Have you ever heard of Sympathetic Magic? Anthropologist Sir James George Frazer defined Sympathetic Magic as “like produces like, or that an effect resembles its cause” in The Golden Bough: A Study in Comparative Religion and Mythology in 1890. You may have heard that the new magic in search engine optimization is that “correlation is more important than causation”. Snake oil just never stops oozing from certain sources of misinformation (PageRank sculpting, Ranking Factors, Domain Authority, Guest Posting for links, Correlation Studies, etc.).
Correlation studies are the bane of legitimate search engine optimization. Whatever minimal value correlation studies may have once provided to people looking for the effects of known or suspected causes, the Great Correlation Study Wizard of the Galaxy has sucked all that value dry by advocating complete and utter nonsense.
If the people who have been misusing correlation analysis for years suddenly start singing a new tune, should you sit up and listen or should you stop and ask yourself, “How many times have these guys led marketers down into another round of search engine penalties and downgrades?”
To hear some people tell it, if you just look at what sites that win in the search results do, and do similar things to what those guys do, then you should do okay. Sounds plausible, right? But that’s very much like “copying the backlinks that other sites get”, “using linkbait to earn links because those guys earned links with linkbait”, etc.
In the land of search diversity, the odd man out is king. Everyone who just sits around and copies successful Websites without understanding why those sites are successful is sitting in a pack of penguins in the frozen antarctic. And let me tell you something about packs of penguins: they produce a LOT of really bad poop. They stink of it. And occasionally they move away from all the poop they have made but they move as a group and then they start making more poop.
Here are the latest magic spells coming from the playbook of Really Stupid Search Engine Optimization Ideologies.
Magic: Make Apps Because Successful Sites Make Apps If a Website that everyone is searching for is being found because it is the source of a highly popular mobile app, then it makes sense that you should be making mobile apps too. In fact, you can expect a horde of articles from the same source of magical inspiration on great tools that will let you make apps with a wave of your wand.
Better yet, there will now be a class of new metrics just for apps: user engagement, app activity, app click depth, deep-app linking, mobile app search optimization (it’s coming), and App Authority (an imaginary compendium of factors that seek to emulate what Google MUST be doing with what it knows about apps).
Magic: Buy TV advertising because THOSE sites buy advertising Let’s face it. If you hire an actor with a deep voice or a really cute figure, people will search for “actress in [X] commercial” all day long. Dennis Haysbert has been the public face for AllState Insurance in the United States for years. Oh yes, he’s also done some movies, TVs, and other acting. I know this because I have searched on his role as the AllState spokesperson. I don’t recall ever doing business with that company but I am pretty sure they have some good deals.
For that matter Stephanie Courtney is the actress portraying Flo in the Progressive commercials. A whole generation of viewers have fallen in love with her. I’m not currently a Progressive customer. Sorry, Steph.
Still, the thinking goes that if these big guys can run some TV commercials and generate a lot of SEO activity around their brand names, maybe everyone else can, too.
Then again, what about all those miracle products that come and go on late night television, where the Websites are now abandoned or, worse, taken over by spammers? Yeah, TV commercials drive so much traffic to your Website you will never go out of business.
Magic: Just Design a User-friendly Site You know, I visit a LOT of user-friendly sites that don’t get much search traffic. There are millions of them on sites like WordPress.Com, Blogspot.Com, Weebly.com, Blog.Com, Tumblr.Com, etc. If being user-friendly was enough, we’d all be rich.
Magic: Thousands of Signals Make the Other Guy Successful If search were really THAT complicated no one would be using it. Search engines don’t want to make things complicated. They want to make things simple. When you have to resolve a billion queries, you really don’t need to create problems for yourself by complicating everything with “thousands of signals”.
Search engines run multiple algorithms that perform different tasks. Each algorithm uses only as many signals as are deemed necessary to get the task done. All the other signals are ignored.
There are certain signals you do need to know about and understand. Take links, for example. Links are clearly a signal in search algorithms. Think of links as a multi-faceted signal. Some links denote trust. Some links denote bad behavior. Some links drive crawl. Some links pass anchor text. Links do a lot of things in search algorithms. That is why the search engines are so reluctant to let go of the links.
You have been taught by the Great Shaman of SEO to think that links are all about rankings and that rankings are all about links. Links are just not that simple. Rankings are just not that simple. But it’s a very rare search result that is decided by thousands of signals. No human being in the world could understand such a result and manage it.
Remember that behind every algorithm is a team of people who have to know what the algorithm is doing, why it exists, and how it works. No matter how complex the algorithm it cannot be more complex than human comprehension allows it to be.
So the algorithms are much, much less complex than the latest Handbook in Search Ranking Magic would lead you to believe.
You Never Get Ahead by Copying Others
In any field of endeavor, when you are just learning how to do things, copying other people makes sense. That is how you learn.
In Web marketing it’s acceptable, even necessary for most people, to copy what others have done for a while. But once you know what other people are doing you have to start thinking of things to do that those people are not.
And do not share what you do, because sharing leads to duplication of effort and duplication of effort leads to the Dark Side of Search Engine Optimization (not to mention creating opportunities for other people to outperform you).
And yet some people just dive right in to building an Internet business without learning what other people have done. They make mistakes, they experience setbacks, and some small percentage of them succeed.
Remember that most businesses fail, and Internet startups fail more often than non-Internet businesses. How you measure success and failure may differ from everyone else but the majority of Internet businesses do not produce millionaires and billionaires. Out of a sea of failures you will find a few islands of success.
Those successes combine (sometimes) unique ideas, good personal connections, lots of hard work, and occasionally some legitimate marketing. Eventually all businesses have to hire a marketing specialist or manager in order to grow beyond their initial success.
So merely following in the footsteps of others will provide only limited success to your search referral strategies. In many ways practicing White Magic SEO will just lead you to the next new algorithmic downgrade. When too many people do the same thing the search engine has to start looking for new quality signals.
Correlation Analysis is the Wrong Tool for You
Someone will always be trying to sell you SEO tools. At the task-level many of these tools compete quite well for your attention because no matter how ineffective or inefficient an SEO task may be, once you elect to do that task you want to be able to do it faster and better than anyone else — or at least as fast and well as whomever you think you are competing with.
Tools can work really, really well and not help you move ahead at all. Have you ever noticed the lack of independent, third-party, unbiased, blind-study correlation analyses about the effectiveness of SEO tools at helping businesses make money?
You’ve been fed a pack of lies over the past 8 years about how valuable and helpful correlation analysis is. That isn’t to say you can’t find some useful things to do with correlations. Notice that I don’t sell any Deep Web Interferometric tools. I probably should, although there are already a few available.
People in general don’t use Interferometry as they should for search engine optimization. If one more tool vendor contacts me with a dashboard that uses Domain Authority I may start building a Rogues Gallery of Idiot SEO Tool Designers. Domain Authority is a nonsense metric that has absolutely nothing to do with the search results and processes of Bing, Google, or any other major search engine.
I’m declaring a new metric right now: Idiot Authority. Idiot Authority is determined by the ratio of number of idiotic SEO ideas you publish on your blog and how many people congratulate you on proposing those idiotic ideas.
This should keep the Idiot Authority pretty low for people who have no audiences or whose readers are demanding enough to be skeptical of egregious marketing claims. But Idiot Authority can be very, very high for popular Websites. Being popular doesn’t prevent you from being an idiot.
Idiot Authority is a good predictor of just how much failure you can expect from following any one person’s advice. But as many people will be quick to point out, who is an idiot is an arbitrary or subjective evaluation. The idiots obviously don’t believe in their own idiocy. They are merely sheep waiting to be herded to the next pasture of dumb ideas.
You cannot optimize by correlations. You cannot optimize for Web search by studying correlations between things you see and things you think contribute to the things you think you see.
Data can be found to support any point of view. Statistics can be made to support any idea.
Sympathetic SEO Will Get You Nowhere
It takes a lot of gullibility to believe that simply doing stuff that resembles what successful sites do will produce magic results for you. This is what happens, though, when you follow the wrong “industry leaders” year after year. If you fail to learn from their many spectacular failures in leadership then you will continue to fail again and again.
The Correlation Study Demon has infested the search marketing community. Until marketers exorcise themselves of these nonsensical ideas they will continue to waste a lot of time and opportunities on work that should never be done.
Before you start cooking up spells from the Sympathetic Magic SEO playbook, stop and think about just how stupid this really sounds. You don’t win in the search results because you have a mobile app, TV commercials, and a user-friendly Website. The correlations are meaningless.
Correlation-based SEO strategies will just evolve into another form of Web spam. You’re already busy creating Content Marketing Spam. You need to get out of THAT market before you start dabbling in yet another area doomed to algorithmic hell.
This article was written by Michael Martinez. For original posting, please click here.