The God Complex in SEO

Authoritative, but Often Wrong

Trusting a powerful authority is easy. It allows us to have a quick shorthand for how things work without having to go through the pain, effort, & expense to figure things out. But it often leads to bogus solutions.

This video does a great job of explaining how nothing replaces experience in the SEO industry.

A combination of numerous parallel projects, years of trial and error experience & a deep study of analytics data is far superior to having the God complex & feeling 100% certain you are right.

Change is the only constant in SEO.

Grand Plans

Big plans often get subverted before they pan out & the more obvious something is the shorter its shelf life. By the time everyone notices a trend then jumping on it at that point probably isn't much of a competitive advantage. You might still be able to make some money for a limited time (or for a longer time if you apply it to new markets), but...

It is the contrarian investors who are taking (what is generally perceived to be) big risks who are allowed to ride a trend for years and years.

Options & Opportunities

When Panda happened a lot of theories were thrown out as to what happened & how to fix it. Anyone who only runs 1 website is working from a limited data set and a limited set of experience. They could of course decide to do everything, but there is an opportunity cost to doing anything.

Making things worse, if they have limited savings & no other revenue producing websites there are some risks they simply can't take. They can still sorta infer some stuff from looking at the search results, but those who have multiple sites where some were hit and others were not know intimately well the differences between the sites. They also have cashflow to fund additional trial and error campaigns & to double down on the pieces that are working to offset the losses.

Success Requires Failure

A lot of times people want to enter a market with a grand plan that they can follow without changing it once the map is made, but almost anyone who creates something that is successful is forced to change. Every year in the United States 10% of companies go under! And due to the increased level of competition online it likely separates winners from losers even faster than in the offline world. Those who stick to a grand plan are less able to keep up with innovation than those who have an allegiance to the data. Sometimes having a backup plan is far more important than having a grand plan.

Incremental Investing, Small & Large

Almost anything that I have done that has been successful has started ugly & improved over time. This site was an $8 domain & I couldn't even afford a $99 logo for it until I was a couple months into building it. Most of our other successes have been that way as well. If something works keep reinvesting until the margins drop. But when the margins do drop off, it is helpful to have another project you can invest in, such that you are not 1 and done.

The earliest Google research highlighted how ad-based search business models were bad & the now bankrupt turned down buying Google for under $1 million. It turns out everyone was wrong there. One company adjusted & the other is bankrupt.

Overcoming the God Complex

We don't control Google. We can only influence variables that they have decided to count. As their business interests and business models change (along with the structure of the web) so must we.

The God complex always look a bit interesting from afar, no matter how reasonable it sounds to the true believer.

Published: July 19, 2011 by Aaron Wall in publishing & media


July 20, 2011 - 5:43am

Terrific motivation with old words but with new zeal. And I loved the crux -
"We don't control Google. We can only influence variables that they have decided to count. As their business interests and business models change (along with the structure of the web) so must we."

Nothing stands as true as this. Good one, Aaron

July 20, 2011 - 8:29am

Thank you for sharing your point of view, this is way in SEO is good to work with the basics and taking care not overtune the trends. Trendd are in future out.

Greetings from Germany,

July 20, 2011 - 10:08am

God how true is this!

When I think about it, I suffer fro the God Complex almost every day. Its quick and simple when you KNOW you are right; it takes time to doubt.

Thanks Aaron, you have destroyed my self belief and made me aware of my human frailty... I will not live forever, and I'm not always right.

Try, measure, adjust, try again. Glad I'm not a spider in some Scottish cave having been sent there to convince some prince to not give up...


July 20, 2011 - 8:55pm

This resumes very well what Abraham Lincoln stated :

"Every man I meet has something to teach me, thus I will never know it all"

But one statement I like to is :

" Those of us who think they know it all are most annoying to those of us who do." lol

Great post and a very goog presentation of the god complex by Tim HARFORD.

July 22, 2011 - 3:13pm

Computer science and AI as applied to the study of complex systems have long seen the value of learning algorithms., Neural networks is one of the earliest examples of a system getting smarter over a lot of trial and error learning. I saw this video about the same time you did and the implications for SEO were immediately obvious to me too. The best neural network we have is the one in our heads, and there are many great tools out there to assist us in getting better in our applied & client specific SEO work, the best being Google Webmaster Optimization and Google Analytics. I don't know if it's OK to add a link to my blog here, but I wrote about more about this here:

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