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A surefire way to get better at something is through repetition. Simple, right? Well, as I'm wont to do, I'm going to split hairs and go on a bit of a tangent.

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To me, the repetition of a result-oriented activity is different from practicing a defined skill. In the words of my childhood Tae Kwon Do teacher, "Practice only makes perfect when you practice perfectly". That makes a certain amount of sense if we define "practice" as the repetition of a process or procedure where "perfect performance" is a known variable. As you practice a piece of music, a speech, or a climbing route, you're more or less certain of what the perfect performance you're aiming for looks like.

Improvement through repetition is a bit different and applies when you don't yet know what that perfect endstate looks like and/or if it's unclear how to get there. With each repetition, you get a clearer idea of what the perfect endstate is. Better yet, you get better at the practice of finding a new way to get there. The muscle being developed is one of "finding the way". 

Writing this newsletter as a weekly exercise has, for me, been an incredible instrument of improvement through repetition. I've already begun to feel my prose sharpening and bearing a stronger resemblance to what I aspire it to be. However, I don't really consider this "practice" — I'm not breaking down and working through a defined process to get closer to my ideal writing voice and tone; there isn't one. 

Along similar lines, I just put out the season finale of my podcast (Season One of Too Rational). That 10-episode run perfectly illustrates improvement through repetition. I still don't have the roadmap to producing an award-winning podcast, but after producing episode after episode, my co-host and I are getting a lot better at creating the result we want with each recording (episode 10 is so much better than episode 0 that it makes me cringe a little). 

The last example that, unsurprisingly, springs to mind is Search Engine Optimization.

Some may tell you that there's an established roadmap and gameplan for "doing SEO", but I think that's by and large a false claim. "Great SEO" is a nebulous and hard-to-define goal. An important one to be sure, but the only way to arrive at that summit is through repetition of the ascent. 

SEO has never been one-and-done and that's never made more clear than in an agency setting. SEO is an ongoing process where the goals are always changing at only a slightly slower pace than the methods and tactics themselves. There's little use in practicing the "perfect SEO campaign" because (even if one existed in the first place) it would be outdated and ineffective by the time you'd mastered it. The only way that any of us get good at Search Engine Optimization is through repetition: optimizing a site, seeing what happens, optimizing it again, watching everything fall apart, optimizing it yet again, etc. 

The reason that search marketing professionals with agency backgrounds tend to be so valuable is due to that constant repetition over years and years; what makes them invaluable is their extensive experience in repeating the process without an established roadmap. SEO isn't necessarily the skill of optimizing websites for organic search; it's the art of crafting a strategy that allows a site to earn organic visibility without having the route mapped out for you. All the while, acknowledging that a plan that works now is different from the plan that worked last quarter, which is different from the plan that will work next year. 

Search engine optimization — and marketing overall — isn't a one-time purchase. It's an ongoing investment that will continue to produce returns for as long as you have the patience and perseverance to repeat the process. Done well, it generates significant returns despite both the constant changes and the ups and downs. 

If someone ever claims to have found a silver bullet for SEO that doesn't require that ongoing investment of repetition; of effort, struggle, and creativity hope that it's your competition who ends up buying it. Three months from now, while they're comfortably relaxing wrapped in the false sense of security that "SEO is done", you'll be outmaneuvering and outperforming them in the SERPs.

The key to becoming great at SEO, web analytics, development, or nearly any other discipline is improvement through repetition. That's what I've attempted to do my whole career and that's what I hope everyone reading this has a chance to celebrate, leverage, and/or benefit from. 

Hang in there and until next time, happy optimizing.

Mike Arnesen

Founder & Geek-at-Large at UpBuild

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