15 lessons learned from 15 years in SEO

SEO terminology cloud

This year marks 15 years since I started doing SEO as a profession. This is a testament to how much can be learnt in the industry, and the ongoing technical and marketing knowledge required.

During my career, it has become clear what the recurring challenges are that clients face when improving their online presence. This post will delve into 15 of these areas to give you an idea of what you should be doing. And to give you an idea of what I do to help clients in the ever-changing world of the Internet.

1) No SEO considered when creating a website
Around half of the websites I do digital marketing for were not built with SEO in mind. This means I regularly get to analyse the code and functionality of websites to see what improvements can be made. I resolve issues such as how a website is being interpreted by search engines, how relevant it is to potential clients, and how it performs in speed and usability.

Even though a website should be built with SEO in mind, the majority aren’t. I can’t necessarily say this is a bad thing though since this is what part of my long-standing career has been based on!

2) Links require relationships
Whether you’re trying to get links yourself, or by an SEO, make sure the links have genuine value and a relationship behind it. This means not using websites that automatically accept link submissions, and communicating with the person who owns the website!

A link from a website with an audience and relevant content is worth more than 100 links from a non-reputable, automated source. This means a decent amount of time is required when building such a relationship.

3) Engage, don’t broadcast on social media
It’s crazy how the majority of people on Twitter simply broadcast messages, whether it be about themselves or what they’re doing. It’s like everyone is standing at arms length and shouting, without actually reaching out to one another. To see social media provide a benefit to yourself and your business, you need to find common ground with others to get engagement going. Surprisingly, a bit like real life!

4) Be a content creator, not a machineToy windup robot
Every site should have a blog area so content can be regularly added to keep visitation up. However, unless the story you’re writing about genuinely inspires you, it’s unlikely to inspire others, including search engines. Faking enthusiasm for the sake of adding content fools no man or machine. When writing an article, it’s good to think “evergreen”: will this article be beneficial to people in a few months or years time?

5) Run a PPC campaign
No matter how small or how local your website is, running a PPC campaign should always be done. Even if it’s just a trial for a few months to see if the conversion rate is worth it. Anyone who believes in their website should run a PPC campaign and generate enquiries from it. Without PPC you’ll be invisible to a lot of potential eye-balls that your competitors will be getting instead.

6) Sites should be optimised for people, then search engines
Your website should be optimised for people FIRST. It needs to be reassuring, quick and easy to use. If a user has the slightest doubt in their mind while browsing, they’ll be back to Google and finding a competitor within 10 seconds, whether the site is SEO-friendly or not.

7) Every website should have some sort of online marketing budget
You’ve got a great, well designed website on the Internet, so what are you doing without a marketing budget? Unlike the real world where a shop gets footfall from being in the middle of the high street, where will your traffic come from? A website needs a footfall equivalent, be it from PPC, blog posting and/or social media. Remember, regular onsite optimisation is just the foundation to making sure your site will get interpreted and indexed properly. Content creation and link generation is what improves its rankings and visitation. Without online marketing, your site is the equivalent of a shop opening up in a back alley, without any footfall or advertising budget.

8) Sell products? Use structured data
If you sell products on your website, are they coded using structured data? If not, there is a portion of traffic that’s being missed out on from other online sources, such as Google Shopping and additional exposure in search rankings.
This goes for any site that has many pages that share a common “type” of data, such as events, animals, locations. Having structured data means Google can read and understand it to use for its rich knowledge display.

9) Use a reputable CMS/FrameworkCMS robot
If you plan on not having to overhaul your website every few years, make sure it’s built on a framework that will be around for the foreseeable future and has a large community behind it. This will make it easier for developers to maintain your website and add new functionality. Frameworks built by an agency is all well and good but what if they’re not around in 5 or 10 years time? A new developer will likely have to spend time working out how it was built.

Also, bespoke frameworks tend to be several years behind open source frameworks when it comes to coding best practices. If a popular CMS like WordPress or Joomla is used then it will be a lot easier to find a developer that specialises in that system so they can hit the ground running.

10) Avoid black and grey SEO techniques
If you have a digital marketer on hand and they made amazing performance gains in the first month, can you be assured that what they did was ethical? Performance gains made within a short space of time are usually not for the long-term. This is great for the SEO person if they plan to make a quick buck but if you want a long-standing, beneficial relationship with an SEO, make sure that what they’re doing is purely white-hat.

If it isn’t ethical, not only will website performance bounce up and down, but it will cost more in the long-term as your SEO person plays cat and mouse constantly trying to outsmart Google. Over the course of an SEO campaign, real performance gains should be slow and gradual, unless your website was in a very poor condition to start with.

11) Understand what businesses are beneficial to you
For a business online to form beneficial relationships, it needs to be established who else is relevant to your industry but aren’t direct competitors. For example, if you’re an estate agent, consider contacting solicitors and DIY companies like electricians and roofers. You may be able to come to an agreement that’s mutually beneficial for both of you.

12) Recognise company strengths and USPs
What differentiates you from competitors? This needs to be emphasised in your site content as well as off-line material. This will let visitors know why they should stay on your website and let search engines distinguish you from others when it comes to performing well.

13) Make sure your SEO is integrated with your other marketing efforts
PR teams are having to get to grips with digital marketing, and SEO people are having to focus on the less technical aspects, such as engagement and building a persona. When there’s a company event or new brochure released, make sure your SEO team is informed. This creates an opportunity for them to add content to the website and social media accounts, putting important information where visitors are most likely to see it.

14) Monitor all performance attributesTablet showing website performance
Keep on top of your digital marketing efforts by regularly reviewing anything that helps your bottom-line. But at the same time, do not ignore the intrinsic value of SEO such as brand awareness and improving customer service. Even large companies have been known to stop SEO efforts, only to realise a few months later that enquires have decreased from areas previously unknown via online marketing. Contact forms, email addresses and file downloads should all be tracked and reported on.

15) Understand the basics of SEO
This ties in with point 14. Just basic knowledge of the SEO task at hand will improve the overall performance of your day to day job. Understanding what’s being done enables you to consider its value and how it can be applied to other areas of the business. Such knowledge is especially useful if you bounce ideas back and forth with your SEO person. This provides him or her with insight into your industry, enabling their SEO to be more effective.