Earlier this week, Seth Godin wrote a catchy blog post about how to make money online. While there were several worthy points to remember, one that stuck out to me was, “Hang out with people who aren’t looking for shortcuts. Learn from them.“.
SEO is filled with the notion that there are shortcuts. When I first started SEO consulting it felt like the reason a large percentage of companies were interested in SEO was because they believed it was a shortcut to online marketing success (it was free, right?). They forgot the time element that factored into the cost of “good SEO”.
- Trying to optimize pages without a keyword and marketing strategy in mind
- Ignoring the SEO details (like cross-links, ALT properties, filenames, etc) even though the opportunity presents itself for implementation
- Buying links purely for keyword rankings
Even today, we get asked what are the simple tactics, the “quick wins”, that a budget conscious organization can implement to “push the needle” in their search efforts. Can we help some of them? Absolutely. But in other cases, there are no shortcuts for creating something measurable out of a short-term SEO campaign. Sometimes significant technological or organizational factors need to be overcome before SEO can really become a part of the marketing mix.
Why You Can’t Start With SEO Shortcuts
The primary reason those interested in SEO, either as a profession or in selecting business partners, would not find it wise to start with SEO shortcuts is simple. Shortcuts impair the ability of the SEO professional or partnership to fully understand what or why results in SEO (negative or positive) happen.
The challenge (or opportunity) with SEO is that there are many experiences required to be truly effective over the course of a complete SEO program. The high level examples include (but are not limited to):
- Search Algorithm Understanding
- Technical Site/Web Expertise
- Traditional Marketing Comprehension
The examples above don’t specifically define disciplines within each experience that need to be learned as well. For example, what about becoming a good writer or adept at graphics tools, in order to develop effective communication strategies for social and link building outreach? Disciplines within a strategic objective have to be learned and understood as well.
The point is that if you don’t understand the details and steps which can (not will) create good results, it is not really possible to know whether an SEO shortcut will work, hurt, or why it could do either. Will the next search engine algorithm update hurt you today or in the long-run? Understanding the steps, mechanisms, and tactics that brought your site to where it is now with SEO will help answer that question.
Google Penguin Updates and SEO Shortcuts
Google’s recent Penguin Update comes at a perfect time for a post like this. Google’s goal with the Penguin Update was simply stated:
…we’re launching an important algorithm change targeted at webspam. The change will decrease rankings for sites that we believe are violating Google’s quality guidelines. This algorithm represents another step in our efforts to reduce webspam and promote high quality content.
For advocates of quality content, quality link outreach initiatives, and tying SEO more concisely into the overall strategic marketing mix, we will hopefully find a major win in client results with this update. But if your organization or strategies were more heavily invested in SEO shortcuts, this is a concrete example of why they should be avoided.
Don’t Confuse Good SEO Tools for SEO Shortcuts
The difference between SEO tools and SEO shortcuts is their place in the overall search engine optimization campaign. SEO tools help make the job of the search marketing professional more effective, either in analysis, productivity, or management (one, both, or all three). SEO shortcuts attempt to create results in search visibility, at the expense of investing in the use of good SEO tools and practices.
Some of the tools I am fond of using for SEO campaign development.
- SEO Reporting and Management: RavenTools, SEOmoz, Advanced Web Ranking, Google Analytics & Webmaster Tools, (and exploring Search Metrics)
- SEO Campaign Development: Screaming Frog, SearchStatus for Firefox, Web Developer for Firefox, Majestic SEO, Scrapebox, Rex Swain’s HTTP Viewer
- Social Media & Outreach: HootSuite, Contax.io, ManageFlitter, FollowerWonk, Rapportive, Knowem, USPNL, Facebook Ad Manager, SocialMention
- Productivity & Management: Basecamp, Dropbox, Google Docs, Microsoft Excel, (and exploring Confluence)
Don’t mistake SEO tools for SEO shortcuts. Tools make our job of analyzing trends, obtaining data, and aggregating information more productive. It still takes human analysis and experience, good decision making, and understanding of the target markets to execute a good SEO program.
SEO Resources That Tend to Avoid Shortcuts
Learning SEO is a challenging task. That is an understatement. To that end, here are a few resources and publications I find valuable for understanding the fundamentals and keeping up to speed on current events. A warning perhaps that while many of these resources may seem long winded to the uninterested or semi-interested party, there also will be a tremendous amount of insight and care taken towards their depth.
- Search Engine Land Guide: What Is SEO / Search Engine Optimization?
- SEOmoz: The Beginners Guide to SEO
- SEOmoz: SEO Ranking Factors
- SEO 101: Everything You Need to Know About SEO (But Were Afraid to Ask)
- Google: Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide (PDF)
SEO Blogs, Forums, and Places for Ongoing Learning
- Search Engine Land (offers daily email recap called Searchcap as well)
- Search Engine Watch (offers daily email aggregating top daily columns)
- SEOmoz Daily SEO Blog (particularly appropriate for SEO consulting)
- SEOBook (particularly appropriate for the site owner’s perspective on SEO)
- Search Engine Roundtable (aggregates important search forum discussions)
- There are certainly others, but I think writing style preference, frequency, topical relevance, can all come into play at an individual level. TopRank’s Big List of SEO Blogs is a good place to start.