The only constant in SEO is change – embrace the change
if it aint broke, don’t fix it is a lie?
If it ain't broke, don't fix it is a phrase that means if something is functioning properly, it's probably best to just leave it alone and not make any changes that could potentially break it.
The most common situation many website owners and SEO professionals encounter this gilded cage when a website has been ranking top serach positions for years.
Sadly, sticking with this strategy is often utter BS. In capital letters.
Instead of falsely thinking search engine rankings will drop if something is changed onsite, the correct questions are:
- What are the proofs that a website will remain on top of search results if nothing is changed?
- And what are the proofs that it will drop down in rankings if something is changed?
If you stop thinking these questions seriously for more than minute or two, then you likely acknowledge that there is no definitive answer to any of the questions.
It all comes down to very humbling reality which applies to life in general: there are things you do control, and there are things which you do not control, and success comes from focusing on what you control. The fact that you are trying not to change anything is not taking control. It is the act of giving away control voluntarily, floating with the flow without direction.
Search engine results (aka. SERPs) are something that only search engine providers such as Google control. You can do everything by the book, but that does not give guaranteed success. Same way breaking every rule in the book does not result guaranteed failure.
Possibly the best way to look at what’s happening is to imagine SEO as flipping the coin. The same way you cannot 100% predict what side the coin falls, the same way you cannot predict SEO results. But by improving things like technique of tossing the coin, understanding the laws of nature etc. you can improve the odds of coin falling down the desired way. And that is what SEO is all about.
Why some people choose to become sitting ducks on gilded cage?
I believe there are two reasons why many website owners and SEO professionals choose to become sitting ducks on golden gage.
First is fear. It is totally natural to be afraid of losing the benefits one has gained. Ranking well for money words brings not just prosperity and wealth, but also mental pressure about the “what if” scenarios. The better you do, the harder the psychological pressure is. For professional SEO the scariest and most relieving moment of all is the moment you either drop down in rankings, or you initiate something that might result in the loss of rankings.
And second is a phenomenan that psychologists Daniel Kahneman, Paul Slovic, and Amos Tversky introduced in the early 1970s – psychological bias. Best way to describe a bias is to say it is illogical tendency or preference without proven facts to back decisions.
The sad part of fears and bias is that often times we humans struggle to identify our own issues, and thus make bad and short-sighted decisions while acting in good faith.
The Gambler’s Fallacy
Gamblers fallacy is a false preference (aka bias) that previous results affect the probability of future results. Lets say you have been ranking well for the past 365 days. It is only natural that the brains try to become hardwired for things to continue the same way till end of times.
But remember, you are still flipping the coin. You have absolutely no control what way it falls. The probability of future events is unaffected by previous events The probability of the coin landing on heads on the next toss is exactly 50%. The probability of it landing on tails on the next toss is also exactly 50%. Each toss of the coin is a random, independent event. The results of the previous coin tosses have no bearing on the results of the next toss. Same applies for SEO as well.
Isn’t it unlikely that you would rank well for 366 days in row if you made no improvements? The answer is yes, it is. But it happens for many sites.
And isn’t it unlikely that you would rank poorly for 366 days in row if you made improvements? The answer is yes, it. But it happens for many sites.
The reality is that web and search results are in constant state of change. Regardless of what you do or don’t do, there will always be periods when you will do thrive and go up. And there will be periods when you will fail and go down. The only thing that really pays off are long term 'self-improvements'. So in a sense SEO is very much like many aspects of life.
So why am I not seeing more changes on top Google search results?
Some of you may now think “but Google isn’t similar to coin flipping”. Well, yes and no. Google's search results are influenced by huge number factors, some of which you can try to control and others are totally out of control. But because there are elements that are outside of SEO control, the whole also becomes something that is not in SEOs control.
Take for example indexing of the web. This happens thousands and thousands of times each second, 24/7/365. But the timing when specific pages are indexed is random, because it is based on the backlinks that Googlebot encounters when crawling the web. The more backlinks you have the more often search engine bots will visit and crawl your site. Fast indexing does not guarantee better rankings or more traffic, but it means Google responds faster to changes you do onsite.
And the search results are based on algorithms that change 500-600 times a year. The timing when algorithms change may be on some Googlers calendar, but it is influenced by same issues all mortals share. If Googlers kid becomes sick, then the update might be delayed or possibly even removed totally. And no universal rule says the experiments would be released evenly; you might have months of no change and months of high volatility.
All of this creates a somewhat infinite number of possible scenarios. All theoritically equally possible.
The reason your top rankings are not changing constantly falls to few simple laws.
First, there is only limited number of new content for given subjects. And for new content to rank well and climb up in SERPs,it needs some real backlink love. Often times it is not a flip of switch event, but a slow process where the challenge becomes increasingly harder as you approach the top positions. Most of the time we SEOs follow only top 10 of high volume/value target queries, whereas rest really does not matter. It is common knowledge that seeing a brand new page/site to enter page one out of blue is very rare event. OTOH, if you monitor changes behind the first few pages, then there is usually lots of changes happening.
And second, even if there was no new content entering top positions, the order of older pages varies very rarely as algorithm changes rarely apply for all target query or site search types. More than likely that majority of the 500-600 annual algorithmic changes have zero effect on what is happening with your site or vertical. Possibly the only exception to this law of nature are so called core updates, which basically re-adjust such a wide scale of criterias that most websites get affected by the changes one way or another.
Preferring the most likely outcome
So how does this all relate to bias known as “preferring the most likely outcome”?
The odds of some new page/site coming on top of search results for given subject are pretty low.
And the odds of Google implementing some other than core-level algorithmic changes that would directly affect your page/site are very low.
And the odds of Google core update happening are low as well. Around 0.6 – 0.8% on daily level.
And above all, the odds of being affected by any of the above stuff are really low. Only those websites targeting hundreds or thousands (or more) of queries may be at increased risk.
So, at first glance, following the
if it ain’t broken don’t fix it makes a lot of sense. After all, why wouldn’t you want to bet on the outcome that’s most likely to result in a win?
But just betting on the outcome that’s more likely to win doesn’t take into account how much you’ll win or the long term profitability.
Sometimes the better bet, from an expected value perspective, is the bet that is less likely to win.
Say you have a website, and you have chosen to go with I will not fix my site unless it is broken route. So, your investment to improving the website will be “zero”. If assuming you are making 20€/day profit before core update, you are making 600€ month. After core update your positions drop and your profit levels drop into 5€/day, leaving you with a 150€/month profit. If the core update happens on mid-year, you have made 3600€ pre-update and 900€ post-update, with total of 4.5K€ on year one. How year two would turn out depends pretty much how quickly you bounce back (and if you bounce back). If no change happens, year two would provide only 1.8K€ profit. So, the two-year profit expectation would start at 6.3K€.
OTOH, if you have been improving your site throughout the year, your annual improvement costs have been say 12K€/year. When the core update happens at mid-term, your profit of 20€/day boosts all the way up to 100€/day. So the first year will end up with profit of 9.6K€ (3600 + 18 000 – 12000), and second year would end with profit of 24.5K€. The two year profit expectation would start at 34K€.
Of course, there is the (equal) possibility that you will not make on top of search results regardless of what you do, or that the profits do not scale up to desired level, or…. But if putting all the various scenarios on the comparison, I think most entrepreneurs would rather take the risk of making some loss if it meant that there was a true possibility of long term revenue increasing significantly. And that is where SEO and growth hacking can team up successfully if both parties understand it being a long term project.
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