SEO In 2012: The End Of Quick, Cheap Keyword Rankings

With the holiday season upon us and 2012 nearing a close, I’m reflecting on the big change in SEO this year:

There is no longer a quick and affordable way for small businesses to achieve high rankings in Google for their target keywords.

Much has been written about Google’s assault on webspam this year.  Whether it be Panda updates, Penguin updates, or the over-optimization penalty, one thing is for sure – the days of being able to rank your website simply by investing in large quantities of cheap, easy to find links are over.

That’s why trusted industry leaders like SEOMoz suggest that you focus on ways to earn links rather than build them, and Neil Patel is suggesting that you focus on creating lots of quality content and marketing that content.  Then, and only then, can you expect to see a rise in search results

2012 Review:  How We Used To Do It

The big changes didn’t really hit hard until April of this year.  Until then, it was pretty easy to get your site to move up in Google search results for your targeted keywords.  All you had to do was get a lot of links pointing back to your website.  Diversify your links and use your keyword as the anchor text and you were good to go:  improved rankings came to you in just a matter of months.

The really good news was that the type of links you needed to boost your search rankings were affordable and easy to get.  You didn’t have to worry about where they came from so much, just as long as you got more of them than your competitor.

Let’s take a look back at how SEO link-building used to work and why is was so inexpensive.

Article Submissions – Then

There were literally hundreds of thousands of article directories on the web when 2012 began.  These are websites that exist solely to house a library of articles on any range of topics.  All you had to do was create a user name and password and begin writing and submitting your articles.  With low or no quality guidelines in place, acceptance rates were very high, making it easy to acquire a link and improve your rankings.

This method was so effective at pushing websites up in SERPs that entire software programs were invented to automate the process of signing up and submitting articles.  Combine that with article spinning software (to create thousands of unique articles) and you were ready to go!  Now, instead of submitting articles one at a time to individual directories, you could submit thousands of articles to thousands of directories with the push of a button.  This was a streamlined approach that made link building super easy and very affordable.

Article directories like this one exist(ed) because their owners are able to used to be able to generate advertising revenue from all the visitors the site would attract (what with all it’s expertly crafted articles and astute contributors!)

Article Submissions – Now

The grandfather of article directories – EzineArticles – is still around, but these directories have very little, if any, effect on search engine rankings.  I can’t see any reason why you’d spend any time writing an article of any level of quality and posting it to an article directory these days.  You’re better off publishing a quality article on your own site or using it as a guest blog post on a relevant site in your industry.

Directory Listings – Then

I’m not talking about quality directories such as or that require you to add your business details, get reviews, and build a community.  I’m talking about directories that are easy to get into and don’t have any criteria for acceptance.

Cheap directory sites like this exist merely as a way for companies to get an easy link back to their website.  The owners of the directories generate revenue either through advertising and/or by selling enhanced listings.

Directory Listings – Now

Quality directory listings, such as those that come from the Better Business Bureau and are important to be listed in.  Getting listed in your local chamber of commerce’s online directory is also a valuable listing that helps your site gain trust with Google.  Online directories like Yellow Pages, Yelp, and Insider Pages are also good to be listed in – make sure you claim and fully optimize your listing at these sites.

Niche directories, such as Urban Spoon (for restaurants) and Avvo (for attorneys) carry a lot of clout because they can appear high in search results and have earned trust among consumers.  Some people will “check you out” on sites like these before deciding to do business with you.  Once you’ve got your company listed in your industry’s recognized directory source leaders, it’s debatable whether seeking out additional listings are worth your time.  Remember, most directories pull your basic contact data from aggregates like InfoUSA.  Update it there and it will be available to all the others.

Private Blog Networks – Then

Throughout 2011 and early into this year, private blog networks were one of the most effective ways to quickly and affordably affect search results.  Subscription-based blog networks like Build My Rank (also known as BMR) worked like this:

1 – Write a low-quality, 150 word unique article with your link in it

2 – Submit your article and within hours it was posted to a random site within the network

3 – Sit back and watch your rankings rise

This was an easy way to get links from a variety of different sites and even though the sites weren’t necessarily relevant to your business, it was an effective way of improving search rankings.

Savvy marketers could outsource their articles to overseas writers on Odesk for 50 cents a post.  In fact, Build My Rank became so popular and successful at ranking websites, that outsourcers in Bangladesh and the Philippines started their own businesses by hiring and managing teams of local “BMR” writers.

Private Blog Networks – Now

Early in 2012, Google caught on and began removing the blogs that made up these networks from it’s index.  That means if one of your articles was on a site that Google de-indexed, your link was worthless.

Any paid subscription service or private blog network that used to offer easy link building is now either defunct or useless.  The ones that are still around are hoping to stay off of Google’s radar.

2012:  The Fallout

With cheap off-site link building no longer being an effective way of improving search rankings, many SEO companies have struggled to find an effective and affordable way of helping their clients get traffic and sales.  As a result, I know of several companies who have gone out of business and others who are on the verge of wrapping it up.  The SEO’s who remain are having to dramatically temper client expectations, so that clients understand that search engine optimization is an investment takes time.

Subsequently, those same business owners who counted on traffic and sales as a result of inexpensively priced SEO services, are now seeing their business fall away as their keyword rankings plummet.

The Way Forward – Advice For 2012 And Beyond

Don’t Obsess About Keyword Rankings

Unless you have a well-established site that’s already a Page Rank powerhouse, you’re probably not going to rank for your biggest juicy keywords within a few months.  You’re better off focusing on ways to increase your traffic through blogging and social media.  Turn your attention instead toward your number of unique visitors and sales.

Return To Basics

Focus your efforts on building an email list of interested subscribers.  Services like AWeber and Mailchimp make email marketing easy.  Create the best possible content you can for your site.  Solicit comments and reviews and reply to everyone.  Focus your content on targeting long tail keywords and follow on-page SEO best practices.  Be patient while your traffic grows.

Don’t Put All Your Eggs In The Online Marketing Basket

Your online marketing budget shouldn’t break the bank every month.  If you’re counting on online marketing and SEO to provide a large percentage of your sales volume, you’re probably going to be disappointed.  Online marketing works best for those businesses who can afford to make the long term investment in their business.  The nice thing is that the if you follow Google’s quality guidelines, the rewards are yours to keep.


I’ve always felt like SEO was a lot like the wild, wild west and this year Google has taken steps – for better or for worse – toward taming that wild frontier through it’s crackdown on poor content and crappy links.  Measure your expectations, turn your attention to building traffic, relationships, and business and you will be on the right path.  If you need help, give us a call.

Do you have anything to add?  How has your business been affected by SEO this year?

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