Since starting out in SEO, my sites have brought in over 1 million visitors from search engines alone.
I’m not going to lie to you and say that my sites magically jumped to the top of Google’s first page.
In fact, in my first 2-years, I was Google slapped more times than I could count.
But as I experimented, I found myself with more successes than failures…
…and learned a lot of golden nuggets along the way.
Today I’m going to share the most important SEO lessons that I’ve picked up with you.
Lesson #1: Work on One Site at a Time
In 2010, I was living in a tiny apartment in the upscale Causeway Bay area of Hong Kong.
Even though I only had $197 in my bank account, I thought I was a baller.
I had 150 niche sites that were going to make me rich.
Boy, was I an idiot!
You have to remember that these were the days when just about anyone could make money from SEO.
Believe it or not, but I was able to rank single-page EMDs in a matter of days with no link building whatsoever.
Because I had so many sites, I never spent the time I should have to make them better.
If I did, I may have been careful…and they wouldn’t have died off or gotten outranked by my focused competitors.
Since then I’ve focused on building one authority site at a time. And it’s worked out amazingly well.
Before focusing on my first authority site, my best month ever was $935.04 from Adsense:
And here’s how much I made last month from my authority site in CPA commissions:
Big difference, right?
The difference between the two stats is that I put A LOT of time and attention into that one authority site.
Because I focus on one site at a time, I make sure that every piece of content is superb and every backlink is perfect.
I wouldn’t have the time for this sort of thing if I had 5 more sites to manage…and I’d ultimately resort to cheap and easy links.
Only work on one site at a time. Not two, not five....ONE. Once you learn how to rank one authority site, you can start another. But don't make the mistake that many people make of building 10+ sites at a time.
Lesson #2: Quality Trumps Quantity
One of the first SEO packages I ever bought was this one from the Warrior Forum in 2008:
“$37 for 1500 links?”, I thought to myself.
“What a steal!”
And you know the crazy part?
That package rocketed my site from #75 to #13!
Of course, it was eventually slapped.
Obviously, you’d have to be nuts to buy a link package like that in 2013…but many people still do.
No one talks about it, but since 2011, Google has been working hard to overhaul the way their algorithm works.
And I’m not talking about Panda and Penguin…
Instead of giving love to referring domains and Page Rank, Google now puts more weight on link quality and link relevancy.
Unfortunately, most people still try to build as many links as they possibly can…without regard to quality or Linking Domain Relevancy.
Take a look at this:
This is a site ranking #1 for a fairly tough keyword, “cheap life insurance”.
While it only gets 2,900 exact match searches per month, the insane $34.16 CPC makes it a very competitive keyword (like most in the insurance niche):
You’d probably expect this top-ranking site to have thousands of links from hundreds of referring domains…
…but you’d be wrong.
Incredibly, this site has only 159 total links from 60 referring domains:
That’s not a lot of links.
But it’s #1.
That site has almost 100% of it’s links from quality, niche-relevant sites. That should be the focus of your SEO strategy from now on: landing links from a handful of authority sites in your industry.
It's an SEO cliche, but it's true: quality is more important than quantity. In fact it's not even close. Stop mass link building and start getting quality links from authoritative, trusted domains. You'll rank better and make your site more durable to updates.
Lesson #3: Social Signals Will Always Be “The Next Big Thing”
Everyone and their Mom is talking about how social signals are “the next big thing” in SEO.
“Once Google figures it out, they’ll replace backlinks”, white hat SEO pundits proclaim.
Not a chance.
This is one of the first articles I could find about social signals and SEO, a December 2010 post from SearchEngineLand.com:
Just check out this quote:
“There’s also been talk about using “social signals” to help rank regular search results.”
It’s the same stuff you see plastered on every SEO blog on the internet…and it’s more than 3-years later!
It’s going to take Google a loooong time before they start using social signals in any significant way.
Because Google knows that once something becomes part of the algorithm, people try to game it.
And with the thousands of man hours and millions of dollars they’ve spent to figure out backlinks, they’re not about to ignore them and use Tweets instead.
For the record: I do think social signals have some influence in your site’s rank in Google.
But I don’t want to see you waste your time building Tweets, Likes, and Pins instead of links.
When it comes to social signals, don't believe the hype. Links aren't going anywhere anytime soon. That's why you should put 80% of your SEO energy towards building links.
Lesson #4: An Awesome Site Makes Link Building Easier
There’s one SEO mistake that a lot of people in SEO make…
…and it drives me nuts.
What is it?
Building a crappy site.
You know the kind of site I’m talking about.
10-page wonders like best-toaster-reviews.info with ESL English articles and a free WordPress theme.
In other words, sites that look like this:
Well, I’ll tell you a little secret about SEO….
A great site makes link building so much easier.
Trust me: I’ve owned crappy single-page MFA sites and and I’ve owned authority sites. I’ve seen the difference firsthand.
And no, I’m not talking about building great content and waiting for “natural” links. That’s not gonna happen. But a great site opens up dozens of untapped link building strategies for you.
For example, let’s say that you want to make a site about yoga.
You could toss up a few pieces of useless content at healthbenefitsofyogax.com and hit it with SeNuke tiered links…
…or you could build an insanely useful yoga resource.
When you have a great site, you can tap into one of the most powerful link building strategies out there: resource page link building. This is an effective and scalable link building technique that big SEO agencies use for their clients.
What’s great about resource page link building is that you don’t need to bribe people with money or a guest post to get your link.
These pages exist for one reason and one reason only: to link to other sites.
In fact, the pages in the example below have the word “links” in their title tag!
All you do is use this search string in Google:
And reach out to each of the site owners to give them a heads up about your awesome yoga site.
(As you can see in our Yoga example, we’ve got almost a half a million targets to work with.)
In about 30-seconds I found four pages that would happily link to a great site about yoga, including a PR3 page.
Let’s say you have a 10% success rate….
…if you email 500 people, that’s 50 quality, niche-relevant links!
For low and medium-competition keywords that’s literally all of the links that you need to rank.
But it’s only possible if you build an awesome site.
SEO is much easier when you run an awesome site. It takes a bit more work up-front, but it actually saves you time and money over the long-run.
Lesson #5: Profitable SEO is Ahead of the Curve
One of the best pieces of SEO advice anyone’s ever given me is:
“If you read about an SEO technique on a public forum you should be glad you stopped doing that a long time ago”.
I do think that’s a bit extreme (there are plenty of classic SEO strategies on forums from 2006 that still work).
But the point is this:
Once an SEO technique becomes mainstream, Google swoops in to stop it.
To illustrate, in the last few years we’ve seen:
- The death of content farms, like EzineArticles and InfoBarrel, courtesy of Google Panda
- Anchor text over-optimization used as part of Google’s Penguin Update
- The massive de-indexing of blog networks like Build My Rank and Authority Link Network
- The possible devaluation of infographic backlinks
To do well in SEO you can’t do what everyone else is doing.
Because the second something is well-known, Google puts a team of NASA-smart, Harvard PhDs on the case to stop it.
In fact, Google moves so damn quickly nowadays that you can’t even be at the curve…you need to be ahead of it (being ahead of the curve can also help you avoid Google update penalties).
For those of you not familiar with it, here’s what the innovation curve represents:
Here’s the innovation curve from an SEO point of view:
People that make unbranded niche sites are behind the curve.
People that rely on guest posting and press release links are at the curve.
And people that build branded, authority sites are ahead of the curve.
Being ahead of the curve doesn’t mean you need to predict the future like Nostradamus.
It means looking at the current landscape, seeing the way things are going, and staying one step ahead.
To rank above the competition and avoid Google update slaps, you need to use ahead of the curve strategies that will work today and tomorrow.
Learned Something? Share The Love!
I know that you have a ton of insights that I didn’t cover in this post.
I’d love to hear anything you’ve picked up since starting in SEO.
It doesn’t have to be an Earth-shattering insight.
Even a helpful tip would be awesome.
So leave a comment right now with something you’ve learned.