Have you ever heard another SEO say their boss “just doesn’t get it?”

Happens all the time. SEO is hard.

…but we don’t make it any easier for ourselves when we rely on the easy answers.

“It depends” is probably the ultimate SEO cliche and the most obvious example of this. It’s the standard response we give to pretty much any question aimed at us.

Even if it does depend – which it almost always does, since pretty much nothing in SEO is black and white (apart from Pandas and Penguins) – there are ways to answer that SEO question without looking like you don’t know, you want time to investigate, or you’re just joking:

“Best practice would suggest this is the answer…but we should look to see if we can get an advantage/do something new.”

Best practice really means standard practice. The best you can hope for is that you’re as good as anyone else. The brands that are really winning in SEO are the ones doing something different. I did a presentation at the first SearchLeeds about how to beat brands following best practice.

“It’s usually this answer but not always.”

I often get asked “where should we get links from?” and although the answer is technically “it depends” you can get 90% of the way there saying “the answer is almost always nationals, regionals and top tier press, but if we don’t have any links from niches e.g. tech – and neither do our competitors – we should start there. Let’s take a look.

When we’re asked “should I implement AMP?” it’s the same deal. It’s no, unless… not it depends.

“In my experience, this is the most common answer. But I’ve also seen other things happening, so we should explore the options.”

“Why is this page not ranking?” …”well, it depends the most common issue on our site is that pages aren’t able to get crawled so I think that’s the most likely. But we’ve also got loads of poorly optimised meta data, so there’s a chance that we’re not signposting it very well either.”

“When this brand did it this way in the past, this was the result. We do/do not want that to happen…”

I read case studies; judge the Search Awards; follow the gossip from Barry Schwartz – I want to know how other SEOs get things done so I can answer questions like this 😉

“I know this person from this brand and I know they were working on the same thing. They thought maybe this is the answer. I’ll ask them what they came up with.”

As above ☝️ There are hundreds of Slack and WhatsApp groups you can join right now, even if you can’t hang around at a conference. Talk to people (just don’t share their off-the-record stuff in public).

“I’ve solved it this way in the past, but we did have a few options that we thought would work, so let’s not rule anything out yet.”

“How should we implement hreflang?” …”Previously I’ve put the tags in the <head> but it’s possible to use XML sitemaps. Tags in the <head> are easier because our sitemaps are broken – maybe we can use this as an excuse to fix our sitemaps too?

“I can tell you what it isn’t…”

“What should our conversion rate be?” …”well, it depends less than 1% is likely to be pretty poor and more than 3% is above average. I’ve seen as high as 10% in some industries, I do/don’t think that’s possible here.”

“My gut feeling is…”

How often do you wish you’d trusted your instincts?

Bonus, if you’re feeling cocky: “do you want the cheapest way or the best way?”

They are always different…

What does it depend on?

Be honest: most of the time when you say “it depends” you already know what it depends on. Before giving an answer at all, ask yourself:

  • What do I already know about this person?
  • What’s my overarching strategy?

If it depends on whether your client can get dev resource, ask yourself can this client usually get dev resource?

If it depends on whether your client has additional money to spend or whether it’s possible to get more budget for any solution you might recommend, ask yourself are we already maxing out the budget? Would I rather we spend that money somewhere else?

If it depends on whether other teams are going to chip in and help, ask yourself are we likely to get blocked by the PR team or are they going to jump in too?

Sounds simple enough? Let’s say it’s a new client relationship. Or you’re being interviewed for a role. Or you’ve just started. You can’t ask yourself. So ask the person asking you! Try:

Before I answer that question, can I ask you a couple so I can understand your situation?

Slow down.

Don’t just blurt it out because it’s easy.

Channel Beyoncé and remind yourself: I depend on me.

Stephen Kenwright

About Stephen Kenwright

Rise at Seven's co-founder and Technical Director. Stephen mentors communications students at Sheffield Hallam University and co-founded SearchLeeds, the biggest digital conference in the north.