SEO Isn't A Formula, And Doesn't Work 100% Of The Time

Last Update: October 27, 2020

I remember one of the first "SEO Guides" I bought back in 2011 was pretty intense. They had a graph of various types of link bulding schemes you were supposed to run side by side, plus things like keyword density, page rank calculations, and whatever else I can't really remember. Looking back, it was crazy.

Things aren't too differnet these days. There are still plenty of SEO guides you can buy that talk about things like KGR (keyword golden ratio), PBN (private blog networks), and analyzation tools like Surfer SEO.

The thing that I've learned over the years, at least how I see it based on my experience, is that SEO is not a guaranteed formula. I've never seen a strategy that works 100% of the time.

SEO Is A Guideline. A Starting Point.

SEO stands for "search engine optimization". At its root, it just means optimizing content for search engines. "Optimization" doesn't mean "guaranteed to rank".

As I go through my search engine optimization process each time I publish, I think about exactly that. Is this page "optimized"?

  • is it clear what my topic is?
  • is this a topic someone would search for online?
  • am I answering a specific question?
  • did I write content in a clear and precise way?
  • did I format the content in a way which is easy to read?
  • did I include relevant images and video to help with understanding?
  • are the videos and images described properly?
  • did I link to helpful resources on-site and off-site?
  • are there too many words, or not enough words?
  • is my article interesting to humans?

Those are just some of the questions I ask myself, but they are all under the larger umbrella of being clear about what I'm writing about, who I'm writing for, and why I'm writing it.

Sometimes Articles Just Don't Rank

You can use any SEO formula and hit all the marks precisely and still not rank. Google's exact algorithm is not known to 99.999% of bloggers out there, so we're all pretty much guessing and just following what seems to work best for us.

There are many times where I write an article which I'm sure should rank, but it doesn't.

I'm not saying that's a good reason too just give up and no pay attention to what you write. I just mean that even the pros get it wrong sometimes, so don't beat yourself up if you arren't ranking.

Reasons Articles Don't Rank

When looking at newbie websites, there are a few recurring mistakes I see which are causing articles to not rank.

  1. not enough content (1000-1200 words minimum)
  2. no relevant images or video
  3. topic too broad
  4. not a "searchable" topic
  5. no internal links with proper anchor text
  6. no formatting like h2/h3/h4
  7. Competition!

Though I normally don't pay too much to "competition" because I work under the assumption that I can be the best at anything if I put in enough effort, actually, competition can definitely be a reason you aren't ranking.

The way I deal with competition is to simply try to "be better", even if it means striving to be better over a matter of months or even years. Even then, doing that may not be enough. Google may just favor your competition for some unknown reason.

There's a lot of things you can do to improve your content and SEO. I'm not going to go over everything this post, but it's definitely worth looking at what your competition is doing (assumign they're ranking above you!) to see if you can learn from their tactics and improve your own stuff.

#4 Not A "Searchable" Topic

Something worth discussing is the idea of a "searchable" topic. This is harder to explain in precise langauge, but I mean that when you write about something on your website, you should imagine WHO would be searching this topic and WHY.

A great example comes from an email exchange I had with someone last week.

If you had a blog about self help, and wanted to teach someone self-confidence, should you write an article titled, "How to Have Self Confidence"? In my opinion, no. That's not a topic worth writing about.

In my mind, I can't imagine who would want to generally "have self confidence" with no goal in mind. Could you envision someone searching for "how to have self confidence?".

How I see it, they'd most likely want to use that self confidence for something. So better replacement topics could be

  • how to ask a girl on a date and not be nervous
  • how to confidently ask for a raise at work
  • how to talk to your husband about his spending habits
  • michael jordan 3-point shot visualization techniques

These are specific things people want to do. The answer has something to do with self confidence, but it's not just about being self confident in general. My imaginary searches are written in a way I think someone would search in Google.

If a keyword tool tells me there's zero search for my phrase, I may reword it based on my research, but still lean towards a more human-written version when I produce my final article.

There are many ways to approach SEO. Lots of them work sometimes. None of them work all the time. The longer you produce content and blog on your affiliate site, the more you'll be able to develop your own style and figure out what works for you.

Do you have any SEO tips or tricks that have been working for you? Share your secrets below!

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LenkaSophie Premium
Excellent points, Nathaniel, thanks for that.
I don't have any secret formula but my best results are based on something that seems like luck. Looking for a particular keyword, I found something else I've never heard of, researched the topic, and the article became one of my best ranking ones.
Lenka
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nathaniell Premium
Sometimes it does feel like luck. I'll let everyone know if I find a guaranteed formula! LOL
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Prpat Premium
Absolutely, SEO is not a formula. Doesn't work all the time. I have couple of posts ranking on position 5-10 for some keyword. I tried updating them with internal link, external link, image optimization etc and was hoping for jump in position.
But to my surprise certain keyword dropped 2 position and I lost some traffic. Very disappointed about that and I am trying to figure out what I did wrong that has caused the drop in position.
Do you have any insight?
Great post!
Thank you!
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nathaniell Premium
It's tough to know without looking at the post. It could be a temporary drop as Google re-figures where you should fit. It could be that the external link is to a non-relevant source, or that images are not as relevant as they should be.

My suggestion would be to create 2-3 related pieces of content on low-competition keywords and link back to this article, then wait a couple weeks and see what happens.

You can also look in Search Console to determine which related keywords you're ranking for on this page, and include more of those phrases on the page.
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CassiOfTroy Premium
Nathaniell, I really enjoyed this post and it came at a very good time for me.
Like you, 2021 is on my mind and I am reviewing my 2020 blogs and see what I can improve on moving forward.

Around August/September this year, I stopped consuming myself with SEO and ranking.
I checked Jaaxy and realised that my WA blog posts were continuously and easily ranking on the first pages of Google, Bing and Yahoo, many at #1.

So, I apply the same writing mindset and approaches to my website blog posts now.
And, their rankings started to improve also.

When I write, I visualise my audience and speak to them.
I still refer to Jaaxy and Google for research, but, I don't overthink it anymore.

Thank you, as always, for an insightful and helpful post.
Cassi
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nathaniell Premium
"Visualize Your Audience" is a great, concise way to say it Cassandra. Love it!
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CassiOfTroy Premium
Thank you, Nathaniell.
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Calvinator63 Premium
Hi Nat,

Some very helpful tips that you shared with the community I am sure many newbies and veterans alike will find them very useful and practical in the future.

The only thing that I would mention is that the ”Competition” of the keyword could be what is stopping it from ranking. More individuals think that just because their blog is 3,000 words long that it should automatically rank higher than anyone of their competitor’s blogs because those other blogs are all shorter 1,500 to 2,000 words long and not quite as informative as you may feel your blog is

You must always address the competition (don’t fear it, it can make you a better writer) for each keyword you are writing about. Remember the search engines use some 200 items or aspects to rank your article, not just the content, or the number of words within the material you submitted.

Such as, website speed, this can be really detrimental to your website’s material ranking, the written material could be the best the search engines have found, but because your website’s speed is rather slow your material will receive a lower ranking value.

In other words, all of the 200 ranking features play into the equation as to where your blog fits in – the search engines will always post the best overall submission based on their evaluation (the algorithm program’s assessment of those 200 ranking features) because they want to better serve those that are searching on their platform.

Each of those ranking factors is changed and switched around by the search engines as they see fit. So last week your website may have 30 out of 50 blogs ranking on page one. Then the search engine makes a minor (in their opinion) shift to how each ranking feature should be valued at. The key this information into the algorithm programs the program then makes the necessary adjustments to its ranking priorities, makes some adjustments within its program, and now only 10 of your blogs rank on page one.

You did nothing but your pages drop in rankings, this is also known as the search engine roller coaster (many of us have experienced this phenomenon personally with our created material). After two weeks of being within the changes of the algorithm programs, it readjusts itself again and now mysteriously you are back up and on page one again.

This may not or it may have something to do with the SEO you implement for each article you write for your website or it may not have anything to do with what you are doing. But rather it could be influenced by what your competition is doing, or possibly the minor search engine adjustments that are frequently done without any explanation from the search engines as to why the adjustments have been made.

Then we also have the major changes to the algorithm program and all heck breaks loose for two weeks until the system can readjust itself (and the material it is scanning) to those new major changes. Even though we made or did nothing different it’s the system of ranking that changed. However, as long as we follow a basic SEO implementation guideline our blogs should not face major SERP adjustments (of course it is dependent on how drastic the new algorithm program core changes are).

This brings up the topic of SEO maintenance and going back and making sure that all your articles are still relevant and updated on the information that is given within them. Sadly, this too can change your ranking. If you write about the latest rockets that Space X just launched, then five months from now they make a major change to those rockets you will need to go back and edit those changes into your material.

If not the next time the spider bots visit and crawl (scan) your website’s content its ranking will be re-evaluated and could possibly be considered as outdated by the algorithm programs and your ranking will drop accordingly.

Such is the life of a website owner: being at the mercy of the search engines algorithm programs, skirmishing the competition within the niche, and how we as website owners practice our SEO implementation, many things can ultimately change how our material is viewed and valued within our niches!

The internet is still growing and developing into whatever it will become. Some people see these continuous changes as a curse, while others embrace the changes and change with them as they change. Those that can adapt with the changes, as they take effect, will almost always advance into the front of the pack.

Living Life Large,

Calvin
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nathaniell Premium
You are correct about competition Calvin. I'll add it to the post because that's actually a really great point.
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Calvinator63 Premium
Just trying to be helpful!

:-)
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MichalB Premium
100%
SEO is not an exact science, but it is important to follow the "basic" rules.

One question though:
What is the deal with the sites that have 1 post that ranks well and drives 40% of the traffic?

I mean I have noticed that one of my posts (out of 200) drives more than 43% of the traffic, since the beginning of this year.

The 2nd best post drives only 4% of the traffic
3rd only 3.25%
and so on.

At least 100 posts I have published are written in the same way as the one that drives the 43%.

Is this normal?
And do we know why is this happening?

Mike
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nathaniell Premium
That's normal IMO, and many of my sites are like this. I don't think it's that other posts are being held back, I just think that a small number of posts really take off and outweigh your traffic stats for that reason.

Not sure why only a few really take off. Maybe it's just luck? The 80/20 principle does seem to play out in a lot of stuff regardless. My business was that way for a long time where 80% of revenue came from 20% of affiliates.
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MichalB Premium
Got it.

It makes sense.
Thank you, Nathaniel.
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