Take My Advice: Stop Taking So Much SEO Advice
If you want to be truly successful in SEO, you need to stop taking so much SEO advice. Here’s why.
There’s no shortage of SEO advice to go around. Heck, I’ve made a career out of it. I’ve listed hundreds of strategies companies can use to improve their rankings in search engines, and have provided updates as SEO develops, to guide search optimizers in the right way to respond to algorithm changes and new technologies.
For the most part, the advice you read on high-authority publishers and niche specialist sites is “good”—it’s not meant to lead you astray, and it usually provides factual, valuable information. But if you want to be truly successful in SEO, you need to stop taking so much SEO advice.
I realize the bit of hypocrisy here. I’m dispensing advice that tells you to deliberately avoid taking advice—but I don’t mean you should ignore SEO advice altogether. Instead, I caution you to do three things:
- Double check the facts. Don’t just assume that an author knows what he/she is talking about. Do the research to see if other authorities have made similar claims, and how their experiments may have differed.
- Don’t follow tactics blindly. Make the effort to understand what you’re doing before you follow a step-by-step approach.
- Try new things for yourself. Dedicate some time to experimenting with new strategies of your own. It may seem riskier than just doing what other people have already done, but there are significant benefits to this experimental approach.
SEO Isn’t One-Size-Fits-All
For starters, SEO isn’t a one-size-fits-all strategy. What works for one business in one industry isn’t necessarily going to work for someone else. For example:
- National and local SEO function on different algorithms. Local SEO demands a separate set of tactics and strategies, which simply aren’t relevant to you if you’re pursuing national SEO. Fortunately, it’s easy to filter out irrelevant articles in this split, but it’s an example of just how different SEO can be for different companies.
- Competition can make or break a strategy. Next, understand that the level of competition you’re dealing with can make or break a given strategy. If an influencer reports that their homepage moved up three spots for a given keyword term after producing a new video every week, that doesn’t mean you’ll see the same results; if you have far more competition, you might not move at all, and if you have far less competition, you might not need nearly as much effort to see the same results.
- There are thousands of influential variables that can’t all be isolated. SEO is ridiculously complicated; even though we’ve pinned down a number of ranking factors, and how much impact they have (relatively speaking), it’s still hard to determine exact root causes for each shift in rankings we experience. For example, let’s say an article goes viral on social media and subsequently rises in rankings. It would be easy to think that its ranking increase was a direct result of those social shares, but in reality, it was likely a secondary factor—such as increased inbound links as a result of those social shares—that did the trick.
Misinformation Is Easy to Spread Unintentionally
I’ve written recently about a problem in the SEO industry related to the emergence and spread of inaccurate SEO information. This isn’t a product of people deliberately trying to lead others astray; instead, it’s a natural result of the industry.
SEO is necessarily imprecise in some ways (since Google doesn’t formally publish exactly how its ranking algorithm works), the nature of the industry changes quickly, and the SEO community is ravenous for new information, which many search optimizers are quick and eager to provide.
The end result is that information often gets published before it’s fully verified, and it’s easy for readers to form first impressions of articles that may reflect isolated incidents rather than broad trends. It’s also easy for this information to spread, since many influencers and community members share new information without checking its validity for themselves (I’ve been guilty of this too—we all have).
Misinformation is Often Spread Intentionally, Too
Aside from well-intentioned SEO professionals jumping the gun with unverified information in an attempt to be the first to publish new information, the internet is full of self-proclaimed “SEO experts” who eagerly spread false information in order to make a profit. Forums and low-authority blogs are where I most commonly find bad information being perpetuated.
For example, before Google’s Penguin algorithm update in April of 2012, it was considered a “best practice” to obtain as many inbound links as one possibly could, regardless of the quality of those links, and the anchor text used for those links needed to be “exact match” keywords. That is, if your keyword was “green widgets” then the link to your website should always say “green widgets.”
Today, this is precisely the kind of practice that will get your website penalized by Google. But lurking in the dark confines of small blogs and community forums are snake-oil salespeople, proclaiming that they can get you thousands of high-quality links in a day, each with perfectly keyword-optimized anchor text, and all this for the low price of $100. To many SEO newcomers looking for a cheap start to their SEO campaign, this seems like just the deal they’ve been looking for. After all, they know that more links is generally a good thing, so why not take the deal?
Clearly, this is just one type of SEO scam perpetuated by lurkers, but they are numerous. Distinguishing trustworthy SEO advice can be difficult for business owners who are just getting their feet wet with SEO, and it can be a minefield of misinformation designed to confuse business owners into spending their money unwisely.
Experimentation Is the Best Way to Learn
According to a scientific study of—ironically enough—science students, it’s easier for people to learn by doing than it is to learn by traditional forms of instruction. You can read and regurgitate information about SEO all day long, but until you get your hands on a campaign, doing your own keyword research, writing your own content, and doing your own measurement and analysis, you won’t develop a subjective, innate “feel” for how SEO works.
There’s nothing mystical going on here. Over time, as you venture into SEO on your own, you’ll get better at intuitively troubleshooting problems (the way auto mechanics can tell what’s wrong with a vehicle just by listening to it), and you’ll end up tinkering with tactics that even industry leaders haven’t considered. Ignoring the advice—and sometimes contradicting it—can lead you down an even more innovative path.
SEO advice is, for the most part, good. It will help you learn more about the industry, come up with better ideas, and might even inspire you to try something new. But you shouldn’t rely exclusively on advice, verbatim, to fuel your strategies.
If you want to see the best results, you need to take SEO advice with a grain of salt, think critically about what you’re reading, and ultimately use your own research and experience to fuel your progress.