Most of us see the same tweets, read the same blogs and know the same case studies. We know to optimize titles and anchor text, fix canonical issues, write compelling meta descriptions and so on. In the age of social media, trade secrets are now few and far between.
If that’s the case, and we all know basically the same things, what differentiates a great SEO?
The answer is, simply, the ability to get things done.
Here are 10 things you can do to be a great SEO.
10. Be humble: Value goals beyond rankings
A great SEO knows that the ultimate success involves checking their ego. Ranking for an ultra cool term is great chest-pounding material, but the contribution to the bottom line is the currency that spends. Whether the goals are sales, or traffic, ranking for the ugly terms may not be as cool to the world, but it will be to your company.
9. Be a realist: Focus on sustainability
What can your company really expect to rank for? Think like a search engine. Are you really the right answer for a particular search term? If not, don’t spend your resources working hard for a ranking that you really don’t belong in. If you’re building a business model based on a changing algorithm, have a fundamentally sound reason for choosing your terms. If you don’t, create one. No one agrees on how bounce rate affects rankings, but long term I think everyone agrees nothing good will come of a poor performing, irrelevant page.
8. Know your product: Keyword research wins
As more and more keyword research tools become available, making sense of them becomes increasingly mundane. Successful keywords come from real world terms that often don’t jump out in tools like WordTracker or Keyword Discovery. You must know what you’re looking for and not just wait for it to be delivered to you. Know how the customers speak, and you’ll know what you’re looking for. Your own internal site search is a great tool for this.
7. Understand your resources: Plan your projects accordingly
Keep in mind, the Paid Search team has a huge advantage here. Their results are relatively predictable. Yours are not. Be certain your project is funded, planned, benchmarked and understood by others. If link building is involved, as it should be, be certain that time is budgeted for a diligent effort. Creating, sharing and following a roadmap will buy you the space to work.
6. Learn your surroundings: Identify potential roadblocks and address them
The worst thing you can do as a SEO is surprise, or ambush, people. You need to assume other departments will already be skeptical of your sorcerer ways. It’s only natural. Identify the people that will block your path. Address them with facts, privately. Do not humiliate someone who doesn’t understand SEO. What seems obvious to you may not be obvious to them. Only if you give respect do you earn the right to command it.
5. Embrace your limitations: Plug the holes
One of the hardest things to do sometimes is admit what you don’t do well. Doing so, however, will earn the respect of others and insure that those holes are plugged by other team members. Work on them as you go, but never hide them. Being great doesn’t mean you need to be great at everything. Asking for help is ok, and very much a sign of greatness.
4. Be a team player: Share the glory
Now we’re getting more into the psychology of a great SEO. It’s easy to want to take credit for a change that reaps huge rewards. Remember the IT guy that implemented it for you? Let him know how rewarding it was for the company and make sure his boss knows it. Not everyone understands how they impact the bottom line. Teach them, and recruit them, and your goals will be that much easier to meet. When people are praised or rewarded, they’ll get on your team.
3. Argue with facts: No mudslinging
Take the high road. Something simple like adding related links to a page may be a no-brainer to you, but may look like spam someone that just doesn’t understand the reason. Stay patient. You probably can’t do their job, either. Explain why your idea is necessary, and use case studies. Show them how the sites they use probably do the same thing, and they just don’t realize it. Show how rankings influence revenue, and how your project influences rankings. People can’t argue with fact-based numbers. At that point, your nemesis will need to justify their reasons with facts, and not opinions. Do this respectfully, and firmly. When it’s done, you’ll win. Or, you’ll realize SEO may be hopeless where you’re at.
2. Choose your battles: There’s more than SEO
Sometimes the decision makers understand SEO, and fly directly against a known best practice. If your company values a project component above SEO, don’t pout or write them off as morons. There’s a bigger picture and sometimes a small SEO sacrifice can reap large gains in other areas. A great SEO lives to fight another day and comes knocking at another door. You see, there’s always more than one answer. It’s your job to figure it out.
1. Understand business models: Contribute effectively
SEO is not just implementation, it’s largely strategy. Sometimes it’s a strategy that may not even be known to your company. Bring a revenue strategy, along with the SEO ability to implement it, and you’ll have gotten out of the box. You see, the key to greatness is being more than just a SEO. Bring ways to contribute to the bottom line, and make them happen, and you will have achieved greatness.
So there you have it. The difference between a great SEO, or almost any other professional, lies in their ability to get things done. Navigating pitfalls, effectively communicating and maintaining superior knowledge all lead to greatness. For future reference, I suggest you bookmark this page. It can serve as a great source for dealing with common SEO issues.
If anyone has any opinions on what makes a great SEO, please feel free to share them below. I’d love to hear how you define greatness.
Matt Leonard currently directs SEO, SEM & Revenue Management for Cruise Critic, the world’s largest cruise review site and part of the Trip Advisor Media Group. You can follow him on twitter to keep up with his updates.
Subscribe to SEJ
Get our weekly newsletter from SEJ's Founder Loren Baker about the latest news in the industry!