Non-SEO SEO: Establishing expertise

So, I was giving SEO advice to a friend who is thinking of hiring an SEO firm. Their advice seemed good, but I kept returning to the hard part – establishing expertise and an audience. He already had an audience, his website was already #3 for “Boulder sports psychologist“, did he really need an SEO firm behind him?

I told him that he already did the hard part. He is a bona-fide expert, a Ph.D., and a soon-to-be-published author. He doesn’t have to establish his credentials – he already has them. Some people start to write for the web in order to create “expertise”, because the perception is that once you publish you are, by default, an expert.

If that is the case, the barrier to entry to expertise is nearly non-existent. Think about that the next time you pick up a relationship book: what exactly is the author’s expertise in the subject? You’d be surprised how many so-called relationship experts are going through their third divorce.

For many, starting a blog is their way of establishing their expertise. It’s their road to financial rewards and the roar of the crowd. It’s not a bad way to do it. How does one establish expertise? Like anything else: one story at a time. In my friend’s case he’s already done so. Look, he works with the Olympic committee and, oh yeah, Apollo-freaking-Ohno! I’d say he already has his bona-fides in place. Blogging is just the icing on an already elaborately-constructed cake.

How about hiring an SEO firm to help him rank #1 in 60 days? (My first question: ‘Number one for what?’) As an SEO guy, I cringe at that a little. There’s truth in that, but also a little falsity. The answer in SEO-terms, is that it always depends. For this guy, an SEO firm can make a promise like that, because his site already ranks. He’s also somewhat known and has had his website for over 10 years. They can make that promise because he’s already done the hard work. To take someone from nothing and have them rank number one is not impossible, but can be difficult. Do I as an SEO analyst have tricks up my grey-sleeves to help a site rank higher faster?

Well…yes I do.

That’s what I do. But ranking a website when it is already ranking for competitive terms is on the easier side of the easy<—>f**king impossible paradigm.

My typical answer to the question ‘Why isn’t my site #1 for ‘insert-keyword-phrase-here?’:

Why should it?

Why should the answer to the question posed by the search query, in the face of thousands of other answers, be the absolute best answer? Are you an expert? If you are, how did you convey your expertise? An article? A blog? An Infographic? Oh, you don’t have content that responds to that query? Then how do you expect Google to find, index and rank it? How do you express your expertise without content?

Again, the question: how do you establish your expertise? The first step: be the expert. Second step: one story at a time.

My cringing comes from the reaction for many people that SEO is in some way ‘gaming the system.’ I am infamous for saying, on camera, something to the effect of ‘SEO is the art and science of ranking a website #1, whether they deserve it or not.’ There’s some truth to that, especially in the early days of SEO. But Google, for all it’s faults, has been a good steward of de-gaming the SEO system. JC Penney’s link scheme exposure, content farms (do we really need over 6,000 articles on ‘How to tie a shoe’?) and efforts to prevent those types of egregious SEOing with responses such as Panda, moves the pieces toward the signals that display true expertise. Does your site deserve to be number 1? Are you the expert?

Be the expert first. After that, SEO is easy.