10 SEO Lessons I Learned The Hard Way
I graduated from college with high hopes. I was going to dominate the marketing world. Yes, I was truly confident, of course, I understood the value of hard work, and I knew that I had to work my way from the bottom up.
I was confident in my training, my background, and the fundamentals of marketing. I was ready to apply the 4Ps of marketing – product, place, price, and promotion. Much to my surprise, the promotional aspect of marketing taught in my marketing classes was much more different from the technical aspects of digital marketing needed today.
Luckily in my first job, I got the chance to learn as much as I could on the job, and in time, I understood the basics of digital marketing and SEO. I soon realized that was not enough; I needed to dig further and get more technical. The basics of SEO involves keyword targeting and the ability to prove relevancy in SERPs (Search Engine Result Pages). I realized that to indeed be an SEO professional, I needed to understand the technical aspects of the web, and to some extent, have some web development skills.
Here Are The 10 SEO Lessons That I’ve Learned Along The Way
1. Meta-Tags Is Part Of The Fundamentals Of SEO, But Not The Be It All
If you read any SEO material from the past, you will notice the emphasis is on Meta-tags: the title, description, and keywords. In the not too distant past where things were much “simpler,” most SEOs had to focus on using keywords in the title and description tags as many times as possible to improve ranking on search engine result pages.
I remember the times when I would spend days, if not weeks tweaking Meta-tags to try to outrank my competition. Interestingly enough, it sometimes worked. SEO today, however, involves a little bit more of a complete content marketing plan due to Google’s algorithm updates such as the Hummingbird, where the emphasis is placed more on relevancy and connecting conversations.
While the evolution in search engine ranking factors, has led to a shift in focus from optimizing Meta-tags alone. This is not to say that you should ignore Meta-tags should completely. They still form an important aspect of SEO, but it’s not the main indicator for search engine result page rankings.
2. Clients May Have Unrealistic Expectations
Clients without a full understanding of how SEO campaigns work may expect SEO professionals to provide results quickly. However, most SEO campaigns that focus on more broad and competitive keywords take a longer time to see results. It’s important to explain to clients how SEO campaigns work to help set realistic expectations. There might also be the need to focus on long-tail keywords at the beginning to see faster results, while taking into account the overall SEO strategy to rank for more general keyword.
For instance, a nationwide dental practice trying to rank nationally for the keyword “dentist” might have better results running microlocal SEO campaigns concentrated on ranking each local office for the keywords that local searchers might use, such as; “dentist in Chicago.”
It’s also important to note that you should focus your SEO campaigns on conversion results rather than just ranking results. Sometimes, zeroing in on more targeted keywords might get you better results.
3. Beware Of Link Builders Who Promise Great Ranking Results In No Time
I’ve written about this before; I’ve seen many SEO professionals who respond to projects promising first page results for certain keywords within less than a week. Whenever you talk to an SEO company or professional who makes such wild guarantees, especially without even knowing your specific keywords, you should be wary. I’m not trying to say that every SEO Company that’s able to give you quick results is employing black-hat SEO strategies. However, most white-hat SEO strategies that are usually well thought-out campaigns that play into a bigger inbound or content marketing strategy. While these types of campaigns may not get you ranking results overnight, they build a more sustainable foundation for generating leads and increasing online visibility. Additionally, they also avoid the possibility of getting penalized by search engines for using black-hat SEO strategies.
Think about building SEO strategies that can help your business in the long-term rather than the short term. And always ask questions about how your SEO professional will get you the results that he/she is promising. If your SEO company or professional doesn’t present you with a concrete plan beyond spam link building, you are probably better off going with someone else.
4. Start With Long-Tail Keywords That Optimize Conversions
Long-tail keywords are keyword phrases that are much more specific, usually at least three words long, that show a user’s intent to purchase. This is different from more broad and more widely searched keywords that may not necessarily indicate a user’s intention to buy. Going back to my previous example, an example of a long-tail keyword that the dental practice could target is; “find a local dentist near me.”
Starting with long-tail keywords helps you to not only see ranking results quickly, but also helps you achieve your sales goals as well. As usual, targeting long-tail keywords for conversions may only be effective when it’s combined with compelling landing pages or posts.
5. Focus On The User Experience With SEO Content And Everything Else Will Follow
It’s very easy to get caught up with keywords, ranking results, and search engine algorithms and even forget about the most crucial aspect of website optimization—the end user. Even though keyword search results and overall SEO strategies should play into your website optimization strategy, it’s also essential to keep the user experience first. Think about it this way, let’s say you spend all your time focusing on just SEO metrics and somehow manage to get to page one on Google for your targeted keywords, there still aren’t any guarantees that you will get the results that you seek. If you build landing pages to give users a great experience that keeps them engaged and motivated to convert, a number one ranking on Google for your desired keyword, may not do you much good.
6. Do Not Ignore Technical Aspects Of SEO
The recipe to having a successful SEO strategy can sometimes be overly simplified especially now that there are many SEO tools out there that claim to quickly help with SEO rankings by making a few changes to meta tag titles, descriptions, etc. SEO professionals today, have to understand both the technical aspects of SEO such as algorithms, keyword ranking factors, web page structures, URL structures, how to use robot.txt to help crawlers navigate a website, having the right canonicalization, among others, as well as, the non-technical aspects of SEO. If you decide to do things yourself, don’t underestimate the importance of investing some time and energy into understanding the back-end aspects of SEO and if you find opportunity cost of investing time into this not worthwhile, then you might be better served investing in an SEO professional.
7. Google Search Console Should Be Your Friend
Google Search Console, formerly known as Google Webmaster tools, is a free and easy tool to help you monitor website crawl issues, user experience, and generally help you ensure that your website is found on Google. When integrated with Google Analytics, it can also help you find out actual search queries that users are using to find your website currently on the web. Google search console should be monitored regularly to find, fix, and enhance website issues with the aim of increasing online visibility.
8. Use Google Analytics To Help You Map Out Your SEO Strategy
Google Analytics is another free tool from Google that can help improve your SEO strategy. Other than helping you monitor website visitor activity, Google Analytics is also able to track website visit sources, landing pages, and keywords that get you conversions.
In addition to helping you monitor keyword performance, Google Analytics can assist with improving the visitor experience, and conversions when you analyze visitor drop-off points, and make improvements accordingly. You can also run A/B tests with Google Analytics.
Sometimes you work with clients who start by saying, “hey, I will like to rank for this keyword because I think that that’s what people are looking for.” To help me discover related long-tail keywords, I would go into Google Analytics to find out if the client is getting impressions for the keywords that they desire. It’s sometimes interesting to find that; you may have keywords that you are already getting found with that might even be getting you conversions that you may not think about. The obvious keywords are not always the “moneymakers.” Keywords that are already getting you impressions, clicks, and conversions, are much easier to optimize and sometimes should be the low-hanging SEO strategies that you start with.
9. SEM And SEO Strategies Should Compliment Each Other
At some point in the past, SEO was defined as a subset of SEM – Search Engine Marketing. It was then, determined that SEM should refer only to paid search engine marketing campaigns such as Google Ads and the like. The mere fact that SEO and SEM definitions were so intertwined with each other should tell you that both mediums have very strong similarities.
Think about it this way – SEO is more organic, you work towards trying to rank for certain keywords but you don’t necessarily “pay” each time you rank for that keyword. And I use pay cautiously, because if you are spending time optimizing your website to improve your SERP ranking then, you are investing some amount of money into SEO since time is money.
SEM campaigns are amplifications to your SEO strategies. Whereas with SEO you may have to wait for weeks or even months to see significant results, with SEM you can start ranking for a keyword right away. Every time you run SEM campaigns you should strive at using the “instant” keyword results to improve your existing SEO strategies.
10. SEO Should Be A Part Of A Bigger Inbound Or Content Marketing Strategy
I can’t stress how important it is. SEO projects should not be looked at in isolation, different from other content marketing or inbound strategies. I am a big proponent of integrated marketing optimization – the concept of using all marketing channels to enhance each other. Your SEO projects shouldn’t be any different. If your content marketing strategy is to capture leads at different stages of the buying cycle with content that speaks to the different journey levels, then it’s essential to create an SEO strategy that fuels this bigger strategy.
Instead of looking at SEO projects as a one-off project, it should be looked at as a discovery or promotional channel for all your marketing efforts, either inbound or outbound. That way, you can better utilize your resources, and gain well-rounded campaign results with your SEO endeavors.
In the end, every day is a learning experience for me as a digital marketer. You experience successes and challenges but through it all, it’s important to keep reinventing your strategies, make analytical data-driven decisions to stay ahead of the curve.