Barry Schwartz over at Search Engine RoundTable is running an interesting poll with the question of “SEO As A Career In The Future?“.
The poll was prompted by a discussion thread at WebmasterWorld entitled “Beyond Google SEO – is it time for a Career Change?“.
For the uninitiated: Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the practice of optimizing a Website so that it ranks high in search engines — such as Google — for crucial keywords related to said Website. For example, if your Website happens to sell blue shoes, then you want to be one of the top ranking results in Google for “blue shoes”, “blue sneakers”, “blue dress shoes”, etc.
Also for the uninitiated (or the more recently initiated): I happened to be something of an early pioneer in the SEO industry. My initial claim to fame was something called the “Google Dance Tool” circa 2002 and, soon thereafter, a community forum I started known as SEOChat, which to this day continues to be a vibrant community of search marketing professionals. As a consequence thereof, I was something of a “public figure” in the early SEO industry, speaking at conferences, engaging in public forums, working with large corporations, etc.
Barry’s poll evokes some emotion for me since, given the results as they currently stand, there are many people in the SEO community that feel as though their livelihoods are in jeopardy (see below). Moreover, in reading some of the comments it’s clear that many find SEO to be overly difficult these days, with the fruits of labor uncertain and too slow to come.
That it is more difficult to generate revenue also appears to be a theme, with one commenter stating that “My hourly rate (from the website) is 1/3rd of what my 12-year-old son earns on his paper round.”
The Times They Are A-Changin’
In casting my mind back to the “golden era” of SEO — which I consider to be about 2000 – 2005 or so — it was incredibly easy to rank Websites high in Google for competitive keywords. And it was also significantly easier to find clients willing to pay $15,000-$20,000 per month or more for that service; Have a few of those clients on your roster and BOOM – you have it made!
However, the (un)fortunate reality is that times change.
The current landscape is such that it is generally far more difficult to find rank for keywords and to find larger clients.
SEO has evolved beyond merely organic search into a broad spectrum Internet marketing service with things like social media, PPC, email marketing, user experience, app development, etc. all playing a role.
And search engines too have evolved far beyond the simple “ten blue links” that can be easily gamed by tweaking links and content.
Companies also have evolved, becoming far smarter about tracking their bottom lines and their Return-On-Investment (ROI), which has forced marketers to more accurately quantify success and justify their service costs on an ongoing basis.
As the SEO industry became popular more SEO “professionals” were drawn into the industry and competition, thus, became fierce. We all know of the $99/month “complete SEO packages” offered by companies that can leverage cheap labor or automated processes.
Sure, expectations from such a cheap service should be practically zero, yet a business manager researching SEO might see that low price tag and they don’t know the difference between high-quality and low-price; They’re only concerned with minimizing expenses. (As an aside, I should mention that cheaper services can often be detrimental, as they sometimes use “black hat” tactics that can get a site permanently penalized.)
Yet, I can’t help but think that to some degree the SEO community has itself to blame for it being more difficult to acquire good clients these days. I’m specifically thinking of: 1) The lack of general hierarchy, certifications, etc. in the industry, and 2) The fact that not much is/was done to prevent people from getting burned by the fake SEO snake-oil salespeople, who sell SEO as a service without having a clue as to what they are doing.
Having seen the industry develop over nearly 20 years, I do feel as though I can offer some interesting insights and perspectives on how the dynamics of the SEO industry have changed over time, for both the better and worse. Alas, if I open that Pandora’s box I will be here typing forever, so I shall leave those for another time.
Update: It appears that this is a known issue and is addressed by an update of iOS to version 11.1.1. Though, I do wonder about Apple’s pre-release testing processes.
For whatever reason, whenever I try to type uppercase I (as in “I am going crazy with this”), iOS on my iPhone 7 Plus wants to auto-correct that letter to some very strange character (presumably a malformed unicode character or something similar):
For example, if I go to write an new email and type “i”, I get this bizarre autocomplete suggestion:
If I press space to continue typing (without dismissing the autocomplete), then I see this monstrosity:
I have already gone into Settings > General > Reset and done the “Reset Keyboard Dictionary“, which has not resolved the issue.
iOS Version: 11.1 (15B93)
Something tells me that it may be related to WhatsApp, since I first noticed the issue there, however I cannot be sure. Regardless, the issue now persists system-wide.
Update (12/27/2017): I got an email from Scott at CloudFlare today letting me know that a fix had been deployed. After checking, it does now seem that CloudFlare is correctly minifying pages for Googlebot and W3C.
In doing some Website debugging recently, I noticed that CloudFlare is not “minifying” HTML code for some clients. Unfortunately, one such client is the Googlebot crawler/robot.
This is problematic because I had been using the Cloudflare auto-minification feature under the premise that it would aid with loading speed optimization, which has been a component of Google’s ranking algorithm since at least 2010.
However, as you can see here, Google’s crawlers are receiving the un-minified version of the HTML code (notice the highlighted HTML comments and the leading whitespaces):
Whereas my Web browser (Chrome) is receiving minified HTML code:
I did submit a support ticket to CloudFlare seeking clarification. Their response was:
“Our minification service is particularly conservative, and will break at the first perceived error. “
Understandable. They recommended that I use the W3C validator to validate HTML code (which, of course, I had already done and verified the code was 100% compliant). Oh, and by the way, the W3C validator also receives the unminified HTML code with comments and white-spacing.
But even if there were HTML errors, the real conundrum here is why two different clients are receiving different code; A regular browser such as Chrome does receive minified/optimized code, yet Googlebot and the W3C validator does not.
Another observation I have made is that “spoofing” the user-agent to Googlebot from my computer does not return un-minified code. Hence, the determining factor is not solely the client’s user-agent; It is more likely based on IP or reverse DNS lookup.
For now, I am operating on the assumption that CloudFlare intentionally bypass minification for certain high-traffic clients, such as Web crawlers. This makes sense from a resource utilization standpoint because minification does consume additional CPU compute cycles upon each request. Googlebot alone probably makes tens of millions of requests to the CloudFlare servers every day. Simply disabling that feature for Googlebot would advantageous.
Unfortunately, that which is advantageous for CloudFlare is disadvantageous for me in terms of Google rankings. So, it may now be time to install mod_pagespeed and/or research other options (which will probably mean moving away from CloudFlare).
I set up this Website / blog because I have noticed a marked deterioration in the quality of my writing in recent years. I attribute much of the deterioration to modern forms of communication, e.g. text messages, one-liner emails and Twitter with their 140 character limitation (though, it’s soon going to be a whopping 280 characters!).
My assumption is that if I have a venue such as this, where I can write long-form and deep-dive into topics, that I will rekindle some of my writing skills.
So with that in mind… Watch this space for some of my thoughts and musings. I’ll try keep it the topics interesting, but expect most to fall within the realm of tech, Web stuff, stock markets, etc.