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 100% my sites magically jumped to the top of Google’s first page.
In fact, in my first 4-years of doing SEO, 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: Content Promotion Separates Winners and Losers
A while back I put my heart and soul into one massive post: Google’s 200 Ranking Factors: The Complete List.
In fact, I spent over 20-hours on the first draft alone!
When I finally put the finishing touches on it, I was SPENT.
With my last ounce of energy, I hit the “publish” button in WordPress, closed my laptop, and went to bed.
When I woke up the next morning, I threw on my robe and rushed into my home office.
I knew that I’d need to start super early if I wanted to manage the viral tsunami that I created.
But when I looked at my stats the next day, I was mortified by what I saw:
Panicking, I hit “refresh” just to make sure it wasn’t my browser cache messing with me.
There was no avoiding the cold, hard truth:
My content was a huge flop.
I took a brisk walk around the block and calmed myself down.
That’s when I said to myself:
“Brian, your site has almost no traffic. You have 58 Twitter followers. How will anyone share your content unless you hustle to promote it?”
That’s when I decided to promote the hell out of my post.
And I’m glad I did.
Here’s what happened after I finished promoting my Google ranking factors post:
- My page now ranks #1 for “Google ranking factors” and #5 for “Google ranking” (right behind Wikipedia)
- That content has been shared on social media over 5,200 times.
- A conference organizer emailed me after reading my guide and invited me to speak at a HUGE event in London.
- That post has generated over 112,000 unique visitors over the last year.
How did I promote that post, exactly?
Publishing is only the first step. If you’re serious about ranking today, you need to spend MORE time promoting than writing.
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 today…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 total links 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 relevancy.
Take a look at this:
That’s my blog post ranking #2 for the keyword “backlinks”.
You’d probably expect my post to have thousands of links from hundreds of referring domains…
…but you’d be wrong.
Incredibly, that post has only 77 referring domains:
That’s not a lot of links.
But it’s #2.
Almost 100% of my post’s links are 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”
So-called SEO “gurus” love to talk about how social signals are “the next big thing” in SEO.
In fact, I’ve heard some people go as far to say: “Once Google figures out social signals, they’ll replace backlinks”.
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 from that article:
“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 4-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 hours and millions of dollars they’ve spent to figure out backlinks, they’re not about to drop 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 backlinks.
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: World Class Content Makes Link Building Easier
Let me tell you a little secret about SEO:
Mind-blowing content makes link building A LOT easier.
Trust me: I’ve published mediocre posts and industry-changing level content. I’ve seen the difference firsthand.
And no, I’m not saying you should publish 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 have a site about yoga…
You could toss up a few pieces of useless content, like “5 Ways Yoga Helps You Lose Weight”…
…or you could build an insanely useful yoga resource.
When you have an amazing piece of content, you can tap into one of the most powerful link building strategies out there: resource page link building.
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.
In fact, resource 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 more than 250,000 opportunities to work with.)
In about 30-seconds I found four pages that would happily link to a great yoga resource, including a PA34 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 piece of content.
If you want a thorough case study to help you create the type of epic content I’m talking about, check out this post.
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: Effective 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 focus on content and outreach 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.