SEO Cornwall

How do you become an expert SEO?

I was asked to contribute an “expert SEO” quote for one of those “top SEO speak”, type posts.

You know the type of thing.

I get about one of these requests every couple of weeks, sometimes I respond sometimes I do not. I don’t market myself as an “expert SEO”, and so not really bothered about the label one way or another.

Now let’s make clear about these lists, they are not necessarily 100% accurate and people do get on them (including me) who really shouldn’t always be on the list. But they help market your personal brand, help your incoming links and give a quick boost to the ego (not to be taken too seriously) and do help in the wider scheme of things. After all, a link is a link.

Of course, the writer is going for ego-bait, which can be a very powerful marketing tactic when trying to attract influencers. I have written quite a lot about this subject and it led me to study more seriously the neuroscience of web copy and how to influence, but let’s not get distracted from the topic at hand.

I wonder about such lists and whether or not I should even be on such a list, sharing space with people like Rand Fishkin, Barry Schwartz… etc. And that I wasn’t really an “expert SEO”,  or something like that. And I’m fine with that, I don’t think I should be listed next to those people either and wouldn’t ever push myself to be so.

I also don’t regard myself as an SEO, I am more a “get a website customers” type, and use whichever I think to be the best tool. Be it, content, links, social media, content marketing… etc. and of course, SEO.

But then I watched a video where Cal Newport was speaking about “Deep Work” and how for example, Steve Jobs became an expert in Eastern Mysticism on his way to building Apple and that “follow your passion”, is not always the best thing to do. And it got me thinking about what is it which allows you to attach the label of “expert” to yourself.

I first got online in 1996,  and built my first website in 1998.

Back then a domain name was £50.

I remember using a HTML program called Hotdog, later upgrading to a paid version of Dreamweaver, created by Macromedia. I wish I could get my hands on an earlier version of Dreamweaver as the current one is so bloated. I worked at that website for 16 hours a day, 7 days a week, for about 6 months. Completely destroying any social time with friends.

At the time the UK charged for a local call and it would have cost me a fortune, at the time I was a penniless, out of work writer, but one of the ISPs offered a free connection from the hours of 6pm to 7am. And this became my work hours. To keep me company I had purchased a £35 used TV from Portobello Road and the new, BBC rolling news and old movies, the World Service on the radio kept me company in those long hours.

It was a time of Infoseek, Excite, and Altavista. plus other flashes in the pan search engines that came and went quite quickly. One upstart was called, “Google”, I wonder what happened to them?

It was crazy fun doing SEO in those days. You could simply spam the meta tags, a lot did and they did it because it worked.

You could create a page similar to the page ranking ahead of you in the SERPS, tweak it, publish, index, and within an hour the SE would be updated with fresh rankings. This allowed you to make multiple attempts to rank and if focused enough you could rank easily, however it wouldn’t last long.

Those early days of SEO were truly the Wild West and looking back on it now I kinda miss it.

I could talk for hours about this period and places like DMOZ, where if you became an editor you had the ability to hand out links from a highly trusted source. This was where I understood that social skills still mattered when it came to getting a website ranked and that no matter how well you optimised your site with your rad SEO skills there was the site which focused more on greasing the wheels and getting people to link to you. I think that is very much the landscape right now and will always be.

After 6 months of being an utter noob at getting traffic to a website, I think I would get about 10-12 unique visits a day. I was using a stat program called, Urchin, which was very good. So good that Google bought it and relabeled in Google Analytics. I preferred the old Urchin as the new system was more about selling the Adwords system. Which made sense from Google’s POV.

After too long in front of a CRT monitor, I took a month long holiday in San Diego, staying with an arty friend who went on to design the funky stuff you see at the entrance of an outfit called Facebook.

Had a blast, visited the Salton Sea, Grand Canyon, Vegas and fell in love with the desert of South Western USA. Particularly an old mining town called Jerome in Arizona. But, let’s not make this a travel blog.

During the holiday I hung out in the SDSU computer lab and noticed my website was now getting 400 uniques a day. Well, that’s nice.

Back in London, I threw myself back into building my website.

I had great link building wins, for example, the movie, Notting Hill was being made in our street. They covered it in fake snow and the production team gave the residents a bottle of champagne for the disruption. I was able to grab video footage of Julia Roberts and use it to get more links from celebrity sites.

I learned that creating a spectacle and earning links created fantastic ROI.

My website was celebrity based and getting early with the news resulted in good traffic (this method is still powerful).

End of 1999 it was making money via an advertising system (pre Adsense) and was making more money than I knew what to do with. So did what you should do in that situation, head off to San Francisco for two years to hang out. Bagged a primo apartment in Russian Hill.

I had a ton of projects on the good, all pretty much failed.

For example, I bought a domain called, The idea being people could upload video and others would vote on it. An idea that was greeted with, “yeah but what if someone throws themselves off the Golden Gate Bridge, and the video gets uploaded?” The site never happened, mostly because I was not the type of person for such a project and bandwidth meant any video was a thumbnail.

Also, SF was a lot of fun and I didn’t do much work. Yosemite was a drive away and having a British accent could get you a long way with native, female population and so I mostly had too much fun.

Although I do remember the day I arrived in SF. It was exactly the same day the first bubble had burst in the year 2000. I had just taken a 4,000-mile transcontinental drive from Washington D.C. to San Francisco. Only driving on minor roads and eating at non-chain eateries.

It was a journey of a lifetime and learned that in a one-horse town in West Texas, if you pull out $50 in cash you will get told, “oh you must be from the city”. And if you go to Furnace Creek in Death Valley in February, don’t expect heat.

Because of the crash, a lot of time was spent going to auction of bankrupt companies. On Market Street (the main tech strip in downtown SF), expensive desks were dumped on the streets.

The online scene contracted.

But I was still doing ok.

I came back from SF to do a Media Coms course at Lincoln Uni.

Fast forward to 2006 and my site was now doing 30,000 uniques a day.

Not bad for someone who is not an expert in SEO 😉

However, disaster loomed.

I had been deliberately breaking the Google TOS to get traffic, it worked for 6 years but not updating the site with the proper enforcement of the Google TOS meant the site was nuked for traffic from Google. Many sites rank whilst in breach of the Google TOS and a lot of times if you followed the rules you simply didn’t rank.

The site was toast and income stream gone.

Time to pivot.

And so I started to sell services, which quickly pivoted to selling content, links, content marketing training… etc. And local SEO services, a lot of local websites had very bad optimisation as they had been created by a web designer, who typically are more into fonts than they are to improving traffic.

Local SEO was quite easy, (and still is)  it usually takes about 15 mins to assess what was needed, and in that time you can give the advice to increase traffic by 300%+. Implementation can take a little longer but it’s really not that hard to do at the local level.. National and International sites in highly competitive areas, however,  need a different approach, but the basics are the same.

So, does 20 years of building web traffic through optimisation by millions, building optimising hundreds of websites and giving others advice on optimisation, speaking at many SEO conferences, writing about SEO for 10 years on this blog, reading thousands of articles over 20 years regarding online marketing,  make me an SEO expert?

I have no idea.

I would never call myself an SEO expert, but I understand when others do.

Does it mean I shouldn’t be asked to offer a quote to be on a top list?

Maybe, but they keep asking, ironically I got another one a few days ago.