The SEO Journey
I suppose it started 2001/2002 with the introduction of Google ads. I saw this E-Book advertised that would explain how to use Google AdWords to create an income online. I never bought that E-Book, finding the information I needed elsewhere, but quickly learned that for every £3 investment with AdWords, on average I could gain a £12 commission return with the equally new mobile phone affiliate scheme at the time.
This early digital marketing strategy did not last last very long, as each affiliate scheme started to prohibit the use of brand names and “high conversion keywords” and started developing their own PPC processes. But I now had the bug and knew that any future career would involve a journey learning everything about search engine optimisation.
Learning On The Job
The learning process was easier back then, even though there was an element of online stuff that was inaccurate, this false information was not as saturated as it is now. It didn’t take long before my websites were ranking high, although I was using MSN and Yahoo search engines as much as Google, as it was not yet as dominant in the UK as it is now.
My mistake back then was to make too many websites across too many niches, instead of developing one or two bigger branded properties that would stand the test of time. I just loved the process of creating a new project and the learning process. My desire for knowledge also meant I was using money sites for testing purposes, “what would happen if I did this” approach. Now, I would set up a mirror site for testing. I also had a policy of “if it isn’t broken, do not try to fix it”, this was something that in later years would bite me hard, when Google would make huge algorithm changes.
By the mid “noughties” I had moved from being self employed into running a couple of Ltd companies that both involved SEO and digital marketing. The main digital agency in Middlesbrough was delivering SEO and training for other local companies with great success. This period was more about output than testing and learning and the strategy of “don’t try to fix what is not broken” was well in force.
Changes Were To Come In The SEO Sector
Little did I know that from 2012 Google would introduce new algorithm updates that would change how we all would do SEO forever and would eventually be a decisive time in my career.
There had been plenty of warning that change was coming and the original “Panda Update” made little difference to the main websites (one had over 500, 000 computer generated pages), this gave a false sense of security, even the first “Penguin Update” had little effect on all websites. But the future updates, gradually reduced traffic until a Penguin update took a 7, 000 visitor a day website to 700.
Being caught out with my own projects, meant I started to let my SEO clients go also, until I got my head around how to recover. I had already moved away from offering services to others, focusing on my own lead generation websites, but I thought it was wrong to work for the handful of business I had left, if my own house was not in order, so they all all went except for one, that was next door from my office.
It took me a few months of testing to get my head really around what it would take to regain the rankings and traffic these large websites had lost, but when I got the reality of the situation it was clear that the investment was way above the projected return.
As much as Google would like to think that rankings come from natural backlinks all based on branding, it is not like that in the real world. Every company buys links and content in some way, either in-direct or in a blatant way. The large brand that replaces the number one spot I once had, has that position because they have bought advertising space on dozens of niche based forums, that link back to them. The cost of me doing that to compete was just not cost effective unless I had been a large company trading in that sector with returning customers, rather than an online lead generation service.
Digital Agency No More
So my SEO, Lead Generation Agency was voluntarily closed (no debt) and I took time out abroad to get over the disappointment and come back with a new plan. Little did I know that the 1 to 2 year plan would end up being 4 years. During this time, I tested and tested, some on Panda and Penguin recovery but mainly on ranking without backlinks, which by now Google reckoned you could rank without these. (just not true). I focused on content, content and content.
With no intention of re-entering the sector again, I did regain some faith in Google in 2016, when the “Penguin Algo” changed from a “push” update to being included within the normal automatic updates that regularly occur. Meaning if websites are improved and corrected, a recovery can be seen much quicker that before. I started to see a small recovery on old websites I hadn’t touched in a long time, that were still live.
This regained enthusiasm has lead to looking at the strategies that help websites rank and deliver visibility in today’s digital world. I will not be doing SEO for anyone else any more, as I see myself as “Semi -Retired” but there are a couple of projects I am looking at in a small way to keep my hand in.
Occasionally I offer SEO training for those looking to cut through the false information and focus on what really works, with an understanding there are no silver bullets or quick fixes, all good results require some hard work and some financial investment.