Google doesn’t provide us with an instructional manual on how to master and understand their ranking algorithm. Sure, we have Google’s webmaster guidelines and blogs, but most of what we learn along the way is through experience, experimentation and our own learning.
One of my first experiences in SEO was to diagnose a penalty that was impacting one of the agency’s largest clients. That was back in the day when Google didn’t provide any manual action messages. Talk about falling head first into SEO.
Looking back over the last 10+ years, there are a few things I wish I had been told about SEO before I started.
1. There Are a Ton of Opinions
Going back to what I said in the introduction, there is no specific instructional manual provided to us by Google that tells us everything we need to know. That leads to the many opinions.
You can get a panel of five SEO professionals together and ask a question. You will likely get five different answers and opinions.
That is confusing when someone is new to SEO, because they don’t know which opinion to trust. It comes down to the person’s experience and track record.
There are some great SEO books out there written by experts that provide some good opinions and advice. Read more in the article, The 11 Best SEO Books You Should Read.
2. You’re Aiming for a Moving Target
Just when you think you have it all figured out, something changes.
There are many statistics thrown around regarding how many times Google updates their algorithm each year. At the very least, we know it is hundreds of times annually.
How do you account for that? I learned the hard way through diagnosing the penalty early on in my SEO career that you have to start with an understanding of search engine guidelines. There are certain fundamentals that exist.
Then, you need to constantly read Google blogs and follow key Google employees on Twitter to stay up on the latest. Here are a couple who you should follow: Gary Illyes and John Mueller.
3. Tools Exist to Help You, But Don’t Constantly Chase the ‘New Shiny Object’
You can’t do SEO without tools to track, monitor, analyze and report. I am not going to get into which tool is best, because that is subjective.
When I first started in SEO, I was constantly looking at tools, but I would spend so much time learning new ones, that I was taking away from the actual SEO work.
Eventually, I created a spreadsheet of the tools I was currently using and had columns that reflected what each tool was able to do. If there are holes in the data and capabilities within your existing set of tools, then look at what else is out there.
4. Your Friends & Family Won’t Understand What You Do
I am going to get in trouble for this one with my family, but 10 years later, there is still confusion about what exactly I do.
In the beginning, I was excited and would explain the technical aspects of websites, search engine algorithms and optimization. No one grasped what I was talking about.
At one point, by 89-year-old grandmother asked if I could provide her with a book to better understand my career choice. I gave her Bruce Clay’s Search Engine Optimization All-in-One for Dummies. She read the entire thing.
If you are new to SEO, be prepared for the many conversations of explaining what you do for a living. One woman told me at a conference that her mother thought her SEO work was illegal – after explaining it to her.
5. You Have to Overcome Skepticism
Because SEO is hard to “see” many companies are skeptical of how and if it works.
My experience working with various businesses is that you have to overcome skepticism among executives in order to start the project. However, you also have to overcome it when working with the IT or development team.
Both obstacles often involve explaining the why behind the proposed SEO work, along with examples of past successes.
It’s about proving the value of SEO through data, but even more importantly, with results that relate to the business’ bottom line.
6. Clients Want Transparency
This one piggybacks on overcoming skepticism. Throughout my SEO journey, I have always worked for agencies, so I am not coming from the in-house perspective.
From an agency point of view, I have learned that clients need transparency. As soon as you stop providing it, the project becomes at risk, even if you are doing a lot of great work.
Deliverables and deadlines have been the key for me, meaning I tell the client what we are working on and when to expect it. Even if the deliverable is not something that requires client feedback, we send it anyway. That way, there is full transparency, and really also accountability.
Transparency also involves monthly reporting, but not just a report that is auto-generated. There needs to be context and explanation to the data. That could mean a simple bullet point list explaining the wins throughout the month or highlighting the significant work completed.
7. Never Stop Learning
Referencing the second point in this list, SEO means you are aiming for a moving target. Consequently, you can never stop learning.
First, start with the basics, such as the SEO 101 Guide, which is an excellent resource for beginners. But don’t stop there.
Read industry publications on a regular basis. Some experts I know in the industry set aside one to two hours a day to read the latest news. They are part of Facebook and LinkedIn groups that discuss SEO. They are also connected with numerous other experts on Twitter, so they know right away when something big hits.
Plus, it is important to attend at least one to two conferences a year. View the list of the upcoming 2018 conferences and start planning now. These conferences are the opportunity to network with other industry professionals and hear the latest in search.
One More Piece of Advice
Even with the tips above, there is still going to be a lot of stumbling and learning along the way. Don’t get discouraged. Keep taking the right steps and be open to learning.