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April 17, 2006

Practice makes perfect but only if you practice perfectly

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It’s that time again. There’s just something about Spring that makes people really want to jettison the old and charge full steam ahead into the new. Part of that yearly trend is someone claiming the death of traditional SEO techniques.

This time, it’s Mike Grehan doing the doomsaying. In his article Does Textbook SEO Really Work Anymore?, Grehan notes that he’s always on the lookout for ways to streamline the SEO process, “eliminate time-wasting” in his words. Which of course, is great. We all would like to get to the top in the fewest steps.

It’s in the interests of saving time that Grehan asks:

But really, if meta tags, H1 tags, alt text attributes, and other components of textbook SEO are so miniscule in the greater scheme of ranking, why do we bother?

Is there really a case where someone was at 856 in the SERPs, then added a meta tag that rocketed the site to number 1? Is there a case where someone was at number 10, added an H1 tag, and slipped nicely into the top 5 results?

The answer is ‘of course, not’. If there is someone out there under the delusion that changing your keywords tag is going to get you from 1000 to 1, let me just clear that up right now. It won’t.

The problem with the cutting the fat in SEO is this attitude: If it isn’t going to drastically improve my rankings, why bother?

Now at first blush, that’s a pretty reasonable thought. When you’re at 1000, should you be worried about Meta tags and properly formatted Title tags? You’re in triage here, after all. The first step is to stop the bleeding, right?

But wait just a second and let’s look at that another way. Would you say that doing something half-way or not at all is as good as doing it right? That cutting corners will make you genuinely the very best? We all know that there are over 100 variables in the search engines’ algorithms, picking five to do very well and ignoring the rest means that you just lost at least 95 tie breakers. Sure, those five might be the most important but they’re just the base. They’ll get you into the top 50, maybe even the top 10. But getting those last few rankings takes perfection across the board. Meta tags and Title tags are part of webpage construction. Doing them right is part of the game.

As I’ve written before, the danger with skipping elements because they’re not worth as much as others is the same as paying for everything with cash and throwing away the change. Sure, it’s just a nickel and dime, but over time it adds up.

(Hat-tip Andy Beal)

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