No one who’s watching wants to see it. No one who’s listening wants to hear it. Anyone who’s just starting out in SEO or anyone who’s been in SEO for years isn’t going to want to hear it or even agree. SEO is a commodity. It’s been commoditized.
Deep down, it’s something I’ve known for a year or so now, but two recent posts have solidified this viewpoint for me: Rand Fishkin’s The Responsibilities of SEO Have Been Upgraded and Alan Blieweiss’ Why I Joined Click2Rank. Each has a unique subject, each has unique vantage point, but the end result of both articles brought me to “commodity”. Neither are prerequisite reading, but I would recommend them both.
Here’s the definition of commoditization from InvestoPedia:
1) While many consider this sort of adjustment worthwhile, some view commoditization as a cause of price fluctuations. 2) When a product becomes indistinguishable from others like it and consumers buy on price alone, it becomes a commodity.[emphasis mine]
The New Used Car Dealerships of the Web
Between the rapid globalization (read outsource) and higher levels of saturation in the market place today, SEO services are the newest used car dealerships on the web. The same knowledge resource [the product] possessed by many in a space dominated by price [consumers looking for the service]. The industry is about cheap quality. If the consumer doesn’t find SEO Company X’s price palatable, he/she can walk down the street and haggle with SEO Company Y’s people. Because in the end, all a client/consumer wants is a vehicle that gets done what it has to at the least expense to them.
Some will argue that this simply isn’t the case. And, I’ll listen to those arguments because I still want to believe it isn’t the case either. But let’s take this metaphor a bit further.
Ferrari’s and Yugo’s and Everything in Between
Like automobiles, SEO and SEM skill sets come in varying degrees. Some of us are highly-tuned, highly-functional Ferrari’s: clients know it’s expensive (and have a hard time justifying the cost), but also know (we hope they do) they’ll be getting precision, speed, luxury, and an unparalleled level of craftsmanship. Some of us out there are Yugo’s: clients know (again, we hope they do) all they’re getting is four tires and an engine. It gets you mobile, it’s A to B, it’s not the safest or the best, but it’s cheap training wheels. And then there is everyone in between these two poles; it’s a grab-bag of skill sets and you [the client] never know what you’re going to get.
A Second Depression
This is where it gets a bit political, so if you’d rather not, no hard feelings. We’ll catch up on the net another time.
It’s no big secret, the global economy is in trouble. From dollar-deflation issues and Euro troubles, to crashing double-dip housing market complete with derivatives [read a crippled banking and finance industry], crushed consumer spending, every company is watching their marketing budget with an extra layer of scrutiny. It was lean before, it’s lean now, and it’ll be leaner into the distant future. The Second Depression isn’t letting them off the hook, and in turn, they won’t be letting us off the hook.
SEO is less about experience, knowledge, and proven ability these days, even taking into account Rand’s accurate depiction of what SEO is today. It’s a numbers game for companies. They recognize the need for SEO and SEM services in order to be competitive, in order to still have footholds in the market place. However, since SEO services have been commoditized, it’s no longer advantage SEO.
The Game is Not Yours to Dictate Anymore
Companies know the score now. They no longer feel compelled to be held over the fire singularly based on an SEO’s knowledge, experience, and skill set. Thus, leading to higher costs. Prospective clients can send you packing and opt for cheaper(est) services thanks to a saturated marketplace, thanks to globalization. Current clients can spend half what they do now by pulling resources in-house. Couple that with ultra-frugal mindsets and heavily slashed budgets. Hopefully you can see where this is heading.
This doesn’t mean that Ferrari-esque SEOs are destined to find agency/in-house gigs (but that is one possible outcome). It doesn’t mean that Yugo SEOs and Middle SEOs will rule the market. It simply means that the game is no longer yours to dictate. And, as such, expect less. Even in destroyed economies, performance has a place. You can still keep the same prices, but expect that even less people will seek you out for that rate.
You can tell me that “quality” still means something to some. You can tell me that “results and proven track records” still hold water. I won’t disagree with that. But what I will tell you is that those things are “nice to haves” in a world where the guy next door does the same thing for half the price, even though he/she doesn’t have a leg to stand on. Because it’s about dollar-dollar bills y’all.
Google Wonder Wheel may be the best kept secret that very few search marketers are using. Or, maybe you all are, and I just don’t know it. Even Google doesn’t have much information on the tool.
At SMX Advanced there was a “Leveraging SEO Power Tools” session, and it was a very useful session, but I didn’t hear anyone speak about this tool. Frankly, I’m not sure that I would consider it a full-out SEO power tool; however, Wonder Wheel is a tool that can help you in three huge SEO tasks with a little bit of elbow grease.
What is Google Wonder Wheel and Where Do I Find It?
Wonder Wheel is Google’s attempt to help users simplify search by creating a mind-map of sorts, a map of user-related queries connected to the searcher’s original query. But don’t my word for it, here’s Adam from Google demonstrating Wonder Wheel.
Where You Find It and What It Looks Like
Looking Through a Glass Onion
Yet, if you peel back what Google says at face-value about this tool, infuse some SEO knowledge, you’ll see it’s more than just a related queries tool to help you simplify search discovery. Essentially Google is providing you with closely-linked semantic and temporal keywords that user’s use. And, by proxy, Google recognizes as closely-related temporally and semantically keywords and phrases to the original keyword phrase.
3 Big SEO Research Tasks Wonder Wheel Tackles
When you look at Wonder Wheel as an applied semantic and temporal database, the possibilities for how you can leverage this tool become endless. I use this tool daily for three tasks: competitive research and monitoring, on-site content keyword variations, and for link building efforts.
A note of caution here: from my own experience using this tool, this tool is very query dependent and market place dependent. That is to say, going beyond the second-level extension usually puts you too far out from the original query to be helpful, see the example below:
Competitor Research and Monitoring
You can use Wonder Wheel to monitor and research competitors for closely related terms to your target term to find out just how dominant they are within the space. Remember that close semantic and temporal terms, while not being an exact match to the term, all support and relate to each other, providing Google clues to thematic structure. If you want more information on how I’m arriving at this (taking liberties and extrapolating a bit), I would suggest SEO By the Sea’s Semantic Closeness post and SEO is Undead Again Post.
Wonder Wheel may also provide you clues of what your client should really be targeting in the SERPs. For example, your client wanted to position themselves well for Term X, and through checking related terms Y and Z, you find more of their significant market place competitors reside in Z. You do your keyword research homework and find that indeed Z is more viable term than X, and will be more valuable to your client in the long-term.
On-site Content Variations for Target Terms
Sometimes there’s only so far you can stretch your target keyword term on a page. You’ve used different tenses and variations, but at the risk of stuffing and snuffing out the user experience, you need to find a new way. Wonder Wheel can help you there too (if you were thinking Panda, you’re on the right track).
Wonder Wheel can help you find semantic and temporal keyword phrases that can you can supplement in the content, helping spread its tentacles for more relevancy, “normalizing” it a bit, and helping it save the user experience not reading like keyword-stuffed set of AM/FM radio instructions.
Anchor Text Variations for Links
Think of Wonder Wheel as an ace up your sleeve for link anchor text variation. Exact match anchor is necessary and powerful, but nothing screams manipulation more than hundreds/thousands exact match anchor text to your site. Getting semantically and temporally close-related anchors plays a dual role: keeps thematic consistency within the link graph (i.e. keeps target term relevancy high) while also providing link graph variation and normalization to normalize it.
But it’s not just for inbound links, you can use this technique for internal linking schemes through body content. If you use your target term in a few spots, you can switch up that internal anchor text with one of these variations as well.
The Bottom Line: A Versatile Tool
As you can see, Google Wonder Wheel is a rather versatile tool that can help you leverage the semantic and temporal web. These aren’t the only uses for Wonder Wheel, but some that you can start implementing into your routines today. Google has suggested Wonder Wheel be used for AdWords, creating ad group themes. However, since I’ve never used it for that purpose (yet), I can’t comment on how well it works. But if you have I’d love to hear about your experiences with it.
Clients lose that naive trust and faith fast, if it was ever there to begin with. However, as SEO becomes more widely adapted as a need-to-have in any online campaign strategy, there are those who will be dealing with SEO, and possibly online/search marketing for the first time. It won’t be long before they’re jaded; there are a lot of hucksters out there, and they’ll have perceived the experience as been taken for a ride in some way, shape, or form. This is the exact person we’re NOT dealing with in this post.
There is a difference between being a disillusioned client and a jaded client. In that the disillusioned client has seen successes with SEO; whereas, a jaded client is usually in a place too far gone, in a place where they’ll have to resolve some scar tissue and mental healing before they step back into the ring with SEO.
Disillusion is Good For Clients Too
Trust. It’s what every search and online marketer needs from clients. So, you might be puzzled why I’m suggesting a loss of trust is a good thing for clients to have, and why it would benefit the marketer? It’s blind trust we’re aiming to shed. It’s the client Texas Hold Em’ equivalent to “all in”. The big push to double-up and stay solvent in the game. It’s this blind faith that pins SEO as their first and last hope to a) build more revenue from online lead gen b) recover lost market share from competition that’s been kicking the snot out of them on the web, and c) create more brand-visibility/equity to usher in new streams of consumers.
It’s the client’s blind trust and faith in SEO that leads to train-wrecks, unreal expectations, and potentially being worse off when they started. Disillusion is good for clients and marketers. The trust you earn with a client that has been burned before is real trust. It’s a level of trust that’s broken through cynicism/BS/magic barrier, and, therefore, is a trust that’s been earned through quality work and repeated, measurable results. That is no small feat.
All-in Clients Don’t Want Honest Expectations
For an SEO, honesty is about setting the expectations. It’s something that I alluded to in Nick LeRoy’s excellent post last week. Expectations can only be set when real objectives are present and known. Otherwise, every client under the sun wants: “more leads”, “more online revenue generation”, “more qualified traffic”, etc, and that’s the only objective. MORE.
It’s true, SEO can do that, but an SEO has to help the client see what it is they really want. Not three months from now, but twelve months from now. If SEO can’t pull that information out of them, and the client can’t envision it and clarify it, then there isn’t an expectation on the planet that can cover that.
That fact of the matter is “all in” clients don’t want your honesty. Clients don’t want to think about systemic issues; they want 180 degree help now.They want the online and search marketing life preserver. Not long after this, a disillusioned client.
Why Disillusioned Clients Are More Mature Clients, Better Clients
Just like a once disillusioned SEO is a better marketer, so too is a disillusioned client a better client. It’s not that a client puts less pressure for results or is more apt to give trust from the onset; the pressure remains a constant and trust still has to be earned, and frankly harder to earn, but the expectations are adjusted.
Going from an all-in position as a client looking for miracle marketing, to a more mature online/search marketing client, not only helps naturally set more realistic expectations and, with a little sleuth work from the SEM, can surface the real objectives, but allows the SEO to be more honest about the what his/her skill set can help and what it can’t help. Disillusioned clients rarely go back to all-in positions once they’ve been there. Call it gun-shy, call it risk-averse, they’ll never again bundle everything in a single strategy again. When’s the last time you got torched and then made the exact same mistake?
When you’ve got a disillusioned client that’s looking to diversify online strategy, and you’ve got a disillusioned SEO with diverse knowledge of online and search marketing and the skill set to match, it’s a 1:1. Everyone comes to the table with their palms face-up and sleeves rolled (ideally) because no one’s got time mask their intentions. Questions and answers. More questions, more answers, and real objectives are discovered. Real, meaningful, multi-pronged strategies are built.