Signal To Noise

January 6th, 2009 by

Annoying Noises ProhibitedAs we kick off 2009 it seems we are already in the midst of some serious noise in the search industry.  At the end of 08 we were hit pretty hard with talk of drastic changes to search in 09, and sadly a lot of this talk has carried over into the New Year.  A few of the popular opinions that seem to still have quite a bit of steam as we move into 2009 are “rankings are dead”, if you don’t have videos or images on your site your rankings will tank, and bounce rates will be the next big ranking factor.

Rankings Are Dead

The “rankings are dead” idea stemmed from a video interview with Bruce Clay during PubCon where he claimed that rankings would become a thing of the past with advancements in personalization and universal search in 2009.  He explained how SEO’s will need to measure success not by a site’s ranking, but things like analytics and conversions.

This same interview introduces us to the idea that sites that aren’t featuring images and video could disappear from Google’s top ten rankings overnight.  His thought is that Google will be looking for more engaging sites and content and images and video will provide the kind of engagement they are looking for.  If your site doesn’t have these items of interest, your top ten ranking site will drop overnight.

Sadly as we start out the New Year it seems that the two point’s people seemed to take away from this interview and continue to rehash is that rankings don’t matter and if you don’t get video on your site soon your rankings will tank.  First of all, if you subscribe to the school that rankings no longer matter, what do you care if your site tanks?

That aside, I think there is something more important to take away from Bruce’s interview when considering your strategy for 09.  First be more aware of what’s happening with your sites outside of just rankings.  Are they converting?  Are people finding what they are looking for on your sites?  How is your marketing strategy working as a collective?  These are the things that will really define success in your SEO strategy.

To Bruce’s second point, personalization and universal search will most definitely evolve in the coming year and as SEO’s we need to evolve with them.  While in my opinion a site probably won’t drop off the face of Google for not having video, it could definitely be outranked by a video, image, news result, or more in the SERPs.  So optimizing your site as well as your images, videos, and press releases if you have them, will definitely be an important factor to help your site and it’s presence in the SERPs.  While the idea of being outranked by something in universal search isn’t a new concept, it’s definitely something that isn’t going anywhere and if you aren’t doing your part you’ll be left in the dust in the long run.

Bounce On Outta Here

Finally bounce rates as the next big ranking factor…This concept has been around for a while, but it seemed to pick up steam at the beginning of December with a post on Search Engine Land.  Then again the concept was regurgitated in David Leonhardt’s Bounce Rate SEO Fallacies post.

UPDATE: David Harry advised me that the bounce rate fiasco actually first surfaced in October on Search Engine Watch.  I wasn’t aware of this post, but thought I’d make note of it for reference.

The idea of this is ludicrous to me and I’m glad that Matt Cutts chimed in and gave his two cents on the matter in a comment on Sphinn following David’s post.  I wish more SEO’s would let go of this and realize what a noisy signal this would be.  If bounce rates had a significant impact on search rankings I could spend my day clicking on and off of my competition until my clients’ site was #1.  Yet even after Mr. Cutts slapped down the idea people still seem to be running with it.

Let’s spend 09 focusing on more signal and less noise.  If we’re going to be innovative and find new potential in search marketing and discover more about search engines we need to be thinking logically and not jumping on the first new concept that comes from an authority.  That’s not to say that good things can’t come from authority and that’s not to say that you can have a different take away from what is being said, but sometimes it’s still a good idea to step back and question it instead of accepting it immediately as gospel.

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2 Responses to “Signal To Noise”

  1. I wholeheartedly agree, Mike. It’s usually a good idea to step back and be objective about some things in the search space (especially when such things take into account nonexistant search engine metrics to rank web sites – Matt Cutts said it himself – “Dude, I have no idea about any things like bounce rate.”). Usually, if some things sound like an attempt at linkbait, attempts to get headlines, attempts to get attention (etc., etc.) then that’s usually the case. However, sometimes, even in the midst of such noise, a diamond in the rough can be found. It’s up to us, our judgement, and performing our due diligence in order to find such things. If we simply accept everything being touted by an authority as gospel without question, then how can that really help the improvement of our skills as SEOs?

  2. I’m glad to see something trying to cut through the chatter and clear up what @thegypsy calls “myth making”.

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