To win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill. The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.
Sun Tzu, The Art of War
The SEO Battlefield(s)
Search engine companies started the SEO business. Search engine users made it an industry. We players made it a game. And in this game, everything revolves around Google. All eyes and ears are constantly on the company, and now its parent company, Alphabet.
As students and professionals of this game, we need to learn to think inside the search box, and outside of it. Alphabet’s, but mostly Google’s, presence is so commanding that we naturally put them either too high on a pedestal, or too low on the totem pole. We have to meticulously train ourselves to see them as equal to all companies, while remembering that they wield the enormous power to take out giant internet and non-technology companies.
We need to see them with the least bias as humanly possible, as both professionals and citizens. Too often, we get caught up in their webmaster guidelines, their algorithm changes, their latest Tweets, and let our imaginations run amok. This leads to petty sub-tweets, time wasting and extremely bipolar brain-hurting debates, and most worryingly, faulty information spread throughout the industry, online and offline.
Like any company, Alphabet has its good, its evil, its growth plans, its constant change of plans, its marketing machine, its products and services, its contribution of real value to the world, its financial challenges, its role in politics, its risks of disruption, and so on.
We SEOs take up less than 1% of Google’s overall population, but we possess the closest eye on the company that can see what every person in the world is up to. No other professionals have a lens on Google with the magnification of search engine marketers. We need to develop the micro- and macro-scopes in our brains, so that we can interpret deep, intricate details – tiny algorithm tweaks, major Webmaster announcements, encrypted Tweets from the humans at Google – and tie them to broader, abstract ideas and implications about our work, and our world.
Your digital marketing director or VP doesn’t pay attention to SEO thought leaders, industry buzzwords, or the latest Google announcements. Not as much as you, the grasshopper in the field. She or he trusts you to study the landscape, distill the information, connect it to your own situation, simplify the message to your partners, get the work done, and share that story.
Questions Worth Asking
What is the company’s general approach on Google’s guidelines? On the conservative-liberal spectrum, how strict or loosely is the SEO team expected to stick to the Webmaster Guidelines?
How should the SEO team get in the habit of testing and challenging what Google says about how to (not) do SEO?
How do you keep up with Google and anticipate their next move?
Tip: like the apple that drops right beneath its branches, Google falls in line with its parent strategy. Keep up with Alphabet, its acquisitions, its annual performance, etc. If RankBrain is the core of the new algorithm, maybe learn about the starting and end points of deep machine learning, and different ways machine learning is used outside of search engines. Study the world and use of technology in its broadest sense to see people habits and trends, because this is where Google probably looks to do their customer marketing research. Put Mary Meeker’s annual report on your alerts.
What is white hat, gray hat, and black hat SEO?
What if, instead of defining each and every SEO with one of these 3 hats, we saw colleagues as individual persons who wear their own thinking cap? The problem with dichotomies and trichotomies is that once you put on a black hat, you only listen to other black hats, you give some respect to gray hats, and you completely disregard white hats. You make friends and learn only from those who think, talk and do SEO like you, and automatically reject those that don’t.
The SEO profession requires you to make hundreds and thousands of small and big decisions over time, why not make each of those with the most information in back of mind? It’s a normal, human function to pick sides, but the less we get caught up in internet cliques, the less we’ll fight pointlessly, the more we free our minds to think independently, and the more we allow others to do the same.
Why does Google increasingly restrict SEOs from having information? Think Webmaster Tools’ 90-day rolling search analytics, Keyword Not Provided, Keyword Planner access to search volumes…
How should you collect data Google Webmaster Tools into your company’s data library, and then aggregate, manipulate, and analyze historical data in-house, and combine it with your internal reporting? Imagine what you could do if you had Year-over-year data for impressions, clicks, CTR, and average positions for your top 1000, 2500, 5000, or even 10000 landing pages.
Tip: set up APIs to automate this process monthly, or use SEO Tools for Excel Search Console Integration by Niels Bosma to pull the appropriate data, which you can then share with your Data / Analytics team.
Talk to your PPC partners. How does their Adwords bidding strategy align with your optimization efforts? How can you combine paid ad and organic data to understand how your company performs in Google overall?
Check out these 16 brands that dominate Google by leveraging cross-linking on all their sites. What does this tell you about how algorithms really work, and what their limitations are?
What risk levels does your site’s link building portfolio reflect in relation to Google’s Webmaster and/or FTC guidelines?
Does your company participate or ever partaken in sponsored content / link advertising on its own sites or its partner sites?
How strictly or loosely does the company, and by extension the SEO team, adhere to Google’s linking practices? Do all the stakeholders understand the risks and rewards?
How should you plan for rapid implementations when Google announces warnings/recommendations for better mobile or desktop search? For example, if AMP makes significant strides for retail sites and e-commerce pages, how do you make a case and plan to implement it before your competitors?
Learn the patterns and understand the tendencies of Google, your competitors, your company, and you’ll learn to win lots of battles…without verbally fighting with humans on the internet, without resorting to corporate politics, and without actually seeing and making enemies of your peers.