Over the years, I have continually tried to become a better SEO strategist, which has meant an awful lot of research, lots of testing, more research, and much hitting my head against the wall. Even though it didn’t probably feel like it at the time, failures, or ‘dead ends’ have been crucial to my progress.

Here are some of the things that I think have helped me to become better at search engine optimisation over the years.

Reading thousands of articles and blog posts

I genuinely read over 1,000 blog posts when I first got into SEO around 2003. I did this after reading something that Tony Robbins said in an article around that time, where he explained that if you wanted to be an expert in anything, then you had to read over 1000 articles. So I did exactly that.


It taught me something that has stayed with me ever since. Of 1,000 articles, over 900 will be incorrect and/or poor quality. Maybe 50 will be great, and about 20 career-changing. Reading 1,000 articles isn’t about finding the great stuff, it’s about knowing to ignore the bad/generic stuff.

I think that not accepting the generic stuff as gospel (as so many SEO people do), has helped me to not get trapped in mediocrity (as so many SEO people also do).

Experimentation

Because of my experience of reading over 1,000 articles at the beginning of my SEO journey, I felt that I was able to test various things when it came to link building, on-page optimisation, and more. Simple stuff at first, but as time went on, my experimentation became more and more complex.

Reading everything that Michael Martinez ever wrote

After reading the first 1,000 articles (I’m easily past 5,000 now), I began to hear a voice that was largely being ignored by the mainstream, ‘cool’ SEO bloggers that started to make a name for themselves and become mini-celebrities. This was Michael Martinez, and his writing on SEO Theory.

Martinez is not everyone’s cup of tea, and he seems to cause a fuss wherever he spends time, but his writing is second-to-none, and rips through the mediocrity and generic SEO advice that exists to this day. He’s like a one-man police force, helping those who are sensible enough to listen to understand that much of what so called SEO ‘gurus’ write is basic, generic, and sometimes downright useless or dangerous.

Martinez is far from perfect. He will never be mainstream – and I think this is because what he writes means more hard work for those that read it. Other SEO ‘experts’ don’t recommend him all that much because in effect, what he is saying, rubbishes what they are saying on many occasions.

I have even done tests on new SEOs in the past, asking some of them to read only Martinez blogs, and some to read non-Martinez blogs. The Martinez readers have gone on to great SEO success. Enough said.

The A-Z of SEO

There was a blog post many moons ago – somewhere around 2003-2004 – that was a simple, no-fluff, A-Z of what to do to make your site rank well in Google within 12 months. The advice, in the main, was simple, but very sturdy. I followed it to the letter, and created a really well-respected website that I went on to sell (twice!), and my career never looked back after following this advice. I think it is lost in the ether forever 🙁

Experimentation

After learning more, I experimented more. I failed more, I learned more.

Ignored ‘politically correct’ SEO ‘experts’

I was around when certain current SEO ‘rock stars’ were newbies, asking for advice in various SEO forums of the time. Nothing wrong with this, as we all start somewhere. Some have gone on to amazing wealth and success (and I am jealous as heck!), but some have done this via being waaaay too safe with their advice, knowing full-well that they were staying safe, so that they got more readers, and therefore sold more software, or generated more affiliate revenue. The exact opposite of Martinez.

Some of them also work as actual SEOs ‘on the quiet’, and have made some of the worst SEO mistakes ever, and given extremely bad SEO advice indeed. A certain someone that charged Yelp! a fortune for ruining their entire online strategy for a year or two, being a great example.

What I mean is that many ‘politically correct’ SEOs that inform everyone to stay safe, very rarely follow their own advice to become successful with various other online ventures. But some of them are rich…so who is wrong, them or me? :/

Taught myself to be a better developer

To learn the extremities of SEO, I knew I could not rely on developers to realise my visions and test what I needed to test. I taught myself just about enough PHP, HTML, and CSS to get by and to prototype various tools, site builds, and more. It has saved me thousands in development costs, but more than that, it has allowed me to really push boundaries in certain areas online.

Experimented some more…

Because of being able to code at a basic level, I could practice so many more things that I had absorbed on my SEO journey.

Kept young, fresh minds around me

It is a cliche, but keeping young, fresh minds around you, helps you to continually see things in new ways. Cross-pollination, as I call it, especially in the still emerging field of search engine marketing, is an almost certain way to keep you on your toes – especially at those times when you think you have something cracked!

Worked very hard

Without hard work, all of the information that I had absorbed along the way, all of the skills I had taught myself, would have been for nothing. I know of some skilled SEO brains that are extremely lazy, which is a downright shame. Their careers have seen them flit between SEO agency to SEO agency…laziness is the devil, especially when you know so much about a particular topic.

Experimented

Yes, I keep on experimenting. I’m doing it right now, with another idea that is finally coming to fruition after several years of thought, and months and months of hard work.

I am sure that there are many other things that have helped me to become better as an SEO/digital marketer, but these are some seminal moments, as well as some things that have kept me on my toes into my forties!

James Welch

James is a digital industry veteran, and has worked various roles from SEO, head of research, to director level. He is a content nerd, and loves nothing more than demanding that evermore content is added to client sites - as well as the Embryo blog!