SEO is a Mess and Won’t Work For You Now

Posted on Thursday, April 17th, 2014 No Comments


Or, “How Panda and Penguin Ruined SEO for Honest Small Businesses.”

SEO is a mess now.

Big companies rank at the top of Google simply because they have enough money for large-scale advertising, while small businesses no longer have any hope of ranking well for their industry keywords.

This isn’t going to be one of those blog posts that gives you a mountain of data. You probably don’t even read the data in those blog posts, anyway. This article is about my experience and what I’ve learned over 14 years of being involved with SEO. I have been very successful with SEO in the past and I have also worked for two companies that were totally destroyed by the Panda update of 2011.

Before Panda and Penguin

Panda and Penguin are the names of two major algorithm changes that Google made to its ranking system. (More on what these are in a minute.)

Before these updates, SEO was pretty straightforward. You would choose a keyword and insert that keyword into strategic places on your website and links. You’d include the keyword in your <TITLE>, <META>, and <KEYWORDS> tags, as well as your Headings. You’d include the keyword in the text of your page a few times, maybe in bold, in the file name of the page, in the file name of images on the page, and in any links to the page. That was often enough to get a first page rank on Google. I did this successfully many times.

After Panda and Penguin

After Panda and Penguin, everything was different.

Google is trying its best to give searchers quality content. It’s in their best interest, because if you use Google and all you find is junk, you’ll stop using Google.

Panda penalized websites if they had too much duplicate content. This could be content duplicated on their own site, or content copied from other websites.

In theory, that seems reasonable. We don’t want people copying from others and being rewarded for it. It was also Google’s attempt to penalize sites with “thin” content — short articles, crappy writing, and just all-around un-useful content.

Penguin penalized websites if Google detected an unnatural linking pattern. This is usually the result of paying for cheap links. If Google sees too many links to your site with the same exact keyword, it figures that you paid for those links, which means nobody really cares about your website.

The problem with the result

There are two big problems with the result of Panda and Penguin:

1. Spammers and illegal websites are still ranking high in Google, while honest, hardworking businesses have lost their ranking altogether.

2. It’s now impossible for a small business to rank well for their industry keywords without spending tons of money.

The penalty for duplicate content unfairly targets ecommerce websites. If you have a regular ecommerce website that sells a typical category of products, you’ll be selling the same stuff as your competitors. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. For example, if your website sells all of the same books, camera gear, flights, or toys that your competitors sell, your website will have the same product descriptions and photos that your competitors have. Google looks at that and says, “This website must either be boring or stealing its content from others!”

Many honest businesses fell completely off the face of the planet, as far as Google is concerned, after the Panda update. Businesses that were doing absolutely nothing wrong.

Meanwhile, websites that distribute pirated content still rank well. Sometimes they get slapped down by Google, but Google’s algorithm doesn’t seem to penalize them anywhere near as harshly as legitimate ecommerce sites.

On the other hand, many large corporations do quite well in Google. The extremely frustrating part is that they don’t need to do well in Google. At least, they don’t need it anywhere near as much as a small business that’s just trying to survive.

After Panda and Penguin, the consensus between most SEO professionals is:

  • You must create unique content
  • You must get natural links to your website
  • If Google sees that a lot of people are talking about your website, it will consider your website important enough to bump up in the rankings.

Guess who automatically has this privilege?

Large corporations who are spending millions on marketing. Big companies that are already well known.

Those websites do well in the search engine results because a lot of other websites link to them. Because they’re already well known.

So now, after Panda and Penguin, the small business website and the blogger who’s just starting out have almost no chance at ranking for their industry’s most important keywords.

The only way they ever will is if they gain enough popularity to generate many, many natural links across the web.

If you consult with an SEO expert, he or she will tell you to create unique, useful, interesting content. If you create enough unique content, and you market the hell out of it, maybe you’ll get lucky with something that goes viral, or maybe after putting in days upon days of work marketing one piece of content, maybe you’ll generate some attention.

That is the reality now.

What can be done about it?

Don’t let Google be your primary source of traffic. Tweet This

Even if you do rank well in Google, that ranking could disappear at any time.


  • Try some growth hacking techniques. (Google it.)
  • Go back to “old” forms of advertising like newspaper ads.
  • Send out direct mail.
  • Generate word of mouth through referral programs.
  • Get books and read good blogs about marketing.

Still, go forth and create your unique content. You definitely should blog about your industry and become an authority on your topic.

Just don’t pin all of your hopes and dreams on it.

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