Tag Archives: SEO

Is Search-Driven Entrepreneurship Obsolete?

Remember that dream we all had together, not so long ago, where a well-thought-out startup with a good understanding of the Web could grow on merit alone? Isn’t that sort of what Google did? And many others? I fear that’s not happening anymore.

For a good, short summary of the SEO problem, from a brilliant software entrepreneur, watch the two-minute video here: Joel Spolsky on how SEO makes the Internet worse.

I’m not an SEO expert, but how telling that Vivek Wadwha posted Why We Desperately Need a New (and Better) Google on exactly Jan. 1, 2011.

The problem is that content on the Internet is growing exponentially and the vast majority of this content is spam. This is created by unscrupulous companies that know how to manipulate Google’s page-ranking systems to get their websites listed at the top of your search results … Content creation is big business, and there are big players involved. For example, Associated Content, which produces 10,000 new articles per month, was purchased by Yahoo! for $100 million, in 2010. Demand Media has 8,000 writers who produce 180,000 new articles each month … This content is what ends up as the landfill in the garbage websites that you find all over the Web. And these are the first links that show up in your Google search results

Don’t think for a minute that Google isn’t working on it. In another January post, Google search quality czar Matt Cutts wrote a blog post promising a major effort to revise Google search to deal better with spam. And that’s been happening. Google is in fact shaking things up, which is good news for the long term, but, well, Google is shaking things up. The Los Angeles Times’ reported recently

Google won plaudits for promoting original research and analysis and banishing pages littered with second-rate content or overloaded with advertising. But the revision to its secret mathematical formula that determines the best answers to a searcher’s query also caused an uproar as hundreds of sites complained to Google that they had been unfairly lumped in with “content farms,” which churn out articles with little useful information to drive more traffic to their sites.

Chris Dixon, co-founder of Hunch.com and startup celebrity, recently posted SEO is no longer a viable marketing strategy for startups on his blog. Here’s his conclusion:

Google seems to be doing everything it can to improve its algorithms so that the best content rises to the top (the recent “panda” update seems to be a step forward). But there are many billions of dollars and tens of thousands of people working to game SEO. And for now, at least, high-quality content seems to be losing. Until that changes, startups – who generally have small teams, small budgets, and the scruples to avoid black-hat tactics – should no longer consider SEO a viable marketing strategy.

Tim Cohn posted The SEO is Dead Debate the following day. He doesn’t reference Chris Dixon specifically, but he has an eloquently short post, saying that SEO isn’t dead because ….

… the SEO is Dead author never offers an equal let alone superior alternative.

That one bothers me. Since when does nothing die without offering a superior alternative?

What do you think? Is SEO dead to startups?

Never Confuse a Domain Name With Marketing

Once upon a time I ran into a group of entrepreneurs who had a business plan based on the simple power of a domain name. I won’t say what that name really was, but let’s pretend it was books.com. In their business plan they touted their ownership of this domain name repeatedly. But they had no real marketing plan, just a domain name.

It was as if it were like Field of Dreams, only slightly modified: “if you have the domain name, they will come.”

No dice. It didn’t work. That was back a few years in the heyday, when everybody who had a decent domain name was sure they’d be rich in short order. And that business, not surprisingly, fizzled.

Although it wasn’t books.com, that name illustrates a point very well. If you’re curious, type books.com into your browser. It redirects to www.barnesandnoble.com. I don’t know the history of the domain books.com, but I think that fact alone makes my point pretty well: Obviously Barnes and Noble, the bookseller, owns books.com today. They don’t redirect Barnes and Noble to books.com; quite the contrary — books.com goes to Barnes and Noble. Do you see what I mean?

Which is a better name for online book selling — amazon.com or books.com? Which one is the giant success?

Disturbing Look at Search Engine Innards

I was browsing the NYTimes online yesterday when I discovered Search Optimization and Its Dirty Little Secrets. I couldn’t stop reading. Author David Segal investigates the dark side of search engine optimization in a story that blends mystery and suspense while it gives good background of something that affects most everyone who owns a business.

Segal starts by setting the story:

PRETEND for a moment that you are Google’s search engine. Someone types the word “dresses” and hits enter. What will be the very first result?

And from there, introduces the mystery of JC Penney’s seemingly inexplicable search-engine success:

The company bested millions of sites — and not just in searches for dresses, bedding and area rugs. For months, it was consistently at or near the top in searches for “skinny jeans,” “home decor,” “comforter sets,” “furniture” and dozens of other words and phrases, from the blandly generic (“tablecloths”) to the strangely specific (“grommet top curtains”).

What happened? That makes for great reading — about search engine black arts, cheating the algorithms, manipulating links, fly-by-night stealth sites, and big business. And it seems like good investigative journalism as well. The Times paid a search engine expert to drill down into JC Penney’s success, and what he comes up with was surprising to me. Especially when I thought about how much is implied but not actually said.

And it includes a lot of background that’s good to know. Most businesses depend on search engines and search engine placement. And some of this is scary.

Read it: I dare you.