11 years ago I got a phone call that would launch my career in the SEO industry. The offer was for a 6-month contract at $18/hour with no benefits. Given the job market in 08/09, I was beyond excited to get this offer. All I wanted was a chance to prove myself. I think I’ve done A-OK.
With 10 full years of SEO experience under my belt, I wanted to share 10 of my biggest takeaways from my career thus far. These aren’t hacks that will make you rich overnight. They will, hopefully, guide you if you find yourself in similar situations.
STOP Looking For "Advanced SEO" Solutions
TF-IDF, python scripts and Power bi are big headlines in the SEO space right now. Don’t let these “advanced” SEO related topics prevent you from implementing basic optimizations. The number of people I chat with are going all-in on these (and more) advanced topics but are missing some of the most basic optimizations on their sites. I’m talking about addressing canonicalization, title tags and even internal linking structure. SEO may not be easy but stop looking for short cuts with “advanced” tactics when the basics aren’t yet covered.
Stress Test Your Own Theories
My favorite part of the SEO industry is the community. Have one or ten SEO questions? You can find hundreds of articles, newsletters or even ask in real-time within the very active Twitter scene. While all of this is great, PLEASE test your own theories. Just because one test or tactic didn’t bear fruit for someone else, doesn’t mean that it can’t or won’t add value for your site. Don’t assume that because a tactic isn’t discussed or found online that it can’t be valuable. I still haven’t seen another case study about reassigning content/canonical tags across domains outside of mine.
Clients Are Not Your Friends
Building strong relationships with your clients can be critical to establishing success. However, be careful. The client hired you to do a job. It doesn’t matter how amazing your relationship is with them, the tune will change if performance goes south. The same thing goes with conversations and jokes. What might be considered friendly or joking one day may be construed as something else on another date. Client relationships are great but it’s should be the cherry on top of the excellent service/results you are providing.
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Results Are ALL That Matter (Measurement)
We will very likely never know all the components making up the ranking algorithm but that should NEVER stop us from measuring our success. Measurement doesn’t stop at sessions and revenue either. Perfection is the biggest enemy of SEOs. Get creative by tracking traffic/revenue by template or content type. Estimate brand vs non-brand by the intent of the content. Forecast SEO with YOY growth and the impact of added SEO activities. Finally, set up and track your conversion points even before it results in sale. Push your measurement and reporting to the next level.
Be A Leader NOT A Boss
A boss tells you what you did is wrong. A leader walks you through why something is wrong and helps you avoid making the same mistake twice. As I’ve grown in my career I’ve managed many SEOs and now have a team of my own. Want to see someone flourish? Support them. Don’t focus solely on the bad. It also never hurts to say THANK YOU or GOOD JOB. Remember, a lot of people leave their jobs because of their boss. Don’t be that boss, be a leader!
Differentiate Yourself (Specialize)
SEO is becoming a lot more specialized compared to 5 or 10 years ago. It’s important to differentiate yourself. Consider a specialization in local search, technical SEO, outreach or content creation. While all SEOs should be familiar with all aspects of SEO, it’s no longer expected that one person be an expert in all facets of SEO. Similar to how you wouldn’t expect one person to service your SEO, SEM and email campaigns.
Be Loyal But Not At The Expense of Your Growth
Losing team members sucks. What sucks more is being stuck at a job with limited growth and pay increases that don’t match industry averages or your skillet. If you have an opportunity to grow don’t feel guilty about it. Good leaders will be confident enough in their value add to your career that they won’t get intimidated by you talking to others. Loyalty works both ways. Hold your company to the same that they would expect of you. On that note, interview for open positions even if you don’t think your qualified. Just because you interview for a job doesn’t mean you’re going to get it or even have to accept the offer.
Stay True To Yourself
I’ve always been vocal. I’m not afraid to share what I know and call someone out when a poor decision is being made. I was told at one job that I needed to work on developing a “filter”. Later on, another company would tell me “self-awareness” is my key weakness. At a third company, I would win a “Challenger Award.” In this instance, a personality trait of mine was deemed as an “opportunity to improve” by two companies. The third company highly valued the same personality and saw it as a key contribution to bringing the team/company to the next level. While self-awareness and being intentional are very important, don’t let it stop you from ever being who you are. Stay true to yourself.
Don't Be Afraid To Freelance
Remember when I mentioned my first SEO job paid me $18/hour? I figured out early on that I wasn’t going to make good money in this niche without moving up several positions. It wasn’t until a few years later I figured out I didn’t need to rely on anyone else to make more money. I started building out my own affiliate websites and offering SEO consulting services on the side. Three years after starting in SEO I had doubled my earnings. Guess what? Most of that increase came from affiliate and freelance earnings. What I learned from building out those affiliate sites and freelancing lead me to more lucrative (corporate) senior SEO positions years later.
Work/Life Balance Is Key
I’ve been at the office from 7AM to 11 PM many times in my career. I’ve missed countless dinners with my family on a weekly basis. I’ve also “paused” my vacation to take calls, respond to emails and review deliverables. None of this is worth it. It doesn’t matter if you’re married with three children or single with a passion for video games. Find a balance between your work and life. Working 50+ hour work weeks regularly isn’t cool. Finding efficiencies and logging off early on Fridays is cool. If you insist on working more, make sure you’re getting paid (see point above).
Bonus Insight: Have Fun!
One third of our life will be spent working. Please don’t waste another moment if you don’t enjoy what you do. I’m fortunate that SEO is both a passion and a profession that lets me pay the bills.
Whether you’ve been in the industry for 1 or 30 years, comment below with your best takeaways from your time spent optimizing websites for search engines.
Here’s to ten more years!