Are You a Hardcore SEO?

Michael Martinez recently posted a list of 20 hardcore SEO tips in his "SEO Theory and Analysis Blog." He doesn’t usually give out lists of tips, and as you might expect from someone who focuses on SEO theory and analysis, this is not your typical list of tips. It emphasizes the one constant in the world of SEO: change.

If one takes these tips in the proper spirit and starts putting them into practice, each one is a full course on SEO in its own right. Many of them are counter-intuitive to the practices of "proper" SEO. But using them regularly will make you a better SEO, forcing you to keep learning more about your craft. It’s the kind of education that would be hard to get from simply reading SEO forums.

Even so, two of my favorite tips involve heavy use of SEO forums. Those are numbers seven and eight:

  • Create your own SEO book by collecting your favorite SEO forum and blog posts, newsletter articles, and tech tips in a .PDF file that you review once a month.
  • Create a new SEO book once each year, replacing the one you just created in the previous step.

This is not a book you’re creating to sell to other people or to put on your website for free so you can get an income from the ads placed around it. This book is for your own reference. It’s much easier to learn something when you have all of your materials in one place; that’s one of the reasons why many offices have procedural manuals, so new employees know where to go when they have questions about how to do something. Indeed, it makes sense to use this tip when you’re learning any new thing, whether it’s a sport, hobby, or even a different skill set for a whole new career.

So why should you create a new SEO book every year? If you’ve been in SEO longer than a year, you already know the answer: change. Since the search engines are constantly tweaking their algorithms, the field changes significantly on a regular basis. The basic principles, like "content is king," tend to remain the same, but many of the details change; what worked one year could get you banned the next. Martinez cites another reason: "Because after a year of using all the advice you put into the previous one you’ll have a far better idea of just how much [nonsense] you’re getting from SEO blogs and forums. But that also means your next SEO book will be ten times better than the last."

{mospagebreak title=Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone}

Two of Martinez’s most shocking and counter-intuitive tips are numbers four and five:

  • Stop using keywords in your URLs.
  • Stop using keywords in your titles.

Why would someone advise against a practice that is so basic to SEO? Everyone knows that one of the best ways to make sure you score high in the search engine results pages for your keywords is to position them prominently, and it’s hard to get more prominent than your URL and your titles! Indeed, as at least one person who commented on this particular blog entry pointed out, Martinez himself uses "SEO" twice in the URL and three times in the title of his post’s page.

Martinez isn’t being a hypocrite; remember that the spirit of these tips is to offer an education to those who take them to heart and commit to trying them. He doesn’t mean that you should stop using them altogether; he means that you should learn how to optimize without depending on them. To start getting your feet wet with this tip, it is advisable to take several web pages and choose not to use the keyword in their titles or URLs, but lavish everything else you know about SEO on them.

Why should you do this? "Because if you don’t know how to optimize a page without slamming keywords into the URLs…[or] stuffing your title, then you don’t know how to optimize a Web page," Martinez insists. "Titles and URLs are options, not requirements, in search engine optimization. Learn to understand and fully appreciate the difference between being able to do something and needing to do something."

There’s another reason you should learn how to do this: you become more flexible as an SEO, able to deal with a greater variety of client requests and needs. Martinez elaborates on this point in answer to some of the comments he received on these two tips. An in-house SEO who has control over the page design of the web site can use keywords in URLs and titles with no one to say otherwise, but a consultant or off-site SEO may not have that level of control. "The choice is not always in the SEO’s hands," Martinez notes — so if you already know how to do it, you won’t be caught flat-footed when your SEO career puts you in that situation.

{mospagebreak title=Trying Out New Ideas}

Martinez’s first and second tips on his list aren’t a matching pair in the same way as the other tips I’ve covered so far. But looked at from the right angle, they do teach some of the same lessons.

  • Redesign your Web site once or twice a year.
  • Add 5 pages of content to your site every week.

Redesigning a web site takes a lot of time and effort. In some ways, it’s even harder than doing it the first time. You have a lot of content that you probably want to preserve, regular visitors who expect certain things, and vested interests in keeping the site the way it is. Why would you want to go through such an arduous exercise even once a year, let alone twice?

The answer is that you’re not holding still as an SEO, so neither should your web sites. A redesign will let you improve the optimization for the pages which you knew you could do better, but never set aside the time to work on. Also, with any web site, it may look perfect once it’s finished, but once it goes live, it will become apparent that certain things are "broken" — perhaps certain aspects of the navigation are a little awkward, or certain links don’t work the way they were intended. A redesign lets you fix all that. If you do it right, this will improve the experience of your site visitors.

Improving the experience of your site visitors, of course, is also a great reason to add five pages of fresh content to your site every week. We already take that to heart here at SEO Chat, of course; then again, that’s pretty easy to do with a content-focused web site! But happier visitors are just one of the benefits you’ll get from adding that content, according to Martinez. He lists four reasons to engage in this practice:

  • It gives you opportunities to expand your search visibility.
  • It gives you opportunities for more free links that actually help.
  • It gives you opportunities to try out new ideas.
  • It increases the value of your web site.

Is it any wonder, then, that the saying "content is king" has been around since well before Google was a gleam in Page and Brin’s eyes? When done properly, adding content to your web site regularly grows your knowledge and experience as an SEO, in addition to growing the site itself. Who wouldn’t want to take advantage of that?

{mospagebreak title=Putting All Your Skills to Work}

Some of Martinez’s tips focus on improving one particular SEO skill. Other tips don’t appear at first glance to have anything to do with SEO immediately, leaving one feeling a little like the protagonist from the first Karate Kid movie after his martial arts mentor showed him exactly how to wax cars or paint a fence. It’s only when he saw how those moves could be used to block attacks that he realized he was learning how to defend himself all that time.

The last tip from Martinez that I’m going to cover in this article has a little of that feeling. It’s actually pretty obvious what it has to do with SEO; what isn’t obvious is why you would do it. In his seventeenth tip, Martinez tells the reader to "Design a 5-10 page Web site about a community project or charitable activity. Promote that site to number 1. Now repeat the process without changing or building more links for your first site."

Why should you go to that much effort for one web site, only to repeat it? "Because you’ll never compete with anyone harder to beat than yourself," explains Martinez. And he’s right. In many fantastic movies and stories, one of the most spine-tingling moments happens when the hero finds himself in single combat against his doppelganger — someone who is an exact duplicate of himself. This is often the hero’s greatest challenge.

It’s for that very reason that this tip is so challenging. You’ve just done your best to get a web site to number one. Now you have to do it again, in the same area. You have to look at everything you just did and figure out how to do it better. You have to think of things you maybe didn’t do the first time and add them to the new site. In short, you’ve just used all of your skills to create the finest, most wonderful box you can possibly create — and now you must use all of your skills, and more, to step outside of it, with your position in the SERPs to show whether or not you succeeded. If you can do this, you’re prepared for any changes your clients, the search engines, and the whole field of SEO may throw in your direction.

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