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7 things I wish I had known earlier in my SEO career

7 things I wish I had known earlier in my SEO career

Five years into my SEO career, I thought I was a pretty big thing. I had already gained a lot of experience, started my own SEO agency, worked with household brands and placed websites in competitive niches.

But looking back now, I can see that I still had so much to learn. I was by no means a big deal (and I do not consider myself one now either) and in fact my learning curve was flat.

When I think back on that time, there is so much I could have done better to become a more successful SEO professional; to move faster in SEO.

In this article I will share the seven most important things I wanted to tell my 10 year younger self about SEO. Back then, I was in an agency role, but most of the things we want to cover today also apply to internal roles.

Let’s dive down!

1. Learn how to write good content

At one point, I was so focused on the technical side of SEO that I had completely lost sight of how important great content is for SEO success.


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To make matters worse, I had no idea how I could create good content myself, since I had not been in the trenches for a long time.

I knew how to remove content ideas that were running off the mill, what headline structure I should stick to, and how I could best internally link articles … but that’s how far I got.

I spent too much time thinking about creating content, and too little time doing it. How to drive organic traffic.

What I would say to myself: Get back in the trenches and get more practical writing experience. Start writing about what you know – SEO.

See what works well and what does not work. Learn how to make sure your content gets an audience.

In parallel, you need to start collaborating with good copywriters to fill this gap and be aware of what they do and how they do it.

2. Learn how to earn links

Ten to fifteen years ago, library connections were pretty easy to get – and they got hit. You could successfully rank sites with them in low-to-medium competition niches.


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Combined with press releases, it was pretty much my MO when it came to link building.

For a while, this worked fine. And then I got lazy. I hadn’t quite learned what makes people tick, or how I could persuade journalists and bloggers to link to me.

And then one day, the links I was used to building pretty much lost their effectiveness.

I was in a tough spot as I had not developed my skills to earn links.

I did not come up with new ways to get links, and so slowly moved into a more consulting role where I would only come up with ideas to earn links.

I had gotten out of touch with what was really needed to earn links.

What I would say to myself: Forget what you think you know about building links. Get back in the trenches.

Get rid of your bad habits and invest time in understanding what makes people tick off and how to get them to link to you. Gain experience and collaborate with PR people to increase your link earning skills.

If you can not master it, hire someone who already has these skills.

3. Stop writing these 50-page SEO reviews

I loved writing detailed 50-page SEO audits.

It felt great to send one to a client and think that it had definitely delivered incredible value. What more could a customer want?

I had outlined a roadmap to dominate Google’s SERPs!

The reality, however, was that I had to put a huge amount of effort into getting my recommendations implemented. Customers rarely read the 50-page review I had spent days writing, even though they already knew what was wrong with the site.

It turned out that these 50-page revisions were working against me.

What I would say to myself: Forget the 50-page review and go to the place where your client needs you.

Give them a simple one-pager that contains a priority to-do list (data backed by spreadsheets for more details), the expected results, and a timeline for when those results should be expected.

4. Focus on long-term customers

No matter who knocked on our door, we would be happy to work with them.


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This meant that we performed a lot of project-based work for clients who did not have the potential or budget for a long-term commitment.

After a while, we figured out which clients would become long-term clients and which would not. But we still did not have the courage to say no to the project-based revenue that would not move past the original project.

We thought: Surely you would be crazy to say no to money coming walking in the door?

But in fact, we were crazy about saying yes. For several reasons, these projects are:

Was less fun to work on. Often it did not give much of a result because you had to get everything right at once. And you could not continue with the next phase of the SEO roadmap. Had thin margins relative to long-term liabilities.

These projects were not good for us – or for the customer.

What I would say to myself: Focus on working with clients that you think have a good chance of becoming long-term clients.

These are the ones you will enjoy working with the most. They will teach you the most and they will also give you the best margins.


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5. Invest in your personal brand

I have never invested much in building my personal brand. I did not create content and share things I had learned, despite the fact that I often encountered really interesting situations that the SEO community would have loved to hear about.

I was not sure if others would find these things interesting, so instead of contributing content, I just cheated.

As a result, I ended up with only a small following on social media. Few people even knew who I was.

What I wanted to tell myself: Start building a following on social media by sharing what you learn and find interesting. Get back to writing again, and get out there in the real world too.

Speak at local meetings and work your way up from there. It will come in handy further down the line, whichever path you choose. This investment pays for itself a thousand times over.

6. Do not let customers be obsessed with rankings

Like many other customers, mine was obsessed with locations.


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But while rankings are obviously important in SEO, you do not want meetings to be about why a keyword dropped from position 6 to 7.

All too often, I ended up having this discussion. It was my fault – I should have helped my clients look beyond locations, in the bigger picture.

What I would say to myself: Explain to customers that they need to look at trends and focus on more meaningful metrics like organic traffic – and ideally leads and revenue.

That way, you lose less time for meaningless discussions and enjoy more time discussing how to grow your business further.

7. Spend less time on auditing and reporting

I was proud to have a thorough weekly checklist I would run through for each client. I wanted to capture all the issues and changes that were made, big and small.

But it took a big bite out of the customer’s monthly budget. Same for reporting.

Looking back, I think I spent 30% of our time auditing and reporting.


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I know now that it’s way too much. By automating tracking changes, applying the Pareto 80/20 rule to the manual audit tasks, and simplifying the reporting process, I would have been able to bring these 30% down to 10%.

The time saved could have gone to getting my clients better results, which could have been significant when considering the composite nature of SEO.

What I would say to myself: Spend your time on the tasks that will provide the greatest ROI for your customers (and thereby for yourself). Use it in the trenches, do active SEO – and cut down on time spent on auditing and reporting.


Unfortunately I do not have a time machine so my decade younger I will never read this.

But you just did it!

Hopefully, what I have learned and shared will help you prevent some of the mistakes I have made along the way so that you can cut the learning curve and get there faster than I was able to.


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