3 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started

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When my SEO career begun and things began to develop, I begin to think I knew what I was talking about. I thought I knew this and I thought I knew that. My ego, somewhat ridiculously, began to expand, and I thought I knew more than I did. This state of knowing is referred to in the Dreyfus Model of Skill Acquisition, which is known as being an “Advanced Beginner”.

In this advanced beginner stage, we are skilled enough to believe that we know what we are talking about, but not skilled enough to be cognitively aware that we aren’t. I look back at myself, a year into my SEO career, and think – “how was that guy so full of himself?”. And the perhaps inherent irony to that statement is this same, current version of myself could as quickly be outgained by another version two years forth.

But the point is that in infancy, there are things we don’t know that we should know. And this post is those things that I wish I could go back and slap myself for thinking – or otherwise, not knowing, period. Hopefully you – someone deep in their career, just starting, or with a website you wish to SEO, can find some kind of benefit to this rundown.

1. The First Page is Not First Place

When I started, I’d see a top 10 ranking and a lot of my focus would change to additional partitions of a keyword set. This occurred because I was in an agency environment – we had little access to Analytics and as such, I was of the belief, improperly, that somehow the first page meant that focus could be placed elsewhere, or that some real victory had occurred.

This, undoubtedly, cost us a few clients, or just managed to sustain us with them when perhaps, stronger, deeper focus on pushing it up the first page would have turned things to referrals or budget increases or longer term stays.

2. Every SERP is Unique – A Keyword and Website URL Set is Not The Starting Block

Early on, I relied heavily on SEOBook’s Rank Checker. It worked, yes, but what I did was blindly take our keyword focus and start link building. If the rank checker said 5, I did link building for the keyword, no matter what. Other times, if it said 3, I would as well.

The problem with this is twofold – first, if you’re 3 in rank checker, you can potentially be 1 because SEOBook’s Rank Checker can’t filter the difference. This doesn’t occur that much, though. The biggest problem is that somehow I thought that because a keyword was at 5, that meant we should do link building for it. Wrong.

I’m about progress, and I’m about movement. Yes, every link thrown at a given SERP means you some moderate amount closer to ranking higher – hypothetically. But the problem is that , on certain SERPs, it would literally take a year of link building to move from 5 to 4. Maybe your page is a deeplink, so it’s not very strong. And maybe you’re competing against two other sites that are national brands, that have absolutely dominate domains. Here, 5 is a stopping point. Be happy with it.

Reevaluate It later, but until you decide you want to be Metlife or Allstate, you should not be competing with them. Look towards other keywords where movement and improvement is possible – your short-term progress there will also move you towards long-term success elsewhere. But if you’re in the agency model and results mean results now and not results later, you shouldn’t even be link building for that keyword – unless your client has made it explicitly clear that movement, there, is OK, and they’re in it for the long haul.

In these kinds of situations, it is most beneficial to be outwardly transparent with your clients about inability to move the keyword. This will set client expectations appropriately, and most times, they will be happy with your clarity (and expertise) in this matter. If their only goal is to rank for “shoes” with shoe-store-online.com, then it’s probably in your best interest not to work with them period – that is unless you’re an unethical person.

The second part is doing some initial research on each keyword. Can I move this? What am I most likely to move? What will create the biggest ROI for my client? What will create the biggest ROI for me?

3. “Naturally Vary Anchor Text” is Ambiguous and Unhelpful

Have you ever “naturally varied” your anchor text? I hope so! Well, the thing about doing that is it’s mostly a joke – because it doesn’t help much. Once you’re past the second paragraph of an intro’s guide to SEO, you know that you should naturally vary your anchor text. But the thing is, you can do it too much. I went through periods of “naturally varying” to the point of insanity, and not moving keywords at all. Then I’d close in and things would move again. You have to be tight lipped, but not closed. You also shouldn’t be coming up with 90 variations of “cheap flights” and rolling through every one. Do cheap flights, cheap flight, flights cheap, DOMAINNAME cheap flights – anything more than that is probably a waste – unless you’ve got some other keywords working.

Don’t take that as the gospel, because undoubtedly exactly what percentage each iteration helps the other changes will change – but the point to take from this is to make sure you are hitting each keyword a significant amount, in its exact, high volume form, in your link building. If you look back at your monthly report and you’ve only built five links with “cheap flights” as the exact anchor text – cheap flights is super competitive – then you’ve failed, either through not enough links or because you’re varying that thing up way too much. And on the same point, you might be building for deeplinks too much as well – if your intention is to ever move “cheap flights” or anything comparable.

Footnote/hat-tip – Use a “tilde” – ~ – in front of your keyword focus to return other keywords Google sees as comparable with your keyword – and very likely to help indirectly benefit it in adjacent searches. This way, if you “naturally” vary your anchor text, you’re doing so with keywords that are sure to help you for your main keywords.

Every SEO career has its own lessons, and it’s possible you made your own mistakes unlike my own. What did you learn after outgrowing your beginning roots of your SEO career? Add them in the comments.

Ross Hudgens
Ross Hudgens is an SEO in the Seattle area. He frequently blogs about SEO on his blog and specializes in dynamic content creation for websites... Read Full Bio
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  • Arnold Arnan

    Excellent article. I think we’ve all learned something as we continue in this business. And I’m sure the rules will change on us again someday, so we’ll have to learn it all again. It’s definitely a wave, we have to just keep riding. Thanks again for writing.

  • Mediator

    When i first started i was more obsessed of what the website looked like than content. You can imagine what good that din to my SEO.

    Also thanks for sharing these pointers.

  • Patricia L Mellin

    My God! I have so much to learn…

  • Cartmetrix

    Just like the death of flashing animations and awful colors that were so 2000… less is more.

    Work smarter not harder.

    Great tips.

  • Los Angeles Website Designers

    Wow, thanks for the ~ suggestion! I didn’t know that!!!

  • Mmandhyan

    Do you think the whole SEO game has changed with the focus on “social content”? I have been hearing a lot of talk about the need to focus on content rather than traditional SEO techniques like anchor text, back linking, etc. What are your views? Or am I just over-reacting?


  • Brian


    Would you give an example of using the tilde operator to find related keywords to use in anchor text of links?

    Can you accomplish something similar by placing your keyword in Google AdWords keyword tool and, since the words by default are presented in order of relevance, select from words at the top of the list to use as variations of anchor text?

  • Mike

    Thanks Ross,
    Some great tips here.
    The nature of SEO is so variable – doing exactly the same thing but getting different results seems to go against all rules of logic!
    But it happens.
    Thanks again.

  • Michael Real

    The post is undeniably useful. I started studying SEO and I am glad I was able to read this during my starting stage. Really helpful! Thanks a lot!

  • Bob Rutledge

    As far as SEO goes, I think we are in for a banner year in 2011. It will not always be done perfectly, but as we mature, so does our system. Any SEO is better than no SEO.

  • Mike Glover | SEO Services

    HAHA….ohhh the mistakes I’ve made. Laughable in most cases! Thankfully not to the detriment of my clients though 😉 !

    Nice Article though….

  • Hope Ocampo

    I had a lot of laughable SEO mistakes. Like you I made the same mistake in #2. And since I was still new I couldn’t talk to the client about the situation. I’ve learned it the hard way I guess.

    Having these kind of mistakes and learning from them makes one a better SEO person.

  • Calgary Internet Marketing

    Hi Ross, Great post. haha I enjoyed the intro about guys being so confident in the industry; so true. I think you hit it spot on when you talked about short term goals (agency side) and long term goals (client side). The thing with working agency-side is that they rarely focus on link building. Its only when I work client-side does it become feasible I guess you could say because there is more time and budget – long term goals that I could nurture and build on.
    Thanks again Ross.