*Warning – much introspective commentary will ensue.
I recently faced a daunting period in my search optimization experience. I’ve never considered myself as an SEO expert per se, but I did consider myself an excellent online entrepreneur and marketer, learning over the years the subtleties of conversion rates, the way sales cycles fluctuate and how to determine what they mean, or the correlation between search engine result location and traffic. I’ve measured performance based on cost analysis of CPC programs, aggregate traffic, and cost per acquisition. I’ve measured quality of conversions based on general terms against long tail terms, and I’ve tracked quality of traffic from all the major search engines.
I’ve designed and engineered award winning sites, and took those same sites from last to first page with pretty satisfying degrees of success. I’ve created marketing plans and branding programs that create enough buzz to attract the national media, and conceptualized commerce programs that I eventually delivered to the thankful hands of business owners.
To “break it down” I considered myself to be a competent and successful web professional. I could sit and discuss my theories of keyword relevance and cascading keyword authority with the “SEO Rockstars” of the world, and have walked away from those conversations with the knowledge that I can play in the same sandbox. Along the way I met and even interviewed some of the most impressive online marketers and search engine experts there are in the industry, and found them to be the kind of quality individuals I wished I had met earlier in life. They became my friends and confidants, and I considered myself blessed to know them.
That’s why, when one of my sites started to fail, loose search engine position, and perform way under the expectations and the planned successes I had for it, I began to not only question my own skills, but my whole place in this crazy internet world. I began spiraling into an abyss of self loathing and finger pointing, looking at my plummeting search results and traffic and wondering how these new sites that suddenly showed up in the search results, replacing my site, even got there in the first place. I pointed out to anyone who would hear my rantings all of the shortcomings of every site on the first page.. I pulled out links from my site, and added “nofollow” to almost anything that I could find that would seem even slightly PR draining. I joined forum threads to complain about the audacity of Google to perform an algorithmic shift during this period, and was even considering joining the ranks of the SEO naysayers who consistently and unapologetically ranted against SEO in general. I wondered where the knowledge I had so painstakingly gathered over the years had gone, and was beginning to wonder if I really had a place in this crazy world we call the World Wide Web.
Everybody was spamming…
I repeated to myself again and again.
Everybody was spamming…
I’ve always consciously tried to never “bug” my friends with my own web problems. They have their own very busy schedules and businesses to run, and I just couldn’t face up to them since I felt like this was the most embarrassing period in my life. I mean, the business wasn’t failing, not by a long shot, but my own sense of belonging in this group of serious professionals was tested. I felt like a fake whenever I talked to them, and consciously avoided lamenting about my site. I mean, who wants to be friends with someone who always begging for help? And I didn’t want to be “that” kind of friend, the one that makes you say “Oh, sssshhh, shut up, here he comes now.” I can’t say that I never complained about my site, I did, but I tried with everything I could to keep it to a minimum. Switch topics, talk about something else.
But one day I just broke down. Maybe it’s me. Maybe those other sites aren’t the problem here. So I asked the strongest seo in the world (old joke, but still painful to think of), David Brown, to take a look. “Just a quick look man,” I ask him, “I just don’t know anymore.” I had a sinking feeling I might have done something, but I couldn’t face the fact that I, the rumblepup, actually could have done something wrong. David came back to me with a very straight answer and slapped me upside the head. He even called me to yell in my ear. “Those other sites weren’t spamming Google, you are.”
I have to admit, the shock of this made me defensive. “But they, and I, and they…”
“Just stop” David says to me.
“I thought you wanted to be the best site on the web? I thought you want to service the customer, and do things right. Why would you do the same thing those other sites are doing?”
I grudgingly admitted that I would go over my content again. I felt like a little kid who didn’t want to do his homework. In fact, the conversation made me step out of myself for a moment. it was like a splash of cold water. We all have a project that is very personal, that we are passionate about, and this one was mine. Failure is just isn’t an option. However, David made me realize that I should be applying the same rules I do to this site that I do to all the other sites I’ve made good on.
I rolled back the content to a previous version, with some slight modifications. I removed all of the text I had on it. When seriously looking at the site through a marketer’s eyes, I noticed something that had escaped me. Actually, that’s not right. It never did escape me; I knew it the whole time. In my passion for this site, and in my stubborn complacency, I wrote what I thought would be this great keyword rich text thinking I could capture a whole bunch of keyword searches. I keyword stuffed my text. I just plain over did it. Once the changes where in, I guess Google had a regular crawl, the next day the site was back up to where it should have been, on the first page of the Google SERP’s.
How embarrassing is that? Here I am, Mr. Bigshot internet expert, breaking a very basic rule of search engine optimization. I plead guilty. There is no excuse, but there is a reason. My passion for this site ran away with me. My mistake was to think that being an authority website allowed me to do whatever I wanted, to attract any keyword I wanted and I could just write “keyword rich” text an there you go, traffic. I didn’t think objectively, and if the lesson I learned was not to let my passions run rampant, then a painful lesson it is. Don’t let your passion about a site get in the way of your professionalism. You can’t just do whatever you want and expect to be anywhere else than on the second page. The search engines do have a basic standard of what they have programmed their algorithms to see as quality content. For instance, Google; The quality guidelines are not there to be ignored just because you have link juice. There are plethoras of PR5, 6, even 7 sites that show up nowhere near the first page. Why? All the link juice in the world won’t decide what Google sees as the authority website, or any other search engine.
Now, that’s not to say that passion is not without its rewards. I’m passionate about this site, which means I work even harder for the success of being on the first page. It’s not just business savvy, it’s the time and love you put into a site that can change things. Without that, I would have been content with the long-tail keywords traffic and then just sold the site. That’s not what I’m about, so I didn’t. Without an personal interest in the topic of a website, you’re doomed for mediocrity and failure. It’s that simple. I don’t know any website that is successful that the owners or webmaster’s are not personally driven individuals who invest their heart and soul into a project.
So I guess I’ve learned many lessons for the second page, lessons that will make me a better professional web entrepreneur, and give me a much more rounded knowledge of the web. Lessons that I’d like to share with you.
- Temper your passion with professionalism. Either one alone is not enough, together they make the best combination.
- Have good friends that help you, and allow you to help them.
- There is no goal post, no winning touch down, no end of movie credits. Everyday is a new day to learn something, and a new day to achieve something.
- Listen to your wife. (the beautiful Mrs. Rumblepup told me exactly the same thing David did)
- It’s okay to look at what your competitors are doing. But the most important thing is to look at what YOU are doing.
- Freaking out will only leave you tired. Go ahead and freak out, but don’t expect to get answers from your screaming session.
- Have humility to realize where your weaknesses are. I’m a badass, yes, but there are other badasses out there coming up.
- Always listen to whatever Brian Mark has to say.
- Listen to cshel as well.
- Sometimes there are no answers. A good shoulder might not help you with your problem, but will always calm you down to let you think.
- Don’t stop thinking. Your rage might be Hulk-like, but don’t let it shut off your brain.
- Read your website as if your reading a book. If the writing sucks, so does the website.
- Don’t drink Tequila after eating a tuna melt. Just trust me on this one.
- When all else fails, let it fail. Drop everything and return to the beginning. There is nothing like rebooting your thinking machine and starting from scratch.
- Be strong enough to see the truth, even if the truth is not what you wanted it to be.