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Just Getting Started In SEO? Experts Share 5 Helpful Tips

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Just Getting Started In SEO? Experts Share 5 Helpful Tips


Considering a career in SEO?

The sheer volume of information out there can be intimidating when you’re just getting started in SEO.

We asked industry experts to share their advice for those trying to find their way in a fledgling SEO career, and here are their top tips.

1. Build On Your Existing Skills & Knowledge

“Most SEOs start out with one of these skills: writing, marketing, or web design/development,” says Benj Arriola, Senior SEO Director at Assembly Global.

Once you’ve decided to do SEO full time, “start to learn the other two skills you’re weaker at but don’t need to be a master. It’s not your core strength, but this is where you learn to build teams, or even outsource tasks if needed,” he recommends.

Specializing is great, but having a working understanding of what your colleagues are doing, too, makes you far more effective at your own tasks.

Sam Hollingsworth, Vice President of Digital Strategy at Eleven Ten Thousand, suggests that you start with books and blogs.

“There are several legit web publications that can teach a great deal about SEO. Most are free like Google’s SEO Starter Guide and SEJ’s SEO for Beginners to name a few,” he says.

Webinars, social groups and forums, podcasts, and even YouTube videos are other great places to get a free education in SEO.

However, there’s a lot of misinformation and outdated content out there about what’s actually a ranking factor, which SEO tools and tactics work best in different scenarios, and more.

It’s important that you evaluate your educational sources carefully. Look for consensus among experts as to what is actually best practice today, and be aware that Google algorithm changes can come along and switch things up quickly.

You’ll also want to develop your understanding of the most important skills it takes to succeed in SEO – critical thinking, analytics knowledge, and your ability to adapt to quickly changing situations among them.

2. Learn The Basics of Website Building

“Over the past few years, I’ve helped several prospective SEO professionals kickstart their career,” shares Ludwig Makhyan, co-founder at Mazeless – Enterprise SEO. He usually suggests that everyone “start with exploring HTML and CSS and know the basics of a website in any case,” and advises that w3 resources are a good source for this.

See also  Google: Customer Reviews Not A Signal For Web Search

“Starting a test mini-site is the best approach, where you can code and optimize a page on your own,” Makhyan adds.

Senior SEO Specialist Jean-Christophe Chouinard of SEEK agrees. He advises that SEO newbies also learn the basics of JavaScript, Google Analytics, and Google Search Console.

Whether you’re in-house or freelancing/agency-side, it’s important that you have a solid understanding of how the websites you’re working in function, whether they’re custom builds, WordPress-based, on an ecommerce platform, etc.

While SEO best practices are largely the same across websites – links, content quality, and user experience are essential, for example – you might find SEO for Shopify a completely different beast than optimizing a Wix or Weebly site.

Dig into our Web Development archives to explore expert articles on the platforms and relevant to your work in SEO.

3. Brush Up On Your Communication Skills

“The biggest shock many new SEO professionals get is the lack of predictability and the uncertainty,” says Kevin Rowe, Vice President of Strategy & Product at Purelinq.

He advises, “You have to be an expert in operating in this type of environment by communicating up, setting goals, being flexible, building proofs of concept, and testing and scaling.”

Hollingsworth advises a similar approach.

“The basics of every job still apply: Use communication to your advantage. Be personable. Be motivated with a good attitude, and never stop learning,” he says. Hollingsworth explains and notes that a large part of effective communication comes from clear, well-written emails and deliverables.

“Another big part is breaking down complex concepts into simplified ideas to better understand them,” he adds.

So-called “soft skills” like communication are often overlooked in an SEO’s professional development as there are so many technical and analytical things to learn.

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However, your communication style can have major impact. It could be the difference between your landing that client, or not; or getting that promotion… or not.

When it comes to the specific communication skills you’ll need in SEO, Adam Proehl cites the ability to listen, thinking on your feet, and knowing how to distill complex information down into a format that meets the needs of your audience as among the most important.

4. Learn How To Tell Stories With Data

“Get good with data,” advises Lee Foot, Director at Search Solved.

“Learning how to use LOOKUP and COUNTIFS in Excel is a must. Learn how to find the story within the data and present it in an easy-to-understand way to stakeholders,” he says.

Failing to use visual cues to accommodate text, trying to tell your story without necessary context, and lacking confidence and authoritativeness are among the biggest mistakes SEO pros tend to make in their approach to data storytelling, says Justin Lugbill.

You can dig into more of the top mistakes he’s identified and how to solve or avoid them here.

Amy Hebdon recently shared these compelling examples of data storytelling designed for paid search that you can adapt to meet your SEO reporting needs, as well.

Claudia Higgins, SEO Insights Strategist at Conductor, recently shared some of the toughest lessons she’s learned about SEO reporting. Prior to joining Conductor, she managed SEO data and insights in-house with a large ecommerce website.

There, she learned the value of constantly working to improve SEO reporting.

“Establishing consistent, accurate data earned trust within the business,” Higgins said. She added, “The less labor-intensive I could make the process, the more time we could spend diving deeper into the data and uncovering root causes and emerging opportunities.”

5. Expand Your Network

Foot also suggests that interning in an SEO agency will help you develop your skills fast. “It’s great for networking too if you decide to freelance in the future.”

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Chouinard shares the same perspective. He believes, “Most SEOs are analytical and learners. SEO is great because you get to drive business decisions, build your specialization, and discover new things firsthand.”

“The hardest part is to learn to fail. Not everything works. Be humble enough to accept defeat (or change imposed by Google) and possibly restart from scratch occasionally,” he advises.

It’s been a difficult time for many new to the SEO industry to make connections, as the pandemic has seriously impacted our ability to get together in person.

However, virtual and hybrid events have become much more common.

It’s also a good idea to follow SEO pros on social channels. Many share their articles, blog posts, and case studies for the benefit of the industry as a whole.

This monster list of 202 SEO experts to follow is a good place to start.

Don’t be afraid to engage and be part of the conversations happening online.

Conclusion

As you learn and grow in SEO, trying new tools and having all different kinds of experiences, you’ll find an area of focus that suits you best.

But when you’re just getting started, it’s a good idea to try as many things out as you can.

See if you can build some links to your own website.

Set up a site you can mess around in, trying different optimizations on for size to see what works.

Read SEO books, make time to visit reputable blogs, and invest in training programs when you find an area you’d really like to dig into.

SEO is very much an ongoing learning industry, where even those who’ve been in it for 10 or 15 years or more can’t afford to sit still lest competitors pass them by in the rankings.

If you feel like there’s a ton to learn, you’re not alone – it’s part of what so many love about being in SEO.

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Searchmetrics’ CMO Talks Enterprise Volatility, SEO Careers & CWVs

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Searchmetrics' CMO Talks Enterprise Volatility, SEO Careers & CWVs


Are there upsides to the volatility inherent to SEO with all of its Google updates, changing consumer behaviors, and constantly evolving technology?

And just how important are Core Web Vitals, anyway?

I had a chance to catch up with Lillian Haase, CMO at Searchmetrics, recently to get her take on a few enterprise SEO hot topics and advice for beginners in SEO looking to grow into leadership roles.

If you’re in the market for employment with a leading search data, software, and consulting solution, you’ll want to check out her tips as to what Searchmetrics looks for in new hires, as well.

1. Core Web Vitals (CWV) has been a hot topic this past year.

What do enterprise marketers need to know about CWVs now that the dust has settled?

Lillian Haase: “For marketers in any business, focusing on reducing friction for users when they arrive at your website is the name of the game — with or without CWVs.

Before the official announcement that CWV’s page speed signals would become ranking factors, fast-loading and easy-to-navigate websites saw better results in the search engines. The CWV rollout just made it official.

I will say, too, that the dust has only settled in terms of Google talking about CWV.

The work for many brands is still colossal.

Our team sees many large companies still experiencing major problems with site speed and shifting layouts. Until domains can fix those issues, they’ll struggle to excel in competitive SERPs.

Having a decent CWV will be the price for entry onto the playing field.

If your CWV is far worse than your competitors, you’ll struggle for rankings – but CWV goes beyond SEO. The gains are much more concrete when it comes to revenue and conversions.”

Related: Analyzing 2 Million URLs: What We Learned About Core Web Vitals

2. We’ve seen you write before on volatility as an opportunity in SEO.

Can you share a few ways these volatile times may translate to opportunities for enterprise SEO?

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Lillian Haase: “At the start of the pandemic, we had major shifts going on in marketing. This necessitated a pivoting of methods to adapt to a new, uncertain environment.

When it came to SEO, we had clients with unprecedented traffic drops and increases. The world had changed and so had their web traffic.

My advice remains the same as then.

When you’ve experienced a sudden drop in traffic, analysis of where the drop occurred is the first step towards recovery – but it’s not the last.

It’s crucial to understand why it happened.

Was it a change made to your website?

A Google algorithm update?

A loss of keyword rankings for a specific page or group of pages — or something else?

Take steps to improve, or reverse an earlier change, depending on what you find.

The opposite happens, too, and you may experience a sudden influx of traffic and better rankings.

While celebrating is certainly not to be neglected (after all, teams work for years to see increases in traffic, so be sure to enjoy it when it happens!), it’s still important to ensure it’s the right kind of traffic, and that visitors are engaging with your web content.

Look at ways you can optimize your top-traffic pages to keep visitors engaged and moving through your website. Take advantage of that extra traffic with conversion rate optimization.

In addition, update your keyword research around topics that are ranking well to determine if you missed anything.

There might be something new uncovered through research that you haven’t optimized for.

Cover all your bases and see how much more extra traffic you can get on top of those already good results. Good can always get better.”

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3. What do you think is the most underrated optimization or tactic in enterprise SEO today?

Lillian Haase: “The basics, such as optimized headers and user experience, are still the same.

But the bar for great content and high-performing websites is much higher.

Your content needs to be heads and shoulders above the rest.

For example, the Google Product Reviews Update impacted many affiliate sites.

With these and other Google Updates, the days where you could write basic copy about a product and hoping to rank are gone.

Now, you make your expertise on the topic very clear by providing a truly informed opinion about the product’s performance.”

Related: 3 Ways SEO Has Changed This Year & What It Means for You with Jordan Koene

4. What advice or recommendations do you have for junior SEO professionals who might aspire to a leadership role?

“My advice would be to learn to tell the story of SEO’s impact on the business in terms of revenue.

In other words, if you can communicate the value of organic traffic framed in business terms, you will be heard by leaders in other teams who do not understand the ins and outs of SEO.

They’re looking for the value (often, in financial terms) the channel is bringing the company.

One of the most difficult things I see SEOs struggle with is that they go into unnecessary detail about search engines.

As SEOs, we’re so interested in the many moving pieces of the work, and we get overly excited with the minutiae.

But if no one understands what we’re talking about or they think it’s boring, the message is lost.

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Try to focus on business results in your presentations, reports, and in meetings with your superiors, instead.

In most organizations, organic search is undervalued when compared with other channels such as paid search.

If you can find a way to elevate the conversation to business metrics and stay out of the technical details, you’re well on your way towards future opportunities in SEO leadership.

If you can also consistently increase organic traffic, leads, and sales for your organization, you’re also setting yourself up for success.”

5. What does it take to succeed in a role at Searchmetrics?

And are you currently looking for any specific types of talent?

Lillian Haase: “We’re growing our services teams globally, so thanks for asking this and giving me a chance to share a little more.

While we have a variety of roles open, we’re actively recruiting SEO consultants and account executives.

One of the benefits of working for a company of our size is having the opportunity to have your voice heard.

We understand the next great idea can come from anyone at any level.

Successful team members adopt the mindset of builders and innovators and seek out opportunities for growth. Then they present those opportunities with a clear focus on the bottom line.

In general, we look for people that are not just looking to “do the job.”

Yes, we want people skilled in a particular area. However, we want people that are looking to push the envelope by asking, “How can we be better in our function?”

When it comes to culture, we’re looking for a culture add, not a fit.

We understand having a true diverse Searchmetrics family not only includes diversity in gender and ethnic background but also experience and thought.”

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What To Focus On This Year

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What To Focus On This Year


As the ball dropped in Times Square at midnight on January 1, 2022, many search engine marketers were tempted to check their analytics and rankings.

It appears that Google has replaced Santa as the purveyor of the “Naughty or Nice” list in the online world.

Some sites receive the gift of better rankings before the New Year.

Others are cleaning the coal dust out of their stockings, running frantic analyses on why they were put on the naughty list.

Holiday core algorithm updates from Google are nothing new to veteran search engine marketers.

And I don’t know who needs to hear this, but next year the update will be there after Christmas.

Don’t feel guilty about taking a few days off.

Take some time to think about how you can be even better in the New Year.

That’s what I did.

Below is my list of SEO resolutions for the New Year.

1. Remember To Have Empathy

In my experience, most search engine marketers are very “left-brained.”

Sure, there’s a ton of creativity in the search engine marketing world – but most search engine marketers would rather figure out why a piece of code isn’t loading as fast as it should versus trying to understand the intricacies of a searcher’s mind.

Don’t get me wrong, the technical aspects of SEO and paid search are essential – and without technical savvy, what we do doesn’t work.

But technical fixes are not enough to show continued improvement in your search engine marketing results.

I believe that the best tool any marketer can have is empathy, the ability to understand the feelings of others.

If we as marketers can understand the feelings, motivations, intent, and actions of search engine users, we can create webpages and content that not only provides value to visitors but also increases our site’s bottom line.

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I have always prided myself on my ability to empathize with searchers.

But with every core algorithm update or IT person screwing up a site, I find it very easy to put my empathetic impulses on the back burner to chase technical fixes.

Those technical fixes are for Google, not the searchers.

I need to remember to spend as much – or more – time understanding those who make a query as I do looking at ways to improve a site’s performance.

The dividends that come from empathetic marketing practices are usually greater than those gleaned from technical fixes.

All of us in search would be wise to remember this.

2. Automate All The Things

In the last few years, many prominent SEO professionals have touted the advantages of using the Python programming language to automate rote search engine optimization tasks.

Python, in the hands of a competent programmer, is a powerful tool that can cut the amount of time required for search engine optimization significantly.

Python can help you scrape data to come up with content ideas, analyze common on-page SEO issues, track and analyze issues in your backlink profile and much more.

Those interested in some of the possibilities with Python should read this article: How To Use Python To Analyze SEO Data: A Reference Guide.

As I’ve stated in the past, by definition I am not a coder.

However, I’ve been around code for so long I know what to look for when I’m analyzing how the code will react with the search engines.

For those like me, I encourage you to dig in and learn the basics of the Python language.

No one is going to care if you master the intricacies of the code.

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In fact, I would argue that spending too much learning the language is a waste of time.

For me, the end goal of learning about any new technology is to learn its full capabilities and limitations.

If you understand what a piece of software can do, you can then plan what you need and either figure out how to program just what you need or hire someone to program it for you.

It’s almost impossible to hire someone to automate your SEO tactics if you don’t understand how Python (or any other software) can help you achieve your goal.

My goal in 2022 is to learn everything python can do.

If you are a freelance python developer, feel free to hit me up around May, as I suspect I’ll have some projects by then.

3. Get Your Tracking Right

The introduction of Google Analytics 4 has thrown a wrench in a lot of sites’ tracking codes.

Many went from somewhat high confidence that their analytics data was correct to uncertainty.

When you don’t trust your analytics numbers, you can’t make proper decisions.

You can’t plan properly.

We often have prospects that show up with poorly executed tracking.

This has become so much of an issue that we recently implemented a policy where we don’t move on to any other work until the tracking is set up.

And it needs to be set up so everyone in your organization trusts the data.

If you increase traffic by 140% but the boss doesn’t believe the numbers are accurate, no one will get credit. There is a good chance that the tactics used to achieve the increased traffic won’t be approved again in the future.

Why would anyone approve activity that, based upon their worldview, isn’t effective?

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On the other hand, if traffic falls and no one trusts the data, it will be almost impossible to accurately diagnose what is causing the traffic decrease – at least in a way where the whole team is on board with the diagnosis and action items to fix the issues.

4. Embrace The Grind

Good SEO is a grind.

In many cases, we are implementing tactics and must wait several weeks before we know if our efforts worked or not.

We’re a lot like farmers – planting our seeds in the code of our sites, watering and caring for the code while knowing that storms from Google or drought from lack of consumer interest may mean a disastrous harvest.

Successful SEO pros embrace the daily grind.

We work on content to bolster our authority.

We check the code daily to make sure nothing is broken.

And when Google announces an upcoming update, the net looks like a town that just heard a storm is coming – SEO professionals work to batten down the hatches, even if we aren’t exactly sure what to do to prepare for the storm.

All-in-all, SEO becomes a list of daily chores.

Those SEO pros that embrace this daily grind are successful.

Those that look for magic bullets and quick fixes end up chasing their tail.

Embrace the grind.

It’s how you show long-term, sustainable SEO success.

In Conclusion

If you’ve read this far, I’d love to hear your search engine marketing resolution.

Feel free to post your SEO New Year’s resolution on Twitter using the hashtag #seo2022.

I am looking forward to reading all the new year’s resolution inspiration I’m sure the readers of Search Engine Journal can provide.

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Should You Disavow Links From Spammy Yet High Authority Sites?

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Should You Disavow Links From Spammy Yet High Authority Sites?


Today’s Ask an SEO question comes from David in Craughwell, Ireland, who asks:

“When checking my and my competitor backlink profiles, I come across many links from firebaseapp.com and web.app domains.

These domains have high DA but the pages are very often spammy and low quality. It is my instinct to disavow these links but due to the high DA I am unsure how to proceed.

Do you have any advice, please, for when an SEO encounters awful links from high DA domains?”

Hi David,

Great question! The first thing to think about is that Domain Authority (DA) does not come from Google and is not a credible metric.

How Does Domain Authority Factor Into Your Link Disavowal Strategy?

DA is a calculation devised by a popular SEO tool and used by that tool only (not Google) to evaluate a website.

If you trust that tool, then you can use the metric as a way to begin looking at a domain or a specific webpage and whether a backlink may have some value.

But I personally wouldn’t let a high DA sway me in one direction or another. There are a ton of high authority domains you likely don’t want a backlink from.

Porn sites and gambling sites may have a ton of domain authority and content that gets a lot of engagement, but that doesn’t mean a backlink could be good for you (unless you’re in those niches).

I found links to a fashion site I work on from porn sites with high DA in their cosplay section and we disavowed because we don’t want the association, even though the link was natural and benefited the end user.

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So What Should We Be Looking At?

The more important thing to look at is how Google will see that link.

Ask yourself why that site is linking to you – does your company sells something relevant to the topic of the website, the topic of the category, or the content within the page?

If you sell something unrelated like plumbing supplies or service alarm systems, Google will probably question why you have links from this site.

They will either ignore the link or potentially devalue your site as it may appear you’re building spammy links.

If this high DA site or series of sites has a ton of outbound links, there is a reasonable chance Google knows it is part of a farm and will likely ignore the link on its own.

If you’re worried about these links, you can always add them to your disavow sheet if it makes you feel more comfortable. Disavowing only takes a second and having peace of mind can last a long time.

That’s why I still do it for my clients.

For your app-specific questions: If you’re seeing this as an attack on your website, or it is a developer who is a fan of your brand and decided to link to you from all their apps or sites, you can leave it alone.

It’s likely they’re linking to all of your competitors, too, or your website is contextually relevant to the topic of the website.

If you do decide to trust a tool’s metric (all of them have their own) then I would pull a report of the specific URL linking to you (not the base domain) and look to see what the score is for that page.

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If the score is good and the content makes sense, I would keep the link. If it is clearly spam and not topically relevant I would consider disavowing the page or the entire domain to save time.

You can go a step further and pull similar reports for your top three competitors in Google search to see if they have similar backlinks. If they do then you may be in the clear as everyone in your space has the same issues.

In this situation focus on things in your control like on-page SEO with your content, page structure, schema, internal links, speed, and UX.

Do You Really Need To Worry About Disavowing Links?

Google has gotten a lot better about detecting good and quality backlinks while ignoring spammy backlinks, including high DA sites.

If the links are clearly not natural and only pointing at your site, go for the disavow and do domain-wide.

Again, peace of mind is something that can have a positive impact on your business and your personal life, so taking a couple of seconds to add the URL to your disavow file and upload is absolutely worth it – but only if you are sure it is a spammy link and from an irrelevant site/page/source.

I hope this answers your question and thank you for asking it.

These subjective questions are always more fun to tackle – you made my day!  =0)

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Editor’s note: Ask an SEO is a weekly SEO advice column written by some of the industry’s top SEO experts, who have been hand-picked by Search Engine Journal. Got a question about SEO? Fill out our form. You might see your answer in the next #AskanSEO post!


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