In any complex industry, there will be a lot of differentiation between actors, and how they accomplish or offer what may appear on the surface, to be similar services, goals and products.
SEO is no different. In SEO, we have various hats (black, white, offwhite, grey, blue) which represent the tactics, markets and styles with which SEO has been pursued.
Rand Fishkin may be very aware of high level Google search changes through conferences and social networking, while unaware of what link building tools thousands of SEOs are using.
Matt Cutts may be on the Google Web Spam team, and yet be unaware of spammy tactics people have been successfully exploiting for over 6 years.
Bob the Affiliate SEO may know of 10 different sources for backlinks, or behaviors in Google Bot which gives him a significant ranking edge, unaware of algorithmic tweaks and changes at Google.
In this sense, SEO has always been asymmetric. Everyone has different knowledge, and there are no standard methods in an industry based primarily around one search engine.
Which makes good sense as search results are a zero sum game. Zero sum games breed intense competition and differentiation.
This lack of consistent information has been the norm for some time, and yet from the earliest days of Google, everyone knew what Larry and Sergey planned with the search algorithm. We knew how PageRank is calculated. We understood the place of linking, and the value of anchor text.
While we didn’t know the equation, we knew enough variables to come up with best practices. Links good. Anchor text great. Keyword in URL, solid.
Then it changed.
Last year, Google released Panda update and recently Penguin update, turning everything we knew about SEO upside down.
Now with Panda, Google is judging our on-page factors, yet we don’t know what the variables are. With Penguin, Google is punishing link optimization, and again we don’t know what the variables are.
Compounding this, Google has hurt the rankings of many innocent sites with these updates, both of which are far from perfect or precise, or if I wanted to be less charitable, completely arbitrary.
So where do we go from here?
I think Rand Fishkin has won. I was already on the inbound marketing bandwagon before Panda hit, and I haven’t consistently checked rank position in almost 2 years.
Before Rand does his victory lap, let’s remember that every success contains the seed of a future defeat.
Inbound marketing is about to get a lot more attention. The people who are coming over from affiliate SEO to mainstream SEO are highly motivated, aggressive and much smarter than the folks typically found posting SEOmoz blog comments.
My guess is that in 12-24 months the whitehat enterprise SEOs will get a run for their money. SEOmoz, Raven Tools, they are all going to be in the cross-hairs of people who are very talented hustlers. Folks who will take all of the energy and millions of dollars they put into link building, and focus that into dominating content, analytics and social media.
Regardless, we should all be happy about the triumph of inbound marketing, because it signals an end to the dependence on Google and obsession with their (now) opaque algorithm.
Change is the one thing we can all count on, all of the time. With one hand, change gives, and with the other it takes away.
About The Author: Anand works at CommunitySEO, a moderated web directory.