10 Minute SEO: What Everyone Should Do and Almost No One Does
What’s the first thing you do when you evaluate a Website’s SEO problem?
Now go find a Web forum where someone just asked for help with an SEO problem and give yourself 10 minutes to find the problem. You don’t need a solution. Just find the problem.
As someone who participates in several online marketing forums, I strive to help where I can. I can’t always help. Sometimes people ask questions I can’t answer. Sometimes people describe problems I don’t know how to fix. There is usually at least one person, in a moderately active to very active forum, who can figure out what’s wrong (given enough information) and suggest a workable solution.
Of course, you often need to look at the Website before you can identify a problem, much less offer a workable solution. There are certainly questions of a generic nature. But if you’re going to do 10 Minute SEO then I must insist you look at the Website. If you don’t know the URL you’re not doing SEO.
10 Minute SEO Is About Identifying Problems
If you can identify a serious problem that requires a lot of work, your job is done unless someone pays you to do the work. 10 minute SEO doesn’t always provide a solution. You don’t fix the other guy’s Website. If he’s lucky, you explain enough about what the problem is and what types of solutions work that he can take it from there.
Some of my clients have paid me to do 10 minute SEO for them. I don’t charge by the minute. But while working on some major issue, I’m available for quick questions. You’ve probably answered a million of these “by the way” queries from clients. If you have a general support contract that’s what it’s all about.
10 minute SEO is never about fixing a Website. If you can provide a solution, great. If you implement the solution, well, I’ve never heard of a 10 minute contract. Good on you if you can earn a living in that kind of business.
What’s the First Thing You Should Do In 10 Minute SEO?
Identify the problem. Sure, you’re reading a forum, and someone starts a discussion with a long, detailed explanation of what they think is the problem. But is that really their problem?
Sometimes people will go to great lengths describing exactly what is being requested, help with a specific issue, how to implement the solution, etc., and after a bit of back and forth the original poster comes back and says that didn’t fix the problem.
That’s about when people who were providing easy, routine answers wake up, re-read the original question, and start to become interested. The jaded old-timers shake off the cobwebs, crack their half-fossilized joints, and come out of the woodwork to ask questions that no one thought to ask in the first place.
It’s not always the fault of the people trying to help that they don’t know to ask strange, obscure questions. But sometimes it is.
Spend enough time helping strangers online and you should develop a sixth sense about things. Think of how you self-diagnose your sniffles and aches, take them to the doctor, and he or she provides a completely different diagnosis. Doctors may not always be right but they do know a bit more about illnesses and injuries than the rest of us.
A good doctor listens to the symptoms the patient is describing, but if the problem isn’t clear after that the doctor asks a few questions. Some doctors ask questions out of an abundance of caution. And then there was the time a doctor walked into the exam room, asked me how I was feeling, and I said “awful”, and he turned around and wrote a prescription. He had seen “awful” all day long, all week long. Why waste time asking questions about the obvious?
The difference between the doctor and the SEO guy answering questions in the forum – sometimes – is the doctor can see the patient. Usually we never see the Website we’re trying to fix.
So when you’re performing 10 minute SEO, the first thing you have to do is identify the problem. Don’t assume the person asking for help knows enough to know what the problem really is.
10 Minute SEO Cannot Trust the Patient’s Self-Analysis
Going back to the doctor-patient metaphor, think about all the times you’ve seen an online discussion begin with a meticulous, detailed explanation of everything the Website owner or developer did. They hit all the SEO buzzwords: “domain authority”, “duplicate content”, “noindex”, “robots.txt”, “rel=’canonical’”, and toss in a couple of “hreflang” and Google My Business paragraphs. Hey, this guy knows everything about SEO. Why is he asking for help?
Well, obviously someone has paid attention to the conference presentations, video tutorials, or SEO blogs they have been perusing. That doesn’t mean they know what their problem is. Worse, it doesn’t mean they know what they are doing. It’s easy to follow a step-by-step explanation of how to do something and come away with absolutely no understanding of what you just did.
Come on, ‘fess up. You’re like me: you follow 10-step online guides all the time. Who has the energy to remember and understand all that stuff? You got Windows 10 to do what you want and now you just want to go back to binge-watching your favorite shows. So people do this with SEO tutorials all the time.
When they run into a brick wall they write like they know what they are doing (up to a point), and in fact they have no idea of why they followed that advice in the first place. So is the problem that they missed a step, incorrectly implemented a cool SEO strategy, or is it that they had no business trying to do what they were doing? Did they really NEED to try their chosen strategy?
*=> Key takeaway: Sometimes the problem is behind “the problem”.
This isn’t necessarily a “you’ll know it when you see it” kind of thing. If you’re going to do 10 minute SEO, you have to know when to ask the right question. And the right question always begins with 1 word: WHY.
Why did you do this in the first place?
Why did you think you needed to do this?
Why are you trying to do this on your own?
Why did you use THAT strategy?
Why did you …
If you cannot think of a reason to ask “why” when assessing someone’s description of a problem then don’t ask why. Only ask why if it makes sense to you. Maybe you are not ready to help with this specific problem. In this case, asking “why” helps YOU. But if this is not your first mission and your gut is telling you something ELSE may be wrong, ask WHY. The right question should come to you.
10 Minute SEO Looks at the Source Code
If you don’t have a Website URL you may still be able to look at the source code. But it’s always great to have a URL. Some Web forums forbid people from posting URLs. While I think this is a very unhelpful policy, I understand why some people follow it. So the next best thing is to ask for an example of code, where you replace the domain name with “example.com” or whatever.
The thing is, if the person asking for help overlooked something, you probably won’t see it in whatever code snippet they share.
About 10-20% of the time when I look at the source code of a Website, I find one of two problems:
- The site is using “nofollow” attributes on internal navigation
- The site is using “noindex” directives in “robots” tags
You’ve seen this a thousand times. It’s a very common source of frustration. People who meticulously follow SEO advice to keep development sites out of the SERPs usually slip up near the end after a long project, when they are tired, ready to sign off on it, and just can’t stand to look at that source code any more. That’s when they miss the obvious.
It gives me no pleasure to point out the obvious, especially if half a dozen people ahead of me have suggested extravagant workarounds, crawling the site, etc. A crawl might reveal the meta tag issues but, really, if you just “View Source” you should catch it because you have a fresh perspective.
A lot of things can go wrong in source code. Most of them require more than 10 minutes to find and understand. Don’t feel bad if you quickly look at the source code and don’t see the problem. But sometimes, especially when the person asking for help describes the problem accurately, looking at the source code helps you grok it. When you feel that frustration in your bones, merely confirming by visual inspection what is wrong may jog your memory.
10 Minute SEO Offers No Standard, Off-the-Shelf Solutions
There’s a guy who hangs out in this one forum I hang out in. Every time someone brings up an indexing problem he suggests they need to do one specific thing. He’s the classic “I have a hammer so I will treat everything like a nail” kind of SEO specialist. I have no doubt he is basically competent with the sites he manages. But he’s too 1-solution to be of much help with random problems.
You know this guy. He gets around to a LOT of online discussions.
Mr. Hammer-Solves-Everything has a box filled with Universal Solutions. Sometimes he gets lucky and his knee-jerk reaction is exactly what is needed. Well, not the knee-jerk but the hammer. If he is Mister NoIndex-Everything, then once in a while he’ll suggest noindexing something when it should be. If he is Mister Redirect-Everything, he’ll occasionally be right.
These are not 10 minute SEO solutions. If you don’t put any thought into understanding what the problem is, then you’re not optimizing for search. One of my priorities when offering free advice online is to NOT become the next Mister 1-Solution. Sometimes I pass on suggesting an obvious solution if I just shared the same advice, if only because I don’t want to be the one to say it (again).
10 Minute SEO Requires A Bit More Knowledge Than Regular SEO
This is where I get to brag. I may not be an expert Nginx admin or developer, but I know a lot of Nginx questions when I see them. People who are very familiar with Linux, but who have never seen an Nginx configuration file, may not realize they are using the wrong hammer when offering “.htaccess” advice. I’d like to say I can always recognize Nginx problems, but sometimes I have to be told it’s Nginx. Nginx came out of Linux, so it inherited a lot of Linux and Apache mechanisms. There’s no shame in mistaking an Nginx question for a Linux question. But you’ll still get it wrong.
By the same token, I can sometimes recognize IIS questions. Microsoft’s IIS is very different from Linux, but I don’t know enough about IIS to always be sure I’m dealing with an IIS question. I’ve learned to ask if it’s IIS, or to casually say, “Here’s how I would do it in Apache, I think there is a similar way to do it in IIS if that is what you’re using”. Most of the time someone who knows more than me about IIS can jump in and provide the details – once they recognize it as an IIS question.
The IIS specialists do recognize the environment very quickly and often answer questions before I see them. But like the rest of us they have work to do and don’t always see the questions before we Linux guys see them.
So it’s good to know about operating systems. And it’s also good to know about Web hosting solutions. Up until a few years ago, a common but perplexing question you’d see in marketing forums concerned unwanted subdomains. People would set up Addon domains (1 hosting account servicing multiple domains). The Addon domains were handled via (older) Cpanel installations, and old versions of Cpanel created subdomains off the Primary domain for all the Addon domains. Those subdomains inevitably found their ways into search indexes.
Many people wasted time venting against “stupid Web hosting”, even though they already knew how to solve the problem. They just didn’t understand what the problem was. The solution was to implement 301 redirects from the subdomains to the Addon domains. Fortunately, Cpanel has long since fixed this problem and most if not all Web hosting companies now run modern Cpanel installations.
I could go on. The list of things that can affect SEO that SEO specialists don’t normally deal with grows every day. You probably have a list of these oddball, one-off anecdotes yourselves. You know what I mean. When you can recognize the obscure details quickly enough, you’re ready to play in the 10 Minute SEO sandbox.
10 Minute SEO needs at least a minimal knowledge of Web applications and Content Management Systems. Not everything runs on WordPress. Not everything is hosted in the cloud (well, technically, a lot of stuff is — but never mind that).
10 Minute SEO Is Constantly Learning
There is no law against trying to be a 10 Minute SEO specialist. Most if not all forums welcome your help even if you don’t know what you’re doing. After all, how else are you going to learn this stuff, except to dive in?
The are only three tools that you need for 10 Minute SEO:
- A desktop or laptop computer
- A smart phone
- A preferred search engine
I prefer to use Bing for some technical queries. They are less likely to show me made-for-advertising spam than Google. But if I cannot find what I am looking for in Bing, I’ll switch to Google. I use Bing first so that I can help people with Bing-related questions. If you have any interest in voice search, you’ll start using Bing, too.
When you don’t know the problem or cannot understand it, use your 10 minutes to research it. There is a chance you’ll end up chasing the rabbit but maybe you’ll learn some really cool stuff about how Roman Geisha girls built the Tarlanging Wall or something. At least you make an effort to learn about an SEO situation.
If you’re really a search engine optimization specialist, you should be more than willing to use a search engine to look up obscure, random comments people make. Nothing screams out “amateur out of his league” more loudly or faster than when someone jumps into a discussion with the bullshit assertion that you’re just “making it up” or “don’t know what you’re talking about”. Once in a while the other guy really does NOT know what he’s talking about, but if you’re feeling a strong desire to correct someone else who is providing detailed advice that sounds like meaningless drivel to you, DO YOURSELF A FAVOR AND LOOK IT UP before you respond.
Google indexes mobile content and Bing indexes the desktop. Why is it important to know this stuff? Because people may not know when they are dealing with Bing. Virtually every voice search question I have seen had something to do with Alexa. Bing powers Alexa. You may be dazzled by the glitzy conference presentations that explain everything Google is doing with voice search, but Google only drives at most 1/3 of voice search results.
More people are beginning to ask about Bing. That’s good. Bing is a very good search engine. It’s just not Google, Jr. Bing has its own algorithms and often serves better search results than Google. So if you’re trying to help someone with Bing, look at their site on a desktop or laptop computer. If you’re trying to help them with Google, look at their site on a smart phone.
And if you’re curious about DuckDuckGo’s search results, or if you see someone asking about how to optimize for DuckDuckGo, they get their index data from Bing and Yandex. That should be good enough for now.
10 Minute SEO Does Not Use Simulators
It’s impossible to replicate every situation on the Internet, but leave your SEO tools for when you’re at home playing with your own Website. If your first instinct is to crawl someone else’s site without their knowledge or permission, you are the scum of the Earth. I’m not going to mince words about that. You don’t need to crawl anyone’s Website just because they asked a question in a forum. It appalls me to see how many people still do this. They’re not rebel scum. They’re just plain scum.
By the same token, don’t waste everyone’s time with Lighthouse and GT Metrix. I love GT Metrix (not fond of Lighthoiuse at all) but if someone is complaining about, or wants to know if their Website is slow, the least thing they need is for you to run some stupid simulator against the site. PageSpeed Insights is a cheap toy from a cereal box. No decent, self-respecting 10 Minute SEO specialist should ever try to use it. Leave PageSpeed Insights for the script kiddies so they can fuss over how to compress 5-kilobyte image files and Google Fonts.
Pick up a smart phone, disable the Wi-Fi, and connect to the site THAT WAY. Go sit in the closet or a supermarket parking lot where the cellular reception is awful. No SEO tool can ever simulate the real world as well as the real world.
By the same token, instead of asking the poor guy to crawl his site and tell you what Screaming Frog says, ask him what Google Search Console and/or Bing Webmaster Tools say. They provide plenty of crawl information. This is 10 Minute SEO, not a full-blown 50-page site audit.
10 Minute SEO Does Not Have a Favorite SEO Plugin
If someone asks what your favorite SEO plugins are, tell them. Share your opinions and experience.
If someone asks a question that begins with, “How do [I/you] …” you should NOT be responding with “just install [X] SEO plugin”. This may come as a shock to you, but most of the Web is not yet running on WordPress. Worse, the vast majority of ecommerce sites are not running on WordPress. It’s no skin of my back if you look foolish but don’t you think you should ask what CMS they are using? They may already have built-in tools to do whatever they are doing.
And if not, then you need to know whether they are running on WordPress before you begin singing the praises of your favorite SEO plugin. It’s a sure sign they are not using WordPress if they ask about modules or extensions.
10 Minute SEO can be a lot of fun. Heck, it’s an ego-boosting joyride into the depths of pontification. If you can help someone solve a vexing problem, they’ll appreciate you more. They may even say kind things about you in social media. Or they’ll just link to some dumb blog about 460 SEO experts in which you are not mentioned and forget who you are. But for about 10 minutes you can dive into someone else’s life and make a difference. You’ll be glad you did.
On a more long-term note, 10 Minute SEO makes it easier for you to prioritize your projects. If you can identify and fix a problem in about 10 minutes, that leaves you with more time to work on your own vexing stuff. Practice makes perfect is the 10 Minute SEO specialist’s mantra. It’s not about showing off, making other people look silly, or proving you know better than anyone else. You’ll be wrong more often than you’re right. But if you practice 10 Minute SEO, even without sharing your ideas with others, you’ll learn a lot about search engine optimization, the Web, and life in general.
And you’ll chase the rabbit a few times, so maybe put a timer by your computer so you don’t get lost in distraction. When you give yourself only 10 minutes to identify and solve problems, I think you’ll find a new way of doing things. You’ll feel less like the guy with the hammer and a bit more thoughtful about search engine optimization.
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