The 18th of July will mark my first year in SEO and my first year in general full-time employment after finishing university. So, naturally as any workaholic SEO would do, instead of going out for work drinks (something that would be rather difficult as I’m halfway across the country) I will instead write a blog article about it. A summary of what I’ve learnt in that time, where my head is at currently and even some hot takes that I’m sure will trigger some, likely more experienced, SEOs out there who for some reason decide to actually read this article.
Some kind words from Shane on my first year:
“One of the benefits of working for direct clients, agencies and other freelancers is I get exposure to an incredible amount of talented marketers. This gives me the insight into gauging where people currently sit within their career, be that entry level through to leading the field; in the 14+ years I’ve been working in search I haven’t met anyone who has absorbed, applied and developed as quickly as Victor in starting SEO. What makes our team so effective is we all work in cohesion with each other and have that commercial undertone in all of our campaigns and Victor has not only adopted this but has driven very serious growth for our clients and I’m really looking forward to the future. It’s been a pleasure helping Victor progress so quickly within a field he does very well in.”
What I’ve learnt in the past year:
1. What works & what’s a waste of time
The easiest way to describe SEO is as a massive trial and error exercise. Whilst Shane, and all of LinkedIn, did arm me with the correct knowledge from the get-go, I wanted to see the results for myself before I could stand by the strategies. This led me down the rabbit hole of continuous SEO experimentation on my personal sites and our internal projects, and it also left me with one heck of a bill for all the coffee that helped me stay up late into the nights
I made small changes to each site bit-by-bit and implemented different strategies, waited a few weeks and then looked at the results. From testing whether simply changing the images across the site would move the needle, to comparing different URL structures and posting schedules, I left no rock unturned… at the expense of my site’s SEO performance because wow does a URL structure change really mess things up if you’re not careful.
A year on, I’m beginning to form a very good idea of what really moves the needle and what is an utter waste of time; and it’s something that our clients are benefiting from which I’m sure they’re absolutely chuffed about!
2. Commercial focus
There’s a lot of fluffy metrics in the marketing world – one’s that look great on paper but really deliver no benefit to the business. Don’t get me wrong, metrics such as clicks, impressions and ranking position are god-level metrics that all SEO’s swear by, I’m not debating that.
But I think that we need to focus more on bringing in revenue and increasing the bottom line than just bringing in impressions and clicks. Like I said before, impressions and clicks are incredibly important metrics for judging SEO performance; after all, more clicks equals more website traffic which is literally what we’re paid to do.
But I think there’s a lot more to being an SEO than just that. We should adopt a commercial focus and look at leads, conversions and revenue from organic traffic – are these also increasing in line with everything else? They won’t increase dramatically but over time, your client should start to see small increases; from having 2 or 3 leads every week to averaging 4 or 5.
This is what really drives a business forward and it should be what we as SEOs focus on. It’s all about over-delivering for your clients and going the extra mile (for any of our clients reading this, you’re most welcome. I’ll happily take a trip to the French Alps as a bonus or if you’re feeling really generous, a Grand Seiko will do).
3. Focus on assets you have > creation of new assets
This is my first hot take – I think that you should focus on your existing content instead of pumping out new content at pace. Hence why I rarely suggest that a client writes more than 2 blog posts per month. Let me explain.
I am very financially minded, having wanted to work in high finance as a trader before deciding that my sanity was more important than boat loads of money (what’s funny about this is that I probably work longer hours now if you take my personal websites into account). So the practice of focusing on keeping what you have and to some extent risk-management have stuck with me, and that’s a mindset that I brought into this job.
That, and it was incredibly annoying to find out that only about 10% of pages on a website deliver organic traffic, meaning that the other 90% were just dead weight from an organic point of view – not a fun statistic to find out when you spend hours writing content everyday.
From my point of view, it’s more important to focus on your current assets (the pages that are live on your site), optimising them and trying to get as many of those ranking as possible, than to write new content.
This is also why I stress regular site wide content updates to our clients – Google likes fresh content, that doesn’t necessarily mean new URLs. Give Google new content on your existing URLs and you will be greatly rewarded by our glorious overlords.
4. SEO + expertise = recipe for a successful business
SEO is hands down one of the best skill sets that you can possess as a business owner – I am more than happy to fight anyone who disagrees with me, bring it.
If you can consider yourself an expert in your chosen field, be it hairdressing, property investing, travelling or website development. If you combine that expertise with rock solid SEO skills, you have one hell of a successful business on your hands.
Combine that with everything I’m learning about starting a new business and running it successfully, not only from Shane but also from all our lovely clients, this is priceless knowledge that I honestly couldn’t get anywhere else.
As somewhat of an entrepreneur (with many many failed ideas) and very much a side hustler, this is knowledge I plan to take full advantage of. Don’t worry, if I hit the big time, I’ll still turn up to work every day, the only difference being that I’ll hold all my monthly report meetings on my yacht.
5. Am I even an SEO?
Sure, the vast majority of what I do is SEO related but I find myself dipping my hands into so many different roles – some days I’m a developer (a very junior one but still a developer), other days I’m a UX designer and sometimes I’m solely in client relations.
This job allows me to wear many different hats throughout the week which is quite awesome to be honest – It allows me to learn so much about so many different roles and industries.
6. Thank God that I don’t work in-house
First off, let me just say that there is absolutely nothing wrong with being an in-house SEO; In fact, there are many benefits to it like being able to make more changes to the site at a faster pace – after all, in-house SEOs have 40 hours a week to work their magic whereas I’m lucky to have 12 hours a week for a client.
However, the one MASSIVE drawdown of working in-house is that many different departments all have differing opinions on what changes to make to their site and often SEO falls down the pecking order to a point where your suggestions are not being implemented at all.
That’s why I thank my lucky stars that whenever I make a suggestion, I can get it implemented as soon as possible. Resulting in less headaches and a far more relaxed work environment. Something that I should appreciate now because I don’t see this being the case as I begin working with larger businesses down the line.
7. Evolve or get left behind
The SEO industry, much like any other marketing sector, is ever involving with new tools, strategies and Google algorithm updates round every turn. It’s not an industry in which you can sit back and rely on the same strategies again and again to deliver results. You must continuously test and improve on your skills and strategies.
For example, with the launch of conversational AI (ChatGPT, Google Brad and so on) earlier this year, the sector of prompt engineering has been growing rapidly. Learning how to best utilise tools like these for our SEO efforts took a lot of time and it’s something that we continue to test from several aspects. But it’s where this industry is heading so we must evolve or risk being left behind.
Note – Our new team member Jack has written a brilliant guide on how to master ChatGPT prompts.
8. Growth is my passion
Something that I only realised after a conversion with my partner about my blog sites (more on that next), my true passion in life is simply growth – whether that be achieving great results and seeing our clients businesses flourish, working towards personal goals like purchasing my first home or improving my health and physique – growth is what really drives me. Constantly working towards goals and trying to better yourself every single day is what drives me in all areas of life… as cliche as that sounds.
It’s a blessing as it allows me to grow rapidly and I am able to get behind pretty much anything where I see myself working towards a goal. Thankfully, Shane and the rest of the team have similar mindsets to me so my growth is facilitated and I am able to progress quickly.
10. A blog solely reliant on affiliate income is stupid
Let’s end on a lesson that I think most people will find quite funny – my sudden realisation that blog sites which are solely reliant on affiliate income are beyond stupid.
I have two websites that I work on in the evenings and weekends – one being a how to make money online type of blog and the other specialising in property investing guides. I have worked tirelessly on both sites for the better half of 8 months, sacrificing about 20 hours per week. In other words, a boatload of time.
When I first began, I researched how much money successful blogs make and most people said between one to two thousand a month so me being naive, I thought ‘awesome, let’s grow two blog sites and within a year, I might expect to make maybe £200 a month from affiliate income’.
Well… 8 months on, after working tirelessly on both sites, I have made a grand total of £20.
The growth from an SEO point of view is amazing in all honesty, if I say so myself, but going back to the previous point about having a commercial focus, well the money just isn’t there now or going into the future (using personal data and data from other popular blog sites, I estimated that for every 1,000 views, you can make £40-60 from affiliate marketing). This made me realise that I must offer a service of some sort to start seeing some cash flow.
Something that became even more apparent to me when my partner’s website (she’s a hairdresser in Bangor – a small town in Wales) which has 99% less impressions and 95% less clicks than my sites – it’s fairly new – has made her more money than I have made from my sites. She couldn’t stop laughing when I told her that statistic.
What’s next for me?
I’m only a year in at this point, and even though I have developed fast beyond the typical skill set of an SEO with one year’s experience, I also realise that I’m only getting started. There is still a lot for me to learn and a lot of SEO experiments to run.
The next year is going to be exciting, though quite scary as I continue to develop, take on more responsibility and make some big moves in my life. It will definitely be fun to revisit this article next year and see whether I was right or laugh at how stupid I was a year ago.