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Old 09-07-2004   #1
respree
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SEO :: How do you separate truth from speculation?

I'm curious what professional SEO's have to say on this issue.

As you were beginning your SEO career, no doubt you were reading forums such as this one trying to educate yourself.

You quickly realized there could be 100 different variables that were involved in getting good rankings. You also realized, very quickly, that there was no one source you could go to that would reveal how magic forumula worked.

You probably may even have read the same comments over and over again, permanently engraining in your minds that if 100 people say its "true," then it probably is. But do you really know for sure if something is true?

For example, let's take the statement "spiders ignore external CSS files." I've read it many times in many forums, but nobody says, "I believe this to be true because of [tests I've run, inside information from Google I received, other concrete/conclusive independent evidence, etc.]."

I'm not really in the SEO industry, but would like to learn from others who are.

How do you separate "truth" from "speculation?" ... or is it 'all' speculation?

Last edited by respree : 09-08-2004 at 11:29 AM.
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Old 09-07-2004   #2
Jill Whalen
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Personally, I don't think that anyone should just blindly believe anyone in any forum, ever. (Including me.)

Take everything you read about SEO with a grain of salt. If stuff that certain people say sounds reasonable and plausible, then try it out for yourself and see what happens.

SEO is really something that you have to roll your sleeves up and get down and dirty with all by yourself, if you ask me.
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Old 09-08-2004   #3
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>or is it 'all' speculation?

Actually, it's worse than that, there are outright attempts to MISinform ...to lead you away from some effective technique. It can come from the seo or even the se rep, but it's out there frequently enough --some forums more than others.

As for whom to believe, this often falls into 'specialist' categories now. I know guys who can tell me more than I want to know about every conceivable type of redirect but wouldn't know a css file if it bit him.
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Old 09-08-2004   #4
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Quote:
How do you separate "truth" from "speculation?" ... or is it 'all' speculation?
The same way you do in real life: trust your instincts.

IMHO, so very many people say things they can't prove, but that don't matter either way. Copy versus links is one great example, so is the external CSS question.

My response to deciding starts with this criteria for caring: how will knowing the answer to XYZ make one more dollar than what I already know?

For example, if Google does spider external CSS files, it won't affect me one bit, so the speculation doesn't bother me. If, however, Google started parsing external javascript files, but not javascript on a page, that could potentially change many, many things, and things that make / improve revenue for many. Suddenly, JS roll over menus and other JavaScript based navigation is an OK idea, not SEO death. The truth in this case matters immensly, and it would be something I would test extensively myself.

So, my "truth" vs speculation radar starts with how much said truth matters to me, and the ammount I trust is inversely proportional (love that expression) to the ammount of revenue improvement knowing XYZ will lead to. In 9/10 cases, the truth or otherwise makes no difference whatsoever to what I do or recommend doing, so I trust a lot. In other cases, the proof may be almost absolute, but the risk / reward so high it requires independant verification.

Last edited by projectphp : 09-08-2004 at 03:40 AM.
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Old 09-08-2004   #5
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Nice post projectphp....

>wouldn't know a css file if it bit him.<

for me that's part of the whole equation. Compared to some of my peers im an SEO n00b, but I have other talents, and am happy to give advice/knowledge in those areas Im profficient in.

How does that help me seperate truth from speculation?

It doesnt of course but, you'll find that karma has a way of working on message boards like this and others, knowledgeable members (members with a little more credibility than a high post count) are more likely to share if it works both ways....

Personally, i have a little 'set' of forum posters i regularly watch becuase over the years i've grown to trust what they say, i dont have a written down list, but I know who they are...

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Old 09-08-2004   #6
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Quote:
Personally, i have a little 'set' of forum posters i regularly watch becuase over the years i've grown to trust what they say, i dont have a written down list, but I know who they are..
Which, IMHO is the very best form of reputation system ever invented
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Old 09-08-2004   #7
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A good deal I came across in being asked to moderate a few forums I got to see the views of many people on various issues / ideas.

Certain people will tell you certain things work or "this is the way it should be" based primarily on their own belief system or business model.

Some people will want to mislead people (it makes sense for this to be a common technique from search engines since the value of their algorithm is inversely proportional to the ease with which you or I can manipulate the search results...search engine reps often talk in ideals vice referencing actual conditions).

Some people may be completely clueless and just remembers parts of speculative facts that others said in the past.

I may be all three of the above.

Over time I think intent shows clearer and clearer. You need to look beyond the post and look at the business model of the person posting it.
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Old 09-08-2004   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by respree
How do you separate "truth" from "speculation?" ... or is it 'all' speculation?
Without sounding like self promotion, but this is exactly why I opened SEO Testing to achieve this exact thing. Begin providing some documented proof behind the forum comments. There is so much content, so much contradiction, with little actual documented proof to substantiate some common knowns.

IMO, use commonsense, and if it sounds too good to be true, then chances are it is, but not always. When in doubt, ask, and ask lots of people at different circles, or even better, test it for yourself.
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Old 09-08-2004   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jill Whalen
Personally, I don't think that anyone should just blindly believe anyone in any forum, ever. (Including me.)

Take everything you read about SEO with a grain of salt. If stuff that certain people say sounds reasonable and plausible, then try it out for yourself and see what happens.

SEO is really something that you have to roll your sleeves up and get down and dirty with all by yourself, if you ask me.
Yep - SEO is experience driven.

Of course, it's always worth listening to other people's experiences, but it's up to yourself to tease out the apparent truth of issues raised. And also be aware that sometimes the same event may have multiple interpretations.
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Old 09-08-2004   #10
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pinning down the variables

Most of the theories quoted on the more popular forums are just speculation.

The problem is that most of those happy to make claims, seem to be unable to understand that they haven't pinned down all the variables.

Poor logic prevails
eg. "I changed my H2 tag to H1 and I jumped 10 places"
....is not evidence that H1 is better, a thousand other sites may also have changed something.

It is VERY difficult to pin down all the variables, the best that most can hope for is to spot trends and general patterns and approach changes with caution.

Those that have built a range of comprehensive test sites designed to pin down as many variables as possible are extremely unlikely to share this information.

So, as previous posters suggest, trust nothing, test everything that matters, and beware of posters making definitive statements.
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Old 09-08-2004   #11
Jill Whalen
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As a follow up to my post, I was talking about someone new to SEO and new to forums, etc.

Most definitely after awhile you will easily learn who you can trust and who you can't. Part of that will come from your own tests, and who gave you the right info. Part will just come from getting to know the people on the forums a little bit better.

But it's hard to make that judgement until you've been an active participant in any given forum for awhile.

There are many who can talk a good game, but that doesn't mean they have a lot of experience.

Generally, I don't believe that most who post on forums are out to try to trick or deceive anyone, and most genuinely like to help others. The problem is that some believe their way is the only way, which is just silly because we all know that there's more than one way to skin the SEO cat.

I would suggest that you find people who seem to make the most sense to you personally, and then try out their methods and see how they work for you. You'll want to be sure that you're comfortable carrying out whatever methods are being recommended, and also that you have the required skills.
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Old 09-08-2004   #12
I, Brian
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Perhaps another point to add would be that different people have different SEO specialities.

For example, Jill above is considered very much the expert of on-page SEM. Other specialities might include keyword selection, link building, doorways and cloaking, as well as others who have a deep mathemathical understanding of how search engine algo work in the first place. All can offer very important advice on their specialist areas, and it helps to get an idea of who specialises in what as to what context you put their comments in.

Of course, there is over-enthusiasm to help, and I'm sure I've been there myself. Perhaps I'm still there.

Ultimately, SEO is a dynamic industry with a constant learning curve.

Last edited by I, Brian : 09-08-2004 at 11:48 AM.
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Old 09-08-2004   #13
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I think it is important to re-iterate what some have said above, that there are so many variables in play that it is impossible to point to any single element and say that is a recipe for success. One SEO may employ variable group "A", while another SEO employs variable group "B". Still a third employs Variable group "C" which uses some from group "A" and "B". All may see success.

There are, however, some definitive techniques that no longer work or are less affective than they once were.

It really all boils down to experience, success, testing, and learning. Pretty simple!
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Old 09-08-2004   #14
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You believe no one. You simply listen and then test it for yourself. Then you believe your results. I have met several of those whose instincts I trust and as Nick said, I know whose advice I will probably find to be correct. But, I never take anything as a given.

And, as mentioned, not everyone is a speciliast in some areas. I know a guy making a bundle in PPC who doesn't know how to alter his title tag. On PPC, I'd be likely to listen to him, on SEO, no way.

Basically, after some time, I know whose advice or theories to test first - but I always test it for myself before I can invest 100% belief in something.
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Old 09-08-2004   #15
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Thanks for the input and great discussion so far.

Again, I speak from a perspective that it outside the SEO industry and, for my own benefit, wish to learn more.

It seems like "truth," in the context being discussed, is really subjective - which in the real world, it is not. To believe something to be true does not necessarily make it so. I'm hearing trust your instincts and listen closely to the words of those you respect and are highly regarded in a particular field of expertise. But how does that translate into becoming a "fact-based" conclusion? Emphasis on the words, "fact-based." Of course, I'm playing Devil's Advocate here, but am also curious in know the answer to this.

Another thing that struck me as being very odd were so many statements of "test for yourself," and come to your own "truth." Is the SEO industry so secretive and is the market so small that SEO's do not share their tests and conclusions with other colleagues? In my opening post, someone in the world has undoubtedly run the test of:

1. I've monitored the last 100 visits from each of the major search engines
2. Not a single one have accessed my external .css file
3. Conclusion: spiders do not index external css files
4. I'm sharing this "truth" with the world

Yet, I can't find a single trace of someone publishing something like this.

Why does it seem that a continual "reinvention of the the wheel," so to speak, needs to be repeated over and over again (at a personal level) to separate truth from speculation?

Thanks again, for sharing your experiences.

Last edited by respree : 09-08-2004 at 03:20 PM.
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Old 09-08-2004   #16
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Truth, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder

>>>Why does it seem that a continual "reinvention of the the wheel," so to speak, needs to be repeated over and over again to separate truth from speculation?

Read enough forum posts, over enough years of practicing SEO - work at enough firms to be sick of working for "search engine marketing firms" and trust me - you'll see perpetual reinvention of the wheel

There's no way to know, a priori, if a person replying to or posting stuff about SEO what they know, don't know, wish they knew, or actually believe - and in the end, it's about trust. Over the years, you'll start to trust some folks, discard others, etc.

>>>misinformation

Sad, but true - even worse, imho, is folks that optimize one site, change two things, and then go posting all over forums the "authority" of their convictions, irregardless of the fact that across verticals, things don't always work the same.
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Old 09-08-2004   #17
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>share

We don't seem to share much. Sure, you'll find surface-level stuff like title tags and backlinks bandied about publicly, but even among very, very tightly-knit private groups of seors it's become almost a code of conduct not to ask for too many details, at least not of the whole group. You arrive at your conclusions, put them up for review, and sort of wait to see if anyone from your good-ol-boy network taps you on the shoulder and confirms or points you elsewhere.
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Old 09-08-2004   #18
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That is why its important to have SEOs that do not practice SEO involved here.

How does that read as a sentence.
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Old 09-08-2004   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rcjordan
>share

We don't seem to share much. Sure, you'll find surface-level stuff like title tags and backlinks bandied about publicly, but even among very, very tightly-knit private groups of seors it's become almost a code of conduct not to ask for too many details, at least not of the whole group. You arrive at your conclusions, put them up for review, and sort of wait to see if anyone from your good-ol-boy network taps you on the shoulder and confirms or points you elsewhere.
that is a point many people fail to realize. SEO works because it provides a competitive advantage. certain things worth thousands of dollars are available nearly free. if these ideas become replicated and saturated they no longer possess that same value.

you can go over most stuff, but those tracking specific percentages and numbers and those finding the PR9 link for a one time $20 fee (not that I have done this - I am still hunting...) are not likely to reveal all sources.
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Old 09-08-2004   #20
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It's all cloak and dagger, innit?

Quote:
Is the SEO industry so secretive and is the market so small that SEO's do not share their tests and conclusions with other colleagues?
Yes.
<added>
(Yes=Industry is so secretive... market is not so small tho'.)
</added>

Some people may share very general 'tests', and I have heard a lot of people phrase their 'facts' like, "In the X years I've been using external CSS, I've never seen an SE spider request my CSS pages," but rarely as rigidly as, "I performed X experiment and saw Y results."

But as a general rule any 'secrets' that really made a huge positive difference in a professional SEO's site performance will only be shared with a handful of close friends, if anyone.

Last edited by mivox : 09-08-2004 at 03:53 PM. Reason: clarification
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