SEO Groan: The Business of Hustling

May 8, 2020

DarkCyber has noted an uptick in the rhetoric for search engine optimization. SEO, as the dark art is referenced by its supporters, focuses on methods for making a Web site appear in Google search results.

Over the years, search engine optimization has worked as a feeder for online advertising. After SEO fails, what’s a company do to generate business in the datasphere?

The answer, “Advertise online.” Several companies are dominant in online advertising. These are the Google, Facebook, and Amazon. Google’s angle has been to hook advertisers’ messages to search terms. One part of the method was the work of engineers at Oingo (renamed to Applied Semantics before Google purchased the company). Facebook has its social graph to allow precise demographic advertising. Amazon has its user data, its customers’ purchase history, and sellers vying to get the attention of Amazon customers.

For the moment, let’s focus on the search advertising segment. When a user formulates a query, say, for example, “mountain bike gear replacement,” Google displays a long page of results. Here’s a snippet:

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The page contains a link to a catalog of gear parts. That’s the Google Shopping service. Advertisers get a free listing as Google tries to win back product search which Amazon now dominates. Google was a contender with Google Froogle, but when the team lost interest, the product joined other discontinued services. Someone in Google management may have wanted Froogle to be enhanced, but that type of directed management is not often evident. Therefore, Amazon had the field of product search to itself.

The page also display pictures of parts. These range in price from $217 to almost $1,000. Then there is a video which is marked as a suggested clip. Google tells me that the replacement section is 49 seconds after the video starts.

Next is a map which shows where bicycle shops in Louisville, Kentucky, are located. Presumably Dick’s Sporting Goods and Walmart will have gear replacement parts. (They don’t.) Then there are more videos. Next are common questions? None of the questions addresses the replacement aspect of my query.

And after these items of information, there are links which address the “how to” aspect of my query. There’s a link to replacement gears available on Amazon”

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And the first page of search results concludes with images of bicycle gears and suggested queries:

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It is obvious that Google search engineers have looked at user queries and developed a template into which a range of information has been inserted. Links, videos, ads, and traditional links to “relevant” pages.

Where does SEO come into play? Presumably the pages which are squeezed between the ads, the video, and the images, and suggested searches are the knowledge beef.

An inspection of these links reveals that the results are not Kobi beef. The information provided is a fruit basket.

One assumes that each of the Web pages contains high value content related to gear replacement. No, but several of the pages are in a gray zone. The gears have become “cassettes.” The idea of replacement is related to the cost of getting the parts and installing them. And there are buying guides.

Is the search useful? The answer is, “It depends.” Since Google’s approach does not allow the user to disambiguate a query with a form which allows the user to say, “No, pictures, no videos, and no images.” Quite a bit of scanning and scrolling are necessary before locating the one link which addresses the query. This is the link to a StackExchange page:

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SEO is partly responsible. Pages only tangentially related to the query are interpreted by Google as highly relevant to the query. To Google’s credit, its vaunted PageRank system located one useful link. But the other information is handwaving and an excuse to display ads.

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of SEO experts working to help people get pages listed in a Google search result whether those SEO infused pages are useful to the user or not. When SEO fails, what does the vendor do? As stated above, the answer is to buy Google ads.

SEO Groan will take a look at some of the more interesting SEO experts. One example is the content presented in a series of videos labeled as The Hustle Show. You can view these via the links on this page.

SEO Groan believes the word “hustle” is an excellent one. It captures the essence of search engine optimization. Watch for our announcement of a special page on our law enforcement and intelligence centric Web site. The goal is to provide information so that individuals will be aware of what is a cyber scam.

Net net: Articles like these underscore what’s happening at this time in the world of SEO services:

And there are more. That’s not just Covid disease surfing; the implication that SEO is appropriate during a pandemic is a quite disturbing signal.

Stephen E Arnold, May 8, 2020

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