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Search Engine Optimization is Declining in Value

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Search engine optimization

Growing anecdotal evidence shows that search engine optimization is declining as a tactic for improving rankings on Google.

For example, a website page that occupied the No. 1 spot on Google for the term “Caribbean weather forecast” held the top position for at least 10 years. It got there because it was a page the publisher created in the early days online — traditional SEO favors the age of a page — and because it attracted thousands of backlinks.

Its top rank was untouchable and never changing for more than a decade. Suddenly it dropped in rank to #5 for a few years. Then it rose again to #1.

Searching reveals many examples of pages with as little as one paragraph of information climbing to the top ranks. At the same time, 1,000-word articles written by experts have fallen to the second and third pages in search results if not lower.

The difference: big brands get higher rankings while small brands get lower, even if the small brand has authority, trust and expertise in a subject.

“It seems that with the current algorithm changes, the small to midsize site has almost no chance of showing up in the SERPs (search engine result pages). I am even getting hurt with paid advertising,” one publisher said recently on Webmaster World.

I don’t agree that small and midsized sites have “no chance” of showing up in search results. But the quote shows the frustration that smaller publishers face with the advantages that Google gives to big brands.

The Limits of Keyword Optimization

Many of these falling pages have highly optimized long-tail keywords, meaning that the subjects are defined in two, three or more word phrases. Keyword optimization has been an important SEO tactic because it matches a specific page topic to a specific topic search.

Many big brands with vague one- or two-word keywords now get higher rankings than specific long-tail keywords of smaller brands.

Google employees have even said that social media signals, once widely thought to have an impact, don’t have much impact at all on rankings.

Google of course reveals little about its algorithms, but it is well known the company has been using machine learning more in combination with the artificial intelligence of RankBrain to modify its rankings.

Regardless of why the changes are happening, the trend strongly appears to favor large websites with strong brands.

The ongoing changes by Google over the years have led many websites to shut down when their SEO strategies stopped working. That trend is continuing. The loss of Google search traffic, which is the largest source of audience for many sites, is too damaging for some sites to keep operating.

How to Overcome Google Search Losses

Frankly, many online experts still make claims that are no longer valid. Few experts can say with certainty how to respond to any losses in search audience because Google doesn’t offer any clues.

If there is any answer, it lies with speculating, experimenting, persistent growth and continuous improvement.

Because Google seems to favor large brands, it stands to reason that websites that continue growing their content will gain favor. It’s also reasonable that growing the brand will help, such as using as many promotional tactics as possible to distribute the brand’s name. Examples include prominence in YouTube, guest blogging and social media accounts.

Even if those tactics don’t make a difference or have minimal impact, websites that have lost Google traffic will simply have to find or grow other sources such as advertising.

Once again, social media accounts offer that potential for many sites as well as advertising and email marketing.

None of this means a website publisher should stop search engine optimization. It still has some value with Google and certainly with other search engines, especially Bing.

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