Since learning that I’d be presenting at SMX West, my mind has shifted from managing client goals and expectations to assuming the role of a teacher. I have never considered myself a strong teacher. That said and out of the way, I also know that I can still effectively share my industry knowledge. Today I had an opportunity to meet a couple of new hires at my office job — and I was thrilled by their eagerness to explore the world of search engine optimization.
With them and many others in mind, I wanted to create a primer of sorts for getting started. Now, to serve as a full disclaimer, I am not an SEO Expert. I’ve been working in and with SEO and SEM since 2001 — which makes me a dinosaur — but with the way things change in this industry, I’d never call myself an expert. I’m mildly seasoned at best.
Become a Sponge
Reading and absorbing information is critical to learning. The industry is one of the most dynamic I’ve witnessed. What works today may fail tomorrow — and your ability to stay on top of industry trends is what can separate you from the pack.
Next, focus on sites like Sphinn and be ready to load up on RSS feeds. With as much information as there is being thrown around, having a central spot to read and digest things can really save you hours of time… and you’ll need those hours to get yourself knee deep in SEM.
With Facebook, MySpace, Sphinn, Digg, Mixx, and a host of other community driven sites — there is no reason your name should be unknown. In this industry you’re mixing it up with hundreds of known SEO’s, SEM’s, Authors and Pioneers. No joke, if you go to industry leading conferences — you will rub elbows with the best of the best. Interacting then is key.
Like everything else, there is no substitute for hard work, ambition, and appreciation of other’s time. While you have access to some of the best via email, IM, phone and these social networks — don’t be a dick about it.
Test Your Hypotheses
If you were to capture one SEO and ask them a series of questions of what criteria is needed for success, they’d lie to you. We’re a touchy crowd. When you know someone who knows SEO — you just know it. How’s that for confusing?
You need to test what you think might work. From page titles to URLs, content formatting to link strategies — I’m confident that you’ll never get a straight answer from multiple SEOs on any one thing being super effective.
Testing your ideas helps to do a few things… First, it provides you with a creative outlet to practice various environments. What works well for static sites may not work for dynamic sites. Blogs are different than ecommerce sites, and so on down the line.
The bottom line though is that you need to begin thinking like some strange hybrid of an engine and a human. Most engines want to promote sites that provide their users with a solid user experience. At the same time, those engines need to be able to look at your pages and understand them.
Common Mistakes and Misconceptions
SEO doesn’t work overnight.
SEO isn’t a one time deal.
SEO is not writing META Tags.
SEO isn’t going to make you rich.
SEO doesn’t compromise user experience or design.
SEO is not linking schemes.
SEO is not gaming the system for your gain.
SEO means a lot of things to a lot of different people. It aggravates the hell out of me though when people dismiss it for a scammy way to game the engines for the growth of a particular site or business. SEO is a time intensive process that requires research (keywords, competitors, user analysis, etc) and comprehensive efforts (on page edits, off page edits, active monitoring, etc.).
Ask for Help
If it weren’t for Andrew Gerhart, I wouldn’t know a thing. Learning and growing as an SEO is something that requires the input of trusted peers. Align yourself with people and ask them early and often for feedback. This is an industry that is committed to fighting off the stereotypes of abusing META tags and hiding text on same colored backgrounds. If you’re thinking you can walk through SEO with little to no effort, you’re sadly mistaken. But, if you take the right approach and position yourself as a student to the art of SEO — there’s a wealth of information available for you to build a career on.
All it takes is the effort.
It’d be crappy for me to end this post on that note. Instead, here’s the best overall source I could find to serve as a Beginner’s Guide to Search Engine Optimization.
And please, if you’ve read this post to this point — please feel free to comment or email with any questions!