How to ask for SEO help

by Donna Fontenot December 6th, 2004 

I used to be primarily a web developer, and I would receive many requests for help with coding problems. Nine times out of ten, when someone encountered a problem, they would send me an email that consisted of something like, "Help! I'm trying to get my form to update the database, but it is not working. What could be wrong?" I would sigh and then consider giving a flip answer like "Well, gee, it could be one of a million things. How about being a bit more specific?" But then, I would put on my Be Nice hat, and explain that they needed to give me more details in order for me to help them. The most common detail that I needed would be the exact error message shown on the page. There is valuable information in most error messages that can turn debugging from an hour long project to a 30 second project, as long as the error message is known.

So, what does this have to do with asking for SEO help? Now that I wear an SEO hat more often than I wear a developers hat, the Help Me questions are different, but the concept remains the same. If you have a problem with your site optimization, and decide to ask for help at one of the many SEO forums, it would be a good idea to include as much relevant detail as possible in your request. Keep in mind that each forum has its own posting rules; some may not allow URLs to be posted; some may allow them as long as they are not live links; some may not even allow you to state which keyword phrases you are targeting. So with this in mind, consider the following when asking for help:

  • Read the forum FAQs and use the forum's search feature to see if your question has already been answered, before asking your question.
  • What is the URL? (if allowed in a post) There are, of course, instances where you do not feel comfortable sharing the URL, but keep in mind that you may not be able to get detailed, specific help without it.
  • What keyword phrase(s) are you targeting? (if allowed in a post) Never assume that those people trying to help will know what you are optimizing for.
  • What is the specific problem? Include any history that might go along with the problem. Was everything fine for a while, but the problem is new? If so, what changes have you made, if any, that might have been a factor?
  • If the question is related to how well your page ranks in a search engine, make sure to give details about the age of the site or page. Often people will put up a brand new website, and wonder why it isn't ranking in the top 10 after a week. Did the page ever rank for the term? If so, include that information.
  • If you already have statistics, list them. (for example, you might say "I have 3 times as many backlinks as my competitors, according to XYZ search engine's link: command, all on relevant pages, using keyword-specific anchor text").
  • Error messages are not often involved in an SEO question, but if, in your case, an error message is applicable, be sure to include it.
  • Listen to the answers you get. Not all answers will be correct, and you should make your own judgements, however, do not simply dismiss the answers because you are convinced of some conspiracy theory that the search engine is out to get you. And frankly, even if the conspiracy were true, and the search engine hated you personally, then it would be useless for you to be seeking SEO help anyway. So give the answers you receive some serious consideration, and if they seem reasonable, and are backed up by experience and wisdom, consider actually using the information you receive and make necessary changes.
  • If the problem is resolved, please return to the thread, and let everyone know. This helps everyone.

One final thought…If you write out your question in a text editor, such as Notepad, before posting it on the forum, you may come up with the answer all on your own. Just spending the time organizing the question can sometimes yield enough information to determine what happened. And if not, you are ready to copy and paste it quickly into the post form.

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