There Is No Secret Sauce in SEO!

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Sadly, many people have succumb to the snake oil that some shady SEOs are pushing. They say they have the secret to getting you top ranked in Google, Yahoo! and any other search engine in 7 days or less. They claim to have the bulletproof plan to solve all your SEO worries. All you have to do is pay 79.95 + tax and the nominal 19.95 shipping and handling charges. If you buy that, then do I have a deal for you!

The facts of SEO are not strange or mystical. They are clearly defined, well referenced and readily reproduced. Yes, it is quite possible to rank in 7 days, but don’t believe the hype and definitely don’t pay for an overnight cure all to solve your SEO woes. Instead, learn what is myth and what is fact. Learn where to begin your SEO journey, and where to continue it. Pick up the tools of the trade and begin to build a solid SEO campaign.

Common Myths of SEO Debunked… Sort of

Myth: There is some mystical secret formula that SEOs use to calculate, analyze and optimize a website and/or web page.

Fact: Oh, there are formulas alright and some people even treat them as a secret, but they are far from mystical. Actually, most methodologies for analyzing SEO factors both on and off-page are very scientific. They are based on factors that can be readily quantified and often are defined on specific rule sets. As changes occur in search engine algorithms, so do these formulas. Complicated, perhaps, but there is nothing mystical here. With enough research and time, anyone can learn the very same formulas used by even the best SEOs.

Even so, you don’t have to invest years of research to learn the basic formulas that many SEOs use. There are many sites around the give the average webmaster an interface to these formulas in the form of web based tools, browser toolbars and desktop applications. Such tools are only a starting point and are useful for basic optimization; they do not replace the experience of a skilled SEO.

Myth: There is some complicated scientific method used to optimize a website and/or web page.

Fact: The scientific method, in itself is not complicated. As CJ Jenkins recently pointed out, the scientific method is very straight-forward and is most certainly applicable to SEO. However, how the scientific method is applied to your SEO campaign will differ on a per campaign basis. The main idea is to use a structured approach to determining the needs of the client, develop an approach to solve the need, test the proposed solutions, repeat as necessary and report the results.

Whenever possible and practical, the scientific method should be used when defining and working on a SEO campaign. This will allow for much more useful results.

Myth: There are prerequisites on authority you have to achieve before you can reach page one on any search engine.

Fact: Let’s look at this myth with an analogy. Have you ever played “king of the hill”? It isn’t always the biggest kid on the block to ends up the king and no king stays there forever. Usually, the most creative and resourceful kid is the one that ends up being king. Well, in some ways, it’s the same in SEO.

Big name brands obviously have an advantage over smaller brands in that they are in demand and everyone knows their name, therefore, there has to be some degree of pressure on search engines to rank them higher. However, that does not mean that those big brands will always rank number one. While search engines may possibly give big brands a boost (or not), most engines have a higher emphasis on relevancy over brand. Therefore, it’s not at all out of the question that a brand as young as 3 months old can rank number one for a specific term or phrase if it is the most relevant result around. It’s actually quite common in long tail queries, but can be seen in some generic queries as well, though that is more rare.

Where to Begin Your SEO Campaign

The following list outlines several credible resources for building your SEO skills and defining your SEO campaigns. These resources, of course, are just the starting point. As you dig deeper into the content, more references are revealed and you can further drill down where appropriate.

  • Google Webmaster Guidelines – Arguably one of the most extensive libraries on how to rank well in Google. Google has left little to question. Why are you not using this as a tool for developing your website?
  • Yahoo! Webmaster Guidelines – Another search engine makes it clear what it takes to rank well in their index. In case you didn’t get it the first time…
  • MSN Webmaster Guidelines – Oh my, a trio of guideline goodness! Yes, even Microsoft makes it clear what it takes to rank well in their index!
  • XHTML Markup Guidelines – Hey, the authority on XHTML markup makes it crystal clear what well formed XHTML is. Is this part of SEO? Yes! Now, before any hard corps SEOs jump onto me about this one, let me clarify. I’m referring to document markup as it pertains to headings, anchors, emphasis, etc. Whether you use tables or XHTML strict code is debatable, but there are some guidelines for defining the flow and context of your content that are very important.
  • Accessibility Guidelines – Accessibility isn’t just important for visual impairments. Search engines do not parse CSS styles and HTML formatting like traditional browsers do. If you want to rank well, learn to make your site accessible to all. This particular point is most clearly illustrated when you use a tool to give you a search engine’s view. A quick and easy way to simulate this in Firefox is to go to your View menu, go to Page Style, then select No Style. This disables CSS rendering and shows the raw structure of the page. Use this as a starting point to see how a search engine might view your content and how you should change it for the best results. Tip: Content order matters.
  • Usability Guidelines – Usability does not equal Accessibility. Usability measures the quality of your user’s experience. Does this matter to search engines? Absolutely! Directly and indirectly, there are Usability factors that can influence your rankings. Also, usability is a major factor in conversions.This is particularly true when discussing backlinks. If your content is decent to good, but your site is a train wreck, chances are, you’re not going to get as many backlinks as a site that has nearly as good information, but a very user-friendly website. Why? Isn’t content king, after all? Content may be king to blind bots, but a well executed total package is what gets backlinks.

Seven Missions of a SEO

  • The 1st mission should be to determine the ideals and goals of the client. If the SEO doesn’t understand the client, then they will struggle in achieving the client’s goals.
  • The 2nd mission is to determine the market that the client is targeting.
    • What is the search volume across the major engines for the key terms associated with the client’s product?
    • What competitors are targeting the same terms and phrases?
    • What keywords have the highest saturation and difficulty?
    • What long-tail results can return the highest ROI
  • The 3rd mission is to determine what markets (i.e.: search engines and social networks) will return the highest ROI and focus their optimization efforts towards that market.
  • The 4th mission is to determine the standing of the current content, if there is any, or the proposed content. In other words, if the content contains very poor keyword targeting, a rewrite will be necessary.
  • The 5th mission is to collaborate with developers and content writers to optimize the content and presentation to maximize on-page factors that will influence search results.
  • The 6th mission is to seek out and arrange non-reciprocal link relationships that are relevant and high enough in influence to positively impact the client’s site.
  • The 7th mission is to continue to analyze previous efforts and adjust your approach to maximize effectiveness for the client, with particular emphasis on conversion and retention, where these factors are applicable.

The Reality

Learning the basics of SEO is not rocket science, nor are there hidden secrets. The resources are freely available online to learn as little or as much as you want about SEO. The basics can be picked up in a very short time. To become an expert, as in all fields, takes more time and effort. It does not take a degree in computer science to understand SEO factors, but a solid understanding of natural language is necessary.

The vast majority of people do not want to learn this information; they are more concerned with their business and their brand. The volume of information needed to rank well is rather high, so prepare before you dive in head first. There are no shortcuts in SEO, no matter what the “Gurus” tell you. SEOs earn what they make by keeping constant tabs on the information available as well as competitive market analysis.

The guest post is by James Morris, follow James on Twitter or read his blog JMorris Online.

James Morris

James Morris

James Morris

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  • DazzlinDonna

    Loved this post. Solid strategies without any hype makes for solid seo.

  • Rafael Montilla

    100% aqree

  • david

    Excellent reading – I’ve been given the task of improving the performance on an existing site – so I’ll be working through this carefully.

    Thank you!

  • Rufus

    Great post… you made me smile at “hard corps SEOs” when it should be “hard-core SEOs”

    But, giving you props for NOT putting the ‘ in like SEO’s 🙂

  • Marcela –

    James, great post. I sometimes still hear from my customers the “This other agency told me they are protecting their methods under professional secret” tune!

  • Manoj

    Nice knowledge in seo .I love this strategies

  • Jamie Simmerman

    It’s nice to see someone debunking the SEO myths. Sometimes I wonder if some SEOs just have to make things more complicated to feel more important. I’m off to follow you on Twitter, thanks for the post!

  • JMorris


    Thank you very much for the kind words. Many SEOs I’ve talked to have expressed similar frustrations that clients are simply fed too much bunk information from shady and/or inexperienced firms. That was the motivation for this post. Solid, verifiable information opens the door to the vast knowledge out there about real SEO.


    The hard corps was intentional. 😉

    Thanks all! I’m glad you liked this post. 🙂

  • Alexander

    Great post, it provides solid information. I liked the “7 missions of an SEO” in particular, they are all great points and things we should communicate to clients. Thanks!

  • Ruddy

    Nice article, especially about comparing myth and fact. Some people are just stupid, they overrated everything while SEO stays the same all the time, at least in the last one year.

  • Barry Welford

    Perhaps if we all keep saying this as often as we can wherever we can, the message will eventually get through. Good article, James.

  • AV eddy

    Thanks for writing this article. It is very helpful and will help me explain SEO better to my clients. Also, I like that you are encouraging people to have both good content and user-friendly interfaces.

    (This is a lot better information than a pathetic Tweet I saw earlier today that encouraged people to set up fake RSS feeds and do parasite hosting.)

  • Derek Kean

    I think the most important point you illustrate is Usability. I currently get to deal with Usability on a daily basis, and I find that helping to reccomend a word change every now and then does improve the flow of a site. After all, if no one can find the “pay” button, your SEO actions are useless.


  • Scritube

    Anyway i beleive that seo should be payed to be done by some proffesionals seo emplyers.

    Oll of this for Link Building and SEO Consulting Services.

  • Hyder Ali

    Well defined post about seo. Great, in depth disclosure of seo without any hidden secrets. Waiting for your next post.

  • JMorris

    Thank you all for the feedback on the post. It’s very encouraging. 🙂

    What is even more encouraging is the numbers of SEOs, new and seasoned alike, who have contacted me here and through other channels expressing a desire to spread the word about ethical, practical, well-defined SEO.

    I fully agree that the better we educate our clients, the more they will benefit and we will see gains in our business as well.

  • ASK

    Nice article.very informative. I agree with everything that is written but I still believe there are ways to shortcut the process that maybe everyone in SEO is aware of. Just my opinion.

  • Don Schindler

    Great post. I’m definitely going to direct clients to this.

  • Shailendra Singh

    Excellent Post. Really very useful information for all SEOs. If they follow these rules order by order then they can definitely success in online market and they can make brand name.
    Thanks a lot James

  • Peter Young

    Good post – a lot of SEO is not cloak and dagger, and its a shame many people sell it as such. Modern day SEO is so much more about creativity, networking integrated with the ‘technical side’ however many of the basics are simple logical improvements.

  • Rasmus

    Excellent post:

    “There are no shortcuts in SEO, no matter what the “Gurus” tell you.” – pretty much sums it up. SEO is mainly hard work.

  • Oliver Feakins

    Great Post! You’ve just caused 100 “fake” SEO Companies to go out of business .. LOL!

  • Antony

    I agree in parts with this article, however unfortunately the big secret remains how Google ACTUALLY lists its results. Even Google keeps that one secret, and so the only way to have a concrete understanding on that is a) trial and error and b) read up on other people’s trial and error.

    I’m no SEO guru yet …. its just what I’ve learned thus far.

  • ASK

    Well written, excellent and informative article. It really spells out the important facts about SEO. I do believe, however, that Google does have a “magic” methodology. I think it exists and if one is lucky enough to stumble upon, it they will do very well in their SEO efforts.

  • Ben McKay

    Awesome post James – well written and an excellent debunking post. Cheers for this.


  • Jenny

    Excellent post. Of course, hard work and patience are key ingredients to SEO. More people read this the more will know how much it takes for SEO to be successful and what goes into an SEO campaign that works.

  • TampaSEO

    James great post. I am trying to learn all I can about search engine optimization so I can help local businesses get more business using online marketing. I will bookmark your site because of the quality info. I love the above outline to getting started. Thanks, Zack

  • Lorrie Delk Walker

    Great post! I am a strong proponent of SEO and this article gives people an accurate picture of what to look for in an SEO professional. I promote SEO in my public relations business all the time.

  • Martche

    q porra eh essa?

  • Nick Stamoulis

    This posts hits the nail on the head. Those types of fly by night services ruin this industry for us SEO people who honestly want to brand our clients business and grow over time.

  • Ani López

    SEO is not black magic, just facts and figures from the very beginning or simplest action >

  • Glen

    Great Article.

    Why is it that most information that seems to get into clients hands is the bad stuff? About how easy it is to build thousands of links for $29.95?

    Anyway its good to see there are some of us out there who care about quality. And doing the right thing.

    SEO is simple, but not easy. Keep it up, eventually the fly by night crowd will fade away on to other things.

  • JW

    Great article. Its a pattern in the comments about clients being told ‘fluff’ by their previuos agency. It is not complicated stuff. More time consuming than anything, so If someone is feeding you drivel on SEO chances are they dont know what they are doing. Love the final ‘Reality’ paragraph.

  • Bryan Coe

    Great post! It’s crazy how many “SEO Firms” have never even looked at the search engine guidelines that Google and company provide. They tell you what you need to do!