I'm going to say it.
There is no such thing as an SEO guru.
Sure, there are SEO experts. There are advisers, mentors, consultants. There are people who can help.
But, typically, when people use the word "guru," they're talking about something more than a mentor or consultant. They're talking about somebody who possesses some arcane knowledge, a virtuoso, somebody who knows hidden secrets, or somebody who knows virtually everything that can be known about a subject.
Those people do not exist in the SEO industry.
The industry leaders, the Rand Fishkins and Danny Sullivans? They're not SEO gurus. They became industry leaders because they know more than a few things about SEO, and they know how to run a media company.
The forum "gurus," with their eBooks, tips and tricks? They're not SEO gurus. Many are hucksters.
Us agencies? Most of the trustworthy ones try to avoid the label. We're practicing SEOs. We learn by getting our hands dirty. We're not gurus. We're pragmatic professionals.
Realizing that there are no SEO gurus out there is one of the most important lessons you will ever learn, whether you want to become an SEO yourself, or you want to hire one.
I'm not joking. Even many of the people who read this and say "yeah, yeah, I know that already" still haven't fully absorbed this lesson. It is absolutely crucial that you really and truly get it, or inevitable pitfalls will continue to claim you.
Nobody Understands the Search Engine Algorithms
This is a fact.
I can quote from Sergey Brin and Larry Page's original Stanford paper on the Google algorithm. I can quote leaked Google documents, Google's guidelines, or statements from Google employees. I can point to case studies, my own or others'. I can point to industry correlation studies. All of these things can impart my advice with more authority and substance.
None of this will ever make me an SEO guru.
Google's algorithm is locked behind closed doors. Frankly, the algorithm, which is a collection of many smaller algorithms, is so complex and nonlinear at this point that I doubt any single Google employee fully understands how it works. Could a Google employee quit and use their knowledge to rank a site for a competitive query overnight? I highly doubt it.
Reality is the Only Teacher, Mentor, and Guru
At the end of the day, the only thing that matters is what actually works in practice. This is often similar to what the SEO industry or Google employees claim will work, but this isn't always the case. Context matters. Environment matters. Circumstances matter.
It gets bigger than that, too. SEO is more complex than Google's algorithm. It is closely tied to other business practices, including both your IT and marketing departments, in fact, to the strength of your business as a whole.
Experts can be a source of inspiration. They can share case studies, experiments, or correlation studies that suggest what might work. It's wise to obey Google's guidelines, lest you build a job title dependent on a search engine monopoly that doesn't like your business model.
But, no matter how much depth lies in the advice of others, the advice is still just a jumping-off point. It is an opportunity to learn from your own personal experience.
Because until you start learning from your own experience, you're not doing anything to separate yourself from the rest of the industry. That guarantees mediocre results. It even puts you at risk. Sections of this industry have walked themselves off of more than a few cliffs, and they did it by following the advice of others.
Image credit: Michelangelo Carrieri