Reece was the most experienced bicycle mechanic in his area. He had run a successful workshop for 20 years.
Reece wanted to allow cyclists to find his business online, and had decided to create a website for his shop.
Being the thorough businessman he was, he read the Google webmaster SEO guidelines:
“Create a useful, information-rich site, and write pages that clearly and accurately describe your content,” the guidelines offered.
“Fine,” he thought. “I will write a few pages about what my business does, and list the reasons why they should call me.”
Three months later, his site had received 0 visits from organic Google search.
“Why won’t Google show my website? I am the best bicycle repair shop in the area!”
And he was.
But why couldn’t Google see?
Google has become too lost in the pursuit of penalising spam and rewarding “natural” SEO that they seem to have forgotten that the best results for users sometimes aren’t the sites with the most SEO points.
Should you focus on chain links or web links?
Like Reece, we’re all trying to keep up with what SEO factors Google consider important. Links still play a vital role in getting a website to rank well in Google.
Matt Cutts has indeed said, “The objective is not to ‘make your links appear natural’; the objective is that your links are natural.”
But why is a business expected to go about creating content to receive natural links if they are in the business of creating a company that Google users would be happy to find in organic search listings?
By rewarding business websites that have strong SEO signals which Google deems to be “natural”, Google may actually be rewarding sites which spend an unnatural amount of time and resources on optimising their site on the internet.
Businesses which spend a lot of time and resources on SEO may actually sacrifice the quality of their core service or offering, and may therefore operate a lower quality business. Such a business may therefore be less desirable to people who use Google to search for high quality businesses.
Google has convinced us all that a good SEO strategy does not have to be expensive or time-consuming.
But without devoting resources to achieving natural (or unnatural) SEO-oriented goals, is it really possible to rank highly? Maybe in Google’s world it is; but by googling just a handful of popular keywords, it quickly becomes clear that sites which devote time and money to SEO are achieving good rankings.
For many small businesses, generating enough revenue to simply cover expenses can sometimes seem like a big enough challenge. Even making enough time to provide things like excellent customer service can often seem like a luxury.
However, “Build it, and they will come,” still seems to be the message.
We’re urged to create an excellent website for users as if Google was not watching.
By building a genuinely useful online resource, we’re told that Google will reward us with prominent search rankings.
But would a bicycle repair shop really build an online cycling resource if Google was not watching? Does any business purely rely on ‘natural’ SEO to automatically happen? If they did, it would be SEO suicide.
Maybe natural search isn’t so natural.
When Google states that their mission is, “To organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful,” they may have failed to cater for users who don’t want encyclopaedia articles for every search they make.
The fact that Google accepts money from advertisers shows that they are aware that many people who search are simply looking for products, services or businesses.
So why then does it require businesses who provide useful products or services to also be in the business of creating a useful source of information?
Requiring business owners to be expert content publishers is like requiring a car salesman be able to surf. It’s an unrelated skillset.
The message from Google is that it will only rank a bicycle repair shop highly if it also satisfies other criteria which is completely outside the remit of somebody in the business of repairing bicycles.
In the process, these guidelines have ensured that millions of sites are only creating content to pander to Google’s unrealistic assumption of what “natural” really means.
Jim Yu, CEO of BrightEdge SEO, has pointed out that, “Over the last two years, 90% of global data has been produced by digital, search, and social content.”
Much of this content is surely published on sites which offer genuinely useful services in the real world, with the twinkling stars of #1 Google rankings in their eyes.
On Google’s SEO guide page, it makes suggestions on how to pick the right SEO specialist, making it seem a foregone conclusion that webmasters always need to hire an SEO companies to ‘do’ their SEO.
Businesses either need to pay an SEO specialist to do unnatural SEO on their behalf, or to branch out into specialising in web development, social media and PR.
By operating under the assumption that this ‘natural SEO’ is best performed by an outsourced specialist, it is sacrificing the quality of its results.
When Interflora was penalised for shady SEO tactics, the Google employees who manually dished out the penalty undoubtedly assumed that they were doing the best thing for the quality of the search results – and that users would ultimately benefit.
But during the period when Interflora’s penalty was in effect, did users really benefit from not seeing an Interflora SEO listing when they searched for ‘flower delivery’? Why would a user looking to send flowers to a loved one not wish to see a listing for the UK’s largest flower delivery company? Why would a company’s shady SEO tactics have any bearing on whether a user would find the actual flower delivery service useful?
In this sense, Google has lost sight of what many users of their search engine want.
When a user searches for bicycle repair, they probably just want listings for good bicycle repair shops. Whether or not the repair shops have pages and pages of useful content which is highly shared is surely irrelevant.