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7 Things I Wish I’d Known Earlier in My SEO Career

Looking to build a rewarding career in SEO? Take advantage of these 7 important lessons one SEO pro learned the hard way.

7 Things I Wish I’d Known Earlier in My SEO Career

Five years into my SEO career, I thought I was a pretty big deal. I’d already gained what seemed like a lot of experience, started my own SEO agency, worked with household brands, and ranked sites in competitive niches.

But looking back now I can see that I still had so much to learn. By no means was I a big deal (nor do I consider myself to be one now) and in fact, my learning curve was flattening.

When I think back to that time, there’s so much I could have done better to become a more successful SEO professional; to advance faster in SEO.

In this article, I’ll share the seven most important things I would tell my 10-years younger self about SEO. Back then I was in an agency role, but most of the things we’ll cover today apply to in-house roles, too.

Let’s dive in!

1. Learn How to Write Great Content

At one point, I was so focused on the technical side of SEO that I’d completely lost sight of how important great content is to SEO success.

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To make matters worse, I didn’t have a clue anymore on how to create great content myself, as I hadn’t been in the trenches for a long time.

I knew how to churn out run-of-the-mill content ideas, what heading structure to stick to, and how best to internally link articles… but that’s as far as I got.

I spent too much time thinking about creating content, and too little time doing it. That’s not how you drive organic traffic.

What I’d tell myself: Get back in the trenches and gain more hands-on writing experience. Start with writing about what you know – SEO.

See what works well and what doesn’t. Learn how to make sure the content gets an audience.

In parallel, start partnering with good copywriters to fill this gap and pay attention to what they do and how they do it.

2. Learn How to Earn Links

Ten to fifteen years ago, directory links were pretty easy to get — and they packed a punch. You could successfully rank sites with them in low-to-medium competition niches.

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Combined with press releases, that was pretty much my M.O. when it came to link building.

For a while, this worked fine. And so I got lazy. I hadn’t quite learned what makes people tick or how I could persuade journalists and bloggers to link to me.

And then one day, the links I was used to building largely lost their effectiveness.

I was in a tough spot, as I hadn’t been developing my link earning skills.

I wasn’t coming up with new ways to get links, and so slowly transitioned into more of a consultancy role where I’d only come up with ideas about earning links.

I had gotten out of touch with what was really needed to earn links.

What I’d tell myself: Forget what you think you know about building links. Get back in the trenches.

Ditch your bad habits and invest time into understanding what makes people tick and how to get them to link to you. Gain experience and partner with PR people to level up your link earning skills.

If you can’t master it, then hire someone who already has these skills.

3. Stop Writing Those 50-Page SEO Audits

I loved writing detailed 50-page SEO audits.

It felt amazing to send one off to a client, thinking that surely that had delivered incredible value. What more could a client wish for?

I’d outlined a roadmap to dominating Google’s SERPs!

The reality, though, was that I had to put tremendous effort into getting my recommendations implemented. Clients would rarely read the 50-page audit I’d spent days writing, despite already knowing what was wrong with the site.

It turned out that these 50-page audits were working against me.

What I’d tell myself: Forget about the 50-page audit and go to where your client needs you to be.

Provide them a simple one-pager containing a prioritized task list (data backed with spreadsheets for more details), the expected results, and a timeline for when to expect those results.

4. Focus on Long-Term Clients

It didn’t matter who came knocking on our door, we’d be happy to work with them.

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That meant we did a lot of project-based work for clients who didn’t have the potential or budget for a long-term commitment.

After a while, we found out which clients would turn into long-term clients and which wouldn’t. But we still didn’t have the guts to say no to the project-based revenue that wouldn’t move past the initial project.

We thought: Surely you’d be crazy to say no to money that comes walking in the door?

But actually, we were crazy to say yes. For several reasons, these projects:

  • Were less fun to work on.
  • Often didn’t produce much of a result, because you’d have to get everything right in one go. And you couldn’t continue with the next phase on the SEO roadmap.
  • Had thin margins compared to long-term commitments.

These projects weren’t good for us – or for the client.

What I’d tell myself: Focus on working with clients that you think have a good chance at becoming long-term clients.

Those are the ones you’ll enjoy working with the most. They’ll teach you the most, and they’ll also give you the best margins.

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5. Invest in Your Personal Brand

I never invested much into building my personal brand. I didn’t create content and share things I’d learned, despite often coming across really interesting situations that the SEO community would have loved to hear about.

I wasn’t sure if others would find these things interesting so instead of contributing content, I just lurked.

As a result, I ended up with only a small following on social media. Very few people even knew who I was.

What I’d tell myself: Start building a following on social media by sharing what you learn and find interesting. Get back to writing again, and get out there in the real world as well.

Speak at local meetups and work your way up from there. That will come in real handy further down the line, whatever path you choose. This investment will pay for itself a thousand times over.

6. Don’t Let Clients Obsess About Rankings

Like a lot of clients, mine were obsessed with rankings.

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But while rankings are obviously important in SEO, you don’t want meetings to be about why a keyword dropped from position 6 to 7.

Far too often, I did end up having this discussion. It was my fault – I should have helped my clients to look beyond rankings, at the bigger picture.

What I’d tell myself: Explain to clients that they need to look at trends and focus on more meaningful metrics such as organic traffic – and ideally leads and revenue.

That way, you lose less time to meaningless discussions and enjoy more time discussing how to further grow the business.

7. Spend Less Time on Auditing and Reporting

I took pride in having a thorough weekly checklist I’d run through for every client. I’d catch every issue and change that was made, big and small.

But it took a big bite out of the client’s monthly budget. Same for reporting.

Looking back, I think I was spending 30% of our time on auditing and reporting.

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I now know that’s way too much. By automating tracking changes, applying Pareto’s 80/20 rule for the manual auditing tasks, and simplifying the reporting process, I would have been able to bring that 30% down to 10%.

The time saved could have gone towards getting my clients better results, which could have been significant when you consider the compounding nature of SEO.

What I’d tell myself: Spend your time on the tasks that will render the biggest ROI for your clients (and thereby for yourself). Spend it in the trenches, actively doing SEO – and cut down on time spent auditing and reporting.

Wrapping up

Unfortunately, I don’t have a time machine, so my decade-younger self will never read this.

But you just did!

Hopefully, what I’ve learned and shared will help you prevent some of the mistakes I’ve made along the way so you can cut the learning curve and move forward quicker than I was able.

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Featured image: whiteMocca/Shutterstock

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Steven van Vessum

VP of Community at ContentKing

Steven van Vessum is the co-founder ContentKing, and has been doing SEO since 2006. He’s been on all sides of ... [Read full bio]

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