It is really quite simple: if you want to learn how to do SEO, you have to do SEO.
Reading books and articles and watching YouTube videos by the experts is all well and good, but it’s no substitute for rolling up your sleeves and getting down into the trenches.
Here are 9 of the hard truths that will trickle out during your first 12 months of engaging seriously with SEO.
1. In the wonderful world of SEO, the Davids can take on the Goliaths
Probably like a lot of other SEOs, I first got into this field when I optimised my own website (for legal translation services from German to English).
It wasn’t a terribly auspicious start! When I first looked at the first page of the Googlehttp://www.spezialis-translations.at/ results for the keywords relevant to my strategy, I honestly wondered whether it was worth bothering with SEO at all. The top spots were dominated by big translation agencies, offering all language combinations and translations across a range of subject areas from medical to insurance and marketing. Would I, a highly specialised one-woman show with only one language pair, be able to make any inroads into their territory?
Well, since my aim was not just to improve my website but also to learn about SEO, I decided to give it a shot anyway and see what happened.
Quite a bit, as it turns out.
One year later, and with several first-page rankings under my belt, I’ve proven that the Goliaths aren’t always running the show. If the Davids are smart enough, they can compete — and get ahead.
2. Persistence pays off
SEO isn’t a film — it’s more like a long-running soap opera. It goes on, and on, and on…in much the same manner as Céline Dion’s heart in the late 90s.
It is a common misconception that, to be successful in SEO, all you have to do is make the necessary technical and structural changes to your website, write some content and that’s it.
Nothing could be further from the truth. While technical and structural adjustments and improvements & additions to content are important: continuity in execution is the decisive factor between those who see a return on their SEO efforts and those who give up, demoralised.
3. Investing in SEO is like investing in a friendship or other relationship
It’s true — with SEO there are no firm guarantees that it will pay off or that you will get the returns you want. But that is no reason not to dive in and do the hard yards. Do you invest in your friendships or relationships with the sole intention of getting a specific, short-term gain? Of course you don’t.
SEO is an investment that you can only make with the right amount of faith and goodwill.
4. Seeing results is SO motivating
As I’ve mentioned, with SEO, you don’t see results overnight. It takes several months even to see the first uptick in impressions and/or clicks. Your website only builds up authority with Google slowly and you have to keep on feeding the beast of Silicon Valley reasons to take you seriously and allow you to rank better.
But once you see your traffic ticking upwards, it is the greatest motivation! Immediately, you feel spurred on to do more, be even better.
It is quite addictive. In no time, you are officially an SEO nerd.
5. Getting backlinks is really, really hard
Backlinks, as the heart of offpage SEO, are a key factor in achieving good rankings. And yet it is devilishly difficult to obtain them. It takes a hell of a lot of creativity, promotion and outreach to get just one.
Buying backlinks is possible, but it’s a risky business. Basically, it is against Google’s guidelines and you could incur a penalty for doing it and undo all your hard work.
Even if you are going to go ahead and take that risk, you need to know where best to get those juicy backlinks, which ones are good investments and how to integrate them into your website naturally. That is a science all by itself.
6. Don’t get too caught up on the data
Of course, a big part of putting together a good SEO strategy is to work out which keywords are going to work best with regard to your goals. Identifying those keywords is a matter of research and looking at the relevant search data. Analysing the results of your actions and how your website is performing with regard to the agreed KPIs is also — you guessed it! — a matter of data analysis.
However, constantly poring over the numbers and obsessing over what is happening on a week-to-week, or even day-to-day basis is going to result in a situation where you focus too much on the short-term gains and can’t see the wood for the trees.
In his book “The Value of SEO”, Andrew Holland even goes so far as suggesting doing “blind SEO”, i.e. doing SEO for a whole year without looking at a single metric. This will encourage you to build the best and most relevant website for the users you wish to attract to it rather than focusing on just data and traffic. That will get you much better results over the long term.
7. When it comes to content, quality beats quantity every time
Following on from the previous point: how do you make your website the most relevant in your niche and a place to which your target users return time and time again? Answer: by investing in your digital assets — meaning your website and the content on it.
When it comes to content, building a website which achieves these goals means prioritising quality over quantity.
You can pump out 5 quick but shallow articles a week that are just a repetition of what everyone has has already done…OR you can take the time to create a piece of content which is unique and surpasses anything else your competitors have out there on the same topic. The one that answers the questions that users didn’t even know they had.
Guess which strategy is going to earn you more points with Google when it is assessing which website offers the user the best possible answer to the relevant search enquiry? Exactly.
8. Understanding search intent is key
Search intention means what the user is actually looking for when they type certain keywords or keyphrases into the Google search window.
This can be tricky to work out. Take the keyphrase “translation laws”, for example. Users could be searching for a translator to translate certain laws. OR it could mean that the user is looking for existing translations of certain laws. From the keyphrase alone, it’s impossible to tell with any certainty.
Be critical about search intent when researching keywords and creating your SEO strategy. Failing to do that analysis up front could mean amassing useless impressions and clicks later on, distorting the picture of how well you are really doing on the SEO front.
9. There’s always more work to do
As you can see, the first 12 months of SEO are going to be a story of learning, trying, failing, learning more, analysing, trying more, winning a bit…and so on.
It’s tough going. But afterwards, you’ll have a better idea of how approach SEO, what works…and what doesn’t! You’ll also fully understand how SEO success can only come from long-term commitment to the discipline.
Your website (or your clients’ websites) can always be better and more useful to the people it intends to serve. Whether it’s adding unique images, valuable infographics or top-quality content that your users love…just like a real house, there’s always something you can do to your digital assets to spruce them up and make them better.
Time to get back to work!
[Photo credit: YuriArcursPeopleimages on Envato Elements]