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Your Site Will Die Without Brand Signals
SEO is about more than SEO
The reaction to the Helpful Content Update is giving me strong Panda/Penguin vibes.
If you’re new to the SEO world and don’t remember those days, here’s a quick recap:
What happened with Panda and Penguin
Once upon a time you could rank a website using article spinners to create content and random forum/comment section links to create authority.
Yes, SEO really was that easy. It was a total spamfest.
There were a Few who held the line and put effort into building out high-quality websites and told everyone “hey, this spamfest9000 isn’t going to last. Google is going to smack you guys down. It’s a matter of when, not if.”
The spammers laughed and said “no way Google will ever be able to detect spun articles and BS links. The party will go on forever.”
Then out of nowhere Google dropped the Panda and Penguin updates, which targeted the exact spammy tactics that worked for multiple years before. Many people saw their entire businesses evaporate overnight.
A few course-corrected, got with the times, and adapted to the new reality and survived. The vast majority didn’t.
They quit the game forever and got regular 9-5 jobs in Corporate America and never thought about SEO ever again. You won’t hear their stories because they’re gone. KIA. Done. They don’t exist in the SEO community anymore. They’re phantoms from a past era of spammer glory. The whole thing is just a bad memory for them.
We’re in a similar situation right now.
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Topical authority-only is dead
For the past few years, it’s been possible to rank a website and make money purely based off of topical authority and nothing else.
People created low-quality content targeting every keyword under the sun and ranked despite having no links or anything else you would expect a serious site to have.
Topical authority was the be-all-end-all of SEO.
Just like with article spinners 10+ years ago, it was obvious that the situation couldn’t last. WHY should you be able to rank highly just because you spam every available keyword with garbage content?
It doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t improve the user experience and doesn’t help anyone other than the site owner. “Fuck everyone I’m getting a lambo.”
It’s clear that Google has turned down the dial on topical authority (still a ranking factor just not as dominant as before) and turned up the dial on other authority signals that are harder to fake like links, off-page branding, and other random factors like being an e-com site.
You already know that links are important. If I have to tell you that then you’re so far behind the SEO 8-ball that it isn’t even funny.
I wrote a bit about the e-com angle in this article so I don’t need to beat that dead horse here.
What I want you to focus on right now is building off-page branding signals.
Your business can’t just exist on your website and nowhere else
If you’ve ever told a normie that you own a product review site (don’t do this, experienced people already know it’s a disaster, make up a fake job instead) what’s the FIRST thing they ask?
“Cool bro you on YouTube?”
It happens like clockwork. People think “review” and their mind immediately jumps to “video.”
“But Tetra those are retarded normies, I never watch videos I can’t stand them.”
Yeah, I’m aware. Smart people prefer to read rather than watch. But guess what? Retarded normies are the vast majority of your potential customer base. If you don’t cater to them then wtf are you even doing?
The writing has been on the wall for a while. I wrote about this 1.5 years ago. Now you don’t even need to see the writing on the wall anymore because the wall is slamming into your face.
Video isn’t the future anymore. It’s the present.
YouTube video carousels are at the top of the SERPs for tons of queries. Articles with embedded videos do better than ones without. TikTok is the most popular website on the internet (more popular than Google believe it or not).
Go to any public place and you’ll see zombied-out individuals staring at videos on their phones and giggling like they’re an extra in Idiocracy.
The world isn’t going in a high IQ direction (to put it mildly).
So what do you need to do?
CREATE THE DAMN VIDEOS.
It’s not hard to get brands to ship out products. You can film the videos yourself or pay someone from Upwork to do it for you, but it’s not optional anymore.
Create long-form reviews of the products and then have a VA chop them up into shorter segments for Shorts and TikTok.
You just covered multiple bases with the same video. Yes, technically creating unique short-form videos does better than chopping up longer ones but I already know you’re not going to do that so just get started.
It’s also important to get active on social media.
If you’re the typical reader of this Substack then you found out about it from X app.
So you already know that you personally find out about new products and services from social media. But when it comes to your business you’re relying 100% on organic traffic from Google. How does that make sense?
The people who are going to click on your affiliate links and buy your products are spending MASSIVE amounts of time on social. You need to be where your customers are.
That’s not to say that organic Google traffic is dead. Far from it. But we’re not in 2015 anymore. You can’t just rely on dinosaur blog posts and call it a day. Written content isn’t the entire pie, just one piece of it.
And guess what?
Google sees everything
When Google sees that you’re active on social media, creating YouTube videos, have a fleshed out LinkedIn with employees and clear ownership; THEY WILL SEND YOU MORE TRAFFIC.
They want to reward sites that are part of a real business, not some half-assed Prajeet spam site that’s pumping out AI content from an office park in Hyderabad.
“But Tetra do you really think Google has the capability to detect stuff like that?”
Are you serious?
Google owns: Analytics (on 85% of websites), Chrome (63% market share), Android (67% market share globally), YouTube, Gmail, plus tons of other random products like Chromebooks and Google Home.
They see everything.
You can’t exist on the internet without Google tracking and analyzing everything you do in some way, shape, or form.
They know you better than you know yourself. They know things about your wife and kids that you’ll never know. Google’s algorithm could tell you things about your mom that you would never believe or accept in a hundred million years. They’re like a digital Santa Claus/God/stalker hybrid.
Do you really think they can’t tell whether you’re getting engagement on social media?
If the only place your business exists is on your website then the clock is ticking.
Are there some sites that are still killing it as pure SEO plays? Yes.
Will they still being raking in cash a few years from now? Maybe.
The direction that Google is going in is clear. It’s been obvious for a while. A tidal wave is forming on the horizon and it’s going to sweep away dinosaur SEOs who refuse to build out their brand.
Sure, some people will survive the massacre.
Maybe they have an extremely high amount of links. A DR90 site is always going to rank highly.
Read Sergey Brin and Larry Page’s academic paper from the 90’s describing how PageRank works. Links are literally the fundamental building block of search engines and that’ll never change.
Or maybe they’re in a niche that doesn’t have any other affiliate sites so they can coast. At least until a competitor emerges who does everything right and completely eclipses them.
There will always be exceptions. There are so many websites on the internet that I’m sure there’ll always be some random low-DR site without any social media or videos that’s somehow ranking highly despite everything.
Of course that’ll be the one site that lazy SEOs point to as the reason why they avoid building a brand because “see [insertrandomexceptionhere].com isn’t doing any of that and they’re still ranking. Deboooooonked!”
You can’t build your business on exceptions and you can’t build it on maybes.
Conclusion: you have to do more
The normal SEO stuff like keyword research, internal linking, and subheading structure will always matter. You should still use a tool like Surfer SEO to make sure that your article is covering the topic correctly.
Branding doesn’t replace traditional SEO. You’re not doing different work, you’re doing more work.
You’re not an SEO, you’re the owner of a media brand. Think about how you can market your media brand with SEO as one component of your overall traffic acquisition strategy and you have the right mindset.
If you don’t accept reality then you’re going to end up like the dinosaurs from the Panda/Penguin days who became cubicle jockeys and are still commuting to the office each morning to this very day because they couldn’t adapt to the times.
If you think you’ve found a site that got unfairly hit by the Helpful Content Update submit it below. I’ll pick one to analyze for a future article.