11 Feb 2020
19 Things I Learnt In My First Year As A Professional SEO
I’m a little premature with this post but I feel like I tweet more about SEO than I write. At least in a personal capacity.
I wrote about my journey in digital marketing when I got my job. Here is what I’ve learnt in my first year as a professional.
Women in SEO are the best
When I started my work account on Twitter, I wanted to follow more people who weren’t white men. The industry is already saturated and I wanted to hear from other voices. It’s the best decision I’ve ever made.
I’ve learnt more from the women in the industry than any other group. I’m grateful for their insights, the knowledge, their warmth and generosity. And I try to elevate and amplify as best I can without talking over anyone. Because, like I said, the industry is saturated with male voices and it needs to do better.
Experts aren’t experts
I followed the works of notable experts at the start (I won’t name them but if you know, you know). Then the cracks in their veneers showed and I realised they were either shills, hypocrites, or both. And so I stop reading and listening.
I’ve seen a lot of “expert” opinions with poor methodology or thin credibility. I’m not experienced in this field but I know bullshit when I see it and it shouldn’t have a place in search.
There’s still an inclusivity issue (but things are better)
I used to look at agency sites for emails to send my CVs. And I looked at their team pages. I didn’t see any people like me. It didn’t bother me in the beginning. But over time, it disheartened me.
And now I’m “in”, I still see a lack of people of colour (especially black women and especially in SEO). Accessibility and active inclusivity (I try to avoid the word “diversity” now as it’s lost all meaning) still need a lot of work. But it goes for any industry because that’s how capitalism works.
There’s still a sexism problem. It’s not as bad as it used to be but there’s still a way to go. So we need to do better for our peers who require assistance.
A friend of mine went to brightonSEO one year and I was super jealous. Then I got to go last year and it was awesome. And I’m going again this year, with more experience under my belt.
I loved being there and being able to immerse myself in an industry conference. I anticipate this year’s being just as good if not better.
It’s about topics, not individual keywords
I spent a lot of time focusing on keywords - number of keywords, where they were used and how. Then I read about topic relevancy and entities and everything changed.
Suddenly it was about clusters of rich, meaningful content interlinked with other pages. It made perfect sense to me. A web within the Web. Since then, I make sure to cover the right topics in a way that helps the reader and, in turn, they help search engines.
Ranking for a targeted keyword was my highlight
I’ve been blogging for over a decade and most of the time, I don’t write with a keyword in mind. Last year, I wrote an article for work and it now ranks for industry-related keywords. Page session times are always great and the page has lead to conversions. It feels good to know I did that (even if the original had to be cut down for reasons)
Technical SEO is my strong suit
I used to mention the fact I was analytical on my CV. Then I stopped because nobody really cared. But it was still true, even if the work I pursued was more about writing than anything technical. My current job started in copywriting but my SEO knowledge was what got it for me and eventually I became an SEO executive. I still write and optimise content but I’ve honed my technical skills more than anything else over the last few months and that’s where my head and heart lie. Which leads me onto the next heading.
Python is amazing
I know HTML isn’t a programming language but it got me into coding and that lead me to my first language: C++. I studied Computer Science at Nottingham Trent for 6 months until I realised it wasn’t for me. And now I hate C++.
I’ve still got a long way to go but this is the best part of my career so far.
Does a site need so many scripts and frameworks? Is jQuery essential? Is there an alternative to Gatsby? You could save yourself money and page load speed. By the way, I’m not shitting on devs because they get enough of that as it is. I just think JS isn’t the solution to everything on the Web.
APIs are amazing
Is there anything APIs can’t do? Actually, don’t answer that.
An API fuels my scraper. Every time I use a service, I ask myself “does this have an API” and it usually does and I make a note of it for future use. Pokémon, Letterboxd, and Spotify are three examples. Even better if the APIs are free to access. They’re a great way to practise in your language of choice.
Content and Links
Use headings more
My scraper extracts headings from the links on Page 1 of a given SERP (amongst other HTML elements). Having used it for a couple of months for work and recreation, it made me realise just how poorly headings were used. Either they were used as a decorative element or not at all. Both are bad.
Headings split up blocks of texts and describe what each section is about. They also help people who use screen readers as they can skim and skip to content that means the most to them. And they’re not there for keyword stuffing (because headings don’t help with ranking).
The inverted pyramid model is a good idea
The inverted pyramid model is not ideal in every situation but sometimes you just want to know what a long read is about. And if it interests you enough, you’ll read more. I’ve heard naysayers claim TL;DR’s kill dwell time but I disagree. Considering Google uses the first page of SERPs to add their own version of TL;DRs (better known as featured snippets), if they dodge those and actually click your link, they’re ready to read. And the inverted pyramid model can help with outlining content and then explaining it all in more detail.
There’s a lot of the same content out there
Today, I found an article called Copycat Content: SEO Tools Got Us Here, Humans Will Get Us Out and the first paragraph echoes my sentiments for a lot of web content:
There’s a copycat crisis in content marketing. Explore the search results for virtually any lucrative keyword, and you’ll find a bunch of articles with lookalike titles, headers and examples. Increasingly, “SEO content” has become a synonym for meandering “ultimate guides” and formulaic “7 ways” listicles.
When analysing the SERPs for intent, we’re told to follow certain patterns. But what does that say to the user and the professional? That the “best” content needs to include a number, a power word, a noun, and your keyword? Does everything need to follow the leader to join the leader on Page 1? Is it worth the risk to not do that? Of course, there’s more to ranking than a good meta title but a lot of advice out there suggests we do these kinds of things and there’s a lot of the same advice, competing to be the loudest and highest ranked.
Internal linking is important
I never took this into consideration back in the day (I didn’t know any better). But internal linking is so important. It passes link juice, helps with navigation, and it can increase page session time (and page sessions). If you’re writing good content that links to more good content, you’re going to keep a user on your site. And if it’s an e-commerce site, that means more money spent.
So is a good architecture
Something else I didn’t pay enough attention to in the past. I have a blog that has over 1400 posts. Crawl depth is an issue (I’m working on it, okay?!) but has helped me think about my site architecture. A better site structure means pages get crawled quicker and more often.
Google is not a meritocracy
I wrote a piece on this] so I won’t repeat it. But for all the good things Google does, there are some grey areas and red flags.
But John Mueller is awesome
John, if you’re reading this, I love you and I want to thank you for your patience, hard work, and spirit.
I love the Web even more
I’ve loved the Web since those nights in Stripling Elementary School’s library in Atlanta in 2000. The Web was full of portals and I loved walking through them. It was like I was destined to work in search. And I love doing it. I have issues with how it’s used and the people who try to govern it, but the Web itself is a wonderful system.
I love not doing SEO
Seems like a strange way to finish a review on my first year as an SEO but working in it 40+ hours a week has made me appreciate doing the opposite of all those “best practices”. Writing without E-A-T in mind, not fine-tuning titles and descriptions, not caring about word count (because it’s not a ranking factor FOR THE LOVE OF GOD).
If I want to write about something, I’ll write about it. There’s no need for everything on the internet to be coiffured “for Google”. My favourite piece of content on the internet probably don’t rank for anything or get heaps of traffic. But they mean something to me. And other examples will mean things to others. Google is not my parent and I won’t let the company tell me what to do with my online expressions. ALRIGHT?!
Thank you to Natalie Arney, Ruth Everett, Ronke Lawal, Tony Randall, Tom Mortimer, Jess Kirkbride, Danielle Strouther, Amber Dawson, Areej AbuAli, Dan Rice, Tatiana Mac, Maret Reutelingsperger, and other people I’ll invariably add later on. Thank you for your help and support.