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The Most Powerful SEO Tactic: Simplify, Simplify, Simplify

The most important thing you can do when talking to an SEO client (be it your boss in your company, or a different company you consult for) is to learn how to explain SEO in the simplest terms possible.

When you are dealing with a non-SEO type, use the 30 second rule: explain it clearly in 30 seconds or less. If it takes you longer than that, your chances of getting them to understand what you are saying have gone down dramatically.

The key then, is to figure out how to net things out into higher level business concepts. This starts with understanding the perspective of your audience. The explanation you might offer the CEO is probably different than the one that you would offer the CFO. The CEO may want to understand strategic impact, and the CFO will likely want to understand financial impact.

Eleven killer but oh-so-simple explanations

  1. Why link building is important: Link building is important because links behave like votes for your site. The more votes you have, the better your rankings will be. This is why Amazon ranks more highly than other sites selling books (e.g. Joe's Book Store).
  2. All links are not created equal: Search engines value the relevance of the link highly. Links from unrelated sites don't hurt you, but they don't help nearly as much as links from a relevant site. Also, a link from Amazon counts more than a link from Joe's book store, because Amazon itself has more links pointing to it.
  3. Why link building is an ongoing activity: You must continually do link building because at least one of your competitors will do so. It does not help you that much to climb to the top of the mountain and then rest, because your competitor can still catch up with you and pass you.
  4. Why search engines have canonical issues: It is entirely possible to serve up different content at and, and it's possible for that content to be controlled by different people. As a result, search engines need to treat them as separate pages, and this makes one version a duplicate of the other.
  5. Why 301s are the preferred redirect: 301 is the only server side redirect which is defined as "Content Moved Permanently." All the major search engines therefore treat this as a signal to pass through links and history from the old page to the new page. Other forms of redirects do not pass link juice from the old page to the new page.
    Yes, I know that search engines are beginning to treat a meta-refresh of zero the same as a 301, but again, we are trying to keep things simple here ...
  6. What search engines do with duplicate content: Search engines only want to list one copy of a piece of content in their search results, so they pick one version of the content to include in their results for a particular query.
  7. Why Search engines care about duplicate content: If a user clicks on one search result and sees a given article, but it is not what they are looking for, the search engine is not helping them by showing more copies of the same content. Diversity in search results helps search quality.
  8. How is duplicate content defined?: Exact copies are duplicate content, of course, but so are near copies. Common menus and boilerplate on a site are ignored, and the page's unique content is evaluated to determine the degree of similarity with other pages. Similarly exceeding a given threshold is considered duplicate.
  9. Why buying links is bad: Search engines want to count links to your site as editorial votes for its quality. A purchased link is compensated, and therefore likely not editorial. While discovering paid links algorithmically may be hard, your competitor can spot them visually and report you.
  10. Why SEO needs to start during web design SEO requirements place demands on site architecture, including the basic selection of your CMS system, site templates, etc. It's easier to address this up front than it is to fix it later.
  11. Why SEO is strategic: Understanding how to market your site (to get links) on the web is fundamental to SEO. SEOs can help you understand where the best links for your site will most likely come from, and this can affect your marketing strategy and the content you offer on the site.

As a general note, the notion of simplifying is something that can be applied anywhere in life. It is nearly always good.

As it applies to SEO, don't let SEO be treated as a black art. Yes, because the search engine algorithms are very complicated and unpublished, there is plenty about SEO that is difficult to understand.

But, when communicating to a non-SEO, the most important thing is to get them to understand the basic concepts behind what you are doing. That is something that can usually be explained quite simply. As you get better and better at doing that, your life as an SEO will get better too.

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