I was sitting staring at my computer trying to decide what my next post should be about, when I got a notification from LinkedIn – “X Congratulated you on your work anniversary!” Work anniversary? Then I realised, I’ve been working at WHITE for two years now and, subsequently, have spent two years in the world of SEO. So, I thought this post would be a great opportunity to have a look back on what’s happened to SEO during the last two years, what I’ve learnt along the way, and what advice I can give to new SEOs.
I joined WHITE in June 2012, only a couple of months after the release of the original Penguin update, and about 16 months after Panda. Obviously, it was a challenging time for SEOs everywhere, and I was thrown in at the deep end.
My knowledge of SEO was pretty much non-existent when I joined, and I remember my first few days being a whirl of terms I didn’t understand and tools I didn’t know how to use. Meta descriptions? Title tags? Bounce rates? Penguins? Pandas? What was going on?
Luckily, the guys at WHITE were patient and helpful, and quickly brought me up to speed with everything SEO-related. Soon I was working away on content-focused SEO like a pro (or so I like to think!).
So what’s changed since 2012? What’s stayed constant? What have I learnt? What are the best pieces of advice I can pass on to new SEOs?
The big changes
One of the biggest changes that springs to mind is guest blogging (unsurprising I suppose, given I focus mostly on content). Back in 2012, everyone was doing it. Whether you were actually trying to produce quality content or just spamming people is a different matter, but every SEO was guest blogging in some shape or form.
Of course, in 2014, guest blogging is pretty much off the table. With Matt Cutts publically denouncing it, and discouraging SEOs from using it, guest blogging has been effectively killed off. (You can read more about this in a post I wrote earlier this year). If you’re an SEO still using guest blogging in 2014, you should really re-think your strategy.
This has led to most SEOs moving their priorities onto onsite content – a really important shift in my opinion! At WHITE, the importance of onsite content has always been stressed, but it’s great to now see other SEOs championing it. Improving onsite content benefits everyone – clients, users, and SEO practitioners alike. The death of guest blogging really helped to spur this movement and I am grateful to Matt Cutts for giving me something solid to use to dissuade clients from guest blogging and push them into improving their own content.
What these changes have meant for SEO…
Standing out and being genuinely useful with website content has meant a much bigger push towards creative, user-focused SEO, which is another important change. Pre Panda and Penguin, I feel SEO was very much focused on tricking Google, rather than actually improving websites. Now that Google has caught on and happily rolls out continual updates to these major algorithms, SEOs are forced to focus on providing quality website experiences to users. I think this is a fantastic shift, which is really helping to improve websites and search engine results across every sector of the web.
And for me…
All of these changes have obviously placed a lot more emphasis on the role of content and, as a result, I’ve found a lot more work coming my way, and much greater demands on my skillset.
When I first started, being able to conduct appropriate keyword research, write effective titles tags and meta descriptions, and create good quality blog posts was the majority of my role. Now I conduct in-depth content audits, analyse client, competitor and general sector content to discover new content gaps for clients to exploit, and spend a lot of time brainstorming to come up with something new and unique that will set our clients’ websites apart.
I am always focused on the user and what they’re looking to get out of each search query they make. I analyse how best to provide them with the information they need whilst keeping them engaged with the client’s site and interested in their offering. It’s much tougher than it used to be, but I love the challenge and am prouder than ever of the work that we produce. SEO standards have been forced upwards by Google, and the quality of our work has been raised substantially.
So, those are the big changes, but what are the constants? What is still essential, and what do I think all new SEOs should be aware of?
Of course, SEO has many constants. As a content specialist, I will always stress the importance of thorough keyword research. It is at the core of everything we do. It is absolutely central for understanding what users are looking for and informs all content related choices – from title tags and meta descriptions, to on-page copy, ads, new page creation, and more.
I have a few tools that I will always recommend when conducting keyword research. Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools are essential starting points. Despite the rise of (not provided) you should always start with a good look at the keywords that a currently bringing people to your site, and Google gives a great insight to this.
SEMrush is another fantastic tool, and just keeps getting better. As well as providing you with lots of information around your current organic keywords, you can also take a good look at what competitors in your sector are ranking for and how you fare in comparison. The Domain vs Domain tool is a great way to find keywords that competitors are targeting that you’re missing out on, and gives a good overview of where you sit within your sector.
At WHITE, we also use Linkdex, which enables you to track a lot of different keywords and see how you’re ranking for them, as well as analyse how your competitors are doing for them.
Another area that hasn’t changed is being able to produce solid technical work. Although this isn’t my specialism, I have learnt a lot about the technical side of SEO over the last two years, and am now confident working on everything from link audits, to disavow files, to redirects, and more. Being competent across a range of SEO skills is something I would stress as crucial to anyone serious about a career in SEO. Having a specialism is great, but without a solid understanding of the other areas involved you can never really achieve your full potential. You need to understand all of the various factors involved in order to produce a really great website and user experience.
For any new SEOs, there are several great resources that will provide fantastic information on all of the essential areas involved. DistilledU is my favourite online SEO resource. It taught me all the basics when I first started, and is a brilliantly constructed and incredibly thorough learning resource. I would recommend it to anyone. Moz also has a great beginners guide to SEO, which I found really helpful when I was starting out. And even now, with a lot more experience, their blog is a source I turn to regularly when trying to keep up to date with everything SEO-related.
Overall, I’d have to say my first two years in SEO have been something of a rollercoaster. There have been a lot of changes and sudden swerves, but the core principles behind what we do have never really changed.
If you asked me what the point of SEO was when I first started, and if you asked me again now, I’d still give you the same answer. It’s about improving the web for the users. It’s about giving people the information they’re searching for in the most useful, informative, and effective way possible. It’s not about tricking Google into giving you the top rankings, and it’s certainly not about using spammy techniques to boost your link profile.
The core values at WHITE have never changed; we’ve always believed in creating top quality websites that cater for users’ needs. Luckily, whilst I’ve been working in SEO, Google has got better and better at recognising websites that deliver this, and rewarding them for it. As a result, I can only say that I’m lucky to work in an agency that has always understood these concepts and kept them at the top of its priorities.
As for what the future holds, I’m sure we’ll see more updates and even new algorithms; Google is always learning and adjusting. I’m also sure that spammy tactics will be spotted faster and punished more severely. However, I’m also certain that Google’s key focus on quality for the user will stay the same, and that will always be our priority too.
Here’s to the next two years!
Image from Flickr