You’re Not Imagining Things: SEO Is Getting Harder for the Do-It-Yourselfer

by Jennifer Grappone on May 24, 2010

Many people come to us, discouraged and puzzled about why their site has fallen in the ranks even though their site is optimized for all the right keywords. Others reach out to us for help with keyword optimization of their site’s text, mistakenly convinced that this is the only thing their site needs to succeed. Here are five reasons that gaining ranks with standard ranking tactics is harder than it used to be for the average site owner:

Keyword Optimization Isn’t as Important

Identifying keywords and using them to optimize your text used to be two of the easiest SEO tasks for the layperson (as well as the not-so-technical SEO). If you were a halfway decent writer, and could figure out the right keywords to include in your text, you used to be able to make some headway in the ranks. However, where there used to be a relatively straight path from keyword optimization to improved ranks, there are now several complicating factors. Now your thoughtful keyword strategy is also vying with:

  • Personalized search in Google, which causes a searcher’s past behavior to influence their search results
  • Real-time results in Google, which sometimes give fresh content and tweets an edge over older pages
  • Better contextualization: Type “corwin” into Google and you’ll get decent results for three very different Corwins: the publisher, the Animal Planet celebrity, and the town. Type “out of league” and Bing reasonably matches your query to results for the movie “She’s Out of My League.” The search engines have gotten much smarter about contextualization and phrase matching, and their ever-improving intelligence is becoming just as much of a rankings factor as your keyword optimization. (And, on a related note: remember when people used to optimize their sites for misspellings? The search engines make that irrelevant now.)

You’re Overloaded with Tools

You used to have only a few optimization tools to work with. Meta tags – go optimize ’em! Links – go get ’em! Thankfully, as SEO has gotten more complex, search engines are now giving you more tools and information to work with. But unfortunately, these tools and information can overwhelm and confuse. Canonical tags are extremely easy to use, and also very easy to mess up. Webmaster Tools give you tons of information, and at the same time lead many of us down the wrong path. (For example, with the data now available, you may be tempted to believe that a decline in site speed caused your ranks to plunge, but you’d probably be wrong.) With all of these elements to analyze and address, it’s difficult to identify what’s most important, which skills to brush up on (or outsource) and what’s worthy of your time and energy.

Web Technology has Outpaced SEO-Friendliness

E-commerce tools, blog publishing platforms and content management systems, AJAX, mobile devices, the proliferation of video…all of these technologies and more have made the web more exciting and dynamic! But in many cases, these features require specialized technical skills to prevent or remediate significant search engine indexing handicaps.

Everybody’s Doing It

After years of marginalization, SEO is finally on every website owner’s radar. SEO awareness has evolved to the point where most people are addressing keyword optimization and site indexing concerns when they build and maintain their sites. And I haven’t met a new client in years who isn’t already thinking through a link building strategy. Having an SEO-friendly site isn’t a competitive advantage for you any more; it’s a requirement. And, if my decade-plus in SEO has taught me anything, it’s this: when everybody is doing something, that thing becomes less powerful as a ranking factor. (See above – “Keyword Optimization Isn’t as Important”)

Rapid Evolution

“Hi, I’m Google, and I’ll be your search engine today. Our algorithm change du jour is the ‘Chef’s Surprise.’ Depending on your site, it will either be delicious or leave a foul taste in your mouth. You’ll be trying it whether you want it or not.” Yep, Google changes every day. I used to eschew algorithm-chasing, and refused to participate in obsessing over SEO gossip on a daily basis.  I knocked it as a pointless way of life, but these days I’m convinced that it’s important to embrace that mindset, at least a little bit. This is something that SEO specialists have built into their schedule, but it’s not as simple for the average site owner to find the time to keep up with latest developments in search.


It’s harder than it used to be to influence your site’s ranks using keyword optimization and link building tactics. So what should you do about it? Do what we do: Think big picture! Once you’ve nailed the basics: a search-friendly site, optimized text, and a well-targeted message, try something new to achieve a well-rounded online presence. Branch out into social media. Encourage positive reviews. Maybe shoot a little video if it’s a good fit for your audience.  And use the information you glean from your analytics to make real changes on your site, not just to gain better ranks, but to improve engagement for the visitors you have.


We’ve been helping customers improve their search engine ranks and conversion rates for over a decade. We consult on SEO and social media for major brands, one-person shops, and everything in between. Get in touch to find out how we can help you!

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Executive Accessories January 25, 2011 at 6:43 pm

I am learning that SEO is a love hate relationship. A real challenge, but rewarding. My dilemna today is, if Google “slaps” sites for building too many links too quickly, then what happens if you comment on a blog that has “recent comments” on the bottom of every page on their site. According to Google Webmaster Tools I have suddenly got 11,000 links from one such blog. And according to Yahoo Site Explorer I got hundreds from another such blog. Will Google ignore that, particularly as I presume they will disappear soon?
Any thoughts?

Gradiva Couzin January 26, 2011 at 9:50 am

Hi Wendy,
I wouldn’t worry about being “slapped” as long as the actions you’re taking are natural. I would only worry about this if you’re engaging in black hat techniques such as writing spam comments using a robot.

Executive Accessories January 27, 2011 at 5:40 pm

Thanks Gradiva. No I am trying to leave meaningful comments that add value and am doing my link building manually.

Stacy October 5, 2011 at 12:05 pm

Thanks for this great post. Do you have any recommendations for a company who is in a very niche industry that is planning to do keyword research for an SEO strategy? Our line of business (outsourced clinical trial services) in the Pharmaceutical industry is very important and well known to those in our particular industry space. However, we are very niche in the grand scheme of things out there on Google. When using the tools for keyword evaluation, every result shows low search volume. Any other suggestions for the best ways to evaluate which keywords to target?

Gradiva Couzin October 5, 2011 at 12:31 pm

Hi Stacy,
Thanks for the comment! This is a tricky situation but not at all uncommon especially for niche B2Bs. You might try using paid search campaigns for your keyword research. Even if you sponsor broad-matched terms, you can still monitor and see what exact phrases are delivering traffic to your site. (It’s not easy to find that info in Google AdWords but it’s possible. We’ll try to write a blog post explaining how, soon). Those phrases could be good options for organic targeting. For niche B2Bs we also review competitor sites, trade magazines and other industry communications to be sure we’re utilizing terminology that is likely to be top-of-mind for our target audience. As with any SEO endeavor, an iterative approach is best: try some terms, watch your analytics carefully for results, then cycle back and improve upon your targeting.

Lastly, because you may have a long and complicated sales process involving many touches, be sure that you’ve got a meaningful way to measure success on your website. If conversions such as filling out an inquiry form or downloading a whitepaper are rare, then you should define some easier-to-reach goals; even as something as simple as visiting 2 or more pages on your site. That will give you more information to help separate out and recognize your valuable traffic.

Good luck!

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