While practising for my driving test, my instructor was always spouting jewels of wisdom. He also smoked too much and once nearly drove us into a traffic light but I guess nobody’s perfect.

Anyway, one of the themes that came up again and again was ‘defensive driving’, which Wikipedia helpfully defines as ‘driving to save lives, time, and money, in spite of the conditions around you and the actions of others’.

As a PR, I’ve spent a little time over the years considering how I’d describe my recommended approach to SEO, and I think a similarly ‘defensive’ approach is what works best for me.

Some of those who dole out advice around search are offering something more along the lines of a sportscar with one of those snazzy 90s devices that let you detect speed cameras and a map of shortcuts.

The thing is, those speed cameras are just automated systems set up by the real people who make the rules, the police themselves. And they won’t stop you from being pulled over and reprimanded by the real deal. The law always catches up with you.

Call me naive, but when I hear the police say they have society’s best interests at heart, I believe them. And I believe the same thing when it comes to Google. It genuinely intends to create algorithms that surface the most relevant, timely content.

So, trying to play it smart and get manipulative to beat the system playing by your own rules is, at best, a short term fix.

Instead, my advice to anyone creating content online today is that the most important thing is to have an understanding of your vehicle and make sure you don’t run into any easy mistakes.

Practice ‘defensive SEO’. Knowledge will empower you more than paying some goon thousands to work their black magic behind the scenes. And with that knowledge, you can make sure you hire advisors with the same long term attitude.

Giving examples of defensive SEO becomes a little tricky, because it’s largely about acting normal. Such as:

  • Don’t obsess about cramming paragraphs with keywords but do consider consistency between an article’s title, category and tags.
  • Don’t binge across the web getting meaningless guest posts around content that effectively says nothing.
  • Write for your mate’s blog because you have something on your mind or put together an article worthy of a proper publication and pitch it in to them.
  • Work on your *ideas* strategy.

I’m not saying all dedicated SEO professionals fit into one category or the other. As with PR or any other industry, they’re a mixed bunch and often it’s about finding the one with the skillset for you. And they may drive you into lamp posts sometimes like my instructor.

But ultimately, if you have the right assistance, combined with your own understanding of how to drive the thing, you should be able to pass the test.