It’s hard imagining not being an SEO consultant now, but just a few years back I had no idea what search engine optimization was. I don’t know how things stand now, but back when I was a party animal undergraduate, there wasn’t much being taught about search engine optimisation (SEO).
Or there could have been, but I was too busy not attending tutorials to notice.
Those were hazy years.
Since joining an SEO company, find it somewhat amusing then that it has become a big part of my life now.
I’m not going to write today about the nitty gritty of SEO. So there won’t be any talk about solving duplicate content issues, keyword research or how to build links, exciting as they may be. I’m going for a more reflective look today.
This is more of a note-to-self kind of article.
While I’m sure many readers are already somewhat familiar with the practice, you will find incorporating SEO into your company’s web design project a completely different proposition.
And, as it turns out, my marketing professor was right – marketing fundamentals always prevail.
Online Visibility Is Crucial
Whether be it through SEO or other tactics such as pay-per-click or social media, a business must be able to establish a presence online. Simply throwing up a website isn’t good enough anymore.
That might seem obvious to you, oh enlightened one, but in some verticals I’ve worked in, the CEOs are still debating the merits of having a website. You should understand it’s not their fault – they’ve been doing quite well without one for decades and most CEOs aren’t the quickest to adapt. And who are you, the newly-minted SEO practitioner, to tell them what to do?
But they are starting to feel the pinch now. Profit margins are shrinking and they are finding their markets becoming less defensible.
As a reminder, here are just some reasons why SEO and online visibility are crucial:
- 93% of all online experiences start with search
- Up to 70% of the marketing process is completed before your prospect picks up the phone
- 75% of prospects never scroll past the first page
SEO Consultants Should Not Be Pantless Weasels
I’m sure you’ve heard the saying that ‘SEOs break the Internet’. It’s hard to argue based on the comment spam we keep getting.
And the forum signature spam.
And the keyword-stuffed jibberish that seems to be everywhere.
But SEOs don’t have to be that pantless weasel.
SEOs can contribute to the good of the web by helping relevant, high quality content get the traffic they deserve.
Improve the site architecture so it’s easier for both users and spiders to find the content they want.
Update content regularly to reward returning readers and encourage engagement.
Create or attract relevant links so a reader can easily delve more deeply into a subject he’s interested in.
If you do SEO in an ethical manner, you’ll be doing what you were trained to do – creating, promoting and communicating value.
And you’ll find there’s little need to spin articles.
Or create comment spam.
Or spam forums.
If you go down the other route, you would’ve spent all that time studying just to create what in essence is, well, junk.
Besides, Google has gotten much better at detecting thin content and manipulative tactics. It’s just a matter of time before the bar becomes so high that it becomes too inefficient to try to game the system.
SEO is Not Beyond the Grasp of the Non-Technical
At the outset, I always had this assumption that SEO consulting was something techies did, like building their own computers or rooting their Android phones.
Or ritual sacrifice, apparently.
So as I went deeper into SEO, I was quite surprised there wasn’t as much techno-babble as I thought there would be.
Does a programming background help?
But I wouldn’t call it table stakes.
Furthermore, most of the technical stuff isn’t that hard to understand.
So even if you’re not a coder, don’t be intimidated by a SEO who bandies about terms such as meta data and Rel=Canonical. They’re not difficult to understand without a programming background. Here’s proof:
- Meta data – information placed in the ‘Head’ tags of a web page that provides search engines with information about the content of the page.
- Rel=Canonical – If you have a set of pages with highly similar content, you use the Rel=Canonical tag to tell search engines which is your preferred page (for ranking purposes).
Not exactly quantum physics, is it?
Word of caution – understanding them is one thing, but implementing them properly (or knowing when to use what) given a certain scenario requires skill and experience.
Just like everything else you’re going to do.
While some might disagree, you don’t need to know how to code to be a good SEO. Technical SEO is just one part of the equation.
SEO & Quality Content Go Together
I was having dinner at this cosy little Italian bistro in Singapore with one of my oldest friends a few months back. She works in this great boutique PR firm that handles a number of major design brands.
So, as drinks started to flow and things got a bit hazy we started… talking about SEO (
happens a lot, much to the chagrin of my girlfriend. Hmm… maybe not in this case though).
If she was to be believed, we (a) break the web with spam (see Point 1) and (b) destroy great writing – which is like murdering convents full of puppies in her book.
I’m quite sure she was referring to the still-strangely-prevalent practice of keyword stuffing when she said that.
She believed that SEO’s would rather churn out keyword-optimized content than great content. They would try to squeeze as many keywords into already wobbly paragraphs and call it ‘SEO copywriting’.
Sadly, you do see this quite a lot.
Sadder still, keyword density isn’t a ranking factor anymore (at least for Google) and the sacrifice is in vain.
Marketing fundamentals should still prevail – it is about the creation, communication and exchange of value.
It’s not hard to find great content that was created by SEOs. In fact, content marketing (and its bigger brother, inbound marketing) are touted to be the next step in the evolution of SEO.
There’s no reason why you, or your SEO company, should create flimsy 300-word ‘articles’, spin it, distribute it to low quality directories and call it search engine optimisation.
High quality, valuable and linkable content is key. If at any point you have to make a choice between better optimization for search engines and better content for users, choose your users.
Every single time.
SEO Is Not a One-Time Effort
Many companies suffer under the delusion that SEO is a one-time effort. Once your website is optimized, there’s nothing more to it.
That’s not true at all.
SEO is an on-going, iterative process. No matter how in-depth your keyword research was, you will find more opportunities as you go along. Some of the things you have to do continuously include:
- Regular monitoring and analysis of analytics
- Monitor Google updates and react accordingly
- Recommending and implementing changes in line with findings
- Continuous content creation, optimisation and promotion
- Competitive monitoring, pre-emptive and reactionary measures
and many others.
You have to constantly create new content and improve on your SEO efforts.
If you find yourself leading a marketing team one day, try to incorporate SEO best practices into all your marketing efforts. Most of the time, minor changes can make a huge difference.
For example, ask your customers to provide a link to you in your confirmation or ‘Thank You’ email.
SEO Should Be Integrated Into All Your Marketing Efforts
With all this talk about SEO packages in the market, you could be forgiven if you believed that SEO these days could actually work in a silo. Pay Jimmy a bit of money, and he retreats into his basement to build 1,000 backlinks with his magic SEO software.
Maybe that was true a few years ago. Not anymore.
The role of the SEO consultant is changing. At CLOUDROCK, we examine all of our client’s marketing efforts – both online and offline – and see how we can leverage those to increase their search traffic. The practice of SEO now encompasses other functional areas such as social media, online PR, content marketing and so on.
Where we’re all moving towards integrating our marketing efforts, companies that peddle their SEO packages usually just help create additional silos.
As Google’s algorithm gets more advanced and takes into consideration many more factors, so must SEOs evolve to incorporate those into their practices.
The Pace of Change in SEO is Electrifying
Change is the norm in SEO. What worked wonders last year could destroy your traffic this year (remember PageRank sculpting with nofollow?). Every so often Google will throw another animal into the veritable zoo that we work in, and SEOs all over hope that we’re not in its rampaging path.
Thanks to the Internet, the pace of business has picked up in almost every industry. When it comes to SEO, you have to be willing to learn, unlearn and relearn just to keep up with industry changes.
What makes it harder is that almost everyone remotely involved with online marketing has a tip to give about SEO. No one really knows how Google or Bing or Yahoo rank their search results, so there is a lot of speculation and misinformation.
No, Mr Domain Registrar, the registration length is not a ranking factor.
And neither is W3C validation, Ms Web Designer.
This makes it harder for you to separate the good advice from the will-get-you-penalized-faster-than-you-can-tell-a-penguin-joke advice.
So what are you to do to keep up with the changes?
You have to religiously keep up with industry news. This is true for any vertical, but it’s crucial for SEOs. Fortunately, the SEO community is vibrant and there are many great news sources. So just add them to your favourite RSS reader and check it often.
And make up your own mind about the tips you read. It’ll be hard at first, but after a while you’ll know how to differentiate the good from the bad.
Rankings are Not the Be All End All of SEO
Rankings are a staple of every SEO-fuelled conversation. Badges of honour, our rankings are.
That said, I’ve yet to come across a business where your search engine ranking is a business goal.
Your boss will pat you on the back the first month you’ve achieved top rankings. Enjoy the moment – it won’t last long.
After a (very short) while, you’re going to have to prove how those rankings contribute to the bottom line. That’s when you’re going to realize that rankings aren’t the most important metrics in the world after all.
How does your SEO efforts increase average order value? What is the conversion rate for customers who reach your website from organic search? What is the cost-of-acquisition per customer for SEO? Most SEO Packages aren’t designed to answer these business goals.
You have to know what KPIs are important to your company and show them how your efforts are contributing to those.
It’s the same for every marketing function.
Build Relationships First, Then Links
In our never-ending chase for links, we tend to forget that there’s a real person behind every website. We treat them like prisoners, usually referring to them by their PageRank, ‘I got a PR8 link last week!’
Every webmaster and SEO can do themselves no harm by trying to build relationships first then links. Building a strong network is an important part of business – any business. Link building should be no different.
It’s networking and going out and meeting people and creating a connection and providing value to them. Once you’ve built these human connections, it’s easier to leverage them into marvelous link juice.
Being an SEO consultant has been a great ride so far. But it’s not for everyone though. If you like intense competition, fast pace of change and being part of a great global community, then it’s something you might want to give a shot.
Becoming An SEO Consultant – 9 Things I Wished I Knew Before Jumping In
by Fairuze Shahari