Given that Google offers no formal SEO training or certifications and it’s not a widely covered topic at universities, a lot of people who enter SEO are self-taught and often fall into this line of work through their careers.
I have met a lot of really great, and some not so great, SEOs and people through this line of work and I’ve found it to be an extremely rewarding career choice.
I’ve put this article together with contributions from some of the best SEOs I’ve had the pleasure of meeting over the years, whose experiences range from IBM and Just Eat, to Canon and Cloudflare.
My Advice for SEO Newbies
The SEO community is an active and welcoming community, and there are a number of very active conferences, blogs and publications, and faces to the industry. This also means that there are plenty of opinions and theories being published on a daily basis.
Reading and keeping up with the latest industry news and theories is, for me, an important part in maintaining skills and knowledge. That being said, not everything you read in SEO blogs and journals is in line with the general consensus of opinion or is accurate.
My advice is to read as much as you can, but always remember that just because someone’s personal blog, or a software company’s blog, may have a big readership and audience doesn’t mean that everything they say is 100 percent accurate.
Because of this, it’s important to carry out your own tests and own SEO experiments.
Gerry White, Take It Offline
If you haven’t got a WordPress blog or a website, when it comes to giving clients advice, what is your experience based on? Ideally, it will give you access to everything from log files to AMP configuration.
In the same vein, Chrome has a lot more hidden within it that most people will never see – the developer tools are an SEO guy’s best friend, which lets you do a lot more before you need to install any plugins.
The other critical bit of advice I always have is to listen. Go to conferences and roundtable events. Follow the industry leaders on Twitter. Quickly you will see what people are talking about.
You can follow Take It Offline on Twitter, and look out for the next roundtable meet-up: @OfflineTake.
Angela Budd, AccuRanker
Make sure your hard work is paying off by ensuring that Google is indexing the correct landing pages for your keywords.
Landing page optimization is hard work. Once you have made your sure that your pages are fully optimized for relevance then you can sit back, wait for Google to re-index your newly optimized page, and watch your rankings rise. (Or not.)
Especially when you are new to the game, it’s easy to miss something crucial – a missing title tag or a badly written meta description. However, something so simple can mean the difference between Google sending traffic to the right landing page.
The right URL is essential for conversions, for increasing dwell time on your site, and reducing bounce rate because if Google deems your page to be relevant to the searcher’s query then you will rank higher, but people will only spend more time on your page if it’s relevant. If the traffic is going to the wrong page then all your hard work will be for nothing.
You can follow Angela on Twitter, @AngelaBudd.
Adam North, QueryClick
While it would be great to be amazing at everything, most people aren’t. Work out what it is that you are good at and enjoy, and focus on that.
It’s a bit of a cliché to talk about SEO having three sub-topics (or pillars, specializations, whatever you want to call them) but broadly speaking that’s how teams have been broken down in my experience.
- Inbound (or Authority)
- Content (or Relevance)
Find what works for you, and aim to become the “go-to person” for that thing, even if that starts off being one deliverable, tool, or process. However, don’t be afraid to try out things from the other topics to see what works for you.
The more you know about someone else’s job, the easier it’s going to be to have meaningful conversations with them with little/no misunderstandings. If you can take short courses on things like PPC and social media management, that will help you.
Learn how to websites work, and the underlying technologies involved. Every scrap of information you can gather will help you have wider conversations and put your own role into context.
Conclusion: Focus on what works for you, and become an authority on it, but try and stay curious about the wider context.
You can follow Adam on Twitter, @AdamSalNorth.
Cyrus Shepard, CyrusShepard.com
What I wish I had been told when I first started:
- Blogging about what you can teach others is the single most powerful tool you can use to advance your career and understanding as an SEO.
- Read Google patents. Check out Bill Slawski’s series on the 10 Most Important SEO Patents. Don’t just read Bill’s writeups – also read the patents themselves.
- Go to 1-2 conferences a year. No more. (Unless you are a consultant drumming up business or a software vendor.)
- Nobody knows everything. Experts are wrong. The best thing you can do is continue to learn.
- When in doubt, make your site faster.
- And buttons bigger.
- Invest in video. It’s not too late.
- Buy Bitcoin. Wait, too late!
- Mistakes aren’t bad, but they can cost money. Foster an SEO environment of experimentation. Break the rules. Keep the winners, lose the losers. Profit.
You can follow Cyrus on Twitter, @CyrusShepard.
Alexandra Tachalova, Digital Olympus
Don’t forget to optimize your titles and meta descriptions for each page. Users nowadays select a website that deserves to be visited based on how your site snippet looks in search engine results. If it doesn’t capture their attention, then they simply go on your rival’s site.
Also, remember that a keyword that should be allocated in a post’s title and description. It is also always worth checking what kind of offers and info the sites that currently rank well in Google use, as that will help you build your unique value proposition that won’t overlap with already-existing ones.
You can follow Alexandra on Twitter, @AlexTachalova.
Chris Green, StrategiQ
One of the best ways to get the edge in technical SEO is developing your understanding of log files and how log file analysis can really aid your own efforts. This can be daunting, asking for log files can be tricky – especially if you don’t know what exactly you’re asking for! Until the last few years, the technical barrier to entry has also been high (unless you have strong excel or GREP skills), but there are a lot of tools on the market which can cater for most budgets.
The largest beneficiaries of log file analysis will be those who are working with more complex websites (e-commerce I’m looking at you!) – it can provide much more information than the crawl alone and really help get the most out of your crawl budget.
There are some really comprehensive guides on log file analysis out there (like this one). Sit yourself down with one, request your logs & get to work. Once you start to see what this extra data can give you, you’ll become a far better SEO for it!
You can follow Chris on Twitter, @ChrisGreen87.
Patrick Stox, IBM
For anyone starting out I’d just say be a sponge. Learn from others, read, try things, Google topics you want to know more about, and keep that drive forever.
There’s always something more to learn or some interesting problem out there. Read back through some of the Twitter feeds of folks like John Mueller, Gary Illyes, Maile Ohye, and Matt Cutts.
Read back through some of the SEO news sites like Search Engine Roundtable and The SEM Post and some of the major search blogs or some of the SEO tool company blogs. Read Google’s resources like their SEO Starter Guide, Quality Raters Guidelines, Google Inside Search, Google Search Console Help Center, Webmaster Academy, Google Developers, Google Webmaster Central Forum, Google Webmasters Central Blog.
Read, ask questions, try things, rinse and repeat forever.
You also need to ask for help with prioritization. You see all these issues, but you have no idea which ones are going to have a little impact and which are going to have a lot of impact. Let someone help you until you can do it yourself.
You can follow Patrick on Twitter, @PartickStox.
Omi Sido, Canon Europe
The digital marketing industry is definitely growing and there is no need to look at the stats to understand why so many people are joining our community. To be successful in SEO there is one thing that every newcomer should know from day one:
Be ready to deal with constant changes and challenges on a daily basis.
The digital marketing/SEO industry is constantly evolving so a desire and willingness to constantly learn and improve is a must. Add to this the fact that SEO requires patience, broadly speaking there are no fixed rules, it is hard to measure, and it quickly becomes very obvious that in our industry every day is an adventure.
So is SEO a good career choice? Hell yes!
Digital marketing (including SEO) and social media have a huge career potential. Digital marketing is ruling the internet and in recent years it has become part of every company’s marketing plan.
When you think about it search engines will always be around in one form or another, and web pages, products, services, and businesses will always need to optimized to be found effectively on search engines.
You can follow Omi on Twitter, @OmiSido.
Patrick Hathaway, SiteBulb
Getting into SEO can be tricky because it’s a subject that is both broad and deep.
When I first started I flapped around for a couple of years without really knowing what I was doing, but the turning point for me was discovering the amazing community that underpins the SEO industry.
I couldn’t begin to explain how much value I’ve taken from the community (and hopefully given some back too). So my advice for any beginner would be to jump into the community with both feet.
Here are a few ideas to get started:
- Read as many blog posts as you can. You’ve already made a good start reading this one!
- Almost every SEO is active on Twitter. Share all your favorite posts and engage with the authors. Participate in Twitter chats like #semrushchat or #ecomchat
- Almost everyone in the world is on Facebook, and there are a ton of SEO or digital marketing related groups, full of people who are happy to help if you have any questions.
- If Facebook and Twitter are not your thing, try https://www.reddit.com/r/bigseo/ on Reddit, or find SEO related groups on Slack
- Get yourself out in the real world and meet people face-to-face. There are a ton of conferences and local meetups happening almost all year round
You can follow Patrick on Twitter, @SiteBulb.
Hamlet Batista, RankSense
Oftentimes you are going to hear conflicting recommendations from reputable SEO experts, between experts and Google or even between SEO tool vendors. Who do you trust?
Always trust the data you get from your client Analytics package, and validate it using Google Search Console. Treat each recommendation as a thesis you need to validate through experimentation.
Traffic, leads, sales are what ultimately matter if you want to keep clients (or your job) in the long run.
Here is one example. Google says they don’t use CTR data in their ranking formulas, but there are well-known experts that say that is not the case.
Fortunately, it’s easy to confirm or deny this using Google Search Console data. If the experts are right, you should see position improvements every time you see CTR improvements. But you can see a recent example where that is not the case, above.
Please test this for yourself with your client’s data (in Search Console, go to Search Traffic > Search Analytics).
You can follow Hamlet on Twitter, @HamletBatista.
Lukasz Zelezny, uSwitch
After 15 years in the industry, I’ve learned few things.
1. Clear Goals
I don’t really mind if you still want to track your keyword positions. It would be better to track organic traffic or even non-bounced organic traffic. If you want to stick with keyword positions make sure that:
- You have a good keyword tracker (I recommend SEMRush or Accuranker).
- You know your initial state (where you are now).
- You know where you want to be.
- You know how much time you have to achieve that.
Same story with traffic – if that is your goal, make sure that:
- You have a reliable traffic tracking platform setup properly (most of cases that will be Google Analytics) and you can trust data you receive.
- You know your initial state (how much organic traffic website receives before SEO implementation).
- Your know how much traffic you want to achieve.
- You know how much time you have for that.
Often I compare traffic year to year. So my goal can sounds like below:
“To achieve 20 percent growth of organic traffic until March 2017 comparing to March 2016.”
Follow numbers rather than feeling.
Another thing is to avoid distraction.
You really don’t need gazillion of tools to be successful with your SEO strategy.
Choose one or two.
Make sure you observe what your competitors are doing. I am often using a method called gap analysis. That way you can answer a few fundamental questions:
- What are keywords they are ranking on (and I am not)?
- What websites they have backlinks from (and I do not)?
This is the way to understand where the whole industry is pivoting. Once you have this you can try to create content around new keywords or keywords clusters, or try to gather extra links from websites that previously were not linking to you.
You can follow Lukasz on Twitter, @LukaszZelezny.
Laura Lippay, Netflix
Common sense (especially from you) and patience (especially from a client) are key.
Make sure your client knows that:
- Things that work for one site might not work for others and vice versa, so it’s important not to be a know-it-all because of something you read or that worked on a different site. Just like people might respond differently to the same diet or exercise routines, websites often respond differently to the same general best practices, so the only way to know is to make your best guess at what to go after first and try it out. And wait. Leading to…
- In most cases, SEO takes a long time.
There can certainly be quick, big wins, but especially in competitive markets, growing ranking and traffic is a long-term commitment, often taking well over a year to maximize results. Be upfront with your clients on these things.
No matter how much most clients don’t want to hear them, you won’t be positioning yourself as the “snake oil salesman” by overpromising.
More Tips from SEO Experts Here:
- SEO 101: Learn the Basics of Search Engine Optimization
- 9 Local SEO Experts Share One Secret to their Success
- Want to Strengthen Your SEO Skills? Look to These 12 Experts
Screenshot by Hamlet Batista. Taken October 2017.