This time the call was answered by “The Berg,” who explains that he has been designing websites for over 10 years, “reading about SEO for as long as it’s been a term,” but only really started to “take advantage of the possibilities in the last 5 years.” He approaches SEO by finding a small niche and dominating it. He readily admits that he might have done as well by building a less strong presence for a more profitable term, but his lessons resonate regardless of the path you choose to take to success.
The Berg’s first point raises the theme of patience that runs through all of his words. “SEO doesn’t come over night,” he explained. Since you’re going to be working on something for quite a while before you see success, you should choose to build your site around a subject about which you’re passionate. If you do it right, you’ll be doing it for a long time, so it really should be something you love.
The road to the top, in SEO as in other things, is rarely smooth. There are tons of variables that can cause your ranking on the search engine results pages to fluctuate, as The Berg explains in his second point. “With the millions of factors that may have caused your change, you most likely won’t be able to point it out anyway without controlled testing,” he noted. And he directly addresses the anxieties of new SEOs when he says, “If your site is less than 6 months old, expect fluctuations and concentrate on solidifying your niche instead of watching every keyword movement.”
On the other hand, you shouldn’t wait too long before you do something. Inaction can be as bad as taking too hasty action in The Berg’s book, as he makes clear in his third point. Overanalyzing, hesitation, and procrastination are an SEO’s worst enemies, he notes; as an antidote, he recommends that you “Take action and record the results.” As a side note, if you’re interested in how this kind of thing is done, there is an entire section of the SEO Chat forum devoted to doing SEO tests and experimentation.
So haste is an enemy of SEOs, but so is overanalyzing your results and procrastination. The Berg believes that it is best to take your time, and make efficient, productive use of it. This comes from practice and to some extent from reading about SEO. The Berg admits that he has learned about 70 percent of what he knows about SEO from reading about it and asking for advice in forums.
With all this emphasis on patience, and the conflicting desire for quick results, it can be tempting to cut corners or use short cuts. Don’t do it. “Short cuts offer short-term results,” The Berg emphasized. That may be what you’re looking for, but many people want to gain enduring success, and short cuts won’t take you there.
So how do you win at SEO? That brings us to The Berg’s sixth point. “The best way to gain ranking in Google’s organic search results: Write intriguing, insightful, unique, quality content and then promote that material to induce natural linking from relevant quality websites,” he said. That is why, going back to his first point, you want to choose a topic about which you are passionate. It will bring out your best writing.
While there is no way around the idea of quality content, you have a lot of choices as to the topics on which you post – which means you don’t have to struggle against sites that seem to own the most general, common, desirable, and competitive keywords. “You can get just as much traffic from 100 noncompetitive keywords” as you can from “some single highly competitive keywords,” The Berg explains, reminding us not to forget the long tail.
In The Berg’s eighth and ninth points, he encourages us to keep our visitors in mind. And if that means linking to a quality website that is related to yours, so be it. There are advantages to doing so: “The link will only create more value to your page by offering relevant options. The loss in traffic will be compensated by the rank adjustment caused by the increased value” in your web page, he pointed out. And for the visitors clicking around your site, it behooves you to “Make it simple enough for a 6 year old to navigate through.” Somewhat tongue in cheek, he adds, “They’re your primary audience.”
Next we turn to some of the special issues that newcomers to SEO face. One of the biggest revolves around the fact that the Internet is global, but its dominant language is still English (though that might not be true for much longer). As a result, many site builders who may not be skilled in English feel compelled to work in that language. Poor English skills can inflict native as well as non-native speakers. But they can wreak havoc on your web site.
Here I’m going to quote The Berg in full: “If your English is poor, build in your own language. At the very least, have your content written by someone fluent in the given language. Also, anyone writing copy needs to spell check and proofread for grammar. Nothing turns a web page from quality to garbage faster.” I’ve encountered a number of sites with quality content tainted by poor use of the language; speaking as a visitor, it’s difficult to get past it when I see it. And speaking as a writer and editor, yes, it’s work, but it’s not as difficult as you might think, and the rewards are more than worth the effort.
The Berg’s eleventh point was about assumptions. Many newcomers to SEO see Google behave a certain way and think they have it figured out. That’s how stories like the 30-position penalty get started. So, “Before releasing your unique brilliant findings about Google, do some research and save yourself some embarrassment,” The Berg advises.
Visitors, of course, are unique to every site; they can be tracked, and you can find ways to invite more of the same (or similar) to your site. The Berg suggests that you profile your target visitors. Know what they like and dislike, so you can make them welcome. “Make that door a little bit wider,” The Berg said.
While you spend your time building the best site you can and appealing to your target audience, The Berg advises that you stay away from “black hat techniques or anything that produces short-term positive changes.” As noted earlier, short cuts offer short-term results, and most of us are in this for the long haul. It’s like dieting; lasting results will only come from long term changes that take time to deliver their value.
That doesn’t mean you’re destined to face a long, lonely struggle with no rewards until you reach the top. “Fighting for a #1 position often unwittingly wins you other prizes along the way,” The Berg notes. You might find that you’ve become an acknowledged expert in your field, and others want to interview you. You’re likely to make friends who give you good advice. You will almost certainly acquire new and useful skills. You may even gain a whole new perspective on what is important to you, the field, the future; take your pick.
The Berg finishes up by taking a long view of the “nuts and bolts” an SEO does every day to earn a good ranking in the SERPs. For example, he acknowledges that keywords in your domain do help your ranking, but that alone won’t get you to the top and keep you there. Where in the domain name www.google.com does it say “search the Internet”? “Building a brand is far more important in the long run,” The Berg points out.
Speaking of Google, The Berg recommends that you stick to Google guidelines; whether they say it or not, most other search engines follow similar rules. Citing one of the search engine’s controversial recommendations, he reflects that “Buying links for the sole purpose of increasing organic rank is a risk not worth losing your honest work over.”
Going against the grain for some SEOs, The Berg’s seventeenth recommendation is to “Stop spamming for link juice.” By this he means the use of blog comments, forum signatures and the like to entice traffic. In his opinion, “Even if it’s worth something, it’s not worth the time and effort that could just as easily be put into something positive like contributing valuable content and making the Internet richer.” This should always be your first priority, of course, but some SEOs believe that promotion through blog comments and such can be helpful when done properly.
Taking away blog comments, The Berg also takes away certain tools. He advises you to ignore the Google PagRank bar and Alexa stats, and to not try to find back links through Google. Why? “None of these things are truly accurate. They are either samplings or out of date at best,” he explains.
The Berg also takes on common conduct in forums. If you’re entering a forum for information, you should not expect everything to be given to you. If you want the answer to a general question, you should start by searching for it in the forum; it has probably already been answered three times at least. “Anyone not willing to do simple research on their own will not survive a career in SEO,” The Berg notes. “Besides, if you don’t know how to use the search tool, how do you expect to conquer it?”
Conversely, The Berg continues, whatever you need is right in front of you. All you have to do is search for it, and read – albeit with a grain of salt. It’s one of the joys of living in the Internet age.
The Berg concludes with the reassuring thought that even today, the Internet is still in its infancy. What does this mean? “Chances are very good that the site which holds #1 with your target keyword is run by a single guy sitting in his underwear in his mom’s basement,” he says, giving hope to all of us. “With a little creativity and some hard work, you can beat him while he’s playing D & D.” Good luck!