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Indispensible SEO Baby Steps

Greetings from inside the SEOigloo!
This week, I read and enjoyed Jill Whalen’s Search Engine Land article Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff. I recommend that you read it, but I would also like to offer a differing opinion here that’s been on my mind since I perused her post.
Jill’s basic, and true, point is that during her many years of experience, she has noticed how web business owners can become paralyzed with fear about the nitty gritty aspects of SEO. They are frightened of somehow doing the wrong thing if they don’t put the exact right number of characters in their title tags, or not using some specific ‘right’ number of keyword repetitions on their pages. Jill is encouraging these folks to let go of their hyper-focus on such matters so that they can concentrate on providing a quality experience for their websites’ visitors.
To a great extent, I do agree with this viewpoint, but I believe Jill may be forgetting the fact that, at one point, she had to learn about all of the small stuff before she could make a decision about what’s important and what isn’t. If she had skipped the step of memorizing best SEO practices, she wouldn’t be where she is today. It’s only when you have all of the facts held firmly in your hands that you can start organizing priorities by order of importance, and I’m just not convinced that it’s good advice to tell beginners to start running before they learn how to walk.
Think about it this way. One of the things that separates the beginning cook from the master chef is that the former carefully follows recipes, while the latter simply sifts handfuls of this and that into a pot and serves up a delicious dish. But, at some point, that master chef had to learn that you don’t put a half a cup of salt in the soup. They may have learned this so long ago that they don’t even remember learning it, but those initial rules and then daily practice were what had to come before they became a master.
Applied to the SEO world, every one of us in this industry learned in the beginning what a title tag is and how it works, what meta tags are, what keyword research is, etc. I have become a little frustrated with experienced SEOs writing off the initial work they put into mastering the basics, once upon a time, because years have gone by now and what was once new to them now seems natural. I read SEOs saying SEO is easy, it’s not rocket science, monkeys can do it, etc. I believe that the passage of time is making the SEOs forget their own humble beginnings, and how carefully they paid attention the first time they heard that links count. I just don’t agree with the dismissive attitude I have encountered in industry blogs and forums that claims that people barely deserve to be paid for doing SEO, because it’s all so obvious and easy.
It’s only obvious because, at some point, we learned the rules. Practice can make anything, including fixing cars, filling teeth or building houses, seem obvious and natural to the practitioner.
Chances are, in your school days, someone taught you the format of the five paragraph essay. It was a form of writing that you had to learn how to do. You weren’t born with knowing this structure. Writing for the web is exactly like this. Once you learn the skill set, you’re ready to type away, develop a personal style, connect with people, help others. Once you learn the form.
The only other thing I can think of that might be leading experienced web folks to believe that what they once spent serious time learning has now become a given to everyone is that they level of clients they are working with has moved on up into the big business world. Perhaps in that environment, the evident need for search engine optimization has become commonplace in 2007. But, I work with small business owners, most of whom are coming to the web for the first time, and I am going to continue to explain the basics, the baby steps, to them so that they can jump into the game with a good grounding in what bases need to be covered to provide pages that are useful to humans and search bots.
We should remember that the Internet is still a new frontier for many, many business owners and should never get to the place where we forget our own small beginnings. Overlooking the basics will lead to black holes in business owner education.
And to all you smart small business owners out there, I encourage you to put in the time studying search engine optimization practices from the ground up with the goal of doing everything you can to build the best website you can, based on a good, solid understanding of how search engines work.
Resources for the basics:
Here, of course!
Small Business SEM
Improve the Web
Cre8asite Forums