With over 14 years of SEO experience, I have come to see my work as more art than science. Though SEO requires the individual to learn rather arcane and dry rules, concepts, and strategies, it isn’t as straightforward as just following these guidelines to achieve success. Once you have gained mastery of all that is required, an SEO practitioner does need to operate from a set of rules but there’s also quite a bit of interpretation in the application of what he/she has learned. To win in organic search requires artful application of an interpretation of the rules. Remember the Matrix…some rules can be bent, others can be broken.
Within SEO, there are few actual bedrock rules. One of the biggies is duplicate content. This was tackled – rightly so – by the infamous Panda algorithm update that put a beat down on many E-Commerce companies back in the early 2000’s. Spammy links is another one, but in truth there will always be spammy links and needing to deal with this or not is subject to conditions. I have seen poorly optimized websites that out rank better optimized websites. I have seen websites perform well in search that have keyword stuffed content or almost none at all.
What actually matters is whether or not PEOPLE like and use the websites Google defines as ‘good.’ Sometimes a website does well because it was there first and never lost that momentum. Sometimes a website does well because it improved the product or the process to buy online (think Amazon). Sometimes a website does well because they did an amazing job of offline marketing and branding (think Warby Parker). The truth is Google rewards relevancy and human behavior over all else.
What do I mean by relevancy and human behavior? If you search for ‘brown wool socks’ and Google displays a highly relevant and accurate web page that fits the users intent, and that user clicks on that page, browses around, selects the product he/she wanted and buys said product, this was a total win for Google. You wanted/needed something, you searched, and Google delivered – that is the win Google is looking for and one of the reasons it became the dominant search engine around the planet.
So, with all of this in mind, an experienced SEO provider must think beyond simple strategies or even strict adherence to the ‘SEO rules.’ This is where the art comes in. An experienced SEO technician needs to use the rules and strategies available to him/her but devise a way to think like Google AND to think like his/her fellow humans….AND be able to do this within the clients budgetary limits. This is where it isn’t and can’t be perfect science. Human behavior changes constantly and it is unpredictable. Which is why SEO is unpredictable work. My advice to fellow marketers and SEO writers, those who are new to this or others who are stuck in their work, is to remember that the laws of SEO are not absolute. They are meant to be molded to each client, to each industry, and even then you might not win. Manage your expectations, manage those of your clients, and NEVER overpromise. And like a work of art, Google may or may not understand your interpretation. You just have to keep trying until it does.