I Joined Reddit to Learn About SEO

The process of getting started as a beginner on something I don't know anything about

Illustration by Piya Willwerth

Launching this blog and starting my second career has plunged me into the extremely noisy world of SEO strategy. Seriously, it's very loud. SEO means "Search Engine Optimization", and it's basically the practice of exploiting keywords on your blog in order to drive search results towards your site. And everyone has an opinion on it. Oh, and there's something called "backlinks."

Let's Start Learning SEO

In my ongoing preoccupation with "doing everything right", I've tried to approach this field from a couple of different directions. The problem is that everyone has a different approach, and at this point I don't even know if SEO is worth investing in until things, well, "settle down." You see, apparently 2020 has been ... er ... unstable.

Google has not announced anything but this continues the pattern of very unstable search results over the past several weeks. We had unconfirmed Google updates on January 7th and 8th, January 12th, January 27th, February 8th, February 17th, February 20th, February 24th and 25th, February 26th and 27th, March 2nd and 3rd and then again this weekend, March 6th & 7th or so. Let's not forget the launch of passage indexing on February 10th.

Barry Schwartz, Search Engine Roundtable

What? Google updates? Passage indexing? What does it mean?

The Best Sites I've Found Where You Can Actually Learn SEO (For Free)

How do we learn stuff?

I basically just launch myself towards the facts face-first until I get as much as I can handle at a time. (Usually this happens when I start feeling anxious or overwhelmed — that's a good sign of mental fatigue) Then I spend a few days sorting it all out, mentally categorizing it, and trying to "weight" it — it's not always easy to tell which fact is more important than another one when you're just starting out.

Then, maybe two days later, maybe a week later, stuff just starts to make sense.

Find the main sources of information

Did you know that Google updates their search algorithm? There was a big one back in November 8, 2019, which apparently fucked a lot of people up. One guy even said that his traffic dropped 40%. They're still talking about it now, probably because these people couldn't leave their houses in 2020.

That said, Google makes little updates pretty much every day:

Each day, Google usually releases one or more changes designed to improve our search results. Most aren't noticeable but help us incrementally continue to improve.

Sometimes, an update may be more noticeable. We aim to confirm such updates when we feel there is actionable information that webmasters, content producers or others might take in relation to them. For example, when our "Speed Update" happened, we gave months of advanced notice and advice.

Google Search Central

Reddit has gems of information in with all the spam

I joined /r/SEO, /r/Blogging, /r/AdOps, /r/AffiliateMarketing, and /r/JustStart to begin with. I've also since joined /r/BigSEO. So far, JustStart has proven the most useful, because the other ones seem to be overrun with every single little small-time big-talker on the Internet. Since everyone wants to plug their own site, JustStart seemed to be able to distinguish itself because it was more about the process. That, after all, is what this blog is about.

Since JustStart is still quite a small subreddit, with only a few posts a day, I was able to find genuine sources of information, as well as useful links to blogs or YouTube channels that I might not have been able to find had I simply googled this information. You see, when the subject of the blog or website is SEO, the content tends to crowd the site with a smorgasbord of keywords, often without imparting anything of value. You'll get pages of this stuff:

I found the best SEO technique that exists! Let me tell you how I found it! Before we start, I have to say, I was very excited when I found this strategy that works. It is truly the best way!

Did you know that your dog can learn this technique, as well? It's true! Even dogs can understand this very simple SEO strategy, even if they can't read English!

SEO copypasta that I made up

This sort of shit works ... after a fashion. This is why, for instance, you'll be searching for the "best lasagna recipe" and you'll come across a blog that purports to have it, but first you have to scroll through a whole story about some visit to a tomato farm. It's very annoying, and it reflects badly on the blogger, from the reader's opinion, but what the reader doesn't know is that this silly story about a tomato farm is what put the blogger's link on the first page of Google to begin with. You're only looking at this recipe because of the tomato farm story, in other words.

The kind of writer I look for when perusing Reddit for information is basically a slow, methodical nitpicker who might actually edit Wikipedia or answer stuff on Quora in their free time. Luckily, the Internet is full of these guys, and I do tend to trust them because they'll give you charts upon charts of data.

Google is aware of the keyword spam issue. The main constant that I've found is that you just need to keep writing useful stuff. But even so, the system might fail you — and it's a race between people who really, really want you to look at their website, people who might actually have useful information, and Google:

Recently, I was trying to find out how to soften a suede jacket. I also wanted to find a suede conditioner with good reviews. Whatever the hell is going on with the search results these days, I did not find a suede conditioner. In fact, I bought a leather conditioner. When I received it, the label on the bottle told me I could not use it for suede.

This thing, which should have been obvious, simply ... wasn't.

Maybe read a book?

I'm actually not at all confident that an actual book on SEO would be helpful, unless it were more about the concepts and patterns than actual practices, which can evolve rapidly. As stated above, Google makes changes every day. Reading material regarding this subject is probably better found on recently updated blogs or YouTube videos.

However, if you were learning about gardening, for instance, it would probably be a very good idea to read a book, since the rules for gardening don't change that often.

"Just Start" as an effective strategy

The lesson here is that there is so much time spent agonizing over one's approach, that one forgets that first, they need to approach the thing. I've come up against this again and again in my research during 2020. We've somehow come to expect processes to be easy, and we often run away when things slow down. Seth Godin wrote a whole little book about it.

It's too bad that it's so obvious and clearly not sexy, because I'd love to have some kind of proprietary key practice that I could sell you at a very tidy profit. It just doesn't exist, because it is a process. We should still pursue it, even if we are old.

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