Working in the digital industry, we are lucky to be in a fast-paced and exciting environment most of the time. The constraints within which we do our jobs are ever-changing, allowing continual personal development which keeps us all engaged in the work we do. Whilst this is great for marketing innovation, the other benefit is it breaks down so many of the barriers to entry into the industry. With change occurring so rapidly, it means that the void between industry newbies and those with a few more years’ experience is significantly reduced. If you’re new to digital and looking for how to best accelerate your learning and personal development, these are some of the key pieces of advice I got when first learning SEO:
Read all the things
Nothing in digital is gospel. There are so many different opinions on every element of SEO, and unique cases where you can learn what is possible in digital. It’s easy to believe the first well-written source that you come across on a topic, so I would always recommend finding a few more for each case. Reading three articles on a single topic will help you understand all the complexities involved, if they agree then you know that the method you’ve chosen is a strong one, and if not it provides a basis for further research and for you to make a more informed choice. Picking a few favourite blogs to read each day, and start to follow active accounts on Twitter that share good content, will help you stay up to date and accelerate your knowledge building. Implementing complex strategies isn’t going to happen for you overnight, and it takes time to build up levels of experience in doing the hands-on work. However, to continue to push forward and develop your understanding quicker, the best thing you can learn is to have a wider understanding. If you know what is within the realms of possibilities, then you can worry about the implementation down the line. Understanding what can happen will support you in building a more rounded view of the industry.
Understand the rulebook
When I first started working in digital I had absolutely no idea that Google has a set of guidelines. It’s worth taking the time to read through all the guidelines Google issues, and some of their patents too as this can give you a rough idea of what’s coming. I know this sounds basic but so much of what we do in digital is working off what other people tell us; understanding what people have tried to do and the impact it has had is important, but sometimes it’s good to get the information directly for yourself too. We all know that Google, and other search engines, aren’t exactly open about their algorithm or the elements it recommends. Often, advice is conflicting and at times this can be overwhelming when you’re first trying to find your footing in the industry. But adapting to understand the language used by Google, and starting to get a grasp of what their statements mean will help you grow your understanding.
‘I’m good at SEO because I’m nosy’ is something that I’ve heard many SEO-ers say in the past; and it definitely rings true for the best way to learn quickly in the industry. It’s very easy in digital to just trust those who understand the technical bits behind a website that when they say something has to be done a certain way that that that’s true. However, there is no harm is understanding the why behind it. If you begin to build up knowledge about the factors which are the key to decision-making, e.g. the limitations of multiple CMS’, then the future strategies you create will be much more actionable. The crux of it really comes down to not being afraid to ask. There are approximately 9203439 acronyms used when you’re working in digital, then multiple this again by each client’s niche jargon, and you’ll sometimes catch yourself in a word cloud of nothingness. Often the premise of things is actually fairly simple: “We believe that return to SERP holds a significant impact on your rankings, therefore recommend implementing CRO improvements before focusing on your CTR” is just a fancy way of saying “It matters that people who click on your site have a good experience, fix that before trying to get more people to see it” The sooner you ask and start to understand why things are happening. The sooner you’ll be able to make better-informed decisions.
Practice with real-life examples
There are two key examples which stick in my head as times when I really learnt a lot about SEO, and all the theory I’d spent time reading finally clicked into place – neither of which involve clients. I was lucky enough in my first agency role to have a boss (shout out to Nichola Stott & theMediaFlow) who was willing to look at some innovative training; so alongside all the client activity taking place, the more junior staff in the agency also looked after a small e-commerce site. Whilst we didn’t sell much, and certainly weren’t about to quit our day jobs, it helped us to understand the challenges of a business owner for implementing an SEO strategy, as well as try out lots of new content methods and our first attempts at outreach without the pressure of a client’s account. The second example was the first time I ever saw a website hack. First starting out in digital, I was much more interested in the creative marketing side of the industry, rather than the technical. As far as I was concerned, lines of code just didn’t do it for me. But witnessing the impact of our agency website being hacked, understanding how that took place and then how to rectify it in organic search was the first time I really understood the importance of the technical foundations of a site. To be blunt, we could have had the most engaging content around but putting it on a site that looked like it also sold prescription pills on the side wasn’t going to do any good.
Find a mentor
Whether you set up a formal arrangement, or something more informal, one of the most valuable things you can do is find a mentor to help you through your first year or so in the industry. Whilst you’ll learn from your boss and colleagues on a daily basis, that external voice to bounce ideas off and help you make important decisions will prove invaluable almost immediately. Industry events and conferences are an opportunity to meet some of the smartest minds working in our sector, but they are also some of the most helpful people around. It will be rare that you will ask anyone for advice and they’ll refuse you help. Build these relationships and put the time in to talk about interesting projects and industry changes so you can first-hand understand others’ perspectives on key topics. This will develop into building a trusted network of peers who can support you in really growing your digital career to be whatever you want it to be. Digital Marketing, and SEO specifically, may seem overwhelming at first. With a tonne of things to learn and jargon flying about, it may feel like you’ll never understand what your seniors are talking about but the learning curve is a steep one. If you are passionate about expanding your knowledge and growing a strong SEO skill set, then there is the opportunity to do this at a pace that is much quicker than in other industries.