Google is great. I use its services on a daily basis and love the traffic it sends to my websites. As smart SEO professionals point out, however, Google isn’t the only search engine around, and may not be the biggest, baddest search engine on the block forever.

If you’ve got your SEO hat on straight, however, that’s not a problem at all. Why? Because the best practices of SEO are both search engine-independent and timeless. Quite simply, they’re universal. If you take these 10 truths of SEO to heart and practice them faithfully, your presence in search should be secure regardless of what the future brings.

  1. Don’t Game the System
    A wise mentor of mine once said that SEO is 5% what you do and 95% what you don’t do. Over time, every black hat SEO tactic eventually becomes defunct. If you don’t believe me, just practice some black hat SEO from a few years ago; your site will quickly get deindexed. Although it’s possible to stay ahead of the algorithms, you’ll reap more long-term rewards and save a lot of frustration by accepting their guidelines and avoiding black hat tactics altogether.  (Note: In a video statement concerning this sort of thing, Matt Cutts said, “Make a great site, promote it well, do white hat ways and you’ll sleep well and you don’t need to worry about, ‘How much can I get away with?'”)
  2. Focus on Goals
    As others in the industry point out, search engine rankings aren’t an end; they’re a means. You don’t want your website to rank just for rankings sake, but rather to help serve the website’s purpose. It’s not worthwhile, then, to focus on search engine rankings or traffic outside the context of your goals. Always focus on your goals first and SEO as a means to achieving them.
  3. Content is King
    Search engines don’t want to rank websites without good content, and users don’t want to visit them. If you fill your site with stellar content that everybody wants to see, you can practically guarantee good rankings. Conversely, don’t waste your time optimizing a website with poor content when you could instead put that effort into improving it.
  4. Users First; Search Engines Second
    Search engines exist to serve users. If they don’t do this job well, they die. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t build websites with search engines in mind. Rather, build great websites for your users that also happen to be search engine-friendly. (Note: Matt Cutts clarifies this one in his post about Google’s improved SEO documentation.)
  5. Link Naturally
    Whether you’re linking out or generating inbound links, do so as organically as possible. Search engines are very good at determining the relevance of a link, and they’re getting better at it. Eventually, even the slightest hint that your linking strategy might be artificial will reduce its effectiveness, so it’s better just to link naturally from the start.
  6. Text is Your Safest Bet
    Search engine spiders are getting smart enough to parse images, JavaScript, Flash, and similar data that has given them difficulty in the past. Despite these advances, you’re still better off filling your website with plenty of textual content and using other media on the side. Even in the future when search engines are able to crawl complex data reliably, text will still be considered the standard.
  7. Use Keywords
    This is not an endorsement to spam, but rather a recognition that your intended audience will use certain terms when searching for your content. By researching and using the correct keywords on your page, you’re helping the search engines provide a better user experience and receiving well-targeted traffic at the same time. Everybody wins.
  8. Communicate
    Nowadays, search engines recognize many different channels of communication, including robots.txt files, XML sitemaps, and webmaster consoles. Learn these channels and how they can be utilized. By communicating with search engines, you can diagnose and prevent many common problems.
  9. Diversify Your Traffic
    Search engine are machines. As such, they are prone to malfunctions. If you rely upon them as your sole source of traffic, you will eventually experience periods of reduced traffic. This is normal and should be expected. The best way to prepare for this is to diversify your traffic. Develop strong organic links. Use paid advertising. Drive traffic to your site in a variety of ways that don’t involve search engines and you’ll safely weather those off days.
  10. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
    Meta tags, length of domain registration, keyword density… there are dozens of little factors you can take into account when optimizing a website. And while giving special care to every minor detail might give your website a little boost, it’s rarely worth the effort. Do yourself a favor and don’t sweat the small stuff. Instead, put more effort into what’s really important, like creating quality content.

4 thoughts on “10 Universal Truths of SEO

  1. Great post, and I could not agree more.
    SEO is a long and labor-intensive process of establishing authority – by publishing lots of relevant content and growing your network for organic inbound links.

  2. I’m glad you agree, Elena. It’s just a shame that there are so many snake oil salesmen out there selling SEO as some get-rich-quick gimmick to win tons of search engine traffic with little or no effort. If one less person is duped by such empty promises because of this article, I’ll consider it time well spent.

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