The Most Important Tool in Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Ammon Johns πŸŽ“
The Most Important Tool in Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
We spend a lot of time as SEO users talking about tools. We have tools to check page speeds, tools to handle analytics, tools to crawl backlinks, and so, so many more.
But one tool is of so much higher value than ALL of the others.
That tool is Critical Thinking
Whenever you have any theory, or any assumption, first apply this tool. Don't take it at face value. Look at your theory or assumption from other viewpoints and perspectives. Turn it around mentally and examine it from all angles. Look for the flaws, the gaps, or where it just isn't fully three dimensional.
For an easy example that came up earlier today, someone believed that scroll depth would be a useful ranking factor.
Critical Thinking allows me to test this in seconds simply by thinking "if this were so, what would be the side effects or weaknesses?". The answer is then so obvious – if scroll depth were a ranking factor, then any of the million correlation studies done throughout the history of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) would have noticed that larger font sizes ranked better. Bigger font, more space taken, more scrolling. Therefore we know for certain that scroll depth is not a ranking factor.
You could certainly test this for yourself, and even rule out that it was somehow geared around the font size by using Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) to adjust the padding or whitespace around lines of text, paragraphs, etc. but you can see how unlikely this is already. People would have noticed that bigger images in a page made the page rank better than smaller images. There are dozens of ways that any boost based on scroll depth of a page would have shown up long, long ago.
Whenever someone (or your own mind) suggests something may or may not be a ranking factor, apply that critical thinking. Is the signal from this consistent with a goal, and proof against false positives? Are you looking at this purely from a specific point of view based on your own site/content type/market, and it wouldn't apply to others? What are the holes in the theory? Where does it fail?
If it passes those, next think about it as if you knew this absolutely was a ranking factor. How would this be obvious (see the scroll example above) and what would be the visible side-effects. Are all of those side effects present? If it all still looks good, put on your black hat and think of how to abuse and manipulate this signal. Can we force this signal somehow?
If so, where might that force be already happening accidentally? Is it happening there? If not, then that's strong, strong evidence that the cheat, and thus the signal itself, isn't used.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is in one sense incredibly simple, because Google want to be able to rank good stuff *without* every webmaster having to know SEO. Get just a couple of obvious things right and a page can do pretty well. But SEO is also incredibly complex.
Google pay pretty darned well, with lots of bonuses, and they hire thousands of the best and brightest they can find. They don't do that for all those people to sit around and come up with the simple and obvious. They push the boundaries of their science, every day.
The good news is that they are doing the hard job of actually creating new technologies and algorithms, while all we have to do is try to understand what they did after all that hard stuff. But it is still pretty complex, nuanced, and absolutely needs you to have that tool of critical thinking honed and handy.
At the final analysis, clients are not paying you to press a button on a page that they could have easily have pressed themselves. They are not paying you $10k a month to run software that costs $10k per year. They are paying you for your mind, your knowledge, and that all means that your critical thinking is THE most valuable asset you have.
95 πŸ‘πŸ½26 πŸ’Ÿ12247 πŸ’¬πŸ—¨


I see flaws in many arguments raised by SEO users who wrote about certain methods to follow who don't provide sufficient support to back up what they are saying, who fail to address any obvious and reasonable counter arguments, who rely on questionable pseudoscience for support (method uses patented Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI) Keywords to help you rank better, bringing you the magic of semantics!). Without understanding the limitations of the science they are citing. When I see poor arguments being used to promote the use of something such as Google trustrank, which has to work, because Google has a patent on trust ( which is totally irrelevant)., I wonder how they are profiting off of the bad or misleading advice they are giving you. Being skeptical is healthy. Asking questions when you don't understand something can lead to understanding. Making reasonable and complete arguments to supply something and addressing obvious counter arguments makes what you say more believable and persuasive. Critical Thinking is good for you, your work, and your wallet.

Ammon Johns ✍️ πŸŽ“ Β» Slawski
I often think that Vinny could have been a great SEO
they're as thin as this playing card.
Slawski Β» Ammon Johns
That was a great role. I loved his use of his girlfriend as an expert witness on cars in that movie because what she knew and said was absolutely right and correct and on target.
Ammon Johns ✍️ πŸŽ“ Β» Slawski
Absolutely. One of my favorite movies, (and no small part of my lasting mega-crush on Marisa Tomei either).
Slawski Β» Ammon Johns
It was really difficult not to like her in that movie.
Ammon Johns ✍️ πŸŽ“ Β» Slawski
I wouldn't know, I didn't even try πŸ˜ƒ
court GIF by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
If you're talking page optimizer pro there kind of proof. Kyle roof won quite a few SEO awards for his Lorem ipsum proof that Google doesn't read and that page structure is what matters.
Slawski Β» Alex
I have no idea what page optimizer pro is, but you are protesting a lot. That uninformed assumption that you leap to would cause me to question why you think I am talking about some tool I have never heard of or used. Apply that critical thinking before jumping to assumptions
You literally stated Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI) is a pseudoscience that has no backing. Maybe research a bit on Kyle roof and apply some of that critical thinking you claim I didn't use as a response to your uninformed statement. The science is there on it. Science is open to interpretation as well given it's the study of testing a hypothesis. He found one area that he validated to be a ranking signal and SEO users cling to it for dear life thinking it's the be all end all when it's meant to be more of a checking tool.
Ammon Johns ✍️ πŸŽ“ Β» Alex
and Bill, remember to argue the points, not the people.
Alex, Bill is having to guess what you are referring to, as he already told you he's never head of the specific tool, or experiment you are talking about.
However, he is absolutely correct that almost everyone citing LSI in any way is talking out of their ass, as it is abundantly clear to any who ever read the PUBLISHED science and the patent, that it does none of the things commonly claimed of it.
If you haven't read those papers, you may need to first to understand why he makes that assertion, and why I 100% agree.
Alex Β» Ammon Johns
My apologies when people talk down to me without knowing me my instant reaction is to get snappy. I felt I was being civil about it by simply using his verbiage back at him. However, I take responsibility and apologize for the rude retort.
As to point 2, well then I recommend researching Kyle a bit, here's a brief overview of the research done in this very group. He has stated LSI to be a ranking factor but this year stated it is more of a tier 2 ranking factor. I use PoP as a trusted tool because I have done the research independently via the same niche sites, and saw an increase in ranking on every site I used the tool for. You're free not to use it, but my entire point was that it isn't a pseudoscience at least in this particular case.
The Rhinoplasty Plano story about ranking #1 – Kyle
Ammon Johns ✍️ πŸŽ“ Β» Alex
I said that Bill was unfamiliar with it, I never mentioned my own memories. The Rhinoplasty Plano competition was one of the classics, right in a period of a couple of years where quite a number of such competitions ran – a period that ended when ordinary, non-SEO bloggers kept kicking the asses of the SEO users based on their bigger audiences.
The Rhinoplasy Plano competition in particular was great as it illustrated almost perfectly the power of links and anchor text at that time. It had nothing at all to do with Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI), and was 100% about the links (which is why he couldn't win once the bigger blogger networks started playing along).
That's also precisely why it continued to gain rankings – because it was the most remarkable and unexpected, it was the one people kept talking about, and linking to.
Kyle's a decent guy, and not a fool, but if he believes LSI had anything to do with that result, he's wrong.
Alex Β» Ammon Johns
At the end of the day I will be first to say that tools are only as powerful as your ability to use them. Blindly using pop, surfer, etc won't get you results but if your strategy is similar to theirs and you know why you're using it they work wonders.
Slawski Β» Ammon Johns
TI see. to recall that was when a guy from Metafilter outranked a bunch of SEO users because he was really good at getting links, and knew lots of people. It sounds more familiar when youu mention the links and anchor text.
Ammon Johns ✍️ πŸŽ“ Β» Slawski
Yeah, IIRC the Rhinoplasty Plano one came after the massive success of Nigritude Ultramarine, but I could be off there, given the years involved.
Alex Β» Ammon Johns
I'm not sure that he puts much stock into LSI, most of the tools use is around ensuring keywords match intent and counting the word count of competition to make sure that you aren't writing 6k words of gibberish to tell someone you can pick up their dogs poop. Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI) is the 5th thing on his list right ahead of Schema, in his most recent video he states schema doesn't work, but I disagree heavily as it has helped my CTR tremendously which lead to a ranking spike back in September.
Ammon Johns ✍️ πŸŽ“ Β» Alex
Sometimes a thing can help, without it being any actual part of things. Heck, a lot of people have a pair of lucky pants, or a lucky shirt, but I absolutely promise you there is no special power in the fabric, but rather it gave them confidence.
Earlier today someone was saying that keyword worked for him, and I can 100% see how it might, and not criticize that. We all have our own mental frameworks and references, and what matters is how we think when using them, rather than the framework itself.
For example, something I use a lot when writing for clients is to think of a celebrity, or a character, and then write like I'm writing their script. It helps give it an authentic voice that isn't my own. It has always performed well for me. But an article where I wrote it like I was imagining Samuel L Jackson speaking the words didn't perform because I used Samuel L Jackson, but because I'd chosen the right style of delivery for the message. Whatever tool I used mentally to do so.
Ammon Johns ✍️ πŸŽ“…/9367abf7-0df4-4f09-86ab-ce605f6c9545
He does think better with that bat.
Alex Β» Ammon Johns
That's a fair analysis. The idea that consistency is key to ranking has been tossed around as well. I haven't tested it personally, I write my content for sales and even my blogs are written to have at least 2 call to actions lol. But I have noticed when other people replicate my style they have problems ranking, it's probably because your analogy of SLJ is closer to being true. The algorithms could have picked up dialects from different areas and tried to match dialect to the user intent. Interesting for sure. Since I am in pay per sale scaling isn't as easy as if I charged normal agency pricing. It wasn't until 2 months ago I even considered training people to expand cause I was making good enough money for me doing it my way for 6 clients. Sadly I am growing and can't keep up so I am looking for ways to teach people quickly lol. (TDLR its not going well…) I will try it on a separate site and keep language close, see if it has an impact. Maybe have my New York guy do some New York pages for interstate moving since I don't have that dialect down at all, my new york accent is offensive… XD

Totally agree with this, tools can give you great insights and help you to analyse trends but at the end of the day clients are paying for β€˜you' to interpret those insights. And most of the time it doesn't even need β€˜critical thinking'…just good old common sense. πŸ‘

Ammon Johns ✍️ πŸŽ“ Β» Ian
100%. Although there is nothing quite so uncommon as common sense. πŸ˜ƒ


Agree that critical thinking is the silver bullet in Search Engine Optimization (SEO), but in terms of scaling tools like surfer and pop and Jarvis are huge as they allow me to guide writers to the content I want them to write, before it was a crapshoot. I literally got an auto glass article that had stuff about lawn care in it, I was pretty salty.

Ammon Johns ✍️ πŸŽ“ Β» Alex
There's always tons of little loopholes that can work in certain markets, especially at the long tail. But you never see any of these tools working in high competition SERPs.
So here critical thinking is "if this works so good, where's your millions from optimizing the dating industry, gambling/poker, and pharma?"
Believe me, those industries are NOT shy of using every black hat trick around. Never have been. When link spam worked, they were the pinnacle of it. If they aren't using it, then it's most likely crap.
Slawski Β» Ammon Johns
Remember when the owner of Plenty of Fish came to Cre8asiteforums and the website hospital, and asked for SEO suggestions for his dating site? He got lots of really good suggestions and implemented many of them, which was before his site took off to a lot of success and a big sale to Nobody suggested the use of any fancy SEO tools. Everyone suggest ways to make visitors to the site comfortable with using the site and meeting people there.
It was a well done site that deserved the success it saw. No tricks, no gimmicks. Just a dedication to succeeding.
Match | Start Something Great
Ammon Johns ✍️ πŸŽ“ Β» Slawski
Absolutely. I remember he even cited the forums specifically as a part of his success (which was very generous of him).
Alex Β» Slawski
That's awesome! I didn't know that site started here. The user interface is great. Still think the dating apps are snake oil but hey if they are making money and people are willingly buying it, I'm sure someone is finding their soul mate. XD
Ammon Johns ✍️ πŸŽ“ Β» Alex
It was such a shame that Match bought it just to stifle and limit it, and use it as a 'gateway drug' to make people pay for an upgraded, professional version of the same sort of site. But that was absolutely the exit strategy of Marcus given that PoF was always free.
Alex Β» Ammon Johns
I found more success on PoF, it being free is what makes it more likely to be tried I think. It feels like the rest are bots after day one. Sad indeed but designers gotta make money somehow.
Yeah I don't work in those industries I did dating when I was working at Google but the rest are banned probably cause like you said it's all black hat lol. Dating going by the book we were able to get a Myers Briggs site relatively high using best practices. Those softwares are however working for other competitive niches like personal injury attorney and home security.
Ammon Johns ✍️ πŸŽ“ Β» Alex
Yup, both of which are also pretty spammy, but far less competitive in real terms. I started out mainly in adult (p0rn, sex toys and dating), back in the 90s and worked that market a lot for about 5 years (clients kept coming back with expansions). The spam levels were insane. Especially in the days of just copying and cloaking a ranking page, before links were a thing.
Alex Β» Ammon Johns
Yeah cloaking a ranking page technique still works actually. Just have to rewrite them maintaining the same main words and concepts. That's an experience that puts you miles ahead of some of the others since that is 100% a blackhat banned Google niche. Oddly enough so is locksmith, I guess if your job is to break into cars you're probably not that trustworthy. XD


Id beg to differ. Not because critical thinking is not key. It's because those we serve, or clients, or their go-to-person for anything Marketig, are biased, flawed people with their own agendas that knowingly or not, often are at odds with the wellbeing of the company that employs them.
For delivery of scalable quality, yes, critical thinking.
Unfortunately, for us business owners who sit at both tables, in inhouse meetings and with clients, Persuasion seems to be critical.
Here's why.
I've had several clients in long lasting cooperation. All are with long sales cycles and each conversion brings six figure and a long tail of retainers. In some of these cases, when rhe founder brings in a hired gun to take care of marketing, the focus shifts from long term brand-based value, to quick wins that make the hired gun look good.
It's like looking at a country where the political system stepped on an escalator and they're effortlessly going down while trying to make things look good on paper.
I did an annual strategy presentation for a well funded SaaS just last week. The point on the meeting wasn't to pick the best option, but to pick the one that makes those present look good. It was painful to hear tactics question on a strategy meeting.
Tough to see things like How many blogs per month, where there's no brand position, no brand offer, no competition SWOT, no customer journey to speak of.
In an atmosphere like this one, the one who makes a solid pitch, wins. And the decision makers seek to make a decision that is easily defendable, and least contestsble.
It's like Don't Look Up meets The Office. The prefect storm you'd gladly skip.

Ammon Johns ✍️ πŸŽ“ Β» Igor
I hear ya buddy. But…
Don't you find that Critical Thinking is exactly how you work out what will persuade them? πŸ˜‰
Igor Β» Ammon Johns
At this point, I think I'm more in the camp of Manipulation.
Speaking logic to a non-thinker would be as effective as speaking in a different language.
To save them from their own dangerous ignorance, you'd have to flip in manipulation mode. And lose a part of your soul in the meantime.
Steven Kang πŸ‘‘ Β» Igor
There is merit to what you've said since persuasion (you can call it manipulation) is part of the sales game. Although sales techniques don't require critical thinking, it's a prerequisite for you to get your foot in the door. Let's, however, not mix critical thinking required to win the game versus a sales pitch.

Bill and I had a conversation about this around content structuring. We determined that while there are absolutely great tools generally speaking there's no replacement for monitoring the top SERPs and one's own sound judgement. These tools see keywords and seldom intent with structure. You need it all and frankly I think a lot of these tools are really useless.
Chris Edwards πŸŽ“
I often get asked what do I spend the most time on with regard SEO etc, is it content or links?
My reply is always the same, I spend the bulk of my time looking and thinking.
So Ammon Johns no surprise that it's a vote of agreement from the Welsh judge πŸ˜ƒ

Humphrey Β» Chris Edwards
I think Wales spent a long time thinking about words and then just put them all together to avoid any discontentment among parties πŸ˜† I'm allowed to say this my surname is Welsh lol.


Not everyone appreciates critical thinking.
The experience can be very difficult to explain to non critical thinkers.
This video however really nailed it.
It's Not About The Nail

Ammon Johns ✍️ πŸŽ“ Β» Dowd
There is a certain personality type that really, really struggle with abstract thinking and are very, very literal. You most commonly notice these people when despite being quite brilliant in many ways, they seem to have no sense of humour, as they just can't see anything except for what it obviously is.
I'd hesitate to call it a flaw, or suggest they are in any ways lesser, simply different. Their lack of abstract thinking often makes them absolute genius at straight-forward mental tasks in science and math. Their focus is great for linear thinking into the far distance.
But they can seem to lack empathy. If you ask them to put themselves in someone else's place they often cannot get past the fact that they are not in that place, not in those shoes, and simply be unable to do it.
It's just neuro-diversity. But yes, it is incredibly tough when you meet such a person and need them to imagine something that is not, or do some abstract thought.
Yes depending on the situation it can be a blessing or a curse.
Being able to identify patterns and understand them faster than neurotypicals is a very handy ability in SEO
Coding and scripts can level the playing field to some extent.
Identify a pattern and then replicate it,test,measure and use critical thinking to disprove my findings,try to look at it from multiple angles always asking what can I do to make it better.
Cross reference findings with whitepapers,patents and a small private group of others that are testing.

Steven Kang πŸ‘‘
Clients pay us to be strategic thinkers in a market, driven by players attempting to do the same. The game is SERP chess. Sure, there are links and content involved, but they are just pieces. Most people focus on how to polish the pieces, not how to play the game correctly.
I spend all my waking moments figuring out how to play the game the best way possible.
"Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy are the noise before defeat."
– Sun Tzu

Ammon Johns ✍️ πŸŽ“ Β» Steven Kang
The whole thing I adore the most about online marketing (and SEO too) is that it is like the biggest and best ever sandbox strategy game. I've always adored strategy games especially those with resource management and strategic expansion. This all feels like the best ever strategy game, with huge cash prizes. πŸ˜ƒ
I love that somehow I can draw upon almost every field of knowledge and find some way to apply it to give me an edge. I've found ways to bring in every bit of knowledge, every life experience, in ways that no other job or career ever allowed.
One of the things that I have always found the most frustrating in all my years (and boy do I feel old that it is over 2 decades now) of helping out in SEO forums and groups is that so many seek to use tactics, without any grasp of the strategy. Always looking for the silver bullet technique or tactic without any understanding that any tactic is only as good as its fit within a specific strategy.


Does Artificial Intelligence AI Article Writer Need Ethics?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *