SEO is not dead: it’s where the magic happens

I’m 22 year old girl, I’ve been around SEO since I was 16 old and started working as a freelance SEO consultant at the age of 18. This doesn’t sound like an impressive CV line at all. I’m just using it to make you sufficiently curious to read the next couple of paragraphs. Did I succeed? You tell me.

I’m from Romania,  a country most of you probably associate with the keywords “communism”, “russia” and “vampires”. This is also where I learned everything, from turning on a computer up to optimizing online campaigns for businesses.

What I’d like to do is tell you a little bit about SEO in my country and show you how you can use it to learn something about SEO in your country. In spite of all the cultural differences and in spite the fact that we’ve been a soviet state for over 40 years, search engine optimization in Romania works pretty much like anywhere else in the world. We have access to almost any Google product and feature like anyone else in the world. Except that we’re a little left behind and this is what makes my job so interesting.

I wanted to write this article about my campaigns in Romania, as I believe web search in my country is about to undergo a major change. It happened to you guys (in the USA and in the UK) a couple of years ago, it took everyone by surprise and it passed so fast that you weren’t even given the chance to enjoy the moment. This is what makes it now so extraordinary for us guys: algorithm updates come with delay. We know they are going to happen, because they happened to you guys in the first place. We know the future and we can embrace it, enjoy it to its fullest and even experiment a little with it. We are children who were given the privilege to look at the dark sky just as a falling star lit the sky. Enough with the metaphors, what I am talking about is the shift from global/national SEO to local SEO.

Until last summer local search results were barely spotted in Google Romania. Even today, most local searches (KEYWORD + CITY) fail to reveal local businesses and instead display websites that aren’t even remotely related to the user’s location.

Search term: “magazin calculatoare bucuresti” (translation: “computer store bucharest”) As you can see, there are no map markers and no local results displayed.

Nevertheless, things are starting to change. Slowly but surely we are catching up with the algorithm updates in the rest of the world.  Let’s have a look at another popular search: pizza delivery.

search term “livrare pizza” (translation: “pizza delivery”)

I used GeoRanker to check Google search results exactly as they are displayed to users from 10 different cities in Romania. As you can see in the above heatmap, the results for each city are different and there are also a lot of local businesses listed among top results (all the gray boxes are local results). For a more detailed SERP analysis, check the complete report here.

So, in Romania Google is finally starting to personalize search results based on the user’s geographic location. That’s great news! The bad news is that its algorithm isn’t working very well yet. Take a look at the above report again: do you notice the red, highlighted boxes that stand for “cuptorulculemne.com”? These guys rank first for “pizza delivery” in Bucharest and in Iasi, which is great for their business. The bad thing is they only have pizza restaurants in Bucharest, while Iasi is about 400 km away from Bucharest. How are the people of Iasi going to order pizza from cuptorulculemne.com? Ask Google…

The fun is just about to start.

Good, this all sounds interesting, but I suspect you are probably wondering, where I’m trying to get to. Why would SEO companies from the UK or the US give a damn about SEO in Romania? Here’s what I have to say:

Obviously there’s some kind of gap between algorithm updates in different countries. In some cases the gap might just be a matter of days or weeks (Penguin and Panda updates generally reach Romania in 1-3 weeks after they hit the UK and the USA). In other cases (integration of Local Results) the gap can extend to months or even years. I believe this gives SEOs (not just us, Romanians, but anyone else as well) an incredible opportunity: we have a playground where we can do all the experiments in the world. We can put the search engine to the test. While a Penguin update hits the US, anyone can retreat to the calm waters of Romania to do some experimenting and maybe learn something about the present, about the changes that are happening in the US. These update gaps are time machines that can take us back to the past.  They have been here for your, yet very few have thought about using them.

While most SEOs seem to have reached some sort of existential crisis (“Is SEO dead?”) I’d say it’s quite the opposite: this is the most exciting time to work in this area. This is where all the magic happens.

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