Should you follow the SEO rockstars?

In the old days if you wanted to learn a subject you read a book on it. That doesn’t work with SEO because it’s a very fast-moving subject and by the time anyone writes a book about it and goes through the publication process the information is inevitably at least partly out of date. So the way that many people learn, whether they are beginner pros or aspiring do-it-yourselfers, is to read blogs and articles. The problem is that there is a lot of disagreement out there about what works and what doesn’t. So who should you read and what should you believe?

I’m NOT going to give you a list of the best blogs to read, not because I don’t agree with their advice per se but because I don’t believe that the same advice is applicable for everyone. Just as in the wider world of marketing what works for companies like Tesco or Barclays Bank isn’t necessarily what will work for a small telecommunications company or a  medium-sized specialist retailer, so the appropriate SEO techniques will be different.

There are many ways of doing SEO but it could be said that they mostly fall into two main categories – those who believe links are far and away the most important factor in ranking and those who take a more general view and think that site architecture and content are at least as important. If you read a lot of blogs and articles you might get the impression that most Americans fall into the former category and a higher proportion of British SEOs are in the latter.

That may or may not be true, however I believe that it’s more a case of which market sectors you work in that influence which strategies you are more likely to favour, and which are likely to work best. It’s often forgotten that many of the prominent “stars” tend to work for large clients whose sites often have very large numbers of pages, are often difficult to reprogram, and who have very complicated overall marketing strategies. In contrast to that many of the people who read their blogs are working with small to medium enterprise (SME) businesses whose sites are much more varied, often built to pretty low budgets and often on open-source platforms and who are working in niche areas. Is it really likely that exactly the same techniques and principles will apply?

There are a vast number of ways of building websites and when you take account of size  and the resultant complexity of architecture then these ways multiply the complexity of how those sites perform. A link going to a site may strengthen one page or percolate down to many others. Anchor text pointing at a site with few keyword targets may have very different effects from one that has many. Social connections may be essential in one market and almost impossible in another. Site programming may be absolutely critical in a site that has high traffic and a lot of data to pull from a database, but far less important in a smaller site or one with lower traffic levels that is never stressed near to its limits. Conversion rates, bounce rates, site speed – all may have very different levels of importance in different sites and different markets.

What this means is that you have to analyse a site as a whole – the business, the competition, the purpose of the site, the coding of the site, the architecture of the site, and a hundred other things before you can get an idea of what will be the most important factors in any particular case. You can’t say in advance that “it’s all about links”, or it’s all about social”, or “it’s all about architecture” You need to have a thorough understanding of how all these different factors work in different environments and marketplaces. So if you simply follow the advice of an SEO star who works in a different market to yours then you could be making a big mistake. What works for him may not work for you. I’m not saying that Rand or Aaron or Bruce et al are wrong – I’m saying that some of their advice may be suitable for a different market sector than yours.

Whether you’re in the SEO business yourself or are a businessman trying to make sense of it, you need to keep an open mind and read widely – but most importantly you have to think for yourself, and work out what’s relevant to you rather than blindly following the “SEO rockstars”.

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