I have spent hundreds or thousands of hours over the last few years learning whatever I can about SEO. I have read everything from Moz to Seach Engine Land to the well-researched posts on Viperchill. Net result? Absolutely nothing.
But before I get into the meat of this article, I want to make a few points: (1) No, I’m not writing this article as link bait. If I were, I would have named it “Seo is dead” or something terrifically cliche like that. I think my experience in working on the SEO of my site is useful for other website owners to see, because it tends to show that Google was right after all–spend time on great quality content instead of “SEO tricks.” (2) My experience may not be typical. I am not saying that SEO is useless in all cases. What I am saying is that my three years of trying to stay up with SEO trends has netted me nothing.
I have never done any black hat SEO (except for right when I started my site and paid a couple guys on Fiverr before I learned how terrible of an idea that was). I don’t guest post except for about once per year when the opportunity comes knocking. In short, my backlink profile is as natural as it gets.
Further, I want to say that this is only my personal experience. Your mileage may vary, but I hope you will take the lessons I’ve learned to heart and not discount it simply because it may conflict with what some “seo guru” promises.
Let the Data Do the Talking
This is a graph of my organic (meaning not paid) search traffic over nearly three years. Notice something? It’s a pretty straight line. It improved dramatically, but the line is straight. No sudden changes made any significant impact on the search traffic (note that the most recent month shows lower because the month isn’t finished).
What this graph does not show is the countless changes I made to my site to make it improve in SEO. Here is just a small sampling of those changes, as best as I can remember:
- April 2012 – Implemented a site map. Surely THAT would help my search engine rankings, right? Didn’t seem to make a difference.
- September 2012 – Got some HUGE links from very high ranking sites in my industry.
- September 2011 – Wrote a few guest posts on very popular websites in my niche, which gave me some fantastic links.
- November 2011 – Did a contest with my readers that gave them rewards for linking to the site (a terrible idea by today’s SEO standards, but it was genius at the time).
- June 2013 – Worked tirelessly to get my site loading in under 1 second. We’ve all heard that Google is placing more emphasis on page load time so that must have given me a nice bump, right? Nope. Not any noticeable change.
- July 2013 – Received some massive backlinks from other sites with huge authority in my niche.
- August 2013 – Added 50 new high quality articles to the site, which is about 5 times more than I add most months.
- September 2012 – Went through hundreds of older posts and optimized them for keywords.
- October 2013 – Switched from All in One SEO Pack to Yoast’s SEO plugin. Deleted my sitemap just to see what would happen.
- November 2013 – Had a massive website redesign with a responsive design.
- Etc. etc. etc. The list could go on forever.
If you are a skeptic like I am, you are probably wondering if the issue isn’t that any of these things made any noticeable change immediately, but cumulatively over time they have made a big difference. Maybe. There really is no way of proving that one way or the other.
The Conclusion I Have Chosen to Draw
If you run authority sites with at least 50 pages, I wouldn’t worry much about SEO until your site has at least 10,000 pages. I tend to believe that at 10,000 pages even smaller changes could have a significant impact since the small change is applied so many times.
Despite implementing dozens of good SEO practices, none of them made a verifiable or significant difference in my search engine rankings.
Learn the basics and follow the best practices so that Google can properly index your site, and then stop worrying about it and just make good content.