The Essential SEO Playbook, Before and After Google

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I’ve written a number of book reviews, but this is my first review of a free eBook. I’m always skeptical of thinly disguised upsells and hidden affiliate links that often accompany free eBooks. You know what I’m talking about. But this one is none of those. It’s legit and packed with apply-now, SEO advice.


So first, here’s the link to the book (online and PDF download):


The UnFair Advantage Book on Winning the Search Engine Wars is for any website owner who wants to boost their online presence. I would call it the Bible of SEO except that the Bible has remained essentially unchanged for a couple of thousand years. The latest edition of Mahaney’s book — updated in June — is Version 217. That’s not a typo missing a period between 2 and 17 — the book has been updated over two hundred times!


BG (Before Google)


Version 1 of The UnFair Advantage (1996) was pre-Google (1998).


Version 217 is essentially all Google.


Early search engine technology — from vintage names like WebCrawler, AltaVista, Infoseek, Excite, Open Text and Lycos (remember them?) — was primitive by today’s standards. And early SEO was the Wild West with few rules and more outlaws than sheriffs.


In the BG-days, it was all about keywords, so keyword stuffing became the fastest, easiest way to reach top search result ranking. Shortcuts were commonly used, like repeating keywords frequently in copy and adding them at the bottom in a small white font to match the page’s background color to trick search engines. Then it was about links, so link exchanges and link farms became the preferred tactic.


All of these BG techniques are known today as Black Hat SEO.


AG (After Google)


Mahaney mentions a conference at which a start-up Google proclaimed it could never be spammed. Now an established Google warns against trying. In the years between, the company has continuously enhanced its search technology and updated its guidelines to reward legitimacy and discourage the kind of shortcuts and spam that were becoming rampant.


Say what you will about Google, it has been leveling the SEO playing field by creating and enforcing some rules of engagement — often with a giant can of whoopass, penalizing legitimate sites at the same time. Google has been willing to dole out penalties that Mahaney describes as “mild to wild” for those who try to break them. In fact, the overriding advice that Steph gives in the latest version of his book is to “keep your Web site in Google’s good graces!”


Google is the search engine leader and has demonstrated with every upgrade and change that it will not be resting on its laurels any time soon. Yahoo and Microsoft’s Bing are a distant third and fourth in the global market. The Chinese search engine, Baidu, is second thanks to the boost from that country’s huge population and restrictive political system.


Meanwhile, Google’s leadership is carrying over to the new search frontier — mobile — with 90 percent global share and essentially a monopoly on smartphones and tablets.


What Google Wants: GATG


Because of Google’s market position and technology superiority, site owners and SEO consultants, advisors, agencies and SEO worker-bees would be wise to give the search engine giant what it wants. As Mahaney states, “search strategies today are centered around strategic compliance with Google’s terms of service and Webmaster ‘best practices’ guidelines.” He shares a new acronym to remember: GATG or Good According to Google.


In other words: Google makes the laws and enforces the laws. Judge, jury and executioner all-in-one.


Does your website deliver on the true intent of the keywords you optimize, and do you have the credentials and experience to back it up? This is the new standard in SEO because what Google wants to deliver, and is growing more capable of figuring out, are websites that are trustworthy, authoritative and on-topic.


Let me give you examples from a few of the chapters.


Chapter 2: Steph dives into what he calls, the relative importance of ranking factors, relative being the operative word.


While keywords remain essential in SEO ranking, they are no longer the only essential factor. Now Google determines your web page’s rank by things like:


  • Hyperlinks coming to your site from other websites
  • Trust, authority and reputation of your site, as well as for those linking to your site
  • How well your site handles desktop and mobile users — providing each user-type with a consistent experience
  • How how fast (or slow) your web pages load (faster is prefered)


Chapter 3: I learned about how search results can be heavily influenced by personalization. The search results I get from a Google search may be very different from the ones you get based not only on my location (helpful when ordering pizza from the closest Domino’s) but also on my search history, my social networks, and device (mobile searches and desktop searches yield different results).


Chapter 5: If I had paid for this book I’d say this is where I got my money’s worth. I’ve never really thought about it before, but it now makes a lot of sense. “The only type of keyword that consistently converts to sales is the last one used before making a purchase.”


I know this for myself. When I begin researching a topic, I start with two or three very broad terms but as I get deeper into the subject, and closer to making a buying decision, my search query can be five to ten keywords.


What’s this got to SEO? If you’re focused on a few broad terms, you’re missing the keywords that actually convert anonymous traffic into paying customers. This really puts a perspective on all those spammy emails from SEO “experts” claiming magical ranking results for your main industry keywords.


If you are serious about going to SEO battle, I recommend the latest version of The UnFair Advantage Book on Winning the Search Engine Wars by Stephen Mahaney. After all, he’s been doing it longer than… well, longer than Google.


And if you are lucky enough to have a marketing department that does this work for you, they might appreciate adding this book to their reference materials.


John Fox is the Founder and President of Venture Marketing, a B2B marketing consulting firm enabling sales reps to win more deals with disruptive, challenger marketing, compelling their customers and channel partners to re-examine how they do things and consider new alternatives. To talk with Venture Marketing and ask your B2B marketing questions, please contact us at Venture Marketing.


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