SEO: There Is No Secret Ingredient




When Google announced their latest algorithm update codename “Panda” the jokes came out of the woodwork to tease the name. But the reality was that this update impacted the SERPs big time. A lot of major sites suffered traffic loss due to their rankings falling. When that happened a lot of SEOs were scrambling to figure out what happened and what they could do as a “work around” to get their respect pride rankings back. What amazed me as I watched all this unfold were the number of SEOs asking on Twitter if anyone had found a solution to the Panda update. The reality is, the solution was right in front of them, they just didn’t see it.

A Lesson in Kung Fu

Ironically around the same time the second wave of Panda hit my son was getting into Kung Fu Panda II. When I saw the toy he got from McDonalds I couldn’t help but laugh. My wife ended up taking him to see the second Kung Fu Panda movie when it hit theaters but after watching a movie he likes once, he HAS to watch it again and again and again and….you get the point.

We ended up buying the first Kung Fu Panda on DVD to pacify his need. I sat down with him and watched it for the first time the other day and was pleasantly surprised at the flick. *Spoiler Alert* Po, this big Panda who worked for his dad at a noodle restaurant learning his family’s famous noodle soup recipe, was chosen as the “dragon warrior” to defeat a Kung Fu threat to his city. As the dragon warrior he would be allowed to read the legendary “dragon scroll” that contains the most coveted secrets in Kung Fu and would make anyone who read it a true Kung Fu master.

He was clumsy, had a lot of knowledge of Kung Fu, but no practice. After getting beaten to a pulp in training he finally finds how to focus and get better. Eventually his master deems Po good enough to read the dragon scroll. But when he reads it, he finds it blank. Nothing is there. Depressed he heads home because there is no way he can beat the threat encroaching on his town. Reuniting with his father, Po is told the secret to his family’s famous noodle soup. The soup was great because of how it was made; there was nothing secret about it. Then it hit Po. The dragon scroll was blank because there is no final secret to Kung Fu; he knew all he needed to defeat the oncoming enemy.

My Own Beginnings

I haven’t been in SEO that long. I’m approaching four years, but when I first got started I was like Po. I kind of got tossed into SEO, knowing some stuff but didn’t really have a lot of practice. So I got knocked around (virtually) in the SERPs until I started to take hold of the basics and build on those. Since my first site was a local non-profit, I wasn’t really thinking long term.

Then the winds of change came and I found myself wanting to go deeper and deeper into search. I read everything I could, got on Twitter and became a RT’ing firehouse of repeated (sometimes useless) information without even attempting to connect with others. I even signed up for Sphinn and sphunn (is that the right usage?) stories people asked me to without making up my own mind. Like Po, I had to learn there is a certain way to interact with the community for the first time.

The fact is the SEO community is very welcoming and open. I was turned off because the first few forums I went to I was met with hostility as a “n00b that needed to leave”. Ironically the same moderators were also the same people at conferences that jeer after a session “I didn’t learn anything new. These speakers are holding back”. In reality people are here to encourage and teach, but it doesn’t come without dues to pay and trials to go through. There are some in this community I’ve learned/learn a great deal from and I consider as close as family (you know who you are).

These are the people I benefit the most from. Sure, there are industry leaders that stand out. But just because they follow you on Twitter or add you to their circle on G+ doesn’t mean they’ll give you personal time and attention. When Po got on a personal level with his Master that’s when the real learning began. And much of it, he already knew, it just needed to be finely tuned. New skills were added to compliment what was already there and before long he was ready for the dragon scroll. But the fact is he knew all he needed to know.

The Next Step For Me

When I finally got a job working in-house I was faced with a site much bigger than I’d ever looked at before. I did a quick assessment and knew there were some very basic metrics missing, but I ignored them. I had close peers tell me, “Josh, here are some key aspects you’re missing. Quick fixes all of them.” I ignored that advice as well. I was looking for something much more “advanced” or “new and edgy” to take the site to the next level. Ultimately by the time I realized that there was no secret ingredient, bigger company issues arose and being the lowest on the totem pole, I was let go. Thankfully I was able to find another job, but would have to move my family 2,000 miles away to the Northwest.

Since living and working here I’ve learned more about methodology and how to apply what I know. It’s the reaffirmation I’ve gotten and new perspective of the search engines that’s got me back on the right track. I no longer go to conferences in search of “the big secret”. I go to connect on a personal level with others in hopes I can return the favor to them someday. I go to sit in on sessions about topics that interest me to hear case studies to see if I can apply the same methods to any client work I currently have or may end up with. When I read search articles, I don’t read the same massive amounts I used to. I cut back to selecting a few favorite authors, not sources. When I interact online socially I do so to engage/share/assist (when I can) to build rapport with others in the search community.

An Apology…Sort Of

If you read this article hoping I would give some insight on SEO best practices, I’m sorry. If you thought there would be some little tidbits here, my bad. The fact is I could list out everything I know, but I question what good would actually come of it. At SMX Advanced Seattle 2011 I overheard Kris Roadruck saying, “There are thousands of SEOs in the world, but only a handful actually knows how to do SEO”. While I agree with that statement, I honestly believe there are even more that already know what they need to know to be successful, but just haven’t figured out there is no secret ingredient.

About the Author

Joshua Titsworth is an SEO project manager with Click2Rank. He’s also the reigning office ping-pong champion. When he’s not online tweeting or blogging, he’s at home with his family or at a local golf course trying to break 80 … but first he must break 90.

Image Credit

  • http://www.aimsocial.com Social Media Services

    I think that Panda has helped many, I do not see nearly as many about.com or hubpages coming into the results, and thank god as they were pure link bait and usually made up of cap articles that were thereto promote another service or product badly.

    Good quality content is and always should be king. I think google are taking more and more attention to links from social networks, I made an amazing achievement the other day (I think, and for what it is worth!) and have found out that I have created a solid PR3 site in less than two months, mainly through 400-900 word quality articles each and every day, optimised correctly and religiously promoting these (without going over the top) via social networks, they link back etc etc…job done.

    http://www.mobileinquirer.com is the site in question.

    SEO is about being in it for others as well as yourself, yep, simple really…actually much more complicated but that’s why you hire professionals like me!

  • http://www.boldinternet.co.uk Adrian (Bold Internet)

    Good article, Joshua. I respect your openness over your SEO experience.

    It is interesting to see how many still chase the conference circuit looking for the proverbial golden egg. Perhaps just being in the same room as a ‘guru’ will help improve rankings?

    It is particularly intriguing to see how many SEOs overlook the basics in the quest to make SEO more sexy. Still, I guess it’s what makes the industry so fascinating to work in.

    • http://www.twitter.com/joshuatitsworth Josh

      Didn’t you know Adrian? By sitting in the same room with Rand Fishkin the client site you’re thinking about will increase ranking until it reaching the first page ;P.

      But you’re right, it’s the easy stuff that gets over looked because they want the “sexy” element, unless…and this may be a question for Matt Cutts, is there a “sexy” meta tag?

  • http://harounkola.com Haroun Kola

    Nice article, humanizing our engagements online. We sometimes lose site if the fact that behind those billions of searches are real people wanting an answer to some issue.

    • http://www.twitter.com/joshuatitsworth Josh

      You’re exactly right. If you can’t solve a user’s problem, you’re doing it wrong.

  • http://anna-garnier.com Anna

    Hello.
    There’s a lot of interesting information in your blog. I am new in IM and I recently started a blog where , with the help of my mentor Marc Milburn, I help everyone who’s interested to set up a successful internet business.
    I can put your knowledge to good use.
    Thank you very much.
    Anna.

    • http://www.viavideomarketing.com/ Jeanne Mayeux

      My Kung Fu is very strong when I stick to the basics for SEO and really stay on top of the analytics. Sure I have a couple of cutting edge tricks in my bag but only use them in the right time and place. Each client is different. Loved your article Joshua and your metaphor to the Kung Fu Panda movie.

  • http://www.lilbizpro.com Dave Fox

    First of all Joshua, great job on the article! It is rare to find someone in SEO that keeps it real, and you did that in spades. Your wisdom, selflessness, and easy going demeanor just merited your site bookmark status. Keep up the great work!

  • http://www.r4-ds-dsi.com R4

    ON site SEO have less Tracking Lost during the “Panda”, all My UK Sites drop because use Off stie SEO, But others websites all be top 1 with ON Site SEO.

  • http://www.banquedorsay.com Ohmz

    I’m still new to SEO business, and am stills being toss around by PANDA too. *GRRRRRR*

  • http://www.htmlcut.com Sean

    “…there is no secret ingredient” – maybe except the persistence :)

  • http://www.brickmarketing.com/internet-marketing-consulting.htm Nick Stamoulis

    “I was looking for something much more “advanced” or “new and edgy” to take the site to the next level.”

    I think this is a common problem. People want to use the “latest” techniques because it looks like you’re on the cutting edge of things. The truth is that sometimes the basics are still the best. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel! And if you don’t have those basics soundly in place, the new and advanced won’t do anything to fix it.

    • http://www.twitter.com/joshuatitsworth Josh

      Agree100% Nick. You can’t build on a foundation that isn’t there.

  • http://level343.com/article_archive Gabriella Sannino

    I have watched you grow into a full fledged Panda… very proud of you :-) but next time you gonna send around a link bait article at least give us some pics lol All kidding aside you are awesome Josh no matter what anyone say’s about you. xo

  • http://www.ppcsearchenginemarketing.org PPC Guy

    Nice, article. Anyone that can make a decent metaphor about pandas, Kung Fu and SEO deserve some recognition.

  • http://www.anthonyzapata.com Anthony

    Thanks for R n Ding (Ripoff n Duplicate) my Kung Fu Panda post. :) Just kidding!

    • http://www.twitter.com/joshuatitsworth Josh

      LOL, dude you almost made my heart skip a beat :P, so you have some kids that love that movie too huh?

  • http://www.zagoumenov.com/blog/ Alexander Zagoumenov

    Joshua,

    thanks for a very open and honest article. As many other commenters here I agree that SEO is about:
    1. basic rules we hear from Google & Bing guides,
    2. the audience we create the content for (and the product),
    3. and consistency in following the strategy, looking at analytics, tweaking and back to strategy

    Thanks for the article again!

    • http://www.twitter.com/joshuatitsworth Josh

      Thanks Alexander :) glad you enjoyed it

  • http://www.brandignity.com Maciej Fita

    I think it is always important to start with the basics and get those down. I like to look at SEO like a soup and each step is an ingredient, sure you can miss out on an ingredient but something will be off.

  • http://virtualassistantintl.wordpress.com/ Via Madison

    I believe SEO is an art. There are a lot of SEO techniques to use but it’s up to us which one to use and how to use them.

    Via

    • http://www.zagoumenov.com/blog/ Alexander Zagoumenov

      Via, great point! And this goes exactly in tune with Jeanne Mayeux’s comment that “each client is different” so we’ll use different tools based on the client and the situation presented. And I hope that’s what you meant by “SEO is an art” comment.

  • http://www.telfordassociates.com Accountants in Kent

    I like the Kung Fu Panda analogy – that’s great!

    I told one of my friends – an SEO expert – how I was doing my own SEO and he came out with the comment:

    ‘that’s all we do, there is no secret, just persistence and hard work”

    So like most things, there is no magic bullet.

  • http://www.seocharlie.com/blog/ Charlie

    Great article Joshua!

    I have been doing SEO since new century and being attendant of the SES & SMX events. And let me tell you: you´re right; there´s no secret formula on the SEO.

    All you need is (a lot of) practice (and tons of patience) which can be complement with theories. Nobody will come to show you “how to rank” for a specific search terms… it´s up to you.

    And like PANDA: Search engines are always changing (remember Florida, Jagger and too many algorithms updates). They are part of this “game”. I learned a lot reading blogs and on the discussion forums but at the end; I need to do it myself and wait for some results… that´s it.

    Nice to see you with Roger ;)

  • http://bestpluginsforwp.com Adam James

    Hi Josh, you were very open about your history with SEO here, it’s rare to see that kind of openness.

    I don’t think you need to apologise for this article in the slightest, and I completely agree, there’s no special ingredient, well I guess in a way there is, it’s hard work, but a lot of people are looking for that magic red button it seems.

    • http://www.twitter.com/joshuatitsworth Josh

      Thanks Adam, I’m glad you liked it. And you’re right, hard work and dedication are vital.

  • http://businesstips.ph Vic @ Business Tips Blog

    This is really true. There are many SEO blogs and bloggers who claim they are SEO expert, but when you scan their sites, I can’t find value on their contents. I believe that SEO is not only ranking high on search engines and receiving high traffic. I believe that real SEO is ranking high on search engines and receiving high traffic… consistently regardless of whether the rumored algorithms changes or not. I still love the natural and organic way of SEO, because they grow like a tree, and lasts like a tree. – not grasses that die quickly.