Some SEO insights offer incremental improvement. Others can change your life forever.
We need both. But today I want to focus on three life-changing insights.
As you can probably guess, these aren’t “tactics.” These are fundamental ways of looking at your discipline. You may even have heard some of them before. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned in life, it’s that knowing is different from doing.
These are three key insights that master SEOs put in practice in their daily lives.
1. The Hustle Matters Twice As Much As The Algorithm
Understanding as much as is possible about the search engine algorithms is crucial in order to be an effective SEO.
In fact, I believe that the search industry as a whole is severely underinformed. Many SEO professionals (and agencies):
- Jump to conclusions far too swiftly from correlative studies.
- Take universal lessons from anecdotes too often.
- Ignore Google’s guidelines too frequently.
- Take industry-wide “best practice” too seriously and their own data not seriously enough.
As an industry, we need to be better skeptics, experimenters, and testers.
I’m not at all dismissing the technical side of SEO when I say that the hustle is twice as important as the algorithm.
The search engine is designed to make ranking difficult. It is built on the foundational assumption that the most cited pages are the most valuable.
You have to get noticed.
Getting noticed takes work.
If you don’t put yourself out there, your SEO strategy is doomed to failure.
I can pretty much guarantee some readers are scoffing right now. “This is supposed to be a life-changing revelation that will change my life? Get real. I already know this.”
For some of you, that may be the case. But for most of you, I think the following is much more likely: you know this is what you’re supposed to do, you’ve heard of it before, but somehow it hasn’t quite sunk in. Somehow, something is holding you back, and you’re refusing to invest in the hustle.
I know because I’ve been there.
We’ve all been there.
We get stuck in that phase of information addiction. If that’s where you are, I know what it feels like.
Deep down, you know you should be putting more of what you’ve learned to action. You know you should test that tactic you learned last Friday. You know you should build a process to ensure that all of this gets done.
But you can’t help it.
Some nagging part of you says “Just this next tactic. Just this next blog post. And then I’ll know enough to really put all of this to action.”
I’m here to tell you no, you need to hit the ground running and make it happen.
And I’m not talking about trying that one tactic one time and forgetting about it.
I’m talking about having the resolve and dedication to make it an institutionalized habit.
- Put tactics to full use.
- Make it a part of your routine.
- Measure the results.
- Adjust as needed.
This is the only way to cross the bridge from theory to practice. And I guarantee when you start making a habit out of crossing that bridge, you’re going to realize just how much of the theory you come across is a waste of time.
No reserve of knowledge is more powerful than your own history of attempts and failures.
SEO knowledge isn’t power. It’s only potential.
2. If You Don’t Build It, They Won’t Come
I’m going to let you in on a little secret.
The winners of the internet don’t “produce content.” They build things.
(Easy there. We’re marketers. You’re reading content right now. We understand the value. Hear us out.)
Are you old enough to remember when the internet first started taking off? Do you remember that hot new phrase: “interactivity?”
Ask yourself, what do you spend most of your time on the internet doing?
Are you consuming the internet, or are you using it?
If you’re like most people, you spend a pretty solid portion of your time online.
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More importantly, of the time you spend using the internet, you probably use a pretty small number of sites. Know why? Because most sites are built to be consumed instead of used. Most sites take lessons from their peers at the bottom, rather than the industry leaders at the top.
Just take a look at the most linked sites on the internet.
I see an awful lot of tools and platforms here. Not so many “content producers.”
Again, this isn’t intended as some kind of anti-content marketing rallying cry. Instead, I’d like you to now think about your favorite content site.
Do you use it, or consume it?
What first put them on your radar? Did you land on a random blog post, or did you come across a massive content resource of some kind that you quickly realized you almost couldn’t live without?
Look at any developed online industry and you will find that the top players have at least one page on their site that is elevated to this level.
What I mean is this: the page crosses a threshold. It ceases to be “content” and it becomes a free product. It’s something so valuable that people actually come to use it, not just to consume it. And they will likely use it more than once or twice.
These pages aren’t always the highest converting, but they are usually the most heavily linked, second only to the homepage, and they are usually the most heavily trafficked, with the highest return rate. All of these things play a crucial role in rankings, brand reputation, and brand recognition.
If you have to choose between “producing content” and “building something,” go with the latter. A tool, a platform, a community, or an “ultimate guide” is almost always going to draw more traffic and links than your next piece of “content.”
I strongly believe that you need to produce content and build something. You need both. Most only have one.
The internet was built to be used.
3. If It’s Not For Anything Else, It’s Not For SEO Either
A masterful SEO understands the search engines and understands that they can’t rely on the search engines.
Let me explain.
First and foremost, there are two simple facts:
- The algorithm changes, and it changes constantly.
- Google warns us against manipulating the algorithm.
I want to hammer these points home, because they are often either ignored or acknowledged and then quickly treated as though the statements were never uttered.
First, the algorithm (algorithms, really) is updated about 500 times every year.
Just let that sink in. It is updated once or twice every single day.
Google’s search engine is just a massive collection of interfacing code. It is interacting with a constantly crawled and updated search index. No single engineer at Google can possibly understand fully how their own search engine works.
We’re talking about a massive collection of protocols, applications, operating systems, databases, and information retrieval processes. If you’ve ever dealt with complex code, then you know how much one small tweak can change everything else inadvertently. And I’m talking about the kinds of changes that don’t show up as “syntax error.”
So if you’ve been studying all of those “ranking factors” hoping to “reverse engineer” the algorithm, you have presented yourself with a task that is quite literally impossible. We can only hope to find statistical tendencies, and you absolutely must treat every site and every SERP as its own entity with different sorts of factors taking priority.
Second, I can’t stress enough how important this point is from Google’s guidelines:
“Avoid tricks intended to improve search engine rankings. A good rule of thumb is whether you’d feel comfortable explaining what you’ve done to a website that competes with you, or to a Google employee. Another useful test is to ask, ‘Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn’t exist?’”
Don’t get me wrong. The idea that you should only do things that you would feel comfortable sharing with a competitor is laughable, and pretending search engines don’t exist today is even more impossible than it was when the guidelines were first written.
But the implications are clear. If your SEO tactics are only helpful for SEO, and do nothing else for you, you’re on uneasy ground with Google’s guidelines.
Anybody who has been doing SEO for a long time know that those “pure” algorithmic SEO tactics fade with age.
Only SEO rooted solid marketing principles continue to work for you in long term.
A masterful SEO always has two eyes open: one on the search engine, the other on marketing.
Remember, the SEO mindset is one of cumulative growth.
We are looking for lasting improvements. Each incremental improvement is intended to tack more visits, more links, and more revenue to our long-term monthly figures, not just to this month’s figures.
That means not just using tactics and strategies that the search engines will always be OK with, but using tactics and strategies that don’t strictly rely on search engines to have lasting, cumulative impacts.
Put these insights to use. You won’t regret it.