14 SEO truths I’ve learned in 14 years

It’s amazing to think that I’m closing out my 14th year in the SEO business. That’s 98 years in dog years!


Over the last 14 years, I’ve watched the rise of Google, seen the death of Looksmart, and watched how GoTo (and PPC) changed the game. Blogging has become a mainstream marketing platform, social has taken the Internet by storm and Yahoo! has gone from a huge SEO play to…well…ignored.

It’s been a wild ride.

I’ve learned a lot of “SEO truths” over the last 14 years. Some of them the hard way. :) I’ve outlined some thoughts below – and I’d love to hear yours, too! Please include them in the comments below.

– Techniques are always changing and evolving. I’ve watched techniques like exact match domains, article marketing, the noframes tag (remember that one?) and keyphrase-stuffed content all be considered “the thing to do.” And then, Google changes something and the tried-and-true trick doesn’t work as well anymore. Stay educated and stay hungry – but know that what works really well today may not work tomorrow.

– The only thing that you can truly control is your own Website. You can’t control what Google does, what your competition launches, or whether Facebook will be around ten years from now. Spend time on your site and treat it like the asset is is.

– Gaming the system takes way more work than just following best practices and doing it right the first time.

– There is no excuse for bad content. Quality content always pays for itself. Cheap, poorly-written content will bite you in the butt later (either in terms of bad rankings, bad conversions or both.) Know the difference and give your site (and your prospects) the best content that you can produce.

– Just because someone has a successful Website doesn’t mean that they are an “SEO expert.” True experts have worked with multiple sites and have spent years honing their craft. Who you choose to work with matters. Do your homework.

– The companies that see the most SEO success dedicate a certain percentage of their day/workweek/staff to SEO tasks and faithfully complete them. That may mean 30 minutes a day or three hours. Once an SEO strategy is set, consistency is key.

– All the inbound marketing in the world won’t help you if your site copy sucks. If you want to rock your prospects’ world, you have to tell them what’s in it for them, tell your story, and help them love you.

– SEO (or SEO copywriting) isn’t an instant Website traffic generation fix. Companies that promise you “instant” results (especially for little money) are lying to you. Good SEO takes time, effort and a smart strategy.

– Have a smart SEO copywriting strategy in place? Good. Now you have to implement it. Many good campaigns have gone bad because the companies let the recommendations “sit” and didn’t take action. If that happens, don’t blame the consultant, Google or your competitors. It’s your fault – not theirs.

– Quit focusing on the latest shiny marketing technique when you don’t have a foundational strategy in place. Yes, I know that Pinterest is cool. Sure, Tumblr sounds sexy. But if you’re working with a bunch of half-assed marketing initiatives without following through, you are leaving money (and leads) on the table.

– Egos often get in the way of good SEO. Don’t insist that “you know exactly what to do” without examining all of the available data (and this goes for consultants, too.)

-Don’t insist on a certain outcome (like writing 500 product pages in six days) just because you want to hit an arbitrary timeline. Some things take more time. Some tasks move more quickly. Talk to team members/consultants before setting deadlines.

– It’s important to measure success. It’s also important to have realistic expectations. Insisting on a result that’s not possible does nothing but set your campaign up to fail.

-Some of the most awesome people in the world are in the SEO industry. I have seen the industry band together to help an individual or promote a cause. I have seen competitors help each other – even share sensitive information – so another company could succeed.  I have seen folks compete with each other during the day, and hang out together at night. We’ve gone through marriages, divorces, births and deaths together – and we’re always there for each other (especially the first generation SEOs) The SEO world is a very special place -and  I am honored to consider my “SEO friends” my extended family. It really doesn’t get any better than that.

Need an expert set of eyes to evaluate your site content and tell you how to make it even better? Check out my SEO Content Review – great for in-house teams or DIYers!


15 replies
  1. Chris Markham - Data Driven Marketing Strategist @ Bizfix says:

    Heather, terrific article – something of the Seth Godin about it and that’s definitely praise!

    Re: All the inbound marketing in the world … well of course real inbound marketing starts with remarkable content – so we could argue that without that knock-your-socks-off content it’s not really inbound. Here’s a good question writers can ask themselves: if you had not written this article yourself, would you bother to read it.

    What’s your top tip?


    • Heather says:

      @Chris – I love your question! I used to ask folks who were into icky, keyphrase-stuffed articles, “Would you submit this article with your byline to a trade publication?” The typical response was, “Definitely not. We’d never submit this to a trade publication – the quality is horrible.” Of course my follow-up question was, “Well, then why would you ever want this on your site?” That typically changed some minds.:)

      Thanks for your comment!

  2. Christopher West @ SEO Works says:

    Great post Heather – this paragraph is #1
    – The only thing that you can truly control is your own Website.
    So many times people get obsessed about the latest ‘rave’ on link building or content marketing that they forget about their own site.

    • Heather says:

      Exactly, @Christopher! That kind of short-term thinking always comes back to bite the site owner later – especially if it means that the site gets ignored in the process. I’m big on “controlling what you can control.” We may not be able to control much in this world, but we can at least control our sites…and that’s a very happy thing!

  3. Amy C. Teeple says:

    Another great post Heather!

    I’m not sure if this falls under “Techniques are always changing and evolving,” but I would add SEO copywriting does NOT mean just adding keywords into your copy.

    I would also add:
    Good SEO copywriting focuses on conversions not just rankings (and rankings are not the end-all be-all of SEO).
    Not all excellent writers make effective SEO copywriters.

    • Heather says:

      @Amy, I think, “Not all excellent writers make effective SEO copywriters” should be my 15th tip. You are SO right! I’ve worked with a few fantastic writers who just didn’t “get” SEO (or how to write to sell.) Some of them can be trained. Others…not so much.

      Great point. Thank you!

  4. hyderali says:

    I really loved this post & the way you pointed out the hard 14 truths about SEO. This line says all “what works really well today may not work tomorrow in SEO” & we should thanks google for that. I must also add

    -practice makes man perfect & that is what we should do in SEO.

    -Test, test & test. Experiment with your site & find out ways of ranking ethically.

    – Don’t panic when google comes with new updates but keep calm & read it carefully.

    – Don’t violate google guidelines.

    – Take help & be helpful to others.

  5. Derek Cromwell says:

    Hey Heather,

    I would add: “The train doesn’t stop at SEO Copywriting”. While it might provide a little bump in visibility and help with conversions to a point, it takes any ever evolving content strategy to stay relevant, visible, and competitive. Once the content goes live on the website, the next step is to set your sights on building value and relevancy through blogging, social channels, video marketing, articles and other forms of content marketing.

  6. Katherine Andes says:

    For newcomers, I would only quibble that one doesn’t have to have experience with multiple sites to be knowledgeable enough to dive in and get clients. Years ago, I got some training and applied it to my own site and soon saw improved results in my rankings. I shared that info with my copywriting clients and they asked me to do the same for them. Soon I had the multiple site experience. There are a lot of potential clients out there who just want to “know someone” who can do this work. Get out and meet them …

  7. Heather says:

    @Katherine – I would agree with you. My issue is with the word “expert.” I see people with six months experience in SEO calling themselves an “expert” – and that’s the part that I disagree with. :)

    Thanks for your comment!

  8. Kevin Carlton says:

    One of the more significant lessons I’ve learned is the importance of niche content.

    This may seem pretty obvious to most SEO copywriters, but it is an important lesson nevertheless.

    Take, for example, a public relations client who wants you to write about their PR company.
    Now ‘PR company’ is a pretty common term and so your content is likely to be drowned in a sea of websites that all mention the same keyword term ‘PR company’.

    If, on the other hand, you know that your client happens to do quite a lot of sports PR then you can focus your content, such as blog posts, on something far more specific.

    As far fewer competitors will refer to themselves as a ‘sports PR company’, the chances are far greater that people will find your content and actually read it. They will also see your client’s business as the place to go for sports PR rather than a general public relations practitioner.

    As I’ve said, this may seem rather obvious to readers of Heather’s blog, as most of us have taken the decision to specialize in a specific field of copywriting anyway. However, it still amazes me just how much content is far too general, contributes relatively little new and just blends into the background.

  9. Nick Stamoulis says:

    The second point regarding your website is a big one. It’s the one property on the web that you have full control over and you need to use that to your advantage. I see so many companies sending people to their Facebook page instead of their website. The website should remain the hub of all online marketing activity.

  10. Kate Toon Copywriter says:

    Hi Heather.

    Great post. I like:

    Once an SEO strategy is set, consistency is key.

    So many people fail to realise that SEO takes a lot of effort by the business owner and that simply paying someone a few hundred dollars a month to buy you back links ain’t going to cut it!

    Thanks for sharing.

  11. Breeza says:

    I like your comment about the latest shiny marketing techniques… back to basics I say – walk the hard yards with your feet and not the quicker way by riding a bike.

  12. Darek says:

    Hi Heather,

    Awesome post, nothing more to say.

    So many people call themselfs SEO experts because they ranked a page once or twice without actually doing much of a work. That’s not how it works, just like you’ve said.


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