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May 31, 2007

Why Most “SEOs” Need to Learn to Shut Up

A Little SEO Knowledge is a Dangerous Thing
I was talking to a woman recently who read a previous article that I wrote about Google. She was confused – very confused. Her site, which had a well-defined theme and was organized fairly well, was no where to be found in the search engine’s results pages (SERPs). Instead, the top results were clouded with other sites that, although somewhat related to her site’s primary keyword, were not solely dedicated to that topic.

Her real confusion came after she sought the advice of an SEO. This SEO told her that in order to rank well for her targeted keyword, her inbound links had to use that keyword as their anchor text. When she surveyed Google’s top 10 results for her keyword, she quickly saw that the sites occupying the top results did not have inbound links that used her targeted keyword (at least as far as she could determine).

Now ask yourself this question: how many articles have you read and how many forum discussions have you seen in which webmasters try their hardest to play the SEO and explain what needs to be done to get a top ranking? Out of all those articles and conversations, how many of them have been right 100% of the time without exception?

It seems that for every claim made by someone who claims to know SEO, there are 100 exceptions to the rule.

Webmaster forums and articles are full of people debating countless topics that, in all reality, do not have to be understood in order to obtain a high ranking. It can certainly be useful to know things like the differences between penalties and filters, the meaning of supplemental results, how to get out of the supplemental results, how many times you can 301 redirect Google, etc.

But we have to be careful. While this may be interesting and useful to an extent, a little SEO knowledge is a dangerous thing.

I really have no idea if the SEO who advised the woman in my example above is a good SEO or not. I was not involved in the conversation – all I heard was what the woman told me she knew. In all honesty, I do not blame the SEO so much as I blame the woman for her confusion. Trying to explain in a few emails or in one conversation what needs to be done with a site to move it up the rankings is unfair. But this example illustrates a point which we can see time and time again among webmasters.

A lot of people say they know SEO because they have had some success with it or they have studied it to some extent. But the truth is, there are really only a handful of people who really know what they are talking about.

Having just a little SEO knowledge is truly a dangerous thing. Webmasters who think they know SEO adjust their websites to make them more search engine friendly. When their site is eventually filtered out of the results, or drastically underperforms in the results, they have problems realizing that what they thought they knew to be true about SEO could in fact be wrong. The only natural conclusion is that they have done too good of a job optimizing their sites (every hear of ‘over-optimizing’?).

Then again, it could be that they know just enough about SEO to be dangerous.

Understanding SEO is Complicated

The reason a little SEO knowledge is so dangerous is that people use the knowledge that they do have in the wrong way. In our example above, this woman heard that in order to rank well for a particular keyword, she needed inbound links that used her goal keywords in their anchor text. She took that to mean that this was all she needed to do to rank well – thus ignoring the dozens of other factors that affect her ranking. What she was told did not seem to match up with the results that she saw.

The results that she saw were the result of a very complicated algorithm that was weighing dozens of factors. One of those factors was certainly the keywords used in the anchor text of inbound links to the high ranking sites. But any good SEO will tell you that this is not the only factor in ranking well.

Consider this: we all know that a chocolate cake contains flour and chocolate. But if we combine just those two ingredients, will we have a cake? Of course not – there are other factors which build the cake into what it is. We can even know all the individual ingredients of cake – but if we put them together in the wrong proportions, we’ll end up with a horrible cake.

The same is true with SEO. If we really want to understand SEO, then we need to know how all the pieces work together, what factors are more important, and what factors we should focus on with our sites.

Real SEO’s spend countless hours figuring out all the ingredients that go into a website’s ranking. They learn how to apply each piece of the algorithm in the correct way.

Most SEO’s, however, do not spend the time it takes to get to this level of knowledge. These are the self-proclaimed SEO’s who only know some of the ingredients, have theories about some of the other ingredients, and are still working on just what temperature you need to bake your site at in order to get the right result. These self-proclaimed SEO’s need to stop telling people what the recipe is for search engine success – they are simply giving people an incomplete recipe.

Understanding SEO is Complicated, but Practicing it is Simple

As complicated as SEO is, practicing it is refreshingly simple. Continuing our example of baking a cake (are you hungry yet?), SEO does come in a box along with instructions. We just need to put the elements together, put it in the oven, and wait for it to bake.

At the heart of SEO is one common desire among search engines: to return relevant results of trustworthy websites. Your job is to simply create that website.

The basic elements of SEO are well known and have been written about before. A good website will be well planned, focus on a particular theme, have a clearly defined navigation, be accessible to more than just advanced modern browsers, have great content, have great content over time, and will get links from other sites that recognize its quality.

You, as a website owner, really do not have to concern yourself with the various penalties/filters or supplemental results. As a website owner, you just need to create a technically sound website and work on building relevant, one-way links.

So if you have been asking yourself (or others) “How can I get my site to rank first for _______”, try changing the question to “How can I build a great website that others will recognize as being good which deals with ______”.

A Good SEO Is Invaluable – But Success Can Be Had Flying Solo

There is absolutely no substitute for a good SEO who really knows what they are talking about. These are the ‘master bakers’ in the world of search engine optimization. If you want to have a great cake, you would probably consider hiring a master baker.

But for most of us, we have to settle for the simplified approach to SEO. You can achieve search engine successes by simply approaching your website with the correct mentality.

Simply build your site with an emphasis on quality, a centralized theme, and solid usability. That is the simplest way to SEO success.

Author:  Mark Daoust is the owner of

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