Reflections on 10 Years in SEO
2021 marks 10 years since I started my SEO career. Starting out in 2011, I had no experience whatsoever, and despite researching prior to that interview, I still wasn’t 100% sure what exactly SEO entailed. I knew what it stood for, and I had a general idea of what the different elements were, but no idea at all how that all tied together. Long story short, I ended up getting the job based on enthusiasm and willingness to learn. From there, I was plunged into the mad world of SEO. I found my feet, I found the forefront, and I never stopped learning.
Finding My Feet in SEO
I spent the years at my first agency deliberately team-hopping and pushing my knowledge and experience across account management, strategy, content, link building and technical SEO. I was always more fond of the technical side of SEO as at the time it felt like wizardry. Even back then, you could really push to remain at the forefront of the latest techniques and get ahead of the competition. I still prefer technical SEO to any other element of the role for the exact same reasons, but now blending that closely with content creation has become the new favourite.
The initial year or so of SEO was fairly simple in terms of getting my head around the different elements. I would go as far as to say it was actually easy. On-page optimisation, link building, content creation across local, e-commerce and national campaigns, it was all fairly simple textbook stuff. Then Google started ramping up the algorithm updates, they were more frequent, they were harsher, they were designed to disrupt textbook SEO and they certainly did.
Finding The Forefront In SEO
Those initial updates were challenging because they required adaption that I think a lot of SEOs weren’t keen on. Gone were shady link building tactics and keyword-stuffed content, and all of a sudden SEOs across the land had to look outside the box and adapt to SEO becoming a more rounded marketing channel that required flexible strategies. In my first agency, I worked through Penguin, Panda, Hummingbird, Pigeon, Page Layout, and of course, Mobilegeddon (the drama!) updates.
The biggest challenge of adapting to the changing landscape was working with clients so they understood that the super low budget SEO campaigns weren’t enough anymore. Working with a lot of small local businesses where budgets are extremely tight, we had to adapt how we used the little resource we had to still get solid results for clients and justify the marketing spend. That wasn’t really sustainable and I think a lot of agencies realised that over time. I hated the panic of Google updates and still do now.
The first step into finding your way to the forefront of SEO is to know that if anything, you need to be flexible and willing to adapt an SEO campaign with little to no notice at all. Some updates will come with months of warning and allow you to prepare for them. Some will come with no warning at all. The update has happened, panicking about it now is just a waste of time because it won’t change the outcome. If one of your websites has dropped, you need to identify the reason why and work to adapt your strategy accordingly.
Key Tips To Becoming The Best SEO You Can Be
- Never Stop Learning – Always be open to new ideas, always look for new approaches to SEO, contribute in forums, talk to people in the industry. The more you share your insights, the more you’ll receive in return. Read, learn, absorb.
- Be Ready For Change – You can have the most incredible strategy and the whole thing can be flipped on its head overnight. Always know that the possibility of that happening is very real. Be ready for change.
- Be Bold – Try new things on your campaigns, push outside of the box of traditional SEO, work with clients so they understand why and how you’re doing this. It’s providing additional value. Nothing you do can’t be undone if you need to.
- Be Honest – This is a big lesson to be learned when you start out in SEO. Honesty is key to building client relationships. If something happens to a campaign, make sure you’re the first person to tell a client, whether it’s good or bad. If a client comes to you and says “why has revenue from organic declined?” or “why has this keyword dropped in the rankings?”, you’re not doing your job. (P.S. It also makes it incredibly easy for that client to be poached by another agency).
- Build Relationships – This applies to your clients and also the industry overall. If your clients trust you, they will be more likely to accept bold moves and risks for long-term gain. In the industry, a couple of SEO pals to bounce ideas off is never a bad thing. We’re all working towards the same goal.
- Set Your KPIs – The single most important aspect of your campaigns. What is the measurement of success? It should be something that directly impacts the ROI for a client. 90% of the time it shouldn’t be traffic. Instead, it should be conversions or revenue. Very occasionally you’ll work with a client who isn’t bothered about any of those things, and instead ranking is more of a vanity thing and anything else is a bonus. That’s fine, but be upfront with your KPIs whatever they are, and be constantly measuring against them to show campaign growth and success.
Hundreds of Google updates, several agencies, more client sectors than you can imagine, budgets from £100 to £100,000, outranking Apple & Microsoft for their own services, lots of wins, and just as many mistakes, those are my key learnings if you’re new to SEO. Learn, be bold, adapt, be honest, prioritise relationships, and always set your KPIs.