Whenever I go to a conference, or at least a dozen times a week by email, I get asked “What are some ‘SEO secrets’?” or “Hey–what keywords do you rank for, and can you show me some of your websites?” Until you have earned my trust, though, I’m really not going to show you anything. I made that mistake once and 3 months later saw a “clone” site from that person. It’s not that I’m a stuck up jerk and am not interested in helping people or paying it forward, because I really believe it’s a part of my role in the community. But there’s a difference between someone showing up at my door to ask for free food and someone asking, “Hey, can I go fishing with you so I can learn how to fish for myself?”
While I’m not a first generation SEO like Greg, Rae, or Todd, I have been been around a while, asked a lot of (sometimes stupid) questions, experimented and made a lot of small and awesomely catastrophic mistakes along the way, dabbled in the black arts, tried stuff and failed, and that’s how I learned. So much of what goes on today in the SEO community isn’t about asking questions, learning, and teaching; it’s about attention whoring, popularity contests, and SEO drama. Too many people are focused on finding the secrets for quick and easy ways to set up ATM machines on their front lawn so they can parade around like peacocks on display, having people tell them how they are like fabulously famous rockstars, when instead they should be putting in the effort to learn how it works, what keeps it running, and what do when when something breaks or your whole network gets torched. Because they don’t put forth that effort, when something goes off the rails, they are right back where they started: with no knowledge. All they can do is look for the next “handout” or SEO Secret.
Learning SEO is a lot like hunting. Without learning how to stalk your prey, how to hunt ir down, and how to “make the kill” that will feed you and your family, you won’t survive. Instead, everyone wants an ATM funded by SEO secrets. But when Google announces they are changing the algorithm specifically targeting SEO sites, your website built on tricks without knowing what you were doing or why you were doing it is likely to be a casualty caught in the crossfire. However if your website has strong technical platform with good information architecture practices, good or better quality content that exists for the users’ benefit and isn’t a wrapper for Adsense, and a solid social media and real world marketing plan and strategy, you are lot more resistant to these fluctuations. Content may be king, but if your tech foundation is so bad that search engines can’t understand it (listen up, Ajax and Flash developers!), your information architecture is so crazy and convoluted that search engines cant make heads or tails of it, and you don’t market on the proper channels where you can find your customers (not just the new hot social media channel that the techno weenies are talking about like your Pinterest page for whole life insurance), the best content lies trapped under lock and key where no one but you can see it. It’s the combination of all the pieces working together–content, information architecture, and good marketing & promotion–that leads to true success, not the elusive secret you are looking for to avoid one or more of those the steps.
Instead of focusing on ferreting out SEO secrets, concentrate on learning the fundamentals–like choosing the right URL structure. Learn how to silo your website, create evergreen content, and create seasonal content. Learn when you need to pay for premium content. Learn how to market with social media, how to automate it to get more ROI for your time. Learn how to develop and and when to email to your list. Learn how to build trust through links. Learn how to audit your content regularly and to keep your website lean, mean, and up to date. Learn to trim the fat, those useless parts of your website that don’t help you or your customers. When you learn those skills, you’ll find you don’t need to spend so much time looking for shortcuts, secrets, and tips … and you’ll spend less time worrying about algorithm changes. SEO drama my be a fun distraction or give you your 15 minutes of fame–but, unless it’s adding to your bottom line, it’s not helping you. It’s a distraction.