Search Engine Optimization The Hard Truth

May 21st 2020

What you May or May Not Want to Hear About SEO

Backlinks, backlinks, backlinks, everybody wants backlinks. Why? Because we know that quality backlinks increase your website ranking in search engines. A lot of people get so focused on backlinks and obtaining backlinks that they forget what backlinks represent. Quality backlinks are obtained not through outreach or pay for placement or “guest blogging” (although that can work I suppose), but rather they are a side affect of quality content – whether text, imagery, video, useful tools (such as applications), resources (ebooks) – that people like and share. Sometimes SEOs get so focused on building a backlink profile to try to boost ranking that they forget what backlinks really represent.

This is like the “cool” kid in school taping his picture to every locker to get people to think he’s cool – it just doesn’t work like that. On the other hand, say someone was running for student counsel and came up with a program to involve high school kids preparing, distributing and organizing food to “shut in” seniors and the media picked up on it as good PR, her social currency just went through the roof. Now did she increase her social status by taping the program details to every door in town? No, she concentrated her efforts on developing a quality program, one that works, one that offers value to her community. The social ranking was a side effect of her work, not the other way around. This is the same with backlinks. Backlinks are a byproduct of the value you provide on your website, your website doesn’t gain “social currency” (aka ranking) from backlinks, but backlinks are a representation of your social status.

If I come across an idea, or solutions to a problem, or a quality technical article that I enjoy, or an open source project I use, I link to it, because I hold it valuable. For instance, I backlink to the Tailwind CSS project all the time in my blogs because I use their open source project, I think it’s great, I find it valuable and I know others will find if valuable too – so I link to it. Did Adam Wathans (the creator of Tailwind CSS) reach out to me and ask me to link to his project? Absolutely not, but I’d be floored if he did! He probably didn’t reach out to anyone, he didn’t have to. Instead, he focused on his content. In this case his content ended up being a kick ass utility first, CSS framework that has gained notoriety solely from the fact that developers love to use it.

An Epiphany – Solve Problems, Get Rewarded

This all hit me one day when I received a newsletter from Flavio Copes who is a technical blogger that I follow. A recent post title stood out to me:

“I wrote 1 blog post every day for 2 years. Here’s 5 things I learned about SEO”

Flavio had disclosed that his blog gets more than 1 million views a month and he built that audience in a little over 18 months. Don’t get me wrong, this guy is a content hoarder, churning out technical content like George Lucas cranked out movies. But he didn’t build a million dollar audience by optimizing his on page strategy or doing an internal link audit or deploying an intricate backlink campaign. He built it by writing quality content that solves problems.

Instead of thinking about keywords and link building, I usually think about problems. What problems do people have? One way I really like [to come up with content] is to talk about the problems I had, and how I solved them.

Flavio Copes

Personally, one reason I started writing was because I kept learning new things and solving my own problems and then I would forget what I learned or how I solved them. So next time I ran into that problem I’d have to go look it up again, or trudge through my code to figure out what I was doing (even reading your own code is hard at times) so I wanted to document it. I also found that by taking the time to document how I solved a problem, it helped me internalize it better and understand the solution at a deeper level, also helping me retain the knowledge. Another byproduct (of writing about my problems) is that I started to notice I was able to explain and teach my thought process and logic to colleagues and others in my industry. It’s one thing to know how to do something, and it’s another to be able to explain it and teach it to others. If you are going to grow a team, or be a leader, or an influencer you have to know how to communicate your thought process or skills to others.

Start Small to Build Big

In the SEO game you have to be in it for the long game. A lot of clients reach out and have a misconception about what search engine optimization is. Thinking SEO is black box that “SEO Experts” know how to navigate, they believe a professional SEO can (like a wizard waving a wand) write a few lines of code, reorganize their site architecture, fix their link profile and perform a special rain dance to the SEO gods to get their site to rank. They focus on optimization before fundamentals. Big mistake. Instead they need to focus on fundamentals before optimization. This would be like someone who has a goal to lose weight start focusing on getting all of the latest fitness tracking equipment, buying the most optimal workout apparel, hiring a world renowned fitness trainer and investing their time and energy into the wrong area. In reality, they need to start off walking a mile and then graduating to running a mile and then running a mile and doing 20 push ups and gradually building their fitness level by taking baby steps. In my opinion you have to earn the right to optimize by first showing dedication to the fundamentals.

A big mistake in anything you are trying to do in life is to start of by focusing on optimization before fundamentals. Instead, focus on fundamentals before optimization. In my opinion you have to earn the right to optimize by first showing dedication to the fundamentals.

Me, Troy 😊

By the way, there’s a great book about this philosophy called Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment by George Leonard.

Give It Time, Grow It Right

They don’t call it organic search results for nothing. When you think of the word organic you don’t think “genetically modified”, “cut corners”, “fast lane”, “magic pill”, “black hat”. No, you think of “time”, “done right”, “quality”, “investment”, “growth”. The natural rhythms of life. Sow, nurture, harvest. Sow, nurture, harvest. Sow, nurture, harvest. If you’re not dedicating time, energy, resources on a weekly basis to producing content (articles, infographics, videos, ebooks, newsletters, tutorials etc) which solve problems – real problems – then don’t even think about search engine optimization or technical SEO. You’re putting the cart before the horse.

It takes time, your building an asset based on the principles of compounding. The law of compounding is predicated on two important factors – consistency and time.

Not just with SEO, but a lot of things in life that rely on the power of compounding (health, fitness, education, skills), people give up before the compounding results kick in. It’s slow at first and there are no immediate results and it appears to not be working and it’s hard and it takes a lot of time and they doubt and second guess and finally, slowly they drift off into the abyss, leaving behind what could have been.

If you are looking to make money blogging or generating majority of your traffic from organic search results you’re going to have to give it a consistent effort for two years. Does that mean you won’t see progress for two years? No, you should see signs that your efforts are paying off and your analytics should start seeing some organic traffic results (probably in the first 3 – 6 months). But if we’re talking about making money, or generating a majority of your traffic based on organic SEO than you are going to want to plan on a two year commitment (or more) before you start seeing real dividends. This might seem daunting and too long for most, but if I told you that you would be guaranteed a consistent source of lead generation, hot leads, be seen as an expert and even generate revenue by planting a tree in your back yard and watering it and talking to it everyday for two years you would go plant that tree!

Don’t Be Afraid to Share – You Will Be Rewarded

Many people are afraid to give away their “trade secrets”. I’m not sure where this philosophy stemmed from but I think it’s an old “industrial age” belief system. The information age we live in rewards sharing. Plus ideas are cheap, execution is everything. Even if you share your trade secrets as ideas, the chances of competitors taking those ideas to market or executing on them is probably slim to none. I love Derek Sivers’ book “Anything You Want”. A chapter talks about his execution equation where he explains ideas vs execution:

Ideas are worth nothing unless executed. They are just a multiplier. Execution is worth millions.
To make a business, you need to multiply the two.
The most brilliant idea, with no execution, is worth $20.
The most brilliant idea takes great execution to be worth $20,000,000.
That’s why I don’t want to hear people’s ideas. I’m not interested until I see their execution.

Another example of why execution trumps ideas is some ideas you just can’t pick if they’re going to turn out like you expected.

Sometimes you can’t pick the content that will rank well, you just have to do the work – execute. Although we want to look at our content ideas through the lens of “solving problems”, sometimes a piece of content will surprise you with how much traffic it’s getting. For instance, I wrote a blog one day about Continuous Deployment and Integration Using PM2 not really expecting it to be a hit, but more so I was documenting what I’ve done in the past to remotely deploy applications for my own reference. Low and behold it’s become a top 5 performance result for my site. I would have never guessed that. Which brings up the point that sometimes it’s better to just write, produce than it is to spend hours on researching the niche article. As Nike would say Just Do It.

Find Passion In What You Do

If you are getting into the SEO game solely focusing on results and increasing your search rankings you are going to burn out and it’s not going to work out in your favor. As the saying goes “Anything worth doing is hard”. So you have to find a why, a reason, that’s going to keep you going. You’ll get little serendipities along the way like someone reaching out and saying “Hey your article really helped me, thank you.” I love when I get these emails and I try to remember to reach out and thank others who have helped me as well. I also try to show appreciation and gratitude by linking back to their content or article, it might not be much but it’s a little social currency I can pay them in respect as they deserve it. Passion in your content will keep you going when the results are elusive. Don’t do it solely for results, do it for you, for your own betterment.

If you write about your passion, you will never lose enthusiasm because you are creating a little corner of the internet that’s yours, you made it, you made it beautiful, and now it’s also available for everyone else, but even if no one shows up, it stands on its own.

Flavio Copes

You probably didn’t expect that SEO boils down to passion. But remember, ranking is a reflection of value. To create value you need to add value. Passion in what you do, commitment to take action, investment in time and money adds value.