10 Ways to Be a Great SEO

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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.

Matt Leonard
Matt Leonard currently directs SEO, SEM and Revenue Management for Cruise Critic, the world’s largest cruise site and part of the Trip Advisor Media Group.... Read Full Bio
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  • Hans

    Great post
    Thanks for share

  • Mercy

    Don’t always stick with the old and castle age SEO rules and regulations. Keep urself updated with the industry news and go with the phase. And I must admit its a great post indeed. 🙂

  • Maddie Weber

    Hey Matt,

    I think you hit the nail on the head, “SEO is not just implementation, it’s largely strategy.” Great to see someone really thinking this through.

  • David Leonhardt

    A lo of this involves being flexible – which can be very important at times.

  • LemonDir

    Hey Matt,
    nice post…
    which is really helpful for people those are thinking for great SEO.
    Thanks for sharing this post with us.

  • Danny Brown

    Nice job Matt – I think a lot of times too many SEO guys make it sound harder than it is (but then isn’t that true of a lot of businesses?).

    Don’t get me wrong – there’s SEO and then there’s great SEO. But opening up and sharing is far more beneficial than just saying “Oh, it’s too technical for you.”

    One tip I’d leave is if you can’t afford a proper SEO strategy, check out something like IBP 10 – pretty good solution for an in-the-box option.

    Cheers for the insights, Matt.

  • Nick Stamoulis

    Number 10 is important. Rankings alone should not be your goal. Rankings assist in helping you achieve your goals.

  • Daniel Natale

    Great point at #6. I think one of the worst mistakes one can make is not addressing the skeptical, or not properly explaining your methods. A little personality will go a long way in being an effective SEO professional.

  • Victoria

    Great post Matt! Number 7 is SOOO true! First figure out what your ROI should be and then plan your hours based on that ROI! Something that I am working on to perfect so there is more understanding before a project.

  • Shaun Chua

    Like the rest of the people here, I agree with Matt on the points he has brought up here.

    Bottomline is a good SEO should focus on achieving goals and not on rankings, since the nature of a search engine is so dynamic.

    Importantly it’s good for organizations to understand that everyone who is involved in building / maintaining a website have a role to play to be successful in their SEO campaign.
    Without the effort of team, there’s only so much that can be done on the technical side of things.

  • Michael Martin

    I would add an agile Project Management structure being key to proper SEO for clients or in-house.

    ,Michael Martin

  • Matt Leonard

    Thank you all for the kind words. I’m glad so many of you found something to relate to. I’m sure you all have your own ideas not on the list. Would love to hear them for the next 10.

  • tabsfiroz

    “In the age of social media, trade secrets are now few and far between.”
    Very True…

    Matt, liked your post very much….

  • Melt du Plooy

    awesome post, everything you need to be a great SEO is in here.

  • Manish Shrivastava

    really helpful to become a great SEO……..

  • Manish Shrivastava

    Helpful to beginer too…………..

  • Mary Rabalais

    Matt – great post. I think ‘diligent effort’ is what separates a successful SEO from one that just reads a few articles and checks off a list of ‘things to do’.

    SEO is like website design. People initially think they can do it themselves or get a non-professional to do it cheaper, then when they witness the difference, they come back and appreciate the help of an expert! SEO is not rocket science, but there is a psychology to it and if you’re not passionate about it, you won’t be successful. I know — I’ve trained people who had no interest and they failed at it. Thanks for keeping it real.

  • James Mann

    Preempting the SEO side of things can be tricky if you have only done it once or twice. The trick is to set yourself a list of all the keyword, etc that you wish to implement, and just go one at a time.

  • Misty Belardo

    Some people are now only knowing the power of SEO. I am a practioner and i have always advised clients to get into it. Great post = )

  • Ani López

    nice text,
    I would like to add one more: be patient, sometimes you have to do SEO ‘despite’ the clients

  • Project Manager

    Obvious 🙂
    thanks for the post, it reminds us some important things in the SEO world.

    Javier Yep Garcia
    SEO blog

  • amber

    In rule #9 you made a good point about the importance of having the common purpose and rendering it through appropriate content. You can use SEO to tweak the rankings but what you can’t do is control whether people find your site relevant. Plus a powerful call- to-action has to be in place to stir visitors in the right direction.

  • swasa

    Thanks for sharing the great things about SEO.Really nice indeed.

  • Thomas

    great advice for SEO! This really helps me understand the daily job of a SEO.. and yes it is very important to be realistic with forecasts!

  • Peter

    Test many different text messages in AdWords, and measure, measure, measure. Then update your site to have your search links match the best scoring messages. Also run offline campaigns with the same messages.

  • Lyndsay Babl

    Thank you for reminding us of this perspective! Looking through all the bold list items, it seems like these principles could apply not only to SEO but to life in general.

  • Doug

    This post is good for branding, corporate or personal sites. The 9 was my favorite. It’s about rythms and sustainability.

  • Doug

    and spelling 🙂

  • Jim Rudnick

    Hhmmmm….looks pretty good, on a point by point basis….but the one thing that’s missing is PASSION!! What drives you to love SEO….passion does! What makes you want to get up early to get to the office to SEO for the day…passion! Without passion, you’re nothing!!!! 😉

  • Michael Lennon

    What you say makes easy to read sense and I hope to put it into practice on my own web sites. Make the subject more simple for the novice such as I to understand and use practically.

  • Scratchmedia

    Good post.. No.8 is essential and I agree with looking at your internal search tool, this is information that just can’t be not used! Yeah, an internal search is great for your visitors, but using it for a good foundation for the keyword research is where nuggets of gold can be found!

  • Todd Hebert

    Great advise given here. I enjoy reading the posts you guys put out.

  • Kelly -Lice Treatment

    If only we could really know the inner workings of how Google thinks…honestly, I don’t think Google knows how they think. I 100% agree w/ the 2nd point, sustainability. THere is no point in giving your all for 3 days, just to quit. It truly is a longterm race, no sprinting here for SEO, but its worth it in the end!


  • toutop

    Well said.Great points.

  • Dennis

    Keep moving with the times

  • Dennis

    Keep moving with the times

  • Hussain Butt

    SEO can be complex at times. The basic really aren’t all that complex though. It’s the details that get complicated. The good news is most of us don’t really need to spend too much time in the details. Generally if you cover the basics you’ll be in pretty good shape overall.