7 Things I Wish I’d Knew Before Starting My SEO Career

Check out these SEO pro-shared lessons to help you cut the learning curve and advance your digital marketing career faster.

I thought I was a big deal five years into my SEO career. I’d already amassed what appeared to be a wealth of experience, having founded my own SEO firm, worked with household names, and ranked sites in competitive niches.

But, looking back, I see that I still had a lot to learn. I wasn’t a big deal (and don’t consider myself to be one now), and my learning curve was flattening.

When I think back to that time, there are so many things I could have done differently to become a more successful SEO professional and advance faster in SEO.

In this article, I’ll discuss the seven most important things I’d tell my ten-year-old self about SEO. I was working for an agency at the time, but most of what we’ll talk about today apply to in-house roles as well.

Let’s get started!

1. Discover How to Write Excellent Content

I’d lost sight of how important great content is to SEO success at one point because I was so focused on the technical aspects of SEO.

To make matters worse, I had no idea how to create great content myself because I hadn’t been in the trenches in a long time.

I knew how to generate generic content ideas, what heading structure to use, and how to best internally link articles… But that was the extent of my knowledge.

I spent far too much time planning content and far too little time actually creating it. That is not how organic traffic is generated.

What I’d tell myself: Get back in the trenches and gain more firsthand writing experience. Begin by writing about what you know best – SEO.

Read Google Says No Penalty For Using Affiliate Links Without Markup.

Examine what works and what doesn’t. Learn how to ensure that your content is seen by a large number of people.

Simultaneously, begin collaborating with good copywriters to fill this gap, and pay close attention to what they do and how they do it.

2. Discover How To Earn Links

Directory links were relatively easy to obtain ten to fifteen years ago – and they were powerful. You could use them to rank sites in low-to-medium competition niches.

That, combined with press releases, was pretty much my link-building strategy.

This worked fine for a while. As a result, I became sluggish. I still didn’t understand what made people tick or how to persuade journalists and bloggers to link to me.

Then, all of a sudden, the links I was used to creating ceased to be effective.

I was in a bind because I hadn’t been honing my link-building skills.

I wasn’t coming up with new ways to get links, so I gradually transitioned into more of a consulting role, where I only came up with ideas for earning links.

I had lost touch with what was truly required to earn links.

What I’d tell myself: Forget everything you think you know about link building. Return to the trenches.

Get rid of your bad habits and spend time learning what makes people tick and how to get them to connect with you. Gain experience and collaborate with PR professionals to improve your link-building abilities.

If you are unable to master it, hire someone who already possesses these abilities.

3. Put an end to those 50-page SEO audits

I had a lot of fun creating detailed 50-page SEO audits.

It felt incredible to send one off to a client, knowing that it had undoubtedly provided incredible value. What more could a client want?

I’d mapped out a strategy for dominating Google’s SERPs!

The reality, however, was that I had to put in a lot of effort to get my recommendations implemented. Despite knowing what was wrong with the site, clients rarely read the 50-page audit I’d spent days writing.

These 50-page audits turned out to be working against me.

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

Provide them with a simple one-pager that includes a prioritized task list (data backed up with spreadsheets for more details), the expected results, and a timeline for when those results can be expected.

4. Concentrate on Long-Term Clients

It didn’t matter who came to our door; we’d be delighted to work with them.

That meant we did a lot of project-based work for clients who didn’t have the time or money to commit to a long-term relationship.

After a while, we learned which clients would become long-term clients and which would not. But we couldn’t bring ourselves to say no to project-based revenue that wouldn’t last beyond the initial project.

We reasoned, “Surely you’d be insane to say no to money that walks in the door?”

But, in reality, we were insane to say yes.

These projects are important for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Were less enjoyable to work on.
  • Often didn’t yield much of a result because you had to get everything right all at once. And you couldn’t move on to the next stage of the SEO roadmap.
  • When compared to long-term commitments, had thin margins.

These projects were not beneficial to either us or the client.

What I’d tell myself: Concentrate on working with clients who you believe have a high likelihood of becoming long-term clients.

Those are the people you’ll have the most fun working with. They will teach you the most and provide you with the best margins.

5. Invest in Your Personal Brand

I never put much effort into developing my personal brand. Despite frequently coming across really interesting situations that the SEO community would have loved to hear about, I didn’t create content or share what I’d learned.

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

As a result, I only have a small social media following. Only a few people knew who I was.

What I’d tell myself: Start building a social media following by sharing what you’ve learned and found interesting. Get back to writing and getting out there in the real world.

Start by speaking at local meetups and working your way up from there. That will come in handy later on, regardless of the path you take. This investment will pay for itself a thousandfold.

Try free Plagiarism CheckerParaphrasing Tool, and Website Reviewer.

6. Don’t Allow Clients to Obsess Over Rankings

My clients, like many others, were obsessed with rankings.

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

I ended up having this conversation far too often. It was my fault; I should have advised my clients to look beyond rankings and consider the big picture.

What I’d tell myself: Tell clients that they need to look at trends and focus on more important metrics like organic traffic – and, ideally, leads and revenue.

As a result, you will spend less time on meaningless discussions and more time discussing how to grow the business.

7. Decrease the amount of time spent on auditing and reporting

I took pride in having a thorough weekly checklist that I went over with each client. I’d notice every problem and change, big or small.

However, it took a significant chunk out of the client’s monthly budget. The same goes for reporting.

Looking back, I believe I was devoting 30% of our time to auditing and reporting.

That’s far too much for me now. I could have reduced that 30% to 10% by automating tracking changes, applying Pareto’s 80/20 rule to manual auditing tasks, and simplifying the reporting process.

The time saved could have gone toward getting better results for my clients, which could have been significant given the compounding nature of SEO.

What I’d tell myself: Focus your efforts on tasks that will provide the greatest return on investment for your clients (and thereby for yourself). Spend it in the trenches, actively doing SEO, and less time auditing and reporting.

Finishing up

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

But you’ve just done it!

Hopefully, what I’ve learned and shared will help you avoid some of the mistakes I’ve made along the way, allowing you to shorten the learning curve and progress faster than I was able to.

Learn more from SEO and read How to make an Effective SEO Strategy: 15 Ultimate Checklist 2022.

John Harper

#1 File Information bestselling author John Harper loves to dispel the myth that smart men & women don’t read (or write) romance, and if you watch reruns of the game show The Weakest Link you might just catch him winning the $77,000 jackpot. In 2021, Netflix will premiere Bridgerton, based on his popular series of novels about the Why Files.

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