A couple of years ago at Joomla Day UK I fronted an impromptu Q&A session on SEO at the behest of my friend and fellow web designer Arno Zijlstra (and all at 2 minutes notice!) It was a real on-the-spot discussion answering some pretty rudimentary questions about best practice in SEO to a crowd of Joomla CMS users. Whilst I am in no way (nor do I ever aspire to be) an Aaron Wall, Rand Fishkin or Jeremy Shoemaker in the SEO world, I’ve always believed it’s a practical benefit for any serious (and interested) web professional to be clued-up on SEO techniques and so I attempted to impart some of my decade’s worth of practical working SEO knowledge to the audience.
One of the crowd said:
SEO isn’t exactly rocket science, is it?
Which is a valid point. SEO isn’t rocket science; I’ll readily admit that Search Engine Optimisation techniques require no mastery in any of the fields of:
mechanics (fluid mechanics, structural mechanics, orbital mechanics), flight dynamics, physics, mathematics, control engineering, materials science, aeroelasticity, avionics, reliability engineering, noise control and flight testing.
So, as you can see, SEO isn’t rocket science.
All you have to do to be good at SEO is (try to) understand the workings of the search engines, understand the code that goes into your website, the structure of the website, the information architecture, the paths, the URLs, know your way around the statistical package(s), spend time analysing the search terms that you are found for and want to be found for, find better terms, more popular terms, competitive terms and even the less competitive terms and have as intimate as you can an understanding of the goings-on in the world of search. For instance, if you know about Google’s “Panda update” have you heard that it may be a rolling issue with the latest incarnation being dubbed Panda 2.3?
You need to know how to spell, you should know your language, be able to write well, have good grammar, good vocabulary and a pool of alternative and complementary (synonymous) terms and words to draw from, you should also know how to do mod_rewrite, .htaccess, monitor your server’s error logs and when to use a 301 or a 302 and when to use a 410.
If you want to be good at SEO it helps that you get some time behind you, and get some real experience of SEO. So remember the 10,000 hour rule from Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers; it takes 10,000 hours to be an expert at a subject which equates to 40 hours a day every week for 5 years. 10 minutes a day of cut-and-pasted body text into title and meta tags over the last couple of years with a Frankenstein-inspired boilerplate on your website, stolen from other practitioners’ websites will not cut it – especially when other SEO pros have sussed you out in less than 30 seconds.
Back in 1996, as a mature student, my Typography tutor said to me:
A love letters is the beginning of typographic wisdom.
In the same vein I would say that:
A love of words is the beginning of SEO wisdom.
There are no secrets in SEO anymore
That’s true too, the mystique has gone from SEO much in the same way that there are no web design secrets anymore. (Nearly) Every tip, trick and technique is out there on the web (somewhere) and has been for quite a few years now. What is important is your ability to learn, to soak it all up and, more importantly, to put it all into practice and to get some tangible results.
So, SEO isn’t rocket science. But it is.