Life In A Post-SEO World?


hello.

email newsletter intros are weird, like

hi, i know you opened this email to receive the promise that the subject line made, but first you have to read these few paragraphs because the social contracts we decided on as a society value a little bit of small talk before we jump into a thing, whether it's a job interview, a sales call, or other social situation I cannot think of, because I don't like them, and actively avoid them to the point where my brain can't even conceive of a hypothetical situation where you do small talk before engaging in a more serious conversation.

The dentist?

IDK.

anyway, here's my SEO newsletter...

~

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Are We Living In A Post-SEO World?

It sounds like a stupid title, like something the show Silicon Valley would have talked about if it was blasting SEO instead of the VC world.

I've seen a lot of people talking about how it's time to move on from Google, that we're living in a "post SEO world."

Who hurt you?!

Who did this to you--oh, it was Google?

That tracks...

One post that really tried to wrap this idea up was this one on Robinhood's new news site Sherwood (<-- that's a .news domain, like sherwood be nice to own the .com...)

Here's a quick overview of what they're on about:

I think we are starting to see this approach emerge with the launch of Sherwood, a new website by the team at Robinhood. Sure, it has articles, but the front page is where the action is. It is built less like an SEO play and more like a constantly updated feed, albeit one that borrows most of its good ideas from Tiktok and Snapchat.
And rather than put its energy towards a desktop site, it basically built the same layout for everyone. It looks like Tumblr, but with more going on.
And honestly, it feels like the kind of theoretical site I was writing about, the one I wanted to see someone make when I was ripping on Axios.

and also:

Sure, some of its articles will probably be search-engine winners, which is as it should be. But the fact is, one look at Sherwood makes it clear that the goal of this site is to be read on the front page, not through the back door.

Oh, you mean like Reddit?

Like how Reddit was built to be read on the homepage, and has TOTALLY been struggling lately with organic traffic?

Right.

A watched pot never boils.

Does an SEO'd site never rank?

Surely not...

Before I get into my Mario Kart and throw red shells at all of this, here's a part II of this "post-SEO era" idea.

Niche Site Operators Turning Their Back On Google

I've gotten a ton of emails lately from niche site operators I follow--especially from ones that got absolutely blasted into the netherworld after the nuclear one-two punch of the Sept. HCU and the March core algo update.

Headlines like:

  • "Google is becoming a quaint memory"
  • "Coming off an 8-year SEO bender"
  • "Saying goodbye to Google traffic?"
  • "Popular pivots for site owners"

I get it, man...

Having a site making 5-figs/mo and getting thousands and thousands of visits per day, and waking up where you're getting < 100 visits/day and $0 figs/mo?

That is ass. That is a horrible feeling.

I personally stopped building affiliate sites in late 2020 when one of my main sites stepped up to The Google Guillotine and got the chop. The rest of my sites were way down in traffic not from any punitive update, but from the first wave of the new parasite-news-and-magazine thing that was kicking off.

I saw the writing on the wall, said "no thank you I do not want to play that game" and bounced.

I do other SEO stuff, but niche sites/content sites/affiliate sites became dead to me in Dec. 2020. For MANY in our industry those sites became dead to them this past September or March.

I didn't think SEO was dead in 2020 and I don't think we're in a "post-SEO-world" now. Maybe it just sucks more than it used to, or maybe we are stuck in our ways, unwilling to change and adapt, not gonna search for what works and build back up.

That's OK. But don't say we're in a post-SEO world.

We're in a post-what-SEO-used-to-be world.

That Sherwood site? It's propped up by Robinhood. It doesn't need to make money right away, and it's gonna fucking FLY in the SERPs eventually, it was only just launched.

Do you think once trust catches up with authority and they start ranking for everything, they're not gonna start writing all those stupid god damned SEO-focused posts to try and capture as much organic traffic as possible?

What everyone who says that actually means:

Build a real business and diversify your traffic.

Is it easy?

No.

Is it shitty that you have to?

Sure. But like... diversification is a good thing, basically.

This is also called "build a fucking brand, already" but building a brand is expensive.

While building 100 articles like "Best raincoats for beginners" is easy and the traffic is easy and monetization is easy and it's not really delivering value so like... stop thinking of building websites like that.

Unless you're churning and burning like a Brazilian Rainforest Cutting Crew you need to build something better.

You can call it being in a post-SEO world if you want.

But you're not.

Like a toxic ex you just can't stop going back and sleeping with (or if you're in a stable relationship for the first time in your life, like a whole cheesecake you just can't stop getting blasted on OG Kush and eating half of at midnight) you're a little self-destructive junky and you'll reach for that easy Google traffic the millisecond it shows one ounce of interest in your site.

So what's a little self-destructive junky like us to do with this information?

One: come to terms with it.

The game has changed, you either gotta change with it or lean into your pinterest or your Rank and Rent or whatever easier thing you're flipping to. No shame--I fucked all the way off from THE GAME once I didn't checkt myself and so Google rekt myself. Just find something else to do, and diversify your shit, don't try and convince us you're moving on from Google just because they deeply. DEEPLY hate the kind of sites you're building.

Two: build a brand.

Everyone says "build a brand." I say it all the time, but wtf does it actual mean? Wait, do me a favor and hit reply and tell me what does "build a fucking brand" mean to YOU? I'll put them in the next newsletter with or without attribution, just LMK which.

Three: test everything.

This is the REAL use-case for aged domains in the year of our lord OH LORD WHY HAVE YOU ABANDONED YOUR CHILDREN, WE ARE SO FAR FROM YOUR WARM GLOWING WARMING GLOW 2024--stand a domain up, blast it with content, and then... do stuff to it. See what happens. First-hand knowledge FTW.

Or acquire sites that got hit in various updates and try disavowing links, or putting the content on a fresh domain, or building some SAPE links lol (don't actually do that--do SAPE links still even exist?)

The point is: set up a group of test sites and learn what works by trying shit.

How am *I PERSONALLY* doing this, these days?

Well: there are two actual big, meaty projects I'm working on (that are not newsletters or an agency or whatever).

The first is entirely not SEO dependent, and I don't need no SEO traffic for the next few years. IT'S A WEIRD FEELING. It's a legit book publisher that publishes nonfiction essays and gets all its traffic from social media at the moment (and a tiny, tiny bit via press).

Here's the sexy-in-shape-but-not-volume traffic graph so far:

Those keywords it ranks for? They aren't much to look at.

This project represents my entire effort to build an actual brand that people know and love and seek out. I'm lucky (#blessed) that I do pretty well in other areas of my business-y pursuits that I can continue to let this ABSOLUTE BLACK HOLE FOR MONEY exist--even thrive--while the brand gets built slowly and expensively.

I'll talk about this more in the future. It's still a baby, but it has a whole team: senior editor, marketing, staff writers, etc.

I'm also building out a really cool business on a million-dollar domain name. This is... this will be LESS of a brand than the first site, and will be an entirely different approach than I would have taken pre March/pre September, but it will rely on a ton of organic search to make it work.

Excited to share more about this as it goes, but I guess that's all I can say for now...

If several of y'all hit reply with your "what does it mean to build a brand" answer I'll make next week's newsletter about building a brand, so I hope you do!

Work With Me

SEO: I can help you fix your site's organic traffic situation, just book a call with me here--no pressure, and I've got too much pride too much social anxiety to hit you with the hard sale.

Newsletter: I can fix your brand's newsletter situation, and do it all for you, just fill out this form and I'll be in touch.

Finally: the Advise community I'm a part of is swiftly approaching its membership cap. When we hit 350 members we're shutting down new sign-ups. Click here to join and skip the application process, it's a really cool place...

~

well, that's it for this one.

hope you liked it--you know I love to hear from you, dear reader, so please do hit reply and LMK what you thought (and if you have any big feelings on what it means to "build a brand" that can survive future SEO updates, please include that as well.

have a good weekend, I'll be back with another weird SEO rant next week...

sean
sean@ranktheory.com

[rank theory] SEO Newsletter

the world's grumpiest SEO lifts you up each week with inspiring SEO content. Rank Theory is a twice-weekly newsletter containing emerging theories, illuminating experiments, and occasional sh*tposting, as well as a special weekly domain-focused Friday edition.

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