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The shocking truth about SEO: it’s not as complicated as you think

Posted by Ian McKee on 8th August 2014

Magnifying glassThis post originally appeared on Econsultancy.

As you probably know by now, SEO and PR are getting more closely related. But there is one aspect that both have always had in common, and that is that both have long been labelled a supposed ‘dark art’.

PR and SEO; mysterious art forms that deal in the unknown, experts fixing things unseen, like wizards behind the curtain.

It has suited both industries, to be known this way.

“Oh, yeah, we just need to curbudgle your whojamaflip. It’s absolutely essential, or you’ll get befluddled. You don’t want to get befluddled. Yes it’s an extra thirty grand.”

The importance of transparency

Fortunately, we have been forced to throw back the curtain somewhat on PR. Even the real masters of its dark arts, the government spin doctors, have had their behind-the-scenes treatment in TV shows such as the BBC’s The Thick of It.

Of course, the life of a tech PR in an agency such as the one I work for is not quite that of a government PR, and our own MD Richard Parker is a bit less sweary than Malcolm Tucker.

But other factors, such as the fact that us PRs now outnumber our journalist counterparts more than three to one, have meant that increasingly people know what PR is and understand it is not a kind of magic.

Which stands to reason, PR is the older industry and it’s about time we adopted a bit of transparency. But I think it’s also about time we recognise a commonly misunderstood truth about SEO.

Time for the truth

Which is, that SEO is not complicated. In fact, it’s really very, very simple to understand.

It sounds complicated, sure. Search engine optimisation. Anything with ‘optimisation’ in its title must be hard to understand! Right?

Well, no. Google (and we are just talking about Google search here, the other search engines follow it and so should you) itself is very complicated. Yes, you do need a PhD in computing to operate Google’s search algorithms.

If you wanted to truly understand them, you would need to be an especially talented doctor of machine learning. But that level of understanding isn’t what is required for SEO.

In the early days of SEO, it was. But that was back when Google’s algorithms were far simpler, and all you might need to get to grips with them would be a GCSE in maths. More links + relevant keywords = good.

Now, conversely, as Google’s algorithms have become more complex, there is less to understand. To ‘do SEO’ properly, you don’t need to fully understand how Google’s algorithms operate and you probably never will, you just need to understand why.

Giving Google what it wants

This ‘why’ is not a big secret. In fact, Google is very public about why it keeps making its search algorithms more complex; it wants to serve the best, most relevant content to its users.

Understand that, and you understand SEO. Anytime you are trying to decide whether or not such and such an action relating to any part of your online strategy will impact your SEO, working back to this point should give you your answer. It’s not a dark art; it’s common sense.

Thinking about writing a blog post crammed with keywords relating to your business? Don’t. It’s not good content, and not likely to be relevant to anyone.

Thinking about asking a list of 500 random bloggers to link to your website? Don’t. If they don’t create good content it’s of no use to anyone.

Thinking about changing the title of every page on your site to ‘KITCHEN SINKS’ because you want to sell more kitchen sinks? Don’t. It’s not a good approach to content and not relevant to every page.

It is okay to put ‘kitchen sinks’ in the page title of your kitchen sinks product page by the way, as long as the content’s good and relevant to people looking for kitchen sinks.

SEO fundamentals

Do a few of these and you’ll find it’s an easy leap to understanding a couple of SEO fundamentals that are not likely to change any time soon:

  • Create good content that is relevant to your intended audience.
  • Share it with your intended audience and influencers that they trust.

Invest time and resource into these things, and you’ve got yourself an SEO strategy that should work for you long term. It’s not ‘white hat’ versus ‘black hat’ SEO, it’s just an approach that has a multitude of benefits aside from making sure the Google Gods don’t come back and bite you in a new algorithm update.

That said of course, both of these things are easier said than done. What is ‘good content’? Who is your audience and what is relevant to them? How and where do you share this content and who are these ‘influencers’ that your audience trusts?

Which is why I said SEO is easy to understand, not to do. You may well still need experts to help you do a good job of it, just don’t let them befluddle you with whojamaflips.

photo credit: Okko Pyykkö

Ian McKee

Ian started out his career working in travel PR, working for tourist boards, airlines and hotel groups. Whilst there he carved out a position as a digital communications expert, managing social media, SEO and email marketing campaigns for clients.