The World’s Shortest (and Probably Most Controversial) Guide to SEO

Are you ready for it? It’s so simple that you may have been overlooking it for a long time. (I know I was.)

That doesn’t make it any less powerful.

Ok, here it is…

Shortest Guide To Seo - create something worth linking to

Memorize it. Live it. You’ll see dividends beyond your wildest dreams.

(Here’s a larger desktop version.)


The Reasoning Behind the “Guide”

SEO is a hot topic these days. It’s such a loaded term that I’m almost hesitant to write about it. (Quick: What’s the first thing that pops into your head when you see the word “SEO”? I see a cheesy car salesman.) For those unfamiliar with SEO (“What’s ‘eh-see-oh?'”), wikipedia is usually a good place to start.

SEO is mostly, if anything, misunderstood. The things that are really important–like creating powerful content–are often overlooked. Meanwhile the things that are trivial in the grand scheme of things–keyword density, for example–are hotly debated.

(By the way: I’m fully expecting some hot discussion below. This post may ruffle some feathers.)

What Makes SEO So Complex?

SEO is comprised of multiple factors. There’s on-page factors like heading tags, title tags, content, and how you link to your own internal pages. There’s also off-page factors like incoming links (who’s linking to your stuff), social graph (who’s tweeted your links), and other things like click-through ratios in search results.

And I’m just naming a few of the major ones. (Here’s a list of a lot more ranking factors for those with plenty of free time.)

I used to worry about these above factors a lot. I’d tweak my copy for keyword usage, agonize over the perfect page title, think about relevant keywords, and plenty of other things. So much so that I’d spend as much time tweaking what I’d created than the actual time it took to create it. Pretty messed up, huh?

Choosing Your Battles

The perfectionist inside of me wants to do everything perfectly. Unfortunately, that’s a pipe dream. There are only 1,440 minutes in every day, and you have to decide where you’re going to put your resources. (We have a newborn in the house, so 1,440 is really like 37 for me right now.)

You have to chose your battles carefully.

So you can spend your time tweaking copy, sending countless emails begging for links, analyzing and agonizing over how everything is structured on the page.

Or you can just create.

The beauty of just creating is that when you build something really, really good, the links will flow to your site. And incoming links are what makes the web go around. There is no better way to rank highly than getting a bunch of links pointing at your stellar content.

But this can only happen when your content is fantastic.


Oh, I should add: LifeDev pulls in 50% of its traffic from search engines. I’m a firm believer in the power of good rankings in searches. The high rankings aren’t from hours of optimizing and tweaking. (In fact, there are many things wrong with this site through the lens of SEO.) It’s from years of creating content that I’m (mostly) proud of.

Sure, optimizing page titles and header tags within posts can help your chances of ranking highly. But the biggest boost that you’ll get comes from getting links.

Now–more than ever–content is king. If you take care of the content, the search engines will take care of you.

Leave a Comment

{ 80 comments… add one }
  • Nick April 4, 2011, 12:38 pm

    Yeah, when I first started doing sites, I cared a lot about SEO. Granted, some tweaking does help but it won’t make a difference if the substance isn’t there.

    In fact, I’d go on to say that SEO matters even less than it ever has. With so much social media and people sharing content more than ever, you really need to step it up. Think, write, revise, revise, revise, and revise some more. The people will come.

  • Albert l Next Small Step March 27, 2011, 10:38 pm

    Fantastic stuff, Glen. I have discovered that worrying too much about the details of readability, headers and opening paragraphs can get one stuck. Think too hard about how people will read and you risk forgetting what you wanted to say in the first place.

  • Riley Harrison March 22, 2011, 6:21 am

    I think you nailed it. Quality content is the name of the game. If are aren’t writing something that you are proud of and that gives you a feeling of accomplishment then what’s the point. Marketing and promotion are necessary for success, but a job well done is necessary for a true sense of inner satisfaction. And the two (good product and marketing) don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

  • Nishant March 18, 2011, 10:52 am

    I like your guide. Creating good and great content is more than enough. Promoting oneself isn’t a bad policy though.

  • Daniele Rossi March 17, 2011, 11:02 am

    “So much so that I’d spend as much time tweaking what I’d created than the actual time it took to create it.”

    Spot on. That’s why I never made the time to perfect the SEO on my site. I’d rather create than act like I have to write in English the machine readable way (with the exception of assistive technologies).

  • amber March 14, 2011, 7:11 am

    Agreed. And this is exactly what I tell all my clients (I’m an interactive copywriter by trade). But so far, no one really wants to believe me.

    It’s frustrating.

    • glen March 14, 2011, 10:33 am

      It’s so much easier to believe that something complicated will work better. After all, if the solution is easy, it means that they really don’t have any excuse for it not to work.

      Complicated solutions take the burden off :)

  • Mighty March 13, 2011, 7:13 pm

    Yes indeed! Content is king. Lots of SEO advice are like “Quick rich schemes” They work in the short term but not in the long haul.

  • JK Hudson March 13, 2011, 11:55 am

    Agreed! If companies would reallocate the money they spend chasing Google’s search engine algorithms to creating better usable content, they’d be way ahead of the game. You’re going to get a lot of kickback from the whole SEO industry. You just dealt them a potentially fatal blow!

  • Riley Harrison March 13, 2011, 9:12 am

    I agree with you because life is more enjoyable when you are doing what you love and are doing your best. Writing is a great pleasure for me and I don’t want to be bothered or distracted by learning technical details on how to game the system. If you write something that is informative and entertaining they will come.

  • Mike March 11, 2011, 6:39 pm

    Good article. I’m hoping to do the same with some sites. Learning it’s not an overnight endeavor. But I’ll keep ticking away and adding content when I can.

    I’ll definitely be checking out your site.

    • glen March 14, 2011, 3:31 pm

      Thanks Mike!

  • islandmomma March 10, 2011, 2:31 pm

    I’m new to all this, but maybe a fresh eye sees this others don’t? It seems to me, with my as yet limited knowledge that there are just so many web sites and blogs out there now, that people are beginning to get more chosey – and yes, will settle on the ones which provide good content, whatever genre it’s in.

    I also think you forgot to mention something – the satisfaction that comes from creating good content. Nothing so satisfying as being creative!

    • glen March 10, 2011, 3:50 pm

      You’re right: that’s actually something I left out of the article. In my stint of trying to painfully optimize every post, I lost all the joy that comes from actually creating stuff I was proud of. Once I realized that and just decided to have fun, then the fun came back :)

  • Heather M. March 10, 2011, 11:14 am

    I agree, although I think how much “traditional” SEO you do is probably like any other decision: it depends on the nature of your site and what your goals are for it.

    For example, the goal of my blog is to form a community of readers. I made a decision early on that I wasn’t going to worry about keywords, since it’s good content, not search ranking, that will bring people back. If I was blogging to market a product or service, though, I’d try to optimize, because I’d need a flow of new readers to keep my conversion rates high.

    Good content can’t be replaced by good keywords, either way, but I think the combination is more flexible than all SEO or none.

  • Unapologetically Mundane March 10, 2011, 10:15 am

    I don’t think this is controversial at all. All of the common SEO advice is that you don’t want to create one post that goes viral and sends millions of visitors your way for a single day only to drop off entirely the next, but if you’re creating content that’s going viral every day, you can’t lose.

    • glen March 10, 2011, 10:33 am

      You’re right. It shouldn’t be controversial.

      The thing is, creating fantastic content is hard. Much harder than, say, the allure of simply tweaking templates.

      But I couldn’t agree more. If you’re creating content that’s viral every day, you’re winning.

  • Mike March 10, 2011, 9:45 am

    Well, its seems a bit completed from the newbie point of view. But once you’re into it, it works like a charm. Nice post.

  • Jason Blankenship March 10, 2011, 8:57 am

    Seems sort of common sense, when you step back and think about it that content, not keywords should drive relevance in search rankings… keyword optimization has it’s place, but shouldn’t overshadow content creation.

  • Kate Douglas March 10, 2011, 6:23 am

    Great post! But I agree with Josh – how do you get sites to link to yours?! Just ask? Please advise :-)

  • Jonathan Becker March 9, 2011, 11:31 pm

    I totally agree with what you’re saying here; content is king. That being said, it can be difficult to teach webmasters to develop the kind of ‘voice’ they require in order to generate great content that speaks to readers and provides them with fantastic information. What’s your best tip on training writers? Is the ability innate or can writing be learned?

    • glen March 10, 2011, 9:12 am

      Well, I hope it can be learned! It doesn’t come naturally to me ;)

      Seriously, becoming a better writing and developing voice requires only two things:

      1. Reading lots
      2. Writing lots

      That’s my suggestion though :)

      • Millicent April 30, 2017, 8:04 am

        You keep it up now, unndsrtaed? Really good to know.

  • Sachin March 9, 2011, 10:10 pm

    3 words – “Create Useful Content”

  • adam March 9, 2011, 8:35 pm

    Thanks! this is just what i need to spawn more creativity

  • kap49 March 9, 2011, 6:28 pm

    Best advice I have ever read. I always wondered how these SEO gurus could output so much verbal pablum about a subject that can be whittled down to one concise sentence.
    Well done.

  • Josh March 9, 2011, 4:22 pm

    You can create the greatest content on earth and people still won’t link to you. It’s just not that simple. You have to actively engage in promoting yourself, not just “Build it and they will come”


    • glen March 10, 2011, 9:05 am

      “You can create the greatest content on earth and people still won’t link to you.”

      That’s not true. If you consistently create great content, eventually the links will come. I do understand the ins and outs of SEO, believe me. I’ve spent more time than I care to say learning about it. It’s insanely complex. But that’s the point, isn’t it?

      The point of this article was to point out–and I’m sure I could have done a better job of this–that if you spend gobs of time optimizing, tweaking and fiddling instead of creating content, then you lose. Investing in something that might change overnight (like the Farmer Update) is fools errand.

  • expert March 9, 2011, 4:17 pm

    This is really short.
    But it is very true indeed.

  • Chinmoy March 9, 2011, 1:31 pm

    I have wasted a lot of time doing everything else but create content. You are right. Content is much more important that optimizations. At least, it is more important than wasting time on optimizations and not creating any content at all.

  • Bob March 9, 2011, 1:29 pm

    Dumb linkbait

    • glen March 9, 2011, 4:45 pm

      Well, I disagree. Then again, I’m biased :)

  • Gyi Tsakalakis March 9, 2011, 1:20 pm

    Best SEO guide ever.

  • Anders March 9, 2011, 1:16 pm

    Please create or something similar and let this stand forever as something I can link to. :)

    • glen March 9, 2011, 4:22 pm

      That’s not a bad idea! I’ll look into it :)

  • Christian Kohlschütter March 9, 2011, 12:44 pm
  • Tanner Christensen March 9, 2011, 12:40 pm

    Now you’ve gone and done it. You’ve explained perfectly how to get high-rankings in the search engines and get higher conversions!

    Of course there’s more of a science to it then you’ve even outlined here, but the structure is just that: create good, quality content. If it’s good people will link to it, if people are linking to it then search engines will believe it’s good.

    Who knew? :)

    • glen March 10, 2011, 9:03 am

      Science, shmience :)

      That said, I fully know what it takes to rank highly in Google. But I’ve found that really worrying about the content is where the 95% of the benefit comes in terms of rankings.

  • Eduard Burt, D.C., MUAC March 9, 2011, 12:40 pm

    I agree with you about organic Google search. About 60% of my visitors come from Google search engine. The new post can spread from there via other social media channels.

  • Cristina | Positively Beauty March 9, 2011, 12:30 pm

    I like your guide :) Now I can breathe a sigh of relief, since I only did the SEO stuff (tag words etc.) a few times, and then stopped because it took me longer then creating content, as you say. So I spend my time creating content :)
    Congratulations for the baby!

  • Jared Blitzstein March 9, 2011, 12:19 pm

    “50% of its traffic from search engines”

    Do you mind posting a one month snapshot of sources? Or at least highlight what makes up the other 50%.

    • glen March 9, 2011, 4:21 pm

      As of last month, Google sent me 54% of my unique visitors.

  • berto March 9, 2011, 12:17 pm

    I think you missed something:

    SEO has as much to do with accessibility as it does with user experience and promotion.

    • Yukon Jack March 9, 2011, 3:11 pm


    • glen March 9, 2011, 4:24 pm

      Berto, I’m not sure I follow. Care to explain?

  • Cody March 9, 2011, 12:13 pm

    This post was awesome! I am always trying to get my SEO higher. This is why I added a blog to my site to get more content. But also trying to have good content as well. Thanks again for this awesome post!!

    • Jon Daley March 9, 2011, 12:50 pm

      Or if not creating good content, at least commenting on blogs so you get a link back to your own site. :)

  • Tyler March 9, 2011, 10:48 am

    Amen! That’s the ‘gospel’ (Google) truth!

    What Google has just done with their most recent update is return to evaluating the quality of content. It’s still a lot about linking, but the basic principle here is the way the internet should work.

    Create good, DIFFERENTIATED (not just unique) content, tell people about it, and they link to it. Google sees that, ranks it up, and done.

    • glen March 10, 2011, 9:02 am

      I think what most people overlook is that this strategy is future-proof. You never have to worry about updates to algorithms, etc.

      But I agree… it’s how the the internet *should* work.

  • Ryah Albatros March 9, 2011, 10:06 am

    No argument from me on this. I think you’re right, and more than ever creating great content is a challenge we should all rise to.

  • Cassie Wallace March 9, 2011, 9:58 am

    Not controversial, as Jonathon Phillips mused on Twitter. Just truth.

  • Muhammad Saleem March 9, 2011, 9:30 am

    All the advice I’ve read from Matt Cutts can be boiled down to this.

    • glen March 9, 2011, 9:38 am

      It seems to be the central topic. If anyone knows what good content is, it’s Mu! :)

  • NomadicNeill March 9, 2011, 8:01 am

    Agree. Either you keep trying to game Google and other search engines. It’s could all be wasted when they change their algorithms.

    Better to create stuff that people think is good. Then leverage social media to spread the word.