Are you addicted to "how to" content?
In SEO, there's more of it every day. And it stands to good reason: run a blog search for "SEO" over at Technorati and you get a modest 12,386 results at the moment. That's 12,386 separate SEO blogs (that Technorati knows about).
While most SEO blogs branch off into other topics (probably for the sanity of their authors), every day thousands of new posts are written. And, depending on the skill of the writer, they can sound pretty valuable.
And who wants to miss out on the latest and risk falling behind the curve?
So most of us are the guilty owners of a Google Reader account that has swollen to 40-50 blogs, most of which update on a semi-daily basis, amounting to a new inbox beckoning us with its "X new items" flag (as if email wasn't bad enough).
Reclaim your productivity
As an SEO, what percentage of your time do you think you should dedicate to reading blog posts?
Forget how much time you actually spend and think about it.
Now compare that percentage to the time you actually spend using a tool like RescueTime.
Most of us don't realize how much time we can burn up reading online – enough time that we don't ever get around to taking enough action.
If you've been in this game for over a year, and in that time you've read a few hundred blog posts on SEO, here's the deal: you can stop reading about 95% of what's published every day. You've probably got a damn good idea of the basic and intermediate knowledge.
What you know already is most definitely enough to get moving, full time, on your own projects.
Widely-read advice offers no competitive advantage
Like it or not, SEO is a game of pure competition – rankings are always relative to "those other websites," and the competition is never asleep. (At least not for long.)
On a long enough timeline your niche will grow more saturated, and new and existing competitors will emerge better-informed on SEO tactics.
They'll read the same blogs, and guides, you do. Especially from the most visible sources. They'll be actively building links (and using some of the same tools as you) and launching viral content to build editorial links in a scalable way.
So tell me: in a competitive game, how does advice from a widely-read SEO blog add to your competitive advantage?
Right, it doesn't.
By the time someone publishes a map, the treasure is gone.
Not to mention that your market/vertical, and the current status of your site, are unique – and a successful SEO strategy in one market doesn't always port over so nicely to another.
We learn better when we make our own mistakes
The reason we look for maps is that we think they'll help us avoid the pitfalls.
If someone else shows us the way we won't twist our own ankles the way they did, right?
But studies have shown repeatedly that we learn best from the mistakes we make on our own. They become hard-coded to our cognition.
If the goal is to advance your own knowledge, the best method for that is action (with the expectation of failures along the way).
Of course, your client/boss might not appreciate you taking risks with their business – which is why it's a good idea to run your own sites and experiment with them.
Real SEO advantages stem from fresh, creative thinking
We're all well-aware that links are at the core of a successful SEO strategy.
Yes, the on-page stuff matters too, but there's a point of diminishing returns here – like in bowling, there's a ceiling to how well you can do with on-page SEO. So most of what comprises a true competitive advantage will have to do with a solid and scalable link strategy.
The most intriguing, and potentially explosive, way to build inbound links is to attract them with viral content ("linkbait").
Case in point: when Matt Inman used clever widgets to get JustSayHi, a dating website he was hired to promote, ranking for ultra-competitive keywords like "free online dating" and "online dating." People posted the widgets (which contained links to JustSayHi) on their blogs, and in doing so they inadvertently helped the website gain tremendous ranking power.
This strategy kicked ass, obviously. It probably made Matt some serious money (as well as got him into a little trouble with Google, but he seems to be doing OK regardless).
So why shouldn't you follow this example?
- This is a stand-out case. What we don't read about are the widgetbait attempts that failed miserably (especially the copycats who read about Matt's success). The logic seems to follow naturally that this tactic is a sure bet when we look at a successful example – what a successful example doesn't show us is how this strategy can fail miserably.
- The success stemmed from Matt's creativity. Widgets have zero inherent value. Matt happens to be a clever and hilarious guy (with illustrating skills to boot). You can't follow his map.
- It'll sort of make you a d-bag. We all marveled at Matt's success. But only "that guy" goes off and starts cranking out widgetbait in the same fashion. It probably won't work, and in the process you'll make yourself look like an ass.
The above is just one (perhaps over-used) example. The principles apply widely.
The point is to find your own way. And that requires action.
So now that you've read (or scanned) this post what are you going to do with the rest of your day?
About the Author: Mike Tekula builds websites and helps small businesses leverage search engines to grow. He blogs at UnstuckDigital.com, but you should probably go do some work instead of reading any of his posts.