Why You Do Not Need To Be A Wizard To Be A Competent SEO

Somewhere, just across the Mexican border, a small cabal of search gurus meet.

They sit in a low lit, smoke filled room. The location is only known to the few, because membership of this club is exclusive. It is highly unlikely you will ever be asked to be a member.

That's just how it is.

In order to be invited, you need to bring some serious benefits to the table. But once you're a member of this club, you get to learn "the secret". The secret is the recipe for how to rank high on Google, Yahoo & MSN.

Want to be a member of this club?

Hey, who doesn't!

Many new to SEO, and some not so new, may well imagine such a club. They scour message boards and blogs for "the secret" in the hope "the secret" will be leak out somewhere.

It's a fools quest, of course.

There are only two ways to get such a secret. Work for the upper echelons of Google, Yahoo or MSN, or engage in some heavy reverse engineering. If someone did discover something by reverse engineering, are they going to post it to a blog or a forum? Would you?

Ok, I will.

Are you ready?

Hack a site to host your content, which forces redirects on end users, and then hack a few other sites to link at those hacked pages

Doesn't really help, does it.

SEO Wizadry & Why You Don't Need It

The fact is, you don't need to be a technical wizard to be a competent SEO, or to benefit from SEO.

Those who benefit most from SEO probably aren't focusing much on SEO at all, because SEO is only one part of the puzzle.

Take Wikipedia, for example. Wikipedia is top ten for countless terms, yet the SEO is simple, solid, and basic. What separates Wikipedia from the rest is that they combine basic SEO with a sound business model. They have found a way to have people create content for them for nothing, and to talk them up.

The same lesson applies to any site. Integrate good, solid SEO, just as you would integrate copywriting, design, market analysis, and other aspects essential to success on the web, and lay it on top of a sound business model.

Wikipedia's "Advanced" SEO

Want to know the "advanced" pieces of the Wikipedia SEO strategy? They encourage systematic content theft:

As I perused the wikipedia notes for editors back then, I came across a discussion about linking out. When is it proper to link out from a wikipedia article to a web page on the Internet? The answer was scary to me at the time. Wikipedia editors were told to look at the web page and consider if the information it held could be taken and rewritten as part of the wikipedia article. If it could, do that and don’t link out because that web page would have become redundant: it’s information would now be part of wikipedia. If it could not be so hijacked (my word), then yes, consider linking out to it.That early observation set my course for competing with wikipedia. I knew where they stood, and that they had a plan to disintermediate me as a web publisher.

And then they automate internal linking and slap the label of "open" on the content to make the marketing story powerful. That accumulates PageRank, which they then funnel on through to commercial Wikia pages that are growing hot on the heals of Wikipedia.

Such a system is "revolutionary" and "displays a new and glorious side of humanity" ... so long as it is not your content that they are stealing.

The "advanced" piece of the Wikipedia strategy comes down to business & marketing strategy. Creating the marketing story that make people perceive something as being better than it is, while hiding the externalities. Had they not pushed the story "Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge" then they would not have been able to steal so much content, and they would not have accumulated enough link equity to make their for-profit business work.

Essential SEO Advice

Most SEO advice you'll see boils down a variation on the following:

  • Focus your efforts on keyword terms that relate to your market segment
  • Make sure a spider can crawl the content
  • Build content that people will link to
  • Actively pursue links

Of course, there are various how-to's on how to achieve those four points, and for that you should buy the book ;)

Once these aspects are covered, there is marginal return in arcane trickery for most people. Your time is almost certainly better spent focusing on business fundamentals & holistic marketing strategy, because you have a lot of control over these areas.

If the business fundamentals are wrong, SEO trickery won't help.

People may arrive on a site, but then what? Do you provide something others want? Does it cost less to provide that something that the price you can charge for it? Is your offering better than your competition?

Someone who has asked those questions and satisfactorily answered them will always be a step ahead of those who haven't.

When I was new to SEO, I wish someone had told me how it really was. It would have saved me a lot of time and effort. I got sites ranking that didn't have sound business models, and they rightly failed. We've all been there, I'm sure.

So, for those new to SEO, make sure you cover the basics of both SEO and business.

Essentials Of SEO

Essentials Of Business

Beyond that, it's as complicated as you want to make it :)

Published: April 23, 2009 by A Reader in marketing


April 23, 2009 - 9:31am

Great post Peter :)

For everyone that is reading, I added the mini-rant part near the Wikipedia piece of the article...hopefully it added context without destroying the flow of the story too much.

April 23, 2009 - 11:13am

Agree on all points, but I'll play devil's advocate.

Sometimes wizardry is called for when you're troubleshooting sites. For example it took Matt Cutts to make the owner of Aviva realize one reason his directory got Googlewacked is because he ran 301s from other domains to boost his site's link profile, while SEO "experts" assumed the problem lay elsewhere.

The problem is people are desperate to apply SEO voodoo to rank higher instead of just being content with using SEO to lay a solid foundation. Sure, its not a bad thing to spend some time tweaking a race car, but someone's still gonna have to drive it to win the race.

April 23, 2009 - 11:45am

Totally agree Halfdeck. But that sorta proves the point from an SEO strategy perspective. Had he not been looking for SEO juice he never would have redirected all those domain names, and his site would have avoided getting hit.

Troubleshooting issues when you don't have all the related information is MUCH harder than it is to apply best practice SEO strategies.

April 23, 2009 - 1:35pm

This is a bit ironic because I have done lots of research and "stealing" from Wikipedia over the years ;)

Tom McCracken
April 23, 2009 - 7:10pm

Great post Peter!

I guess I should end my quest for the Holy Grail of SEO, and keep working hard. =(

April 23, 2009 - 8:11pm

Excellent article!

Maybe we need to apply the 70/20/10 formula for our business hours:

- 70% of the time by working to give what our users (and customers) need or want.
- 20% of the time by optimizing and promoting (on-page, link building, networking)
- 10% of the time by visualizing the future and thinking out of the box.

Andrew Shotland
April 23, 2009 - 11:58pm

I love this post - first because it's well written and there's just no substitute for that - and second because for most businesses just getting the basics right takes a lot of effort (because they do not have the SEO process baked into their current business system and so they have to redo the system to incorporate it, which most won't do).

April 28, 2009 - 11:50pm


I am really interested in this line "That accumulates PageRank, which they then funnel on through to commercial Wikia pages".

When you say funnel through to wikia pages, how are they doing this. Do wikipedia pages link out to commercial wikia pages and do they use the nofollow tag to funnel pagerank to these pages. I have checked through Wikipedia and I cannot see extensive use of nofollow.
If you compare this to youtube, which aggressively using nofollow to funnel PR through to the profile pages.

Great post by the way ...



April 29, 2009 - 12:54am

Well here are 50,000+ cross links. They nofollow links to others, but follow links to Wikia.

They also cross link into Wikia.com from their other properties, like Wikimedia.

November 11, 2009 - 2:13pm

Just saw the post and thought where to find step by step to apply and use Wikia for my seo clients. need more information please.

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