6 Fundamental SEO Truths to Live By with Bruce Clay

Reading Time: 12 minutes

Overview: Learn 6 SEO principles from the father of SEO, Bruce Clay.

About the speaker: Bruce Clay, an internet and digital marketing guru, is better known as a founding-father of search engine optimization, and one of the first people to popularize the term. In addition 1996, he started Bruce Clay Inc, an internet marketing solutions company from his house; today the company has offices in the US, Europe, Japan, West Asia and India. Also, Clay received the Lifetime Achievement Award of Excellence in Vision, Execution, and Market Influence in the Practice of Search Marketing.

Hello, I’m Bruce Clay. Today’s presentation, which is six fundamental SEO truths, is really a little bit different than you’re used to. I’m going to talk about some of the things that I hold to be important for an SEO to understand and to be able to actually explain to others. I think it is very useful for us to determine what is the actual state of the art of SEO. And to that level, I’ve developed some truths. And that’s what I’m going to present on today. There are six fundamental truths that I’m going to be speaking about. 

The first is that we really need to establish SEO as an initiative at the company level. It has to go across the whole company. You can’t have some people saying, yes, let’s do SEO, and then nobody else participates. There’s a uniform requirement that the organization, the business, understand the importance of SEO and be supportive of it. In addition, I’m going to talk a little bit about those specific issues in a moment. 

The second one is that you really are not here to beat an algorithm. There’s logically an infinite number of algorithms, and you’re just not going to beat them all. So ,what we have to do is understand how the algorithm works and understand that our job is to beat the competition. We’re not here to beat the algorithm. 

The third is that architecture matters. We actually have to build the website to make it work correctly. So the search engines appreciate what you are. They see you as a subject matter expert, and they see a concentration of information in one spot. That is going to help you quite a bit.

It’s really not the job of a search engine optimization organization to take a poorly maintained website, put lipstick on it and hope that it works. It’s not the job of SEO to make a pig fly. So, we’re going to talk a little bit about the role maintenance and why that actually has to be built into your SEO program. We’re also going to talk about where cheap SEO can harm you. The saying the cheaper you want it, the cheaper you get it actually is true. You can’t do cheap SEO and expect it to work well for your business. 

The last area we’re going to talk about is when SEO is done. I still get people telling me that oh, I did Seo. I don’t have to do it again, do I? And that answer is rather straightforward. SEO is done, when Google stops changing things and all of your competition has died.  

In this particular case, I’m going to start by expressing exactly what you have on the screen. At the CMO level. Perhaps at the President’s level, we really need to set an initiative for the company. We have to get the organization to think about SEO. Every time there’s a meeting that talks about changing the website. Somebody in that room has to say how does this impact Seo? What can SEO do to make this better for more traffic or more conversions? Or how do we improve our website? So we’re going to have to do that. The real commitment that has to be made is organization wide. 

SEO is a long-term strategy. We don’t get to say, well, we’re going to do SEOs on Monday. You can’t do your SEO on Monday. It isn’t going to work. If it’s not every day, you have to start thinking about SEO.  I’m not saying that you have to think of SEO as a person. We’re not thinking about the team, we’re thinking about how we can improve the overall quality and operation of our website so that it actually generates traffic or meets a KPI of the business. We’re going to have to be able to do that. 

It’s very important to understand that unless you have management support, an SEO team is just going to sit there recommend changes. It’s going to go down to the IT department, who is clearly busy doing something else almost all the time, and they’re going to say I’ll get to it someday. That is not going to get you back the 30% of the traffic you’re giving to your competitors. If you want SEO. If the commitment is to do SEO and if you buy into it being long term. Then SEO is a winning operation within your business.  

This part is often misunderstood, even by SEOs. They kind of think that if I can reverse engineer the Google algorithm, that I can figure out how to always rank. There are software tools out there that claim to be able to reverse engineer things. We’re not here to reverse engineer the algorithm, we’re here to understand our job is to beat the competitors. 

The story I always tell is, I have two friends that go camping, they sit up their tents. They start a fire. They’re cooking a meal, and along comes a bear. They take off running down the path. The bear is chasing them. The guy in front doesn’t need to be an Olympic runner, he just needs to be faster than his friend. Well, SEO is much the same thing. I have a competitor; all I really have to do is be better than them. 

Now, how many algorithms are there? We have layers here. We have variables in the algorithm, 200, 300, nobody really knows. They have over 500. So, we have variables in the algorithm, then we have importance weighted averages. This one is more important than that. But each of those are dependent upon the intent of the query. For instance, if I’m e–commerce, the title tag might be more important. Whereas if I’m informational, I may find that the body is more important. 

Next, you have all sorts of software and artificial intelligence layered on it, like rankbrain. Things like that you have Bert, of course, what’s the real meaning of the query? And how do we actually find websites that have the same meaning. So we have a lot of things at that level. 

And then, of course, there’s expertise, authority and trust, which is sort of a subjective grouping mentally grouping, at least, that, oh, the trust is there, I can trust that site. That sites an expert, they have authoritative people talking about why this site is in fact, important. Additionally, those kinds of things are critical to being able to rank.  

We’re not here to beat the algorithm. The algorithm has as many flavors as there are keywords. And every keyword essentially, is a new algorithm. The question is for that keyword, what’s best, and then for that other keyword what’s best. So we’re not going to be able to outdo the algorithm, the best we can do is determine who ranks. Determine what they’re doing, right. Are there any common characteristics, are there any common words? Then we use them better. That’s where we’re at on this particular topic.  

This next slide is talking about the architecture of your environment, your website. According to Google, and it’s been in Google documents for a very, very long time. They prefer content that is presented in a clear hierarchical structure. In other words, a drill down. You have electronics, you have cameras, you have digital cameras.

We can understand how that is a drill down. You have autos, you have Ford, you have Mustang, you can understand a drill down. When you structure your site. That way, it actually performs better in search, because you’ve concentrated in one location, all the information about that particular keyword, instead of spreading it all over the website. This is referred to as siloing. 

We came up with siloing in 2002. We’ve been promoting it ever since we’ve had great, great leaps forward. Typically, 30 to 900% increase in organic traffic. So, it really depends on the keyword and the structure and what is the best organization for your website. It can be far more complex than that. So, you really kind of need to do a research project. You need to figure out what you’re really talking about. But the architecture, in order to get SEO to perform correctly, you have to be the subject matter expert. You cannot randomly throw a bunch of things onto a website and expect it to work.

Our requirement from an SEO point of view should be the website is properly structured in a clear hierarchical structure itself. Parents, children, grandchildren, drill down closer structure. And then from there, you worry about how you interlink your pages, you worry about the keyword usage, and you understand how people flow through that content.  

On this next slide, this happens to be a particular topic that I like to talk about. We have a lot of people that come to us that have absolutely terrible websites. When you look at it looks like it’s 20 years old, they haven’t been updating it, they’ve been using it as sort of a brochure. It hasn’t even been made to work on a mobile device yet.

And they come to us and expect that we can change it and get it to rank number one, just by making a couple of quick little easy things on the website. We’ve even had people say, well, my website’s only 25 pages, there can’t be much SEO. What’s it take to be number one? 

We need to understand we are in a competitive space. Your competition may have a whole team of SEOs out there working on their project. That is not going to be I can just fix your website and you’re number one. They’ve obviously been working on theirs. The way this actually works, is that if your website is terrible, that is the weapon we bring to the SEO battle to beat your competitors. And if you’re basically giving us bows and arrows, and they’re using machine guns, we’re in trouble, we cannot really compete. 

The job of SEO is simplified by having the right technology, the right hierarchy, the right structure. But if you have a pig, if that’s your website, you’re not going to find an SEO that can easily and successfully convert it into something that actually is competitive. It’s not the job of SEO to make a pig fly. It’s the job of SEO to take that pig and work with you to genetically engineer it into an eagle, then you may have something that works. 

Way too many people come to us with old technology, they haven’t updated their site in five years. They haven’t updated content, the search engine sees every page on their site is being five years old. And they’re expecting that the search engine is going to give them a reward in the face of people that have been maintaining their sites all along.

That doesn’t work. If you don’t have a well-maintained site, you’re not going to succeed. And you’re going to find that all over the place in Google documentation. Please make sure your site is maintained.  

The next topic that I’m going to discuss is the consequence of cheap SEO. Many times, you’ll find layers of SEO expertise. In some cases, the entire company that’s going to be doing your agency work. All their staff is six months of experience. Recently out of college, a couple of training courses online, maybe. And then there’s a process where they’re learning on the job at your expense, of course. And that is a more common situation than you would think.  

We’ve seen people who have the title of senior SEO analyst that got out of college less than a year earlier. You can’t be senior without at least five years. So that is not a very appropriate thing. It’s an artificial title. You got to be careful of that. But cheap SEO really gets into the point where people are experimenting at your expense. And they often can be wrong. You’ve heard the saying the cheaper you want it the cheaper you get it. And you’ve heard it’s funny how I can never afford to do it right. But I can always afford to do it over both of those apply to where it is inexpensive. 

Do you want bad advice for half the price or good advice? What is the cost of time the market? How long is it going to take you to discover what went wrong after it goes wrong? We have many clients that come to us. We’re their third or fourth or fifth even SEO company and they’ve gone through them and gone through them and gone through them and tried things and just experimented and basically wasted all that money.

Haven’t seen any results. So, my advice. Cheap SEO truly is a near death experience. You cannot experiment on your own website, just because you can save a little bit of money. And it isn’t even clear, you save money. Experts have the ability to do things the right way, the first time and faster. It is difficult to say that’s costing you more on a value level. So, consider it. Cheap SEO is a near death experience.  

My last topic has to do with the fact that this environment is constantly changing. One of the things I like to say is that SEO is done when Google stops changing things and all of your competition has died. Well, I don’t think that’s going to happen anytime soon. 

And the Google keeps changing things is a constant. Google has changed 3000 times in a year, eight to nine times a day, there is some form of algorithmic change. They have 100 teams working on next generation changes to the algorithm at any one time. This is a very difficult thing for any agency. Let alone an in-house person to be able to keep up with. 

You need to understand we’re dealing with a dynamic changing environment that is operated by a business whose sole purpose because as a public company. Their sole purpose is to make money. Not to please websites. The way they make money is a please users. So, they’re leaning towards things that affect usability. And whether the user is going to find that the content is really expert. Whether this is a trusted site.

Whether they can actually present results, especially to a voice search that really are accurate. They can’t give medical advice that’s wrong. They don’t want to give financial advice that is wrong. And in fact, they don’t want to give any advice that is wrong. Everything needs to be trusted. 

And when you are in an environment like that, where the search engine is going to be constantly changing, and experimenting, and trying to make itself better. Those are changes, especially across hundreds of variables. Those are changes that are going to really seriously impact on a day-to-day basis how you perform in search results.

And I think we all understand the top 10 they get the traffic, the top five, get more traffic, the top one really makes out. You can’t live in that environment with a search engine changing the algorithm every day.  

Then you have your competition. If you do a search for any keyword and get a million results, if they change their page one time a year, just once you have 30,000 competitor changes a day. 300 years, 300 days in a year. So, when people are going to be optimizing a website, when you’re having help an agency or in house, and they are actually working to improve your website, this is a constant battle. This is not an opportunity for you to say, oh, I did SEO and be done with it. You cannot ever be done with SEO, the search engines have seen to it.  

So, to wrap things up, there’s multiple things that I’ve talked about. 

But first, you have to commit to SEO, it has to be a corporate initiative. You cannot just randomly do SEO in a little office down there on that floor of your building and expect everybody to be supportive and understand it and set priorities. So, you have to pay attention to that. 

The second thing I discussed was you actually need to be beating your competition and not trying to beat an algorithm. If the algorithm changes eight times a day, that battle is insurmountable. If the algorithm itself is different for every single keyword that you’re trying to optimize for, that makes it really difficult for you to say I’m going to beat the algorithm. Your job is to beat your competition.  

The third thing I talked about is the architecture of your site. Additionally, you need to structure it. Additionally you need to have it be parent child grandchild, a clear hierarchy that’s going to establish to a node, if you will, within your website, where you can prove that you are a subject matter expert. 

The next one is, you’re not going to be able to make a pig fly. If your website has not been maintained, it is time for a new website. It is something that has to be current. But if you’re so far out of date, you don’t get the polling and SEO and say, push the easy button I want to rank tomorrow.

It’s a really difficult thing to make the search engine aware that you are actively involved with your website. Especially in the face of competitors that are probably changing it every day. I mentioned that cheap SEO is cheap. And that it may not be the highest value, that hiring a professional organization is much better than hiring somebody that’s an intern, you need to be able to get it done. Get it done right and get it done properly first time. You can’t afford to do it over.  

And then I mentioned that this is not a do it once, thank you very much I’m done. You actually have a program here where it takes forever. And as soon as you think you’ve accomplished something, five more things pop up. Maybe it’s a little bit like a whack a mole. I don’t know you can’t, if you don’t know what a whack a mole is. That’s sort of what SEO is. And every time you get a change made, you have no idea whether Google is going to change something else. And that makes it a perpetual project. You’re going to be going on and on and on forever. That’s SEO.  

To wrap it up. I’m going to tell you a little bit about us. We’ve been in business since January of 96, which is 24 years. I started the business on my dining room table. We’re now on five continents, hundreds of employees across the world. I’ve spoken myself at over 300 conference sessions. I sponsor conferences, I’ve written three books. And if you actually go to Google and do a search for who is the father of SEO, I pretty much own the first five pages.

I have been around and been an advocate of SEO for a very, very long time. It matters to me that people understand how it works, that it isn’t going to be something that is tedious that it’s fun. That we get to solve puzzles for a living. This is the ultimate, for me at least, the ultimate career. And I am so happy to be here. Our whole company is focused on SEO and other search marketing programs that are like it pay per click content. That’s what we do. And I encourage you that if you’re interested to give us a call. Thank you for your time.