The Dark Age of SEO
When times are good, it's relatively easy for people and companies to succeed — work hard and all will be good. But what happens when times aren't so good such as when the supply of the service you provide exceeds the demand? In such cases it's not uncommon for the rules of behavior to change. Actions that were once ridiculed become acceptable as people quietly and oh so secretively acknowledge that everyone is doing it. Examples of such change exists around us today whether it's students paying for consultants to help them claim one of the few spots at their college of choice; corporate executives embellishing their resumes to land scarce jobs; and, of course, downloading music that hasn't been paid for. So with a recession nearly upon us, what will happen to the SEO profession?
Changes Will Be Subtle… At First
Undoubtedly, some SEOs will change little from how they currently operate. However, I'm fairly certain that some individuals aren't making, or simply can't make, the necessary preparations now. The same goes for agencies despite their size and resources. And so I predict the unraveling of the SEO profession as we see it today. An unraveling that will take much, much longer to correct than it will to occur.
The early signs will, at first, be overlooked — repeated contracts lost to the other company or perfect-fit jobs given to the other candidate. When this has happened several times, desperate companies will slash their prices and desperate individuals will accept low salaries. This will in turn prompt slashing by others as they too become desperate. After all, a slightly unprofitable account is better than no account at all when all that matters is making it through a downturn.
While prices are decreasing, lofty promises will pour from the mouths of the hungry. "Sure, we can get you #1 rankings in Google! Just sign on the dotted line." What's a lie going to matter at this point!? Without the contract, the agency would go belly-up. And if the agency is around long enough to deal with being caught in a lie, well, that's a bridge to cross later. The same will happen with individuals. Hot shot agency SEOs will fabricate case study-like stories about how they achieved wondrous things that they can and will repeat. And if busted several months from now, well maybe the recession will be over by then.
Black Hats Shall Inherit the Earth
The black hats will step out from the shadows as the light from the white hats dims. The well known white hats will team up with SEOs they formerly looked down upon, offering them access to their resources just for the chance to tap into a little of the recession-proof black magic. At first companies won't notice what is being done to their websites — they'll just be happy that rankings are up. But soon enough, the short term nature inherent in the black hat efforts will be realized. Rankings will drop in some cases while entire websites are delisted prompting companies to question their SEOs. Those with some semblance of a backbone will admit to using black hat techniques while others will lower their heads and just say they have no idea what happened. Either answer is bad and will be remembered long after the SEO is gone.
SEOs will stop caring about who has more RSS subscribers and will instead display the number of proxies they control. No one will brag about the number of comments their posts elicit every day, but rather how many spam comments they can pump out every hour. The idea of reputation management will seem quaint as the industry instead focuses on reputation sabotage.
The Dark Age of SEO is upon us, my friend. Are you ready?