10,000 SEO Questions and the Nature of Trees

In the coaching program that Dan Thies and I run together (The SEO BrainTrust) we answer several dozen questions a week between our 90 minute Q&A calls and our Platinum Member Podcasts. In a year we should answer a thousand questions between us and we’ve been teaching this stuff for 10 years — 10,000 questions :-).

A few days back I had a chance to explain how it is we do that. In the answer is a lesson not just about SEO, but learning in general.

Consider these questions:

  • “For an affiliate link that I cloak on my domain in the .htaccess file, should I nofollow that link or do I not need to because the link is on my own domain?”
  • “I use a tracking code on my banner ads. Do these links still provide ranking benefits to my site?”
  • “Does leaving off the trailing ‘/’ on my domain name make a difference?”
  • “I want to link into the middle of a page (using an anchor like /page.html#bookmark). Does this link pass PageRank to the page?”

All good questions, and all seemingly different, until you understand how URLs work and then all these questions are really just variations of a single issue.

Questions are much like the leaves of a tree. Taken alone, they are numerous and seemingly not related, but when you focus instead on the branches, whole groups of leaves are seen to be connected.

Technical topics — SEO included — are rich with this “deep structure” where a relatively smaller number of core concepts give rise to many hundreds or thousands of observable phenomenon. By coming to understand the reasons why things work the way they do, future questions can be fit into already understood areas — new leaves placed on already discovered branches. It is this degree of understanding that constitutes real mastery.