Is Search Engine Optimization (SEO) A Waste Of Time? Thumbnail

During the last week of September 2012, Google launched another algorithmic change to lower the power of Exact Match Domain (EMD) websites. For example, a website with the URL now ranks relatively less well in a “Best Of San Francisco” search than a site called, which talks about San Francisco and other great cities around the world. People started freaking out, even though Google stated only 0.6% of websites would be effected.

Google’s goal is to even the playing field for those sites who don’t have relevant key words in their URL, but who also have good, relevant content. Makes sense. A lot of EMD websites were purchased long ago and may not have the quality content as newer websites. Unfortunately, whenever there is a change, someone feels wronged. Furthermore, we all believe our content is excellent, so we start resenting Google for deciding what’s good and what’s not.

Leveling the playing field is a very important goal which has significant socioeconomic parallels. In a society where the rich get richer and more resourceful, it is becoming more difficult for the common person to get into the best schools, land the best jobs, and live the most fulfilling lives. If you grow up in a poor single parent household, how can you compete with Richard King Jones III who lives in a mansion in Greenwich, CT with two loving parents and a tutor to guide? If you’re constantly trying to avoid getting beat up as you walk home from public school, how do you compete for a job with Richard who attends Philipps Exeter Academy and then goes on to Yale?

Competition is possible, but brutally difficult! I’d like to think Google is trying to help the little guy who puts in the effort.


The funniest phenomenon I’ve observed is how “SEO Experts” react to each algorithmic change and the recommendations they suggest as if they work for Google. I took a look at one SEO website’s content from the beginning of this year recommending users join link farm networks like Build My Rank (BMR) where you pay a fee to get a massive amount of spammy backlinks. Then Google de-indexed BMR and hurt many sites who participated. Oops. He also said quality content and length of content does not matter and to instead, focus on heavy keywording and SEO structure. Very well. He is entitled to his opinion.

Then this week, he publishes a post on how to overcome every Google update ever where he basically says “Just kidding!” about all his previous advice. His excuse is that he knew his readers wanted easy solutions without having to do the work to rank well, so that is what he gave them. He’s now advocating: “working hard,” providing “true authority,” and “on page optimization.”

In other words, he’s recommending nothing new. We all know in blogging and gaining a presence online there are no real shortcuts in building a quality site with champagne popping traffic. It just takes time.


The easiest way to think about search engine traffic is to think like a search engine.

* We want the most relevant and best content to come up first. If Google users continue to find the best and most relevant content on the top of our search results, our users will continue to come back for more, bringing more advertisers to our search platform. We are a huge publicly traded company that needs to drive growth to create value for our shareholders and ourselves.

* “Best” and “relevant” are subjective words. We must therefore continue to tweak our algorithms to ensure that the best and most relevant content does indeed rise to the top. There are new advances in information and technology every year. Such new information is written by new people who also deserve a chance to get found. As a result, we must be constantly updating our search results as time goes on.

* We realize there is an SEO industry out there trying to figure us out. Given we have proprietary technology and competitors, as soon as the SEO industry figures us out, we lose our competitive advantage against our competitors. Publishers of great content who will likely continue to publish new great content may start losing their positioning as well. As a result, we need to stay opaque and send out various signals to keep them guessing.

* We aren’t fans of the SEO industry. Their existence is an attack to our technology. If our technology was perfect, then there would be no need for SEO experts. Our bots will automatically find the best content and rank them to the top. We’ve already told the web world that all one has to do is write consistent, quality content that provides value to readers in order to rank well. With millions of writers on similar topics, it’s obviously difficult to be the best. We’ve rolled out 20 Panda updates in 2012 already, and plan to continue updating our algorithms to provide the best search experience for our users.

* We need to stay relevant. As companies such as TripAdvisor, Yelp, Wikipedia, Amazon, OpenTable, eBay and so forth become world renowned, Google becomes less relevant. Instead of Googling “best sushi restaurant in San Francisco”, users can now search directly on Yelp. Instead of Googling “the best LED TV”, consumers can go directly to Amazon.

Watch this video where Matt Cutts, Head of Google Webspam argues why you don’t have to be SEO savvy.


As long as people want to take short cuts, the SEO industry will never die. Why bother writing 100 guest posts that will take an eternity when someone can hire an SEO company to potentially get similar quality link backs? (I don’t know how, but that’s what they claim). It’s in our nature to want the world without having to put in the effort. Many of us, including myself have collected low hanging fruits from our sites. But we’re learning from our experiences, figuring out the best balance, and moving on.

Basic SEO is not dead. Write a search friendly meta title, make sure your post is well-written and contains meaty content, link out to related sources to buttress your point, potentially add a YouTube video, and do a little social networking and you’re good to go!

I now wonder whether the SEO industry can focus its efforts on helping the little guys. I wonder if there’s a way in which the SEO industry can create a cooperative venture with Google in order to help level the playing field for all. If the search world is a true meritocracy, where those who put in the most effort and write the best content get ahead, then cooperation between the SERPs and the search engines make a world of sense.


It’s been six years since I started Financial Samurai and I’m actually earning a good passive income stream online now. The top 1% of all posts on Financial Samurai generates 31% of all traffic. The average age of the top 1% posts is 2.3 years old. In other words, after putting in the hours to write some very meaty content over two years ago, 10 posts consistently generate a monthly recurring income stream that’s completely passive.

I never thought I’d be able to quit my job in 2012 just three years after starting Financial Samurai. But by starting one financial crisis day in 2009, Financial Samurai actually makes more than my entire passive income total that took 15 years to build. If you enjoy writing, connecting with people online, and enjoying more freedom, check out my step-by-step guide on how to start a blog. It’s one of the best things I did in 2009 to help earn extra money and break free from Corporate America!

Updated for 2017 and beyond.