.

Your authors aspire to be creators and prefer to hire and inspire creators as well. If you’ve built a culture of innovation, we presume you agree and act in kind.

The Right Stuff

The next biggest insight was this: People want to create new products and services because it is rewarding, but it is one of the hardest things for a culture to do.

And what follows from that insight is this one: You want to make your company a safe place for everyone, because fear is the enemy of invention. To do that requires the right kind of colleagues.

More specifically, you want to hire people who:

1. Challenge themselves and everyone around them to co-create the best ideas. “Good enough” never is.

2. Have an entrepreneurial mindset. No, they don’t need to have started a company in their past or even have had a lemonade stand as a kid. Entrepreneurs—and people who think like them—love solving challenges. The tougher the better. The entrepreneurial mind leads to creation. It reveals opportunities where others see problems. Show us someone with an entrepreneurial bent, and we’ll show you a person who feels completely in control of his or her choices and the outcome.

3. Complement one another. An organization filled with right-brained, divergent people will probably come up with an endless string of new ideas but lack the discipline to carry them to fruition. A left-brain-dominated, convergent culture will execute well, but the quality of the ideas could be lacking. In our experience, the most innovative companies and the most enlightened leaders have found a balance that allows the team to identify and focus on the most important insights, create differentiated ideas to meet them, and execute the ideas with precision. Is your team in balance? How about your leadership style? Does it create imbalance?

And as team captain, you want to make sure you do those three things yourself. We cannot stress that enough.

And now, at the risk of triggering hate mail again, let us underscore whom you simply have to fire if innovation is your charge. When faced with any of the following three types of destructive and consistent behavior—and you have found it impossible to change the chosen mindset that produces it—say goodbye. Quickly.

But first a disclaimer: We hate letting people go. We think you should, too. A termination often indicates that the company has failed the person. So we agree with the many angry readers who have suggested that you must strive to hire only people with the right DNA and then surround them with managers who make them even better. Then and only then, do you fire them if they don’t improve.

Now on with whom you should terminate:

Victims. We all play the role of victim occasionally, but for some, it has turned into a way of life. They almost seem to enjoy it. They are often angry, usually annoyed, and almost always complaining. Victims aren’t looking for opportunities; they are looking for problems. Victims can’t innovate. If this is making you angry, we may be writing about you.

Nonbelievers. Sure, you want smart, intelligent people to challenge every assumption—especially those assumptions made by the boss. So we are not advocating a staff of sycophants. In our experience, the link between believing in eventual success and succeeding is incredibly powerful and real. Great leaders understand this. That’s why they find and promote believers within their organizations. They also understand the cancerous effect that nonbelievers have on a team and will cut them out of the organization quickly and without regret. If you want to innovate but are saddled with nonbelievers, you’re either a lousy leader or in denial.

Know-It-Alls. The best innovators are learners, not knowers. The same can be said about innovative cultures; they are learning cultures. The leaders who have built these cultures know that, in order to discover, they must eagerly seek out things they don’t understand and jump right into the deep end of the pool. They must fail fearlessly and quickly and then learn and share their lessons with the team. When they behave this way, they empower others around them to follow suit—and presto, a culture of discovery is born and nurtured.

“What could I be missing?” is a question every leader should feel comfortable exploring.

You don’t need the victims, nonbelievers, or know-it-alls to be innovative. You don’t want to hire them in the first place; you certainly don’t want a culture that creates them, and if you wind up with one on your team, it is up to you to make sure they take their anti-innovative outlooks elsewhere.

You deserve the staff you get.

Three types of people to fire!

Authors: G. Michael Maddock and Raphael Louis Vitón @ Bloomberg Businessweek

We (your authors) teach our children to work hard and never, ever give up. We teach them to be grateful, to be full of wonder, to expect good things to happen, and to search for literal and figurative treasure on every beach, in every room, and in every person.
 
But some day, when the treasure hunt is over, we’ll also teach them to fire people. Why? After working with the most inventive people in the world for two decades, we’ve discovered the value of a certain item in the leadership toolbox: the pink slip.
 
Show of hands: How many of you out there in Innovationland have gotten the “what took you so long?” question from your staff when you finally said goodbye to a teammate who was seemingly always part of problems instead of solutions?
 
We imagine a whole bunch of hands. (Yep, ours went up, too.)
 
These people—and we’re going to talk about three specific types in a minute—passive-aggressively block innovation from happening and will suck the energy out of any organization.
 
When confronted with any of the following three people—and you have found it impossible to change their ways, say goodbye.
 
1. The Victims
 
“Can you believe what they want us to do now? And of course we have no time to do it. I don’t get paid enough for this. The boss is clueless.”
 
Victims are people who see problems as occasions for persecution rather than challenges to overcome. We all play the role of victim occasionally, but for some, it has turned into a way of life. These people feel persecuted by humans, processes, and inanimate objects with equal ease—they almost seem to enjoy it. They are often angry, usually annoyed, and almost always complaining. Just when you think everything is humming along perfectly, they find something, anything, to complain about. At Halloween parties, they’re Eeyore, the gloomy, pessimistic donkey from the Winnie the Pooh stories—regardless of the costume they choose.
 
Victims aren’t looking for opportunities; they are looking for problems. Victims can’t innovate.
 
So if you want an innovative team, you simply can’t include victims. Fire the victims. (Note to the HR department: Victims are also the most likely to feel the company has maliciously terminated them regardless of cause. They will often go looking for someone—anyone—who will agree that you have treated them unjustly. Lawyers are often left to play this role. So have your documentation in order before you let victims go, because chances are you will hear from their attorneys.
 
2. The Nonbelievers
 
“Why should we work so hard on this? Even if we come up with a good idea, the boss will probably kill it. If she doesn’t, the market will. I’ve seen this a hundred times before.”
 
We love the Henry Ford quote: “If you think you can or think you cannot, you are correct.” The difference between the winning team that makes industry-changing innovation happen and the losing one that comes up short is a lack of willpower. Said differently, the winners really believed they could do it, while the losers doubted it was possible.
 
In our experience, we’ve found the link between believing and succeeding incredibly powerful and real. Great leaders understand this. They find and promote believers within their organizations. They also understand the cancerous effect that nonbelievers have on a team and will cut them out of the organization quickly and without regret.
 
If you are a leader who says your mission is to innovate, but you have a staff that houses nonbelievers, you are either a lousy leader or in denial. Which is it? You deserve the staff you get. Terminate the nonbelievers.
 
3. The Know-It-Alls
 
“You people obviously don’t understand the business we are in. The regulations will not allow an idea like this, and our stakeholders won’t embrace it. Don’t even get me started on our IT infrastructure’s inability to support it. And then there is the problem of ….”
 
The best innovators are learners, not knowers. The same can be said about innovative cultures; they are learning cultures. The leaders who have built these cultures, either through intuition or experience, know that in order to discover, they must eagerly seek out things they don’t understand and jump right into the deep end of the pool. They must fail fearlessly and quickly and then learn and share their lessons with the team. When they behave this way, they empower others around them to follow suit—and presto, a culture of discovery is born and nurtured.
 
In school, the one who knows the most gets the best grades, goes to the best college, and gets the best salary. On the job, the person who can figure things out the quickest is often celebrated. And unfortunately, it is often this smartest, most-seasoned employee who eventually becomes expert in using his or her knowledge to explain why things are impossible rather than possible.
 
This employee should be challenged, retrained, and compensated for failing forward. But if this person’s habits are too deeply ingrained to change, you must let him or her go. Otherwise, this individual will unwittingly keep your team from seeing opportunity right under your noses. The folks at Blockbuster didn’t see Netflix‘s ascendancy. The encyclopedia companies didn’t see Google coming. But the problem of expert blindness existed well before the Internet.
 
Two of our favorites from rinkworks.com: “This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.” —Western Union internal memo, 1876.
 
And “The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular?” —David Sarnoff’s associates in response to his urgings for investment in the radio in the 1920s.
 
At one point in his career, Thomas A. Edison had dozens of inventors working for him at the same time. He charged each with the task of failing forward and sharing the learning from each discovery. All of them needed to believe that they were part of something big. You want the same sort of people.
 
You don’t want the victims, nonbelievers, or know-it-alls. It is up to you to make sure they take their anti-innovative outlooks elsewhere.

How Social are the Most Valuable Brands?

Author: Socialgility