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Everything that is man-made is knowable.
That includes the Google algorithm.
But that doesn’t mean the algorithm is known.
In the 20+ years, I’ve been doing SEO, I’ve seen thousands of theories around how the search engine algorithms work – specifically Google’s algorithm.
Everyone from Ivy League PhDs to street smart elementary school dropouts search for a silver bullet – a trick or technique that will allow a website to rank for any keyword or topic desired.
I’ve seen some SEO professionals find things that work for a time.
I’ve seen black hats seemingly rank at-will for anything they want – for a time.
But the tricks never work for long.
I’ve never been a fan of silver bullets or manipulative tricks to rank for specific terms or topics.
I don’t believe that SEO is rocket science.
There are those that would have you believe if you can just plug the right numbers into a mathematical formula, you’ll be able to rank.
The problem is those numbers are constantly in flux – and if Google sees that someone has figured out how to mathematically manipulate their system, they change the numbers.
Let’s face it, when we try to reverse engineer Google algorithm, no matter how smart we are, we are akin to someone trying to find a specific red dot in a Jackson Pollock painting while blindfolded.
No, SEO isn’t rocket science.
It’s more like plumbing.
You don’t need to understand how to build a sewer system, you just need to understand how the pipes work and be willing to get your hands dirty while working hard.
The Rise of the Baby Algorithm
Earlier this month at Pubcon, Google’s Gary Illyes said something that validated my current thinking around rankings in general.
“We have probably millions of baby algorithms and they act differently. They might do something that triggers more crawls on certain sites. It solely depends on the algo and what it’s trying to do.”
In other words, what works in Google for one topic may not work for other topics.
Each topic might have its own “baby algorithm.”
That means that the ranking criteria for keywords around mortgage topics will be different from the ranking criteria for recipes.
This makes sense to anyone optimizing for topics in multiple verticals.
There is no overarching, unified tactic that will definitively get any site to rank for a topic.
What works in vertical may very well flop in another.
The confirmation of many different Google algorithms by Illyes solidifies that adage that there is no one-size-fits-all strategy in modern SEO.
Modern SEO is tried and true best practices coupled with marketing nuance and hours and hours of testing.
SEO as Fishing
I love metaphors.
When I heard Illyes talk about baby algorithms – it wasn’t cute cuddly infants that came to my mind.
It was ponds, lakes, rivers, and oceans.
In my mind’s eye, I saw a vast interactive landscape filled with thousands of varied bodies of water.
In each pond were different types of fish.
The ponds that held bass didn’t have sharks – the sharks were in the bigger bodies of water.
Lots of folks were casting lines into the ponds.
Some of these folks were using the wrong bait.
Some folks were trying to catch sharks with worms while others tried to catch bass with large squid.
Periodically, a fishing guide would help a fisherman by suggesting a different bait – or moving them to another pond that had the type of fish they were looking for.
What can I say, I have a vivid imagination.
Of course, in this metaphor, the bodies of water are the aforementioned baby algorithms.
The fish are potential leads or customers.
The guides are SEO professionals.
If you’ve done much fishing, you know that the right bait and the right placement can determine success or failure.
The same goes for SEO.
Some of the baby algorithms Illyes refers to appear to be more sensitive to technical SEO aspects.
Some of these baby algorithms respond best to great content.
Some are more prone to rank sites with solid backlink profiles.
The trick to not just to understand what is working in the baby algorithm where you are “fishing”, but to be able to find the right baby algorithm body of water.
You won’t catch freshwater fish in the ocean.
And you won’t get customers for a mortgage company if you are trying to optimize for a travel-based baby algorithm.
There are plenty of people out there that can catch fish without a guide.
If you are dropping a line in a well-stocked pond, it’s hard not to catch a fish.
But in SEO, there aren’t very many well-stocked ponds and the competition among fishermen can be brutal.
That’s where the SEO comes in.
Think of an SEO as the fishing guide who can understand what types of fish lurk in each body of water.
SEO professionals also understand the bait to use to catch particular fish.
A good SEO will move you from a baby algorithm pond to the baby algorithm ocean if you need to catch sharks.
SEO professionals may not know each individual baby algorithm, but experience has taught them how to find the right place and use the right bait for each type of fish – even if it may take some trial and error to land the right combination of bait and location.
Just throwing a line into a pond won’t work for most companies.
Sure, you might get lucky and catch a few small fish.
I’ve fished a lot in my life, and I can tell you when I can afford a good fishing guide, I hire one.
I will always catch more fish with a guide than on my own.
In SEO, if you don’t know the right bait or the right body of water to cast your line in, you need a guide.
Good SEO professionals are those guides – we find the right baby algorithm and right bait for our company or our clients to catch the fish they need to feed their loved ones.
Featured Image: Unsplash / Modified by author, October 2019