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Stephen Logan

A Little SEO Knowledge is a Very Dangerous Thing

27th Oct 2011 SEO 5 minutes to read

WarningI don’t pretend to be an expert in accountancy, even if I am useful with a spreadsheet and have decent mental maths skills. The fundamentals are all there, but that doesn’t mean that I’d start managing the books for Koozai or anybody else for that matter.

However, when it comes to SEO, or indeed any form of online marketing, people are more than willing to give it a go. Armed with little more than an understanding that links are good and ‘content is king’, these clueless hordes start optimising their own site or, worse still, somebody else’s.

You can read a book, follow a few industry ‘rockstars’ on Twitter and even try to catch a few SEOmoz guides, but that does not make you an SEO. It’s a great start, don’t get me wrong, but you have to be prepared to go much further and learn a great deal more.

We all have to start somewhere. But you have to be prepared to walk before you can run.

Like in any discipline, if someone with more experience tells you that you’re doing it wrong, or that you could benefit from trying something else, don’t ignore it. This is all part of learning. You also need to be able to pull in information from a number of sources. Never rely on a single book that you’ve read or a guru that you hold in high esteem.

Understanding Context in SEO

After all, there are plenty of people who will swear blind that buying links is horrendous and should never be done. Equally, there are those who will tell you that they are safe as houses and will propel you to the top of the rankings. Both parties are equally right and wrong.

If you have nothing to lose and have created a website purely for short-term gain, buying links is perfect. Even massive brands can buy links in various guises, including newspaper advertorials and affiliate networks. However, if you’re representing a business that has long-term online aspirations, the last thing you want to do is risk a Google ranking penalty (which is all the more likely if you’re inexperienced and buying links in the most flagrant way).

Understanding what will work best for Client A compared with Client B can only come with experience. If you roll out a generic solution for both, it’s quite likely that neither will perform particularly well. No two sites are the same (hopefully) and this is how they need to be treated. They have their own target audience, business goals, challenges and benefits. Therefore your marketing strategy needs to be based on context and knowledge, not one or the other.

Varying Your Influences – Remaining Cynical

It’s all been said before of course, in fact Rob Kerry (and those who left comments) talked about the ‘celebrity’ trend in SEO and the difficulties in recruiting staff with actual training yesterday for SEO Book. If you learn from a single source, you only ever achieve knowledge based on one perspective and fall into a prescribed line of thought as a result – complete with any prejudices.

So use an array of resources and learn from your own experiences. Never assume that you know it all, because nobody does. If you’re a business attempting to do your own SEO, tread carefully. Seek advice wherever you can and don’t do anything that sounds remotely risqué.

Optimising a site takes time. Whilst it is well within the capabilities of anybody to do so, that doesn’t mean you should necessarily. I probably have the ability to produce wondrous pieces of fine art, compose an eloquent musical score or reassemble a car engine by touch alone buried somewhere deep within me, but that doesn’t mean that I’m going to just do it. I’d need training and practice. I’d have to learn from every mistake and deal with the inevitable setbacks. Natural talent aside (I have none), you can’t bypass some form of educational process if you are looking achieve the best results.

SEO ‘celebrities’ might have their fans and detractors, but a lot of what they say is useful. However, it only becomes truly helpful to your work if you can effectively critique it. Becoming a sheep to any single marketing ideology will leave your website and general understanding in a ruinous state.

Separating Work from Testing

However, if you’re testing, keep that separate from your primary domain. Ensure there is no visible link. If it works, apply those principles, if it doesn’t, you’ve lost nothing – except for a little time. Equally, if you believe you can get to the top of Google JUST by spinning unreadable content or spamming blog comments, it’s probably time to put away your SEO for Dummies 2003 book and start again.

Look at what others are doing. But don’t just replicate it; find a way of doing it better or applying it in a new way that will better suit your business. Imitation might be seen as the highest form of flattery to some in the offline world, but it won’t always lead to the best search engine rankings.

Even the most highly regarded and well-established SEOs will have to re-think strategies and consider new techniques. This is because they never assume that they know everything or that they are the best at what they do. As soon as you can accept that you’re not as good as you think you are, you are in a position to develop.

So by all means, try out SEO. Take the time to learn it, implement it and have the patience to develop a clear understanding of what it takes to earn rankings. However, don’t claim to be an expert just because you can regurgitate a book verbatim or have attended over a dozen conferences.

Unlike our earlier example, accountancy, there is no regulation or industry-recognised qualification to achieve. But as with any professional or skilled trade, you can’t instantly grasp all of the necessary principles. If you just pick and choose what you learn and apply it blindly, that’s how things go seriously awry. In SEO, to be clinical you have to stay cynical. Believe nothing until you’ve personally tested and verified it works (or doesn’t).

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