SEO Isn’t Magic – So Stop Doing SEO Tricks

We want that magic bullet to get our sites to the top of the SERPs, the one “secret trick” to get the edge on our competitors. And just like fad diets, a lot of secret/sneaky SEO tricks do work for a while. When I started doing SEO in 1998, one of my tasks was to bold or un-bold various keywords, so the content would update and be seen as “fresh.” And you know what? It worked for a while. Remember Page Rank sculpting? TOTALLY worked for a while. Remember directory submissions and blog comment spamming for links? Of course you do, because they are still going on.

Look, I get it, guys. It’s so easy to adopt SEO tricks, and when they actually WORK it can be incredibly hard to turn them down. If all of your competitors are outranking you thanks to their huge volume of paid/spammy links, the moral high ground’s not gonna put food on the table, amirite? So I feel ya. The “if it works I’m doing it, regardless of whether or not it follows the guidelines or is a good user experience” approach has gotten some serious short-term gains for some people (to my continuing chagrin – for more on this topic, see Wil Reynolds’ post How Google Makes Liars Out of the Good Guys in SEO). Regardless of my personal feelings on whether or not they’re good for the Internet, I’m not going to say tricks don’t ever work.

The problem with SEO tricks is that they’re about getting a site to the top of the SERPs regardless of whether it deserves to be there. That’s the kind of trick that search engines have a vested interest in continuing to combat, which leads to algorithmic updates like Penguin. Over-reliance on SEO tricks is what causes your rankings and traffic to be completely wiped out overnight by these updates. Without a foundation of quality SEO in place, you’re going to spend a lot of your time fixing stuff and doing stuff over every time the search engines catch on to your latest trick.

SEO is Hard

The difficulty with weaning ourselves off of SEO tricks is that doing SEO without doing tricks is hard freaking work. It is way harder to build great content and fix crummy code and build linking relationships and get people to share and link to your content and then do all that again, over and over, than it is to submit to a bunch of directories and hire a freelancer to spin some content to syndicate on article sites and to comment spam neglected blogs and then buy a bunch of links. However, it’s a lot easier to build great content and fix crummy code and build linking relationships and get people to share and link to your content and then do all that again, over and over, and have it NEVER STOP WORKING, than it is to completely change everything you do every year or so because your websites keep getting algorithmic slaps. And it’s a lot less stressful, in the long run, not to have to explain to your clients why their sites are totally hosed now.

SEO Tactics that Never Stop Working

We talk a lot about how SEO changes all the time, but in the 20 years I’ve been doing this, here are some things that have never stopped working for me:

  • Find the terms that people are using to search for your products, and then talk about your products on-site using those terms, without using them so much you sound crazy.
  • Make sure a search engine can find every page on your site, read the content and figure out what the page is about (i.e. what keywords it should rank for).
  • Fix the broken stuff on your site, remove duplicate content and make the whole site faster.
  • Create interesting, relevant, fresh content that is designed to engage users and encourage them to share it.
  • Build links to your site from other high-authority sites with which you share a topic or audience – better yet, build relationships with those sites that can earn you links again and again.
  • Make sure you’ve got a good experience for users once they get to the site: the content they see is the content they wanted. That’s what search engines want to happen, and that’s how users give you money.

The ways in which we do these things have changed a lot over the years, and we’ve been given a lot of new tools (social media,, the canonical tag) to do them with, but despite the fact that a lot has changed, a lot hasn’t. 

Just like with weight loss, doing things the right way (the hard way) may not work as fast, but it will work for longer. Every time your competitors get slapped down for their SEO tricks, they have to spend a few months fixing everything and making up for the rankings they lost when their tricks stopped working, then finding a new trick and implementing that. You get to spend that same time building your foundation even stronger. Over time that’s going to make for a solid, well ranked, algorithm-proof site.