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Old 05-10-2007   #1
Kevin Newcomb
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How Important is the "Small Stuff" in SEO?

It seems that a debate has emerged about the importance of "the small stuff" in SEO. Over at Search Engine Land, Jill Whalen wrote a column, Don't Sweat the Small SEO Stuff, advising SEOs not to let worries over minor on-page details distract you from more important issues, or prevent you from doing anything at all.

Meanwhile, over at the Bruce Clay Blog, Lisa Barone has a differing opinion on the importance of the so-called minor details. In Sweat The Small Stuff: Search Engine Optimization Is In The Details, Barone agrees that the small stuff is not going to make or break a campaign, but she insists they are too important to forget about.

I've written a summary of the issues on the SEW blog, but I'd certainly recommend reading through both articles. Both Jill and Lisa make good points, and they're not really disagreeing on all that much.

The main difference in opinion comes down to whether the small stuff should be skipped over, or done with care while understanding they are not the most important things that need to be done.

I'm of the opinion that every incremental thing you can do to improve your site is worthwhile, even if it helps in a very small way. The important thing is to keep the effort required to do the small things in line with the potential return, and to prioritize your time to make sure the big stuff gets done first.

How Important do you think the "small stuff" is? What do you consider "big stuff" vs. "small stuff" in SEO? Should we, or shouldn't we, sweat the small stuff?

Last edited by Kevin Newcomb : 05-11-2007 at 11:45 AM.
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Old 05-11-2007   #2
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There are well over 100 factors in the Google algo, and more than just a few in the others'. Which of the 100 or so is unimportant enough to ignore? One seemingly little detail may at any time be an important element in any particular algo.

I say don't sweat the small stuff, just DO the small stuff.
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Old 05-11-2007   #3
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I think it depends on the site and the competition.

For someone trying to rank a small site in a small city (ie David VS David), then it's probably a waste of time to sweat the small stuff, unless there is nothing left to do.

Sometimes inexperienced people spend so much time on the small stuff (which are often easier to do) they don't do the harder stuff - like creating great content and doing proper link building.

You have to start with the basics first, and newbies who start doing the "small stuff" have, in my experience, a disturbing tendency to treat the small stuff like it was a magic trick or something. For them, focussing on the small stuff could be a bad idea.

However, once you have the basics in place, and are in a "Goliath VS Goliath" type of fight, the small stuff might just be the tie breaker.

It's like Olympic swimming. If you are not competing at a high level, where the limits of human ability are being pushed, then wearing a speedo or shaving your head isn't going to make the slightest difference.

Worse, you'll get some idiots thinking that if they shave their head they will be better swimmers. Nonsense. Learn to swim, first. Then we can talk about shaved heads.

But for a competitor where the difference between first and last place might be measured in fractions of a second, every single thing matters, from what you ate last night, to how much drag you create in the water, to the altitude of the pool and your blood oxygen levels.

None of these matter to anyone but the best competing with the best. But they can be very important at that point.

Myself, it sounds like I fall in between Jill and Lisa - I do basic SEO for clients in uncompetitive areas (with some easy small stuff) but use every single allowable tactic known (and a few less known ones) to the best of my abilities for the competitive ones.

I don't think it's a good idea to overcharge a small business for overkill, and I don't think it's a good idea to not use every tool I have for clients that require it.

Disclaimer:
I wrote this without reading either article (I'm in Korea and watching my bandwidth right now) so if I've misrepresented/misunderstood either Jills or Lisa positions, it's entirely my fault. This post should be read and understood with that in mind.

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Last edited by mcanerin : 05-11-2007 at 08:23 AM.
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Old 05-11-2007   #4
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IMO -

I would always practice SEO discipline i.e. sweating the small stuff; it creates great SEO habits, which in turns equates to more successes. Additional, who know when Google will change their algo, and it may turn out that one of the small factors become more weighted.
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Old 05-11-2007   #5
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*.. don't sweat the small stuff, just DO the small stuff.*

Pretty much sums it up for me too....
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Old 05-11-2007   #6
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Myself, it sounds like I fall in between Jill and Lisa - I do basic SEO for clients in uncompetitive areas (with some easy small stuff) but use every single allowable tactic known (and a few less known ones) to the best of my abilities for the competitive ones.
Ian, you actually are saying exactly the same thing I said, so I don't think you're in between us at all.

Off to go read Lisa's to see what she's actually said also....
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Old 05-11-2007   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Marcia
There are well over 100 factors in the Google algo, and more than just a few in the others'. Which of the 100 or so is unimportant enough to ignore? One seemingly little detail may at any time be an important element in any particular algo.

I say don't sweat the small stuff, just DO the small stuff.
So true, "one little thing" can be the difference between ranking 1 and 101 in 10,000,000!
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Old 05-11-2007   #8
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Well I think a Rock Em Sock Em Robots challenge is called for.... or a sumo event at the Google Dance in August......

Yeah I know I am always stirring things up.....
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Old 05-11-2007   #9
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Be nice, Aussie Webmaster or I won't help you buy cigarettes again!
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Old 05-11-2007   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jill Whalen
Be nice, Aussie Webmaster or I won't help you buy cigarettes again!
Oh my god I forgot about that.... being underage is a bitch....

thanks Jill I needed a laugh to end the work week... okay no more stirring.... well on this topic anyway
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Old 05-11-2007   #11
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Originally Posted by AussieWebmaster
Well I think a Rock Em Sock Em Robots challenge is called for.... or a sumo event at the Google Dance in August......

Yeah I know I am always stirring things up.....
Me too! Can't wait to see sumo at the Google Dance this year.
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Old 05-12-2007   #12
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I think it helps to have an idea which stuff is the small stuff that matters, and which stuff doesn't matter at all. The small stuff that matters isn't always that small.
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Old 05-14-2007   #13
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I think it helps to have an idea which stuff is the small stuff that matters, and which stuff doesn't matter at all. The small stuff that matters isn't always that small.
Very true! "Small stuff" like knowing when to use a 301 and not a 302 can have a BIG impact.
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Old 05-14-2007   #14
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Originally Posted by mcanerin
I think it depends on the site and the competition.
I do basic SEO for clients in uncompetitive areas (with some easy small stuff) but use every single allowable tactic known (and a few less known ones) to the best of my abilities for the competitive ones.

I don't think it's a good idea to overcharge a small business for overkill, and I don't think it's a good idea to not use every tool I have for clients that require it.
Ian
This sounds like an entirely sensible, & fair approach to me - btw I'm commenting as an SEO client, just trying to learn the basics, rather than an SEO expert.
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Old 05-14-2007   #15
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Originally Posted by netidme
This sounds like an entirely sensible, & fair approach to me - btw I'm commenting as an SEO client, just trying to learn the basics, rather than an SEO expert.
They have search in Scotland.... I thought it was only looking through the heather....
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Old 05-14-2007   #16
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thats right - we search through the heather looking for wee furry haggis to shoot...
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Old 05-14-2007   #17
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thats right - we search through the heather looking for wee furry haggis to shoot...
If it's not Scottish it's CRAP!
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Old 05-15-2007   #18
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Going back onto the topic of the thread,

Kevin, whether it's a quote or a paraphrase, let me quote a paragraph out of your blog post:

Quote:
By the small stuff, I mean the picky details that paralyze people. Things like how many words or characters should be in a title tag. Or in what order those words should be placed. Or how many times a keyword phrase should be in the copy. Or how many keyword phrases any page can be optimized for. Or should commas be used in the Meta keyword tag. Or should file names have hyphens in them. Or should headlines use H1 tags (or H2 tags, or whatever).

Guess what? None of that stuff matters!
With the exception of commas in meta keywords - which isn't necessary to have, but does have other points to look at, like if you're going to keyword stuff it, it's better to just leave it out...

Point by point, those are all things that aren't small stuff and they're all things that do matter. They aren't paralyzing at all, there's a reason for each of those details, and they're just a normal, everyday part of plain vanilla SEO.
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Old 05-15-2007   #19
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That was a quote from Jill's article.

I tend to agree with you, that many of the things Jill calls the "small stuff" are necessary and important.

That said, I think the larger point of her article was intended to be that it's not worth it to focus on those things too much, at the expense of the larger issues that may carry more weight, like keyword research, or site architecture.

I think if she made that point without saying the "small stuff" didn't matter, there'd be no argument. Then, we'd also not be talking about it, so maybe that was her intention.
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Old 05-16-2007   #20
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I think if she made that point without saying the "small stuff" didn't matter, there'd be no argument. Then, we'd also not be talking about it, so maybe that was her intention.
Smart man, Kevin!
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