10 reasons you’re not an ‘advanced’ SEO

Ian Lurie

I’m warning everyone: I’m blogging angry. I waited 24 hours. I’m still angry. So here it is.

I'm Advanced

I am @#$)(* sick and tired of people telling me they’re “advanced” SEO’s, sitting on “advanced” SEO panels and speaking at “advanced” SEO conferences after three years of screwing up people’s web sites with a nofollow tag.

Here are all the bits of knowledge that do not make you an advanced SEO:

Knowledge of Robots.txt is not ‘advanced’

So, you know what robots.txt is. You’ve even figured out how to not bury someone’s website with it.

Do you know how the different search engines treat robots.txt?

Do you know how it compares to the way search engines use the meta ROBOTS tag?

You do? Congratulations. That’s not advanced either.

Knowing robots.txt in SEO is like knowing not to pour sugar in your gas tank: It doesn’t make you mechanic. It makes you not a moron.

You know what makes you advanced? Knowing how unhelpful robots.txt is if you have 999999 duplicate pages on your web site. It’s a start, anyway.

Using ‘nofollow’ may make you stupid

Nofollow does not help SEO. At best, it prevents you from getting banned if you sell links on your site.

This is not a news flash. It’s been true for a while. If that surprises you, you’re not advanced.

Now, if you know how to design a site’s architecture to funnel authority around to the pages that need it, that could make you advanced. If you know why it works – not just the fact that it does, but the math behind it – that makes you an advanced SEO.

Saying you’re ‘black hat’ does not make you advanced

There are plenty of lousy black hat SEO’s, too. Downloading Billy Bob’s Blogomatic Spammerizer does not suddenly put you on equal footing with the Fantomasters and Dave Naylors of the world.

Advanced black hattery is highly technical. If you don’t know what a reverse proxy is, and can’t figure out how to deliver different content to user agents from specific IP addresses, you are not even in the ball park.

If that last sentence made your eyes cross, guess what? You’re not advanced.

If you’ve successfully cloaked content for more than 2 days, you might be advanced. If you’ve constructed your own link farm and it still works, you’re probably advanced. If Matt Cutts crosses himself when he hears your name, then you’re definitely advanced.

Knowing HTML is not ‘advanced’

You know how to use the META HTTPEQUIV tag. That’s good. And I mean that – I’m not being sarcastic.

It’s also basic HTML.

If you can double your rates by saying “I’m sorry, but you don’t have the right doctype declaration in your pages” I’m really happy for you. But do not try to tell me you’re a leader in the industry. You’re just someone who knows how to click ‘new from template >> HTML’ in Textmate.

If you understand which HTML tags matter to SEO and which don’t, you’ve moved from preschool to Kindergarten.

If you know how to make a page load faster with smart HTML, you’re in grade school.

Learn how to render javascript last, optimize for mobile crawlers and pull together pages that are blindingly fast, look good and are SEO-friendly, and you’ve made it to SEO grad school.

Link building is not advanced!!!!!

Oh god.

Links are not advanced. Link building is not advanced.

Knowing that air is important for human life doesn’t make you a surgeon.

Knowing that links are important for SEO doesn’t make you an expert. Nor does:

  • Knowing new and creative ways to grub for links;
  • Writing posts with f-bombs in them in an attempt to accumulate links;
  • Posting images of scantily clad men/women to accumulate links;
  • Regurgitating what you read on SEOMOZ. Those guys are advanced. You are not;
  • Putting 45 links in the footer of your site. I’ll actually punch you if you suggest it.

Here’s advanced. If you know:

  • How links pass authority, and why;
  • The effect of adding a link to a page;
  • The known math behind PageRank;
  • The Rational Surfer model;
  • Why PageRank is an iterative model;
  • What makes some links better than others;
  • How to turn a great article into a great link generator;
  • How to encourage folks to link to you in subtle, smart ways.

Then I tip my hat – you’re an advanced SEO.

Speaking at an SEO conference

Does. Not. Make. You. Advanced.

I’ve heard some of the worst stupidity in the industry spouted at SEO conferences. I love conferences, and I’ve learned a ton there. But for every great, well-informed speaker, there are at least three who have no business on stage.

If you are:

  • Using the slide deck from 2 years ago;
  • Presenting on ‘title tag optimization’ for the 12th time;
  • Telling the audience that creating an XML site map equals SEO;
  • Having to pelt your audience with erasers to keep them awake.

…you may have good stuff to say, but you’re not in the ‘advanced’ category. Nor are you a ninja, a rock star or a guru.

If you can give your audience something they haven’t heard before, help them really improve their rankings and have them leave your session still scribbling notes frantically, then you might just be an advanced SEO.

XML sitemaps are not advanced

I’m repeating myself a bit. But knowing how to generate an XML sitemap is not exactly mind-boggling SEO trickery. Anyone can download Xenu Link Sleuth, run it, and export an XML sitemap in about 10 minutes.

XML’ made people in suspenders sound experienced back in 1998. Give it up and move on.

Learn crawl budget, and how to evaluate your site’s crawl budget (Thanks Tom – link to article now in place) and you’ve got a decent start.

A few things to learn

Just shut up

You may not need be an advanced SEO. Not being ‘advanced’ doesn’t make you a bad person. But declaring yourself an expert and then ripping off clients and misleading audiences all because you’ve got self-esteem issues is pathetic, and it hurts our industry. So cut it out.

Ian Lurie

Ian Lurie is the founder of Portent. He's been a digital marketer since the days of AOL and Compuserve (25 years, if you're counting). Ian's recorded training for Lynda.com, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Smashing Magazine, and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, Seattle Interactive Conference and ad:Tech. He has published several books about business and marketing: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle, The Web Marketing All-In-One Desk Reference for Dummies, and Conversation Marketing. Ian is now an independent consultant and continues to work with the Portent team- training the agency group on all things digital. You can find him at www.ianlurie.com

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  1. Ha, ha, ha… still crackin’ up, love it!
    Just to add to it, don’t you love it when a client calls and says, “I read on this Advanced SEO blog that I should be doing this, why are we so worried about duplicate content when we should be doing this? Stop what you’re doing and do THIS right now!”

  2. I have been considering my self a beginner in SEO for a while. I love this post! Ian, now I have plenty of topics to look up and start to study. Please post more rants.
    Thanks again for the great content!

  3. Awesome! I can see you pacing like a panther on the stage making this presentation, snarling at anyone who dare challenge. Wish this was in a keynote. Great stuff!

  4. I was going to comment “You’re just mad because I sold your mom some advanced SEO last night”, but then I didn’t, because that would be immature 😉
    Also, yes.

  5. Love the post Ian – and completely agree about the huge volume of ‘experts’ we have in the industry.
    There are a lot of good SEO’s but I can count only a handful that I would count as truly advanced in what they do and what they think…..

  6. This reminds me of the ‘senior’ guy from an SEO team I used to work with. (He’s the reason that company now has development teams that are versed in SEO…they had to learn — the hard way — that most everything he was saying to them was junk SEO.)
    I hear he got on stage and did a presentation, not long ago. I suspect it was hilarious, seeing as how we’re talking about a guy whose contribution at work was to send out emails with links to other people’s blog posts, with gems of comments like “looks like meta data is on the rise” or “semantic = web 4.0?” Then he’d go have a beer with the CEO. Good times.

  7. Ouch Ian, nothing is more painful than the truth. I love it when other SEO’s get fired up and put the so called guru’s in check.
    I have to admit that I was feeling a little advanced until you said this “If Matt Cutts crosses himself when he hears your name, then you’re definitely advanced.” Great article.

  8. I’m surprised it took you this long to go off. Remember the “Advanced Search and Social” workshop we did with the “advanced” SEO that attended and he was asking questions we covered on the Beginner day the week before?
    They think they’re advanced – but not so much. I’m not even advanced…

  9. Does it make me advanced if I say I read Ian’s blog? This was truly a reminder that there is always more to learn in SEO and it’s typically just best to stay humble about what you know unless you have the data to back up the attitude.

  10. This, sir, brought a tear to my eye and joy to my heart. I’ve suffered in the presence of ‘advanced SEOs’ who cannot read raw HTML and jerks who ask why we aren’t 303-redirecting something. This was awesome.

  11. That went very well with my morning coffee – apart from the small bit I spat over my keyboard when I laughed.
    Surely advanced means ‘ahead of the crowd’ and in a room of SEO’s, very few can claim to be ahead.
    Well said and can you pass me that cloth please.

  12. Well, I am just curious does being advanced matter as much as actually getting results. I honestly could care less if my SEO guy knows what a reverse proxy is, as long as he gets me to #1. People try to make SEO look like it is this sophisticated science it is all about getting backlinks now days, if you get enough you win plain and simple, it is a popularity contest. Sure it pays to know about page rank and where to find high PR links, but beyond that it is not as complicated as many make it think. It is just a lot of work.

  13. I love how seriously you took it and how much you wanted to get your point across. It is a very funny but very true post. I don’t think anyone should consider themselves an expert as things are constantly changing.

  14. “If you’ve constructed your own link farm and it still works, you’re probably advanced.”
    Are you being a bit generous here – or is this really complex stuff for people? Maybe an intermediate level of manually built structures versus more automated development solutions…?

  15. Arguing whether or not someone is advanced is about as much sense as debating religions. It really comes down to how an SEO can do the most good to create opportunities as a marketed for clients. Doing the most good.
    Regardless of how you score on someone elses test, did your implemented SEO techniques improve the bottom line? If you can say yes than you are more advanced than most of the so called “advanced” SEOs.

  16. I’m a designer and I know most of these ‘advanced’ seo tricks and they hire me to draw the websites 🙂
    Maybe I should set out to become an SEO guru, or is that title already taken?
    Great read, doesn’t matter that you were angry, it never shined through.

  17. Couldn’t agree more, certainly about talking at conferences. I feel there might even be a negative correlation between sitting in advanced panels and actually being advanced – the more you talk the less you actually have time to do real SEO.

  18. I would say if you have consistently ranked sites in the top 5 positions for very competitive keywords, increased traffic and conversions for the sites you have worked on drastically, and made the companies you have worked for a shed load of money because of this, you are an advanced seo.
    But that´s just my opinion.

  19. I feel your anger. The force is strong.
    In our growing industry there will always be the hacks and jokers.
    Best part is that they keep us in business as we get to clean their crap up.
    I truly hate SEO conference, affiliate conferences are were it is at.

  20. Great post. Not only for its information but the way it its written. Nice bit of humour. However I is advanced SEO!
    Would be a nice, if you could follow this up with the explanations of the things that don’t make us advanced. 🙂

  21. At its core SEO is marketing. So driving incremental revenue through search traffic is the correct standard that needs to be considered for being advanced, not technical knowledge. Hire proven developers for what SEOs think they know about programming.

  22. Love the post! I have tears of laughter in my eyes and some tears of anger at the same time because our industry is increasingly being overrun by people that “talk” a lot but don’t say anything at all.

  23. As said above, I would name an SEO advanced, when he can put down some facts, like top 5 ranking for competitive keywords, by doing white hat SEO. I believe you can be advanced without knowing what a reverse proxy is. My 2 cents

  24. You should post angry more often. If I have to hear one more “advanced” tell me why an XML sitemap is required to get top positions in Google I’m going to hurl.
    Your post has made my day and is spot on. You don’t need to be “advanced” to drive targeted traffic to a site. Even if you’re good at SEO it doesn’t make you advanced.
    Even if you have ranked in the top 5 positions in a semi-competitive industry doesn’t mean you’re advanced. Knowing what is required to get a number 1 listing on Google in a competitive industry and achieving the result meeting your initial estimates probably does.

  25. I really enjoy your posts. I’m more familiar with social media marketing, but have realized how much search & social go together. I’m learning more and more about SEO everyday, and consider myself a beginner/intermediate. I recognized most of what you said, and if people thought they were advanced for knowing that stuff, its kinda sad.

  26. Thank you for saying the truth. Too many people think they know what’s going on with SEO. I only listen to Matt Cutts. I have him on speed dial and we talk frequently. He also takes my advice when changing Google’s algorithm. I find that having this personal relationship goes a long way in SEO. If you want his cell number, just send me a message. He likes it when I give it out.

  27. Keep fighting the good fight Ian. For a long time I thought about starting a SEO/PPC agency. As I talked with potential customers, I began to realize just how many hacks there were out there and how they had convinced their clients of their “advanced” knowledge. Thus, I decided not to fight that battle and am going another direction.

  28. I would remove directing PageRank to pages that need it (is that called “PageRank sculpting” now?) from the advanced list, too. Even with the “know why” clause. I’ve been doing that for years, and I’m not a SEO expert at all, much less advanced. I only do some SEO for my sites as needed.
    Overall, great post. It is wonderful how some people can turn a rant they have into an informative and useful resource. I wish more people followed your example.
    There is a sad aspect to this matter. That is, hype sells. That’s the main reason why there are so many self-proclaimed experts and gurus, and why they generally don’t care about such posts. So you’re basically preaching to the choir here.
    Maybe if SEO was my profession I would declare myself an advanced expert, too, if that doubled my income and made my family happy.

  29. Haha, great article. I totally agree with you. You just listed all the basics a seo guy MUST know… These points are not for advanced… I would be suprised to know who speak at seo conference as an advanced seo… And finally he is seo beginner…
    Send us names ! =)

  30. Great post. Youv’e just writen down everything I’v wanted to say to 90% of the self proclaimed Advanced SEO guys that cross my path. Next time I’ll just tell them to call you:)
    Have a great day…

  31. I thought this article was awesome and HILARIOUS. However, I was quite surprised/disappointed when I went to share the link on Facebook and discovered that this site is not optimized for sharing! No headline, description or image for the article, just the blog site name and description sans logo — not a very compelling Facebook user experience, which has deterred me from sharing.
    I still think the article is great, but upon my first visit here I’m left wondering why this basic “common sense internet strategy” for “conversation marketing” has not been employed.

  32. I think you were getting a lot off your chest here. I’ve been to way to many seo conferences where the speakers were morons, but I have worked with even more so proclaimed seo experts. My first question when people claim to be an expert is “do you work for yourself?” if the answer is yes, then they probably are.

  33. And who said advanced SEO is always needed anyway? Sometimes you gotta pour concrete before you build the Empire State Building.

  34. Is SEO a profession? Engineering is a profession, SEO is blah blah blah for technically unskilled people.

  35. @Davidicious SEOs can be a profession just like engineering or I would say it involve both engineering and researching. Not all SEOs are technically skilled but few people are really smart, who understands how, who, why things are happening and making adjustments for better results.

  36. Haha, this is too great. I can’t tell you how many people I come across claiming to be experts then they just create a meta description for a site’s home page and claim your site is optimized.
    Preach On!

  37. Ah! finally read an article after 4 years of my commencement in the industry. While I struggle everyday, sometimes I burst into fury when a brat claims to be an SEO expert just because he can put some meta keywords and submitted urls to hundreds of crappy bookmarking sites and directories.
    However Ian, IMHO this list is incomplete unless you also consider the marketing knowledge along with the technical knowledge as well and unfortunately this is definitely a rare quality in most basic/advanced SEO experts. To be a real good SEO professional, one must have to understand the market, target audience, competition (not the one on SERP only), niche, value proposition, branding, SWOT analysis, regression analysis, consumer behavior and et.all.
    Finally, this is the best SEO article I’ve read in ages. Kudos for Ian!

  38. Hi,
    Just stumbled across this post while Googling for some “moderately advanced” SEO tips.
    I began by agreeing completely with everything that was stated in your post. Most people who claim they are advanced SEOs have no clue about anything advanced.
    What I will say though, is that I’ve been in SEO for 4 years and consider myself pretty up to speed with the majority of techniques, but most the stuff mentioned in Dave Harry’s post nobody really cares about.
    Most my clients don’t have a clue about most the topics in this or Dave’s post and yet my company makes millions in revenue each year through selling SEO.
    Sure, maybe by knowing the techniques yourself and Dave listed you can consider yourself an advanced SEO, but I’m willing to bet most people that know that stuff have absolutely no sales or client servicing ability.
    To most clients, i’m probably considered one of the best SEOs about – and to be honest you probably know a lot more than me!

  39. Fortunately I’m at the bottom end of the market working for very small local businesses while learning my trade. Just stumbled on this in my quest for learning more and had a good laugh. I don’t claim to be advanced hence why I work within my limits.
    Your view of SEO experts is about what I think of designers that offer SEO when their own sites are just laughable.
    I just bookmarked Dave Harry’s post. Boy have I got some reading to do. At least I found my freind and mentor, Bill Slawski got a mention there, so I didn’t feel to uncomfortable.
    Thank’s for a fun read and for pointing me in the right direction. Maybe in a year or two I’ll be able to add another comment saying, hey, I’m advanced.
    Thank’s again.

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