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SEOs, Guns and Religion

Marianne Sweeny
SEOs, Guns and Religion

“So it’s not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy … as a way to explain their frustrations.” - Barack Obama, Oct. 2008

Lately, I have been thinking of this quote in light of the painful transition that the SEO community has been experiencing for the last few years.

Since Panda, Google’s strategy seems to be that of misdirection, or 'cloaking' as they would call it. Links are it, then authority, then topicality, then brands then content, then entities (they like nouns more than verbs), then Schema markup, then page load speed then mobile and I have not checked to see what this week’s mandate is.

With each implied change, SEOs step out on the ledge until they can figure out a way to game the system.

It is so bad that the black hat community mocks our lack of thought leadership, consistency and direction. Now that is just plain sad. Isn’t it time that we let go of the SEO guns and religion that are no longer effective?

We can set aside a focus on keywords and ranking for one that relies on concepts illuminated with deep, rich content. We can finally put a stake in the heart of link-building (by any of the names you wish to use) and link juice for a strategy that invests in merit-based in-links and social evangelization to earn traffic that wants to be there, engages with the content and converts. Finally, it is time to let go of the breadth site structure days in favor of leaner sites that have fewer pages with deeper content. I promise you, no one will miss those press releases from 2005.

How do I know? Searchmetrics CEO Martin Tober told me and all of us who attended the Periodic Table of SEO at SMX Advanced 2014 and the Friends of Search 2015 conference. In his findings, user experience­­­­ signals (UX) and relevant terms (content) beat in-links, found at a distant fourth, as significant ranking factors.

You can read the fall 2014 report here: The 2014 Rank Correlation Analysis and SEO Ranking Factors for Google U.S.

What Do We Set Aside

Tactics over Strategy: The days of an effective short game comprised of a sprinkling keywords, bulk purchase of links and ranking as an indicator of success are waning. The search engines have reached a level of semantic sophistication and the human cost of obtaining links that matter is prohibitive. User behavior and location now heavily influence ranking.

Blind Faith in Google Directives: Google has sent us down more than a few false trails. They loved Authorship until they took it away. They dictate that secure sites are more relevant and start a stampede to HTTPS and the requisite redirect goat rodeo. Google announces their mobile-friendly algorithm and then admits that some mobile relevance signals are based on the desktop version of the site.

What Do We Take Up

It is time to attach strategy to the “S” in search engine optimization. A strategy is doing what search engines cannot: think critically, map relationships and interpret behavior.


  • Optimizing page download speed is a tactic. Ensuring no dead ends with links to contextually related content on the site is a strategy.
  • Tracking hundreds of keyword phrases is a tactic. A focus on proof and relevant topics supported by site content, is a strategy.
  • Measuring the number of pages that rank on page 1 is a tactic. Measuring UX factors, click-through (select page from the SERP), time on site (engage with the site topic) and bounce rate (engage with the page content) is a strategy.

I’ve included more explicit guidance in What UX, IA and SEO Can Teach Each Other, my presentation from Friends of Search 2015.

It is time that we stop “explaining our frustrations” with SEO, guns and religion, stop waiting for Google’s tablets from the algorithm mount and stop pretending that we still live in the days of instantaneous effect from tactical cause.

I believe that the time has come for us to “cowboy up” and expand our horizons. Embrace UX and content strategies. Incorporate UX reading (I’ve listed some good ones below) along with the SEO in your reading. Buy a content strategist a cup of coffee.

It won’t hurt and will help. I promise.

UX Blogs to Follow:

Feel free to share your thoughts and favorite UX blogs in the comments section.

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Marianne Sweeny is VP of Internet Marketing for Strategic Edge Partners, a medical marketing agency. She is passionate about optimizing the user search experience on the Web or inside the enterprise firewall. Marianne’s most recent article for SEMrush was entitled: "SEOs, Guns & Religion."
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