My Rocky Relationship With SEO Is Over

It was a hot sweaty night in the land of Finch. The clock was ticking past 2am. My eyes were starting to strain from the glare of WickedFire’s traffic generation section. I had logged in with the intention of learning from the best to improve my SEO game. If you want to build long term assets, you need to rank well on Google, right?

Somewhere between reading about link wheels and staring dumbly at pyramid diagrams, the realization dawned on me. I fucking hate SEO.

If we’ve reached a tipping point where your success is determined by the number of Squidoo hub pages you’ve got passing link juice through to your money site, I would rather just forget about it completely. I’m sure if I sat here long enough, I could automate a script to dramatically increase the number of backlinks pumping through to my site. But beyond satisfying a phantom algorithm somewhere in Google’s underbelly, what exactly am I doing? I’m a fucking pawn in somebody else’s system.

In my opinion, the SEO brigade are deluded when they say that developing these naturally high-ranking sites is a long term business plan. I’m not going to deny that it’s incredibly lucrative. But long term? If your methodology is based on the science of link profiles, you don’t have squat diddly to bank your house on. SEO is just as volatile as any PPC campaign.

And as I sat there in the recess of the night, scratching my chin and scrolling through page after page on WickedFire, it really dawned on me that so much of what marketers do is complete and utter bullshit. It’s clever bullshit, don’t get me wrong. But I can’t help feeling that there’s more money in being the system, rather than trying to game one.

Over the last couple of months, my focus has shifted away from SEO. The safest way forward for affiliate marketers isn’t to learn advanced SEO or to become a wizard with a traffic source. Branding is everything. If you can develop assets that stand on their own two feet and command readership through the quality of the content alone, THAT is the only thing that can be deemed “long term” in this industry.

The problem with building a brand is that it’s an art best left to those who know shit about the subject matter. I’ve found it very easy to build a brand for this affiliate marketing blog, because that’s what I do. I can relate to affiliates and I can write in a way that strikes a chord with them. But if you asked me to write a blog about shoes or the process of learning a second language, I’d have my work cut out.

Many affiliates suffer from this. We want to monetize every niche, but we don’t know where to start when it comes to writing about topics that have no relevance to us. We end up with half arsed sites, branded as sloppily as a squashed lemon, and articles that’ve blatantly been slapped together by some copywriter who’s only interest is stretching his 437 word count past the 500 mark.

Outsourcing is one of those buzz words that sounds smart. Fuck yeah, I can hire some housewife to write me 20 articles for a hundred bucks. Invariably, you end up with a website that strikes a tick next to the proverbial mutton dressed as lamb box.

The reality is that if you want to become an authority in your niche, without the indefinite nature of SEO or PPC, you have to pay the premium.

Hire passionate people to write about topics they can spark to life with their own knowledge. I’ve gone from selecting the best value bidder on Elance, to selecting the candidate who has slightly sketchier grammar but loves the niche I’m trying to break in to. Inevitably, you’ll be able to publish content that looks less like minimum wage slave labour.

Affiliate marketers are untouchable when it comes to monetizing traffic. No agency or worldwide company can lay a finger on the creativity and innovation that some of us possess. But we’re also responsible for publishing some of the biggest piles of steaming bullshit ever to be labeled “articles”.

I think the way forward in 2010 is to develop websites that other affiliates would pay a premium to advertise on. Be the system, don’t be part of it.

Connect to me, baby

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About the author

Finch
Finch

A 29 year old high school dropout (slash academic failure) who sold his soul to make money from the Internet. This blog follows the successes, fuck-ups and ball gags of my career in affiliate marketing.

30 Comments

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  • Awesome and well written post Finchy Boy 😉 I am seeing myself more and more on the fb ad manager then the WickedFire BST section…

  • I like to hire people who work in the same niche as my projects. Most of the time they will write for cheap and have quality writing. Just type whatever niche you are into + forum into google.. Create an account and scour the site for people who are knowledgeable at that subject and approach them.

  • Hey Finch
    That is one superb article/post.I get all of your stuff fed to my reader and ALWAYS get a good laugh.

    Your way with words would indicate you must have some Irish blood coursing through your veins-if not we could adopt you.

    Keep up the great writing.

    Terry

  • Finch,

    First of all, I love your post here. I’m a hater myself, but I usually pick on social media. I don’t love that you’re picking on the stuff I love, but I’m ok with it.

    You’ve made some great points about how as an SEO you become a cog in someone else’s machine. The only point I’d ask you to consider more carefully is what about “Quality Score” or rapidly evolving “Terms Of Service”. Don’t these qualities make it difficult to say PPC or PPV is a “free medium” (Free as in speech).

    Either way, nice post, hate on.

  • Hey Finch,

    Another epic post. Key point from my perspective is that for the substantial majority SEO is all about deception – fooling the search engines that you are lot more relevant than you really are. Problem is that the search engines are rather clever, don’t like being fooled and devote mind blowing sums of money to fighting against the likes of small SEO focussed affiliates that, in truth, don’t really add a lot to the quality of the search results. While today it’s relatively easy to rank for non-competitive terms moving forwards in undoubtedly won’t be. And the search engines will establish ways of distinguishing the sites that offer great content from those that know how to SEO a site to the top of the rankings without offering much in return.

    Moving forwards, the key will be relevancy. Easy back links aren’t normally obtained in relevant places. So today, a back link to florist from a an internet marketing blog may help, tomorrow it will surely count against you. Once search engines work out a robust way of establish relevancy SEO will become substantially harder.

    While I agree that establishing a brand can be incredibly lucrative I think that one has to remember that a brand takes a substantial amount of effort establish and a significant majority of brands will never progress beyond an experiment and will fail dismally.

    For me, it’s all about paid traffic. If you know how to buy and monetize traffic then you’re guaranteed a viable, long term and profitable business. When one paid traffic source becomes anti-affiliate another one arises. Can’t make money as an affiliate – build your own product. Once you know how to monetize paid traffic you can literally go in any direction that you chose.

    In fact I’d question whether you can ever establish a “brand” when talking about a blog or site with a subscriber base. I think that “reputation” would be a more accurate description whereas a brand is a reputation that you apply to a product or a service. And I hope that you don’t move away too much from what you’re doing as your “reputation” revolves around the fact that you’re a real world affiliate and that’s how you connect with your readers so well.

    Cheers,

    Andy

  • Don’t dismiss SEO completely. Think of Google, Yahoo & Bing as another traffic source in your arsenal. A very good traffic source in fact. Full of people who are actively and searching for the keywords you are paying £££ for.

    Getting a steady flow of free organic traffic from Google is fantastic, but you gotta suck the Google balls to get it. SEO is indeed boring as fuck and the goalposts are constantly changing, but in terms of ROI, SEO usually miles better than any form of paid traffic.

  • “In the gold rush it`s always the ones selling shovels that do the best.”

    I knew there was a reason why SEOLinkPro is a piece of shit aimed at noobs.

  • The beauty of the internet.
    You can be a big man even if you don’t have the balls to put your name behind what you say.

    Name (required) says:
    October 11, 2010 at 7:52 pm

    lol@thetroll

  • A SEO’d site is one of the only business assets an affiliate can build (along with targeted lists). The more links and the more age a domain gets the more it’s value increases over time.

    Think about it this way: if you died tomorrow morning, what business assets could your spouse/family easily sell ?

    A network of 50 aged SEO’d sites all having decent rankings or backlinks making $10k/month ? Or the list of traffic sources you used to buy traffic from?

    Buying and selling traffic is not an equitable business, it’s all churn and burn.

    Sure you can build brandable sites, it’ll take you like 5 years+ to do so, and it’s rather hard to build.

    But either way please do continue hating SEO…

  • Never in the 18 months I’ve been blogging here have I dared to call paid traffic a long term asset. Quite the opposite.

    My point is that your assets are only really assets as long as Google decides to keep it that way.

    Genuinely well designed sites will continue to perform well if they’re genuine authorities in their niche. If you rely on backlink algorithms, your worth is only as good as yesterday’s technology. I think that’ll change in the future as Google gets smarter and applies more relevance to backlinks.

  • “The more links and the more age a domain gets the more it’s value increases over time.”

    That’s a very sketchy argument.

  • Use SEO (or any other traffic source for that matter) for list building. You now have a long term buffer against algorithm changes and slaps because YOU are in control of the traffic not some search engine or ad network.

  • Yeah, many say SEO is long term, but it has its own bumps along the way (google slap, competitors, time, etc); its really not that different than paid traffic … I guess the best is to do them both;

    and like AdHustler said, we could always build lists out of them.

  • Hey Finch, great post! My favorite line was this:

    “We end up with half arsed sites, branded as sloppily as a squashed lemon, and articles that’ve blatantly been slapped together by some copywriter who’s only interest is stretching his 437 word count past the 500 mark.”

    Too true…too true.

  • SEO isn’t long term? Tell that to any established company in the top 10 for a competitive phrase, they will ALWAYS be there. I think that statement is ridiculous..

    Maybe for little affiliate projects it’s not but for a proper authority site which is valuable for users it’s rock solid. Go tell PokerStars there ranking for poker terms are volatile lol.

  • @James – I think you’ve missed the point. PokerStars is not a very good example of an SEO-reliant site. You could take away Google and it would still have a business. Because it has a brand and enough authority to exist in it’s space.

    As for these companies “always being in the top 10” for competitive phrases, that’s simply not true. Otherwise there would only be 10 companies for every niche in the world and the rest wouldn’t bother trying. Common sense.

  • Just a minor nit, Finch, but link wheels and hub-a-matics and whatnot are not really search engine _optimisation_. As was succinctly stated above, they’re an investment in fooling the search engines into thinking a site is more relevant and authoritative than it is; ie. search engine _manipulation_. Superior content and partnerships with truly relevant and valuable link sources not only tend to trump the paid “mechanical” methods of search engine ranking, but tend to provide more stable long-term results.

    The observations you make in this post are valuable and insightful, but I think you are neglecting to consider that the definition of “SEO” has sort of morphed in the last couple of years as the process has become commoditised. True optimisation is tantamount to building a brand. The mechanical methods largely pioneered (or perhpas — outed & perfected) by people like Eli@BlueHat were never intended to be long-term solutions.

    Frank

  • While long term is best, I don’t see a problem with short term. Most of the working world runs on short term and the model works fine. That is, most people who have a normal job are only making money while working, and earning nothing when they aren’t. If they are retired, get fired or are unable to work due to health issues, then income goes nowhere. Short term people just need to be able to adapt and keep hustling and they will be fine.

    On the other hand, why work for the short term when you could be spending that time working for the long term? I suppose most people would have to take a hybrid approach. In other words, don’t quit your day job until your long term enables you to comfortably do so.

  • Good point manofsteel. Also, why not build a site that’s good for short term and long term? That way, while you are building short term goals, they are benefiting the business in the long term too.

  • “My short term investments pay for my long term investments, and my long investments pay for me.”

    Quote I picked up from Eli’s blog. Short term is great as long as you are using that income to fund your long term investments.

  • I hate when you get a page into the top 100 of Google so you start building all kinds of links. It moves up a couple of spots and then completely drops out except for one keyword that is crappy. SEO is a pain.

  • Nice points Finch. But don’t we have Google to blame for that? If they put a premium on quality content and information infrastructures over backlinks, then we would all be doing SEO differently. I believe marketers just work through what the search engines are providing. It’s sad, but we do what brings in money.

    – Laura Madore

  • I don’t understand how you are going to get people to read this amazing material if you aren’t interested in organic traffic. I can sympathize with the frustrations you articulate here, but I just don’t see how you expect to generate traffic.

  • Really good post there I agree with everything what you are saying. I am doing mainly SEO for my affiliate websites. And the thing with big G is that its becoming more and more of a birds of feather flock together mentality with all the recent updates.

    If you are trying to rank for product names of something else than stupid CB product reviews you find product images all over the place from those big dog authority sites which probably gets most of the clicks. And funny enough Their on Page SEO is crap but they are authorities. Its just that Big G is just wanting TOP 500 companies to deal with whatever its SEO or Adwords.

    I think the really Important Stuff for 2011 is to be as little dependent on Google as possible.

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