SEO Is Like Organic Gardening

John McDougall talks about how doing natural, long-term, effective SEO is like organic gardening.

What Is SEO and What Do SEO People Do?

A lot of people ask, “What is SEO and what do SEO people do?” Seems kind of farfetched, or it feels like a Rubik’s cube with some of the stickers worn off, where you can’t really get it to work no matter how hard you try.

Well, there’s the Miracle Grow approach — the old school SEO, where you just buy some spammy backlinks, throw some keywords in your pages — or the long-term approach that the good SEOs take.

So, my compost bin has biochar — charcoal that I’ve burnt some wood and made a home for microbes — eggshells, banana peels, leaves, seaweed, and salt marsh hay. Good SEO is like that, in the sense that you need good content that’s really fertile, and that’s going to attract people, that’s not BS. You can’t just sprinkle some SEO fairy dust anymore on your site.

Good Content

So you need good content. You need people to link to your site. And getting links now is really more like PR. You can use Help a Reporter or to try and convince reporters that your site’s worth linking to, but you can’t just get that stuff easy or buy directory links on fiver or something like that.

Good User Experience

The other thing you need is a good user experience. So when people go to your site, if you have a slow-loading site where it’s hard to navigate, that’s not going to work. You don’t want people to bounce off your site and go back to the search result pages because Google can see that. They just were talking yesterday on Search Engine Land about click-through rates. So, when you do get to the top of the search results, because you put some good content on your site with good title tags and meta descriptions, people see that in the search results. If it’s interesting, and not just a keyword in there, they might be more likely to click it and then they go to your site. So, all of these factors play into SEO.


Then you want your brand to be recognized. So if people are searching for your brand, Google can pick up on how many people search every month for your brand terms and your people that work at your company, your blogger names. So, do you have credibility? Do you have authority? Is your site a real fertile ground where you are taking your time to build it out right, or again, are you just sprinkling fairy dust or Miracle Grow on your site?

Those old types of thinking are not going to work in 2022 and 2023 and beyond. So think like a gardener, in a way. Get your hands dirty and you get really rich black soil and you’ll end up with really good results in SEO. Think short term and you’ll lose. And when you do SEO right, you end up with a bountiful crop.


So, in order to get there, you can use a tool like Screaming Frog, go and crawl all the pages of your competitor’s sites, list out how many pages they have for each topical category and if you want to be really well known for “edible loofa” or whatever your topic is, you need lots of pages on that content. So you can’t just have a page and throw some keywords on it. These days, really good SEO is creating potentially hundreds of pages around a specific topic, at least a dozen, and use something called topic clusters to tie those pieces of content together, and that’ll give you great results.

Social Media

There’s another thing I forgot to mention, if we’re going to extend the analogy of organic gardening and organic SEO, and that’s adding nitrogen into your compost. So, I crush up lobster shells and add fish guts and things like that, and that helps break down the compost more quickly. And I put a thermometer in and make sure that it’s hot and that really speeds things up. And one thing that can speed up your organic SEO, while it’s not a direct contributor in the Google algorithm, is social media.

So, if you have great content and you not only get it shared on your social media profiles, but say you do a podcast with another high-level expert and you get on their social media, they’re going to spread that content faster than you can if they have a larger audience. We did that with a bank and we got on NerdWallet and NerdWallet sent us thousands of visitors a month. We just couldn’t replicate that in paid ads. So if you want to speed things up, use social media and that can also help your organic SEO.


Stay tuned for more in this series on “What Is SEO” and “What Do SEOs Do”. We’re going to be going over things like how SEO is like being an auto mechanic or a contractor building a house, how to lay a foundation or how to take apart an engine. There are a lot of things you need to know, step-by-step how this stuff works. And some of the advice on the internet is a little broad in general, but we’re going to go into the weeds on it and show you how to do it without a lot of headaches, how to get some of the technical stuff done quickly, and then use podcasting and videos and things like that to just talk, and the content will come flowing out on your site with minimal effort.

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