8 Lessons I’ve Learned From Doing SEO

11 Jan

I just realized that it’s about eight years ago that I learned my first things about online marketing and SEO. It was during an internship while I was studying Marketing Management, and I could’ve never foreseen that this would be of such great influence on the rest of my career.

During the past eight years, I’ve learned a lot. I’m still learning new things every day, and I hope this will continue for years and years. When I was thinking about some of the things that I’ve learned thus far, I decided to write eight of them down.

1. People with the biggest mouths are not always right. Nor are people with the most experience, the best reputation or the most followers. The sole fact that you have eighteen years of experience doesn’t mean shit, except that you’re probably older than me.

2. Google makes the rules in SEO. If you’ve always blindly obeyed these rules, you’ve probably been thinking “Just wait until Google fixes things tomorrow, you mean spammer!” every day, for the past six years or so. Ain’t life a bitch?

3. Trial and error is the best teacher. Not an eBook, not a forum and certainly not some kind of 3-day online course. However, you can definitely use some of these sources to come up with ideas for things to test and try yourself.

4. Getting things done is the most important thing in online marketing. You can analyze things, write reports or fine-tune stuff all day long, but things don’t change unless you get shit done. Hit that publish button, press ‘send’ or kick someone in the nuts to make things happen.

5. If you never question anything or anyone, you don’t deserve to know the truth. If you want to believe that links don’t matter, or that 20,000 people a month are really searching for “ski chalet Miami, FL”, be my guest.

6. White hat link building is just the search engine friendly version of plain old marketing. You can talk about dofollow and nofollow all you want, but if you don’t know the principles of marketing, you’re doomed to fail.

7. Most SEO conferences are a just a nice way to see something of the world and to make your boss pay for your beer. Most of these conference’s networking events, on the other hand…

8. Paying for something only is a bad thing when the costs outweigh the benefits. It’s called ROI, and it not only applies on the CPM campaigns you’re managing for your clients, but also on the tools, forums, PR services, books, people, web hosting and many other things you use yourself. Don’t be a cheapskate.

Bonus lesson. Never, ever trust someone who calls him or herself a guru. If gurus are a disease, than social media gurus are a nasty STD. Okay, I didn’t need the full seven years to understand this one, it’s an important one to keep in mind ;)

Do you have any other important lessons to add? Like I said, I always love learning new things :)

48 Responses to “8 Lessons I’ve Learned From Doing SEO”

  1. Adam January 11, 2011 at 4:42 pm #

    Never try and explain what you do as a job Saying “Im an SEO” to anyone else that is not in the market, They will most likely give a blank look and think you have some kind of turrets and walk off. ;)

    The Bonus Lesson is by far the one to take note of this year…… granted this year is only 11 days old but still…..almost laughable.

    Good post as always , First time commenter on my behalf but ive been subscribed for a considerable amount of time. Keep up the good work

  2. David Schoenfeld January 11, 2011 at 4:57 pm #

    Hi Wiep,

    like this one :) Very nice post here i have another one:

    9. If you think: “This SEO change might be to agressive” or “This Link might be considered as Spam” or “This might be a little blackhat”

    it often is :) Don’t waste time and money in doing things you know they could fail

    10. Don’t buy links at business.com or yahoo.com if you website is not in english or has no english language available


  3. Barry Adams January 11, 2011 at 5:09 pm #

    All true, all true. Especially the bonus lesson. :) Too bad many of these lessons aren’t learned until a few years down the line when mistakes have already been made. But hey that’s life, right? Live and learn and hopefully not fuck up again in the future. :)

  4. Le juge SEO January 11, 2011 at 5:17 pm #

    I’d had 1 additional lesson –

    SEO is not EVERYTHING – Do not put all your eggs in the same basket! Work on balancing the sources of your website traffic (referring websites, direct traffic)

  5. Paul North January 11, 2011 at 5:19 pm #

    I particularly like 5). Applications beyond SEO for that too. My tips:

    9) Listen to others’ advice and opinion but when it is in conflict with actual evidence, don’t be swayed by it.

    10) Read the blogs. SEO has one of the best blogging communities around. There is so much generous advice and help out there. You can learn loads by simply reading.

  6. Aaron Bradley January 11, 2011 at 5:43 pm #

    A great list. Of particular note (and some days in the “sad but true” category) is number four. I think a really good question for an SEO to ask at the end of every day is, “what did I do to improve this site’s ranking today?” “Completed a 55 page strategy document” doesn’t actually fit the bill; something as mundane as “changed one title tag” does. Inertia is the great enemy of SEO progress.

    And, like Barry, I give a special thumbs-up to the bonus lesson too. If you have “expert,” “guru” or (worst of all) “thought leader” in your Twitter profile, I almost certainly won’t follow you. These are labels other people can legimately lay upon you, but when self-bestowed just make you look like the self-aggrandizing idiot you are.

  7. Alexis January 11, 2011 at 6:58 pm #

    Hey Wiep,

    What you said is so right. The third point is great: “Trial and error is the best teacher” .
    I also think it’s important even crucial to get things done. go do it,go do it
    Thanks Wiep,

    Alexis signing out….

  8. Ingo Bousa January 11, 2011 at 7:12 pm #

    Congrats for doing what you do since 8 yrs. These are good points. I’d like to add:

    Be nice to your clients. Explain what you do. Be transparent. Be honest. If the client trusts you, you get shit done. And that is your main objective: To get shit done.

    If you work in an agency, be nice to your colleagues. Explain what you do. Be transparent. Be honest. If your colleagues trusts you, you get shit done. And that is still your main objective: To get shit done.

    Be realistic. There is always a budget and there are always deadlines. That mostly means that you can only do so much for a client. Do the right things & don’t waste time on clever stuff that takes ages and is too expensive.

    Don’t spend the whole day on Twitter or reading every SEO blog. Use your time to get shit done ; )

    Don’t believe the hype. Believe in what works for you and your client. Use common sense when you look at a question or a problem. I think that lots of the stuff that search engines do [now shoot me] is based on common sense.

    SEO and usability mostly go hand in hand.

    ..I need to go home now ; ) Hope to still see you around in 2019!

  9. Wiep January 11, 2011 at 7:46 pm #

    @Adam: That blank look is very recognizable :)

    @David: Great additions!

    @Barry: Most people (including me) have to learn stuff the hard way :)

    @Le Juge: I totally agree!

    @Paul: I really like your #9.

    @Aaron: I agree, just delivering a 55-page document isn’t enough. It’s making sure that all the advice that’s inside the document gets followed-up that matters.

    @Ingo: Thanks, that’s some solid advice ;)

  10. J.R. Augustine January 11, 2011 at 7:50 pm #

    I would add one thing to Paul’s thought on reading blogs. Don’t forget to read the comments section as well. There is a lot of bad advice in many industry blogs. Commenters usually call bad bloggers to task.

    One thought on Wiep’s #3: Reading and joining (private) forums is only a waste of time if you don’t take the next step that Wiep talks about…put new ideas in the tester before assuming they work. Blogs, ebooks and forums can be a great way to get some wonderful ideas for testing purposes.

    Great read Wiep. Thanks.

  11. Jeff McRitchie January 11, 2011 at 8:05 pm #

    Great advice! I especially liked #4 and #5. All the research and knowledge in the world won’t help you at all unless you actually put it into motion. However, as #5 points out, being informed is an important aspect as well.

    Don’t forget about on the job learning- in this ever changing environment, flexibility is key.

  12. Jeff Tippett January 11, 2011 at 9:20 pm #

    Great tips here. I especially like #4–just get it done. I get frustrated with talk. Let’s see some action. Make it rain.

    Great post. Thanks.

  13. Srikanth AD January 11, 2011 at 11:27 pm #


    Just curious – what’s the end of point 7?

    Kudos! for writing an invaluable post.

  14. André Scholten January 11, 2011 at 11:50 pm #

    Great post Wiep, can I call you a guru? ;)

  15. Sheri Bell-Rehwoldt January 11, 2011 at 11:54 pm #

    HAAA! ((Never, ever trust someone who calls him or herself a guru. If gurus are a disease, than social media gurus are a nasty STD.))

  16. Melissa January 12, 2011 at 4:38 am #

    Oh these are great lessons! I think No. 6 is very true. If you don’t actually understand why you are doing all these white hat techniques that you will most likely not succeed in your online marketing campaign.

  17. Joydeep January 12, 2011 at 5:41 am #

    So this SEO copywriter walks into bar, grill, pub, public house, Irish bar, bartender, drinks, beer, vodka…

  18. Srinivas Kumar January 12, 2011 at 6:20 am #

    Nice article man..

    I like the point where you said experience doesnt matter, if one is not updated with latest trends in search industry you cant depend on his services.

  19. Natalie January 12, 2011 at 6:20 am #

    I think you have put it in a nutshell really. I spent years listening and not questioning, then on my second website I learned that there is no hard and fast rule for SEO. There are a number of factors which when combined produce thousands of different results. Also found the need to question, as have learned some people just ran with information but never actually test it out themselves.

  20. Wiep January 12, 2011 at 9:42 am #

    @Srikanth: Get an SEO drunk, and 9 out of 10 will start sharing stuff they’d never share during a conference session ;)

    @André: I prefer swami :)

  21. Shane Jones January 12, 2011 at 10:05 am #

    Couldn’t agree with you more about the networking events. This industry has a great networking vibe.

    **Shudder** gurus… just search for them on twitter. They’re everywhere.

  22. Caroline Bell January 12, 2011 at 10:17 am #

    Excellent post!

    #1 rings true for me. You need confidence in your own abilities though before you can start to question the ‘gurus’. It’s an enlightening moment however when you do!

  23. Dean Cruddace January 12, 2011 at 10:34 am #

    Number 3 all the way :)

    Although my number 3 may not be the same as yours (that one took me a couple of years).

    Great post Wiep

  24. Steve Logan January 12, 2011 at 10:52 am #

    Great post Wiep, couldn’t agree more with your points.

    As an extension to lesson 3 I would definitely say that ‘dare to fail’ is an important lesson to learn. You have to be brave enough to try things out (although not using clients as guinea pigs of course), if it blows up in your face, at least you know for next time. SEO is all about quality and originality, so if you just follow the herd, you’ll never improve or become any kind of gur……authority (sorry).

  25. Himanshu January 12, 2011 at 11:50 am #


    I have been in seo only for the last 5 years. But i have learned tons during this time period. If i go about writing my lessons, i may end up with a 100 pages long book. Anyways here is what i think about your lessons:

    1. People with biggest mouth may not always be right. But they are the one people listen to. No amount of convincing is going to help if a client choose to block his ears cos he is least interested in what you have to say. You are right about the experience thing. Old is not gold in the seo industry. You are only as good as your present client.

    2. What rules?

    3. IMO Trial and error can’t be the best teacher. Trying and making errors at your client’s expense will soon result in ‘kicked out of the project’. Following tried and tested stuff is the smart way to go.

    4. Absolutely agreed.

    5. Best student is one who never really believes what his teacher says.

    6. I think there is only one hat, the ‘profitability’ hat. Smart marketers do risk benefit analysis and then decide which hat to wear.

    “if you don’t know the principles of marketing, you’re doomed to fail.”

    Which means any seo with no background in marketing is doomed to fail.

    7. I think seo conferences are good way to network with fellow marketers and beneficial for becoming ‘clients worthy’ provided you can dare to speak at it.

    8. nothing to add here.

    ‘Guru’ is a modern age word for ‘expert’ and is often awarded by the media. Self proclaimed gurus are like snake oil salesmen and are the one who should not be trusted.


  26. Praveensms January 12, 2011 at 12:27 pm #

    I like the post :)
    Agree with most of the points you had said.

    Observation and Implementing it as quick as possible will be a good companion in seo

  27. Adam January 12, 2011 at 12:56 pm #

    @Himanshu , Your number 3 concerned me slightly. What i believe meant by ” trial and error” was the learning curve its self leading up to your clients sites or , Trialling unused techniques on your clients sits is a no brainer isn’t it ?

    Following the tried and tested then subjects you to things changing and you falling behind , you need to evolve your techniques into you own style and therefore trial and error is necessary.

  28. Hans January 12, 2011 at 1:03 pm #

    Haha, I love this post. So true. And hey, in fact you don’t really need 8 years to get these things ;-)

  29. Mark - SEO Guru Lolz January 12, 2011 at 2:47 pm #

    LOLZ. yep theres deffo some lessons to be learned. interesting about the conferences networking events, i didnt know they had them (isnt it just full of people trying to sell tho?)

  30. Wiep January 12, 2011 at 2:57 pm #

    @Caroline: ahh, questioning the gurus can be so much fun sometimes :)

    @Himanshu: well, someone has to do the testing, so why not do it yourself? Don’t use client sites for this, but testing websites or private projects in stead!

    @Mark: that really depends on the conference.

  31. Miroslav Varga January 12, 2011 at 4:40 pm #

    Hi Wiep,

    nice post. I would point out the most important SEO rule, and can not do it LOUD enough:


    Everything is hard work: analyising, adjustment testing, analysing, adjustment, testing, anlalysing, adjustment, testing, …… for ever and ever!

  32. Mário Luan January 12, 2011 at 5:24 pm #

    Great post.

    # Google makes the rules in SEO = I don’t think there are rules, but an algorithm changing all the time.

  33. Tihomir Petrov January 13, 2011 at 8:08 am #

    Absolutely true! I tnink also that we have to follow and obey the rules of SEO very strictly in case to reach good results. But as you say, try – error is the best teacher :)

  34. Steven van Vessum January 13, 2011 at 9:50 am #

    Good stuff Wiep! Sounds very familiar :)

  35. Ros Phillips January 13, 2011 at 4:50 pm #

    The blank look is usually from me who is thinking wow I hadnt heard that… But then I realise the longer I am around internet marketing & SEO the more I hear the same stuff… it is usually the newbies that use new jargon that make it sound like new ideas… some of it really is and other times it turns out to be a guru talking!

  36. Sohail Ahmed January 15, 2011 at 4:45 am #

    Nice article. Agree with your findings. The one I’ll add to it is one of my takeaways from my little experience with SEO. This is true for small as well as large businesses. Have a strategy before you start out with SEO in any shape, way or form. Without a strategy, you are only shooting in the dark.

  37. Martin January 15, 2011 at 11:33 am #

    Pues SEO yo lo resumiria en español lo que se llama “sentido común” y como tambiém se dice en España Sentido común que es el mejor de los sentidos
    and translated to English with google
    For SEO I would sum it up in Spanish what is called “common sense”and said in Spain release is also common sense is the best sense

  38. Fred Sexton January 17, 2011 at 4:30 pm #

    Also, things will never be the same. Don’t get complacent. Your ranking can change within the day.

  39. Francois January 19, 2011 at 3:33 pm #

    I really like nr. 4. Most SEO’s like to analyse and debate the whole day on their new findings, which in the end doesn’t help the client at all.

  40. Natan January 20, 2011 at 9:17 pm #

    Good tips. I had a chat with a buddy of mine who does SEO for a living. We came to the conclusion that a lot of the off-page methods that used to work so well aren’t quite as a effective as they used to be, due largely to the sheer volume of blogs circulation the net nowadays, not to mention spammers. The key to success is forming relationships with other bloggers, networking with them and simply through providing value to others. It’ll always be about the reader and the hardest thing for a marketer to accomplish is learning how to leverage themselves to benefit and serve others, not the other way around.

  41. Steven Dean January 22, 2011 at 4:39 am #

    Great tips there and quite amusing. Love your personality that’s for sure. And I can relate to a lot of what you said here. I haven’t been in the industry that long but boy do I have a lot to learn and Im still learning as I trudge along. So A Guru I definitely am not, but I guess I can sum it up to the word wiser or more knowledgeable. I will take and learn from these tips that you suggested. From the long 8 years you seemed to have acquired 1 useful tip for each passing. Thanks for sharing.

    Steven Dean

  42. Martin January 28, 2011 at 9:59 pm #

    En Español se dice la prueba – error – prueba – error
    o vivirlo en tus propias carnes
    solo se aprende de los propios errores
    y lo mejor es tomar las cervezas con Google

  43. Dieter Lorenzo February 7, 2011 at 4:55 pm #

    I’m starting on SEO activities and i guess that i must be prepared for all the thing that you explained. Great post man, really great. “Do no trust on Guru guys” it will be my number one rule since now on.

  44. Fraz February 15, 2011 at 10:50 am #

    well, Wiep very nice post, i really really like your post, :) after many times, i am commenting with my own real identity … Carry on good work .

  45. Quokka February 23, 2011 at 10:37 pm #

    Even if you play by the rules a Google algorythm change can slap you right in the face… Don’t start crying like a girl but fight back as a man :)

  46. paul March 10, 2011 at 6:43 am #

    There is some great information here about SEO. You might want to share with your readers a great new tool from google optimizer that allows you to experiment with optimization techinques for a higher ranking website. https://www.google.com/analytics/siteopt/exptlist?account=21700762&hl=en Thanks for sharing Paul

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