4 Principles to Drive SEO Success
I’ve been lately asked to give some tips, especially to new SEOs, to enhance their skills. Although I already presented in MozCon last year best practices and guidelines to effectively manage SEO projects, I would like to share some principles –instead of specific tips–, that when followed together I’ve found they create the foundation of a great SEO work, providing consistent, long-term value to clients that can be applicable to any SEO project and differentiate exceptional SEO specialists.
I have no doubt that most of you already know and follow them in one way or another but I have also seen how these principles are unfortunately diluted in our busy daily SEO life. Here are these 4 principles to enhance your SEO value and ultimately, achieve SEO success.
1. Know your SEO Clients
Have you ever proposed to build a “useful resource or tool” or an “attractive piece of content” to your clients just to realize that they already had developed it and you had no idea? Have you ever proposed something after months of working together with a client that was simply not feasible to implement due to a very basic business or technical restriction you should have known from the start? Have you realized your client was planning a huge seasonal campaign just one day before it was going to be launched or the day it was launched, because of a Tweet or Facebook Ad?
To create SEO value you need to understand how your client’s business works: From their business model, what’s a conversion for them, where do they stand in the market, what’s their unique selling proposition, to which are their current marketing and communication campaigns, their tools and assets, the characteristics and restrictions of the CMS they’re using, their internal technical and content resources capabilities and limitations, their former SEO activities and issues, etc.
Don’t be afraid to ask, do a complete research from the start and ongoing follow-ups. Communication and trust are key for this since your clients will need to share a lot of sensitive, internal information but it’s important that you transmit them how critical it’s for the SEO process to be aware of their operations and characteristics to make the most out of each opportunity and provide the advice they need to solve any issue that might affect their capacity to attract and convert organic traffic.
Of course, you don’t need to know all of this if you’re thinking about taking short-cuts and advantage of search engines weaknesses (I hope you don’t) but if you’re focusing on delivering long-term value to your client by doing Real Company Stuff, then this is a must.
Start knowing your SEO clients with:
- Setting Up Your SEO Project / Agency for Success
- Fundamental Questions to Establish an Effective SEO Strategy
2. Understand each aspect of the SEO Process
This might seem something very basic but think twice:
- If you’re a link builder, when was the last time you did an architecture or content audit?
- If you’re a technical SEO, when was the last time you participated in a link building brainstorming session or in an outreach process?
One of the aspects I love about SEO is that it’s multidisciplinary. Before becoming an SEO I worked as a Web Designer, Front-End Web Developer, IT Support, IT Sales Consultant and Web Content Manager. These experiences allowed me to understand that I could not simply stick with a completely technical or a completely business type of work, I need them both. Although I have technical knowledge I’m also someone who loves to interact with clients and contribute in business driven processes to help them improve their ROI. I knew this and that’s why I “evolved” from my previous jobs to become an SEO, since it allowed me to fulfill all of these needs.
These interests and specific skills you might have can also lead you to specialize in a specific area of SEO. After many years consulting, being part and leading SEO teams, at an agency and in-house level in many companies I’ve done it by focusing more in International SEO and Mobile SEO. It’s great to identify in which area you can deliver more value and where do you excel.
Nonetheless, I understand I’ve also been able to identify this more easily since I already knew what type of work I liked and was good at when I started in SEO -because it was not my first professional experience- and then also because I’ve had the opportunity to do all type of activities as an SEO too: I’ve gone to International trade-shows to speak with potential SEO clients along with sales consultants, I’ve done keyword research, I’ve done architecture and content audits, I’ve created link building plans, I’ve done outreach, I’ve analyzed and tracked SEO results, I’ve created SEO dashboards, I’ve presented SEO plans to directors, developed SEO tests, etc.
I also know that with the evolution and popularization of SEO there’s more people who have directly started working as a link builder intern and then evolved as a link builder consultant, or someone who started as a technical SEO and has kept doing that specific activity without having the chance to develop other activities in the SEO processes, which I think it’s fundamental in the long-run, even if you already know that your strengths are in one area or another and you want to focus on them, since at the end you can identify how you do synergy with the rest of the activities and team involved in the process, maximizing each opportunity from every perspective -from a marketing, content, PR, technical, social, etc.-
I wonder how much effort had gone on building links that had not been really profitable from a popularity perspective since they could have been blocked and the link builders didn’t realize this because they didn’t have the required technical knowledge. Or how many links had been earned to non-canonical pages because of a lack of understanding about the site architecture.
The same from a technical SEO perspective, how much effort have been invested on fixing areas of the site that were not a priority from a content or link perspective, that could have been prioritized in another way.
Is about the importance of marketers becoming technical, since we’re all marketers working to improve organic conversions from an online search platform.
This is why I believe that in order to maximize your impact in the SEO process, although you might be focused on one aspect of the process where you excel, it’s highly beneficial that you understand how all of the activities work and benefit the SEO process outcome.
Start learning about technical SEO with:
Start learning about link building with:
Start learning about content marketing with:
- Content Marketing – Think Campaigns not just Links, Your guide to TOFU
- A Manageable Content and Social Media Marketing Process
3. Use your Analytical Skills
SEOs are always looking for new tools to help automate the most operative type of tasks of the SEO process and invest their time in the analytical and decision-making type of activities. Unfortunately I’ve seen how we also sometimes forget that our brain is our best tool to identify and fix day-to-day SEO issues and find new SEO opportunities.
Avoid a total reliance on SEO tools and analytical laziness. Keep your eyes open for new SEO opportunities. Test and validate directly any new finding. Develop your own SEO pilot projects to build cases. If you want to provide superior SEO results and drive success to your clients you’ll need to challenge yourself and find new ways to deliver better results than your competitors and that’s something difficult to happen if you only follow what others already do.
Start using your analytical skills with:
- Do SEO like Sherlock Holmes: Observe, Don’t assume, Research, Infer, Test and Win
- Illustrated Guide To Web Experiments
4. Focus on the SEO Process Goals
Because of the diverse type of activities and the many strategies you might implement in parallel, targeting different aspects of the SEO Process, it’s easy to lose focus on the ultimate goals and you might end-up concentrating on a specific set of results or metrics that don’t deserve a high amount of attention due to their limited impact in the overall results.
It might also happen that because of a lack of understanding that some clients might have of the SEO process they might ask for unreasonable goals. I remember some years ago when clients directly asked to improve their PageRank or to increase their number of links by a specific number and nothing else. In these situations you should advice them, explaining, educating and helping to set the right goals for their SEO process, those that will drive a high return on investment.
This is why it’s a must to effectively select the right goals with clients for each specific SEO process along its key performance indicators that you should follow-up and focus to measure its results and ultimate SEO success.
Start focusing on your SEO goals with:
- Search / SEO Metrics & Analytics Questions + Answers
- Setting Smarter, not Harder SEO Goals
- The 6 Goals of SEO: Choosing the Right Ones for Your Business
I have no doubt that if you follow the previous principles you’ll be closer to achieve SEO success. If found it them useful I would also recommend you to read and follow the advice of the How to be a better SEO post from Richard Baxter and an open letter to new SEOs from Dr. Pete.
Images under creative commons taken from Flickr.