You know those pyramid schemes that involve selling products and then moving up the chain as you add downlines? Multi-level marketing, as it is also called, works beautifully – for the people at the top. They got there first, they entered the market, and they had a large, fresh group of prospects. As more and more downlines sign on, profits are big at the top and trickle down to the bottom. This is similar to the model of SEO that Chris Dixon has described in Business Insider. SEO, he claims, worked beautifully for sites like Wikipedia or Trip Advisor, but is “no longer a viable marketing strategy for start-ups.” Is this true?
Pre-2008, says Dixon, sites like those mentioned above enjoyed the success of SEO and secured strong rankings with Google. But “I talk to lots of start-ups and almost none that I know of post-2008 have gained significant traction through SEO.” If we used the pyramid scheme model (not to imply that these sites are in any way like an MLM), we could compare Wikipedia or Trip Advisor to those people at the top. For those newer websites, it is much harder to beat out the big, older sites even if the content is better or more relevant.
Dixon provides an example: say you search for “Four Seasons New York” on Google. The highest ranking site for the search he conducted was Trip Advisor’s site, which is ad-heavy and may not contain much relevant information for the searcher. On the other hand, Oyster’s uncluttered, informative site ranks much lower.
“And for now, at least, high-quality content seems to be losing. Until that changes, start-ups – who generally have small teams, small budgets, and the scruples to avoid black-hat tactics – should no longer consider SEO a viable marketing strategy.”
While it is true that start-ups face a tough climb to the top, that is true of real businesses as well as any virtual business. Google does tend to reward older sites, but this is shifting as social media plays more of a role in search results and the “farmer update” begins to weed out low quality sites. Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land rebuts Dixon’s argument:
“SEO doesn’t work for quality content? We’ve got quality content out of our ears here, and we get thousands of visitors per day coming in from search. It’s not black hat SEO that’s doing it, nor a link scheming, nor having a domain that dates back to when Tim Berners-Lee first walked across the web. It’s still the things that anyone should be doing. Is your site accessible to search engines? Are you paying attention to your title tags? Are you thinking about the copy you write? And most of all — do you have good content?”
SEO is not an end-all or magic bullet for ranking; it is a component of marketing that remains not only viable, but necessary.