SEO Game Change: Are You Setting the Right Expectations?


Since I happen to be starting this post during warm-ups for a company softball game, I can’t help but tie it in. Maybe there’s an analogy here about everyone playing their own position or a parallel between teamwork in a game and teamwork in SEO. But tonight I have a bit more of a personal perspective.

See, I suck at softball. But I still play because it’s fun.

Before I joined the team though, which was kind of an accident in the first place, I was completely honest with everyone about my athletic limitations. Why? To take on the same challenge with my team that I face every day with my clients: expectation management.

In SEO, like sports, there will be wins and losses stagnation and growth. And getting the most out of either usually comes down to your mindset going in.

Understanding the Playing Field

If you’re paying attention, you know the SEO game has changed. The rules are different; the arena has evolved to a place where in some ways we need to re-learn the fundamentals.

Rankings losses could be caused by plenty of things. It could be on-site issues or backlinks that made Google knock it down a few pegs. That’s typically the most common assumption. It makes sense and a little diminished ranking capacity will generally trigger that kind of introspection. It’s healthy, it’s good, and it usually helps you determine when the problem actually is on your end.

If you do a little research and get really honest with yourself, you’ll probably find some things in your backlinks that aren’t exactly authentic.

You may find a few places on your site where you went a little crazy stuffing a meta tag or creating pages for each keyword you want to rank for when the only conceptual difference is the presence of the word “cheap” vs the word “discount”.

If that’s your situation, your issues may be on you.

But sometimes they aren’t.

After you check yourself, if you’re struggling to find an answer, take a closer look at the landscape. You may find it’s a lot different than you remember it.

Who Moved the Mound?

Where you rank isn’t exclusively a result of what you’re doing yourself. It’s also about your competition, your market, Google’s own self-serving agenda and most of all; it’s about the end user.

You may be looking for victory or failures in the wrong place. It’s entirely possible that you’re trying to play softball in a hockey rink.

Right now, a lot of SEO feels like there’s a sheet of ice where the infield used to be. That part isn’t just you. A lot of things that used to work that aren’t working anymore; things that used to be beneficial are becoming detrimental. But that’s where we are, and we can’t ignore the new reality.

Tactics, spaces and lofty keyword goals may need to be abandoned or at least re-prioritized because they just aren’t feasible now. New and challenging integrated marketing plans may need to be explored. Because when you see the Zamboni… it’s probably time to move on.

So if you can’t play your old way in the new space, look for the right venue or strap on some skates, because it’s a different game now and we need to get used to it.

Recognizing a Win or a Loss

When everything is new, learning to identify a gain or a setback can be problematic. When your big traffic driving keywords slip, it’s easy to dwell on the loss.

It’s easy to blame the Googernaut for its maniacal machinations. It’s not as easy to accept that you may just be out of your league when it’s made up of variety and big names that Google trusts and users recognize. So if that’s actually the case, you’re better off looking for a field you can play on now rather than fuming on the bench.

The old metrics may not apply in the same way. It’s not that you’d ever throw out things like traffic or rankings altogether, but your competition may have changed and the ways you calculate a score are a little bit different.

Reviewing more diverse sources of traffic may have to be a much bigger part of your strategy now. You may have a wider scope of rankings to review and the glass ceiling may have been lowered on certain phrases altogether.

Building real back links, industry authority, brand reputation and expanding the scope of your content have got to be a bigger part of the plan now. But that also means that you have more chances to find victories.

It’s Still a Good Game

To bring this full circle, after explaining the high probability of my failure to the softball team, they seemed to have the right expectation for my performance. They didn’t plan on me hitting a double; they knew I wasn’t going to do a split to catch a pop-up foul like Geena Davis in “A League of Their Own”.

So when I did make contact, in what I guess you’d call a swinging bunt, everyone was really surprised and happy. No one more than me. Because, I still suck at softball – I crowd the plate, can’t field, and I usually need to lie down for a minute in the unusual event I do make it around all three bases.

So we celebrate those little wins.

I’d never tell anyone anything is impossible in SEO. But if we’re being realistic, you may not be hitting home runs any more. But that’s OK, three singles will still bring a runner home.

It’s not that anything is out of reach, but if you’ve had a New York Yankees-esque winning season based on bad practices then you’ve been playing on borrowed time for a while. In the new game calling a win is all about having the right expectations. It’s when all of the little things add up and all of the hours of collaboration start to bring in results.

There’s no reason why each incremental step forward shouldn’t be considered a step in the right direction or at the very least an insight into a bigger opportunity or an area for further study. It’s all in having the right expectations about how you look at what constitutes a win.

Oh and speaking of which, tonight, we won.

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