This may seem like one of those click-bait ads like "what personal trainers don't want you to know about weight loss," but make no mistake--this isn't a gimmick designed to fool you into thinking there are easy shortcuts when there aren't any. Instead, this article is about clearing up misconceptions, admitting various challenges, and clarifying certain complex ideas that SEO agencies often avoid. This is usually not due to malice; instead, it's designed to spare both parties from a lengthy conversation, avoid bringing unnecessary attention to a potential concern, and otherwise maintain a brighter, smoother relationship.

I make no judgments about this, and I've even employed such tactics in the past. However, SEO is a complex world, and I've found that transparency is by far the best policy (despite some of its repercussions). That being said, I want to tell you seven "secrets" about SEO you might not otherwise hear from your agency:

1. You can Google your way to becoming an SEO expert.

This is true. That doesn't mean it's quick or easy, but it's possible. SEO is a complicated subject with many ins and outs, and it changes on an almost daily basis--but at the same time, it's not black magic. It's also not something you need an advanced degree or previous experience for. If you dedicate yourself to learning SEO, from the basics on up to the advanced technical components, there are enough free online resources to help you get there. Does this mean SEO agencies are a waste of money? Absolutely not, but this is the conclusion agencies are afraid you'll come to if you find out that SEO isn't magic. When you pay for SEO, you're paying for someone who's already done the countless hours of homework and hundreds of practical experiments to put the theories in action.

2. Good content isn't enough.

Most modern SEO agencies will continue to proclaim that "content is king" (and in my opinion, it truly is). But being king is nothing without a kingdom. Like a tree falling with nobody around to hear it, good content with nobody around to read it is useless. After producing good content, you have to work--hard--to get that content seen. You have to go after the best publication channels, syndicate on the best networks, and revitalize interest in older pieces by bringing them back from the dead. Only then can you see things like social shares, links, and increased traffic.

3. We don't know everything, but we'll do our best.

Like I said, SEO's a big area. Anyone who claims to know everything about it is lying--we don't even know what Google's ranking algorithm fully looks like. We have general knowledge, based on tips given by Google directly and correlational studies performed by SEO experts everywhere, but we don't know everything about these relationships. Plus, we never really know what's around the corner for the future of SEO.

4. Metric tracking doesn't have to be expensive.

This is one area where SEO agencies really can take advantage of consumers; tracking your metrics doesn't have to be expensive. Some of the best analytics platforms (e.g., Google Analytics) are completely free. If your agency is trying to sell you an expensive dashboard that tells you things like organic traffic and individual page performance, start asking questions. The effective interpretation of these metrics (and special integrated features) can be a value-add worth the extra money, but do your homework before you buy.

5. It's impossible to guarantee rankings.

SEO is all about getting more search visibility, yet there's no way I (or anyone else) can guarantee you a certain ranking or position for any specific keyword. There are too many variables at play, even with keyword and competitive research in hand. Plus, Google's algorithm functions based on semantic understanding of user queries--one-to-one keyword mapping is no longer even a part of its ranking criteria. Google itself has chimed in on this, saying, "Beware of SEOs that claim to guarantee rankings, allege a 'special relationship' with Google, or advertise a 'priority submit' to Google."

6. "Going viral" is really hard and happens rarely.

I've written posts about "how to go viral" before, and make no mistake, there are certain tactics that can increase your chances of going viral. The increased popularity and exposure of such an event are unparalleled, but is there any way to consistently and predictably achieve this landmark event? No. Users are fickle, timing is tricky, and sometimes even the best content can be left by the wayside. Going viral is hard--not impossible, but hard--though most agencies will have you believe it's simpler than it actually is.

7. We can't do this alone.

No matter how much I'd like it to be the case, I can't magically make a site rank higher from the top of my SEO tower. You can't hand me the reins to your site and expect me to "take care of it" from there. To be successful in SEO, you need to know a site's mission, brand, target audience, and operations--and know those factors intimately. The only way to do that is to have agencies and clients work closely together throughout the process.

If your SEO agency hasn't told you these things, it doesn't mean it's bad, or deceitful, or malicious. It means it want to maximize its relationship with you, or otherwise keep you focused on the high-level details of an otherwise messy and hard-to-follow strategy. Still, the more you know about SEO the better--even the messy parts--because it will ground your expectations and help you understand the complexities of a campaign.

Further reading:

Published on: Feb 8, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.