Blast from the Past: Ryan McLaughlin Proves You Can Win With Old School SEO

We can still learn a thing or two from the past

Ryan McLaughlin on stage, proving that you don’t need flashy new tactics to win at SEO.
Ryan McLaughlin on stage at State of Search, slinging some sick SEO knowledge.

“SEO isn’t dead” has been the theme thus far at State of Search, and for good reason. With Google constantly updating their algorithms (hello Panda 4.0), we SEOs have to try to stay ahead of the curve by anticipating what Google will do next. That’s why we have awesome keynote speakers like Danny Sullivan to speak on the current (and future) state of search, but sometimes we also forget one of the simplest, truest sayings: “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Enter Ryan McLaughlin.

Out with the new, in with the old

After winging his presentation for 10 minutes without his slide deck, Winning With Old School SEO in 2016 (& Beyond), Ryan reminded State of Searchers that you shouldn’t be so focused on pursuing the next big shiny SEO tactic and ignore what’s already been proven to work. Sometimes the best solution is to take a step back and refocus on the core fundamentals of SEO.

Things like title tags, meta descriptions, H1 headings, and even internal linking structure can make a huge difference when it comes to optimizing a website – and Ryan backed this up with some receipts! His presentation was full of charts and graphs illustrating that even something as simple as changing the title tag can exponentially improve a page’s search ranking. Like, we’re talking a jump from 31 to 9. And that’s just from fixing the title tag, y’all.

Keep an ear to the ground and an eye on the future

But that’s not to say you shouldn’t keep an eye on what Google is doing now and how they’ll continue to change the nature of search. Ranking signals like click-through rate and user behavior are becoming increasingly important, because Google wants to deliver the best, most accurate answers whenever someone asks a question.

That’s why it’s so essential to keep focusing on these “old-school” fundamentals when you’re optimizing sites and pages. SEO isn’t going away any time soon. You are the one providing the answers to queries, so you need to make sure you’re presenting them in the most SEO-friendly way – and not just for Google’s benefit. Search engines need context, yes. But so do people.

The intersection of search and SEO

One of the more interesting observations Ryan made on-stage is that the dynamic between search engines and SEO is the Internet’s original symbiotic relationship, and he’s absolutely right. Much like Lord Voldemort and Harry Potter, Google created SEO (and digital marketers) the moment they started indexing the web, and neither can live while the other survives. You need Google, just as much as Google needs you. Because the truth is, the seemingly omniscient search engine is not perfect. It doesn’t just need you for your content. It needs you to make it better.

One of the ways you can help Google get better is by improving your understanding how users actually search and interact with your site – and not just via heat maps and drunk user testing (no really, that’s a thing). While these are helpful tactics, Ryan believes we all need to take it a step further. Tools can only get us so far. We need to actually sit down with people and just watch them use Google, see how they interact with our sites and digest our content – and then share our findings with each other! The best thing about the search community is that it’s exactly that; a community of people who value collaboration for the purpose of improving user engagement and experience.

Just stick with it and be yourself

All this being said, sometimes you can do everything right and still not get the results you want – but fear not! Results don’t always reveal themselves on the timeline we’d expect, or in the way we’d expect. You just have to show up and do the work the best you can. The key is to be authentic and empathetic when it comes to helping and understanding your audience, while also appreciating that the state of search is constantly changing and evolving. But remember: the principles are static. The basics don’t change. Master these fundamentals, and play to your strengths as well as others’ needs. If you can accomplish these things, the benefits of your SEO efforts will grow exponentially.


Writer, blogger, SEO guy. Timothy volunteers his writing skillz for DFWSEM / State of Search. He also writes about movies and shows and nerdy stuff. To read this wicked-fresh content, and learn more about all things SEO / nerd-culture, you can follow him on Twitter – @timothuney