”90% of the information you need to know about SEO is available online and in books. Once you have figured out that much (you will know because you will start to feel like you aren’t learning anything new from reading and attending conferences) spend the rest of your time innovating and trying out completely new tactics. That last 10% might be findable through the right connections but honestly your time is better spent coming up with your own ideas.”
-Danny Dover, writer at LifeListed.com, a bucket list blog.
“Intellectual honesty. Which is somehow different from plain honesty. Intellectual honesty is what makes you say no when no must be told… and not just in the case you are dealing with a pushing client, but also – and maybe especially – when you don’t say ‘No’ to yourself and accept deals that you maybe you should have not have taken. That is an horrible mistake I did and I wish to not do again.
Intellectual honesty, and humbleness, is what makes you stay with your feet on the ground, even though you maybe are living your 15 minutes of fame. ‘I know that I don’t know’, I like to repeat to myself, and that is why I try to learn one new thing every day and that is why I consider everyone in the field as a potential teacher.
But Intellectual honesty is also what makes you defend your values, also in this field. And defend your point of views… maybe that is what should be called ‘ethical SEO’.”
“Don’t just learn by reading what other people write. Learn by doing – test tactics out on your domain; test new things, not just what people are talking about. Try to take a tactic and do it better or try to scale it. Have test domains to try out tactics that may have an adverse affect on your site.”
“Never stop learning. Data visualization, language processing, search in general, writing skills and your general marketing savvy have to continuously mature and improve. The best SEOs I know are mental sponges – they soak up information, all the time.”
, Founder and CEO of Portent
“Run a number of projects & test what works. To learn the algorithms does not make one a tainted person (it is ignorance that is bad, not knowledge). Do not allow others to influence what you are willing to test by inserting suggestions aligned with their own business models as though they are moral clauses/code.”
-Aaron Wall, Founder of SEO Book.
“It depends how you define success. If you want to be a financial success then similarly to any other industry the name of the game is scale; get yourself a public persona, set the PR machine rolling and get as many bums on seats to grow your operation. Oh and do a decent job on a couple of clients so you’ve got a case study or two to use.
If you want to be well-known (and probably financially successful) then spend plenty of time blogging, go to as many conferences as you can and answer all the questions under the sun in any and all of the forums. Occasionally get involved in real client work but not too much because that would be wasting time that could be spent ‘inbounding’
If you want to be well-known and financially successful then get good at SEO; don’t take what you read at face value, try everything for yourself, read blogs but spend an equal amount of time doing, be selective at taking on projects that fit your skillset so the client gets good value (SEO is quite a broad job title and you’re bound to gravitate toward and likely specialise in a specific area) and above all be transparent and honest with the client. Really educate them on what you’re doing and what they can expect from you – I don’t care if you’re black or white (hat!) just so long as the client doesn’t think they’re paying for one thing but ends up getting another…long term you’re doing yourself and the industry no favours.
There’s nothing wrong with making loads of money (I love money) and I actively encourage you to do things like blogging, helping others in forums, sharing your knowkedge and expertise at conferences and growing a team of employees- just make sure you have the substance to back up your style.”
“Always be transparent and honest in all your dealings–both with your clients and the search engines. Don’t take on work that you don’t know how to do (unless the client knows this). Remember that in SEO what works for one site may not work for another as they are all unique and have different needs. Take responsibility for your actions (or of those who work for you). Under promise and over deliver. Set goals on things that really matter to your clients’ bottom line and measure success accordingly. Always educate your clients so that if they eventually want to take their SEO in-house, they will have a good understanding of the process.”
“My best advice for being successful in the SEO industry is twofold. First, make friends. You’ll be much more successful in SEO if you can admit that you don’t know everything and have smart friends to lean on when you are out of your element. We all have our own weaknesses, so admitting it and seeking to learn is foremost.
Second, be curious about everything. If you see a site ranking and you don’t know why, dig into it. Figure it out. You’ll learn more by being curious about what you see in the SERPs than just reading content that comes out and watching SEO videos. You can learn a lot about those, to be sure, but digging in and doing the work and investigation will teach you the most the fastest.”
“Intellectual curiosity. Our field changes all the time, and not just in response to algorithm updates from Google. People are constantly finding new ways to search the Web and new tools to use. So as SEOs, we need to be curious about emerging trends, new ways of doing things, and the general goings-on in other fields outside of our own. The best SEOs keep up with practitioners of user experience design, information architecture, content strategy, web development, and several other disciplines. Yeah, it’s hard, but that also makes it fun and challenging — and that’s why you love SEO, right?
A willingness to share knowledge and learn from others
. I come from the nonprofit world, having spent almost half a decade doing web development, Internet marketing, and strategy at The Nature Conservancy
. Amongst nonprofits, even amongst competing organizations, data-sharing is common because there’s an understanding that we can only achieve our goals by working together. Now take a look at some of the best SEOs in our field and I think you’ll see a similar approach. Whether its on their blogs, on #SEOchat, or at conferences, the SEOs I look up to the most are the ones who give back to — and ask for feedback from — our shared community.
Be quick to laugh, slow to anger. We all go on rants from time to time, and why not? With Google’s algo updates, Firefox hiding keywords, ‘negative’ SEO, it feels like everything’s always in flux and it’s hard to find any stable ground in our industry. But whether we call ourselves ‘inbound marketers’ or ‘Internet marketers’, there’s simply more to life than arguing about SEO. The best SEOs are real human beings — they play, they spend time with their families, they go outdoors, and they laugh more than they rant. This makes them more approachable, easier to learn from, and more fun to hang out with. All those traits are marks of success.
Build a reputation for using data. Why? Well, the numbers usually speak for themselves and their message is usually more powerful than yours.
Be a good storyteller. Except that data doesn’t speak for itself. Neither does a business case, I’ve found. Even ROI figures are open to interpretation. So the most successful SEOs add elements of human connection, drama, and creativity to the way they tell their stories. Humans evolved to share and consume stories — it’s part of the way we learn new information — and good SEOs are aware of that trait and use it to grow their success.”
“I honestly don’t think I even qualify as a successful SEO professional, but from what I’ve seen in the few years I’ve been in the industry, exceeding expectations is the most essential part of being successful. Whether it’s for my clients or on my blog, when I do more than what is expected of me, the results are usually much greater than the extra effort I put in. So if you’re really looking to impress, go out and get those extra few links, touch up and add some images and video to your next company blog post, and when you have someone’s attention, take full advantage of the opportunity and make sure they leave impressed knowing you were more knowledgeable and personable than they could ever have expected.”
“Start reaching out and getting involved in the SEO community sooner rather than later. Whatever your current skill level, you’ll find a large number of people that can geek out on link building tactics with you over coffee or a beer, and it’s a smart career move regardless of whether you’re currently agency, in-house, freelance, or moonlighting.”
“As my business has grown I think about this question a lot in hiring. My situation is unique in that I am running an agency from a small town in Idaho. I hire people that largely have not worked in any tech job nor do they have any idea what SEO even means. I have been fortunate to see people start with zero understanding and literally become extremely competent SEO professionals in a very short amount of time. There is one common theme with those that are able to accomplish this. It’s passion. Passion for success, for the people in the industry, for new information, for testing, for making clients happy. I personally don’t think that there is a specific SEO passion bug. Passionate people excel in usually whatever they touch. So, my best advice is that this industry changes too much, is too complicated, and too important for people that don’t have raw passion. If you do have it then you will want to read, test, and network in everything you do and I can promise it will lead to industry wisdom and success. Thought leaders in this industry have stopped looking at SEO as a job and literally eat, drink, and breath this stuff well after clocking out of the office. That is exactly what it takes.”
, Owner of Nifty Marketing
“Never stop learning. The SEO game is constantly changing and you have to be open to testing new things out to figure out to best achieve the rankings your customers are looking for. 2012 has made it vary apparent that the search landscape is changing… you can see so with all of Google’s algorithm updates.”
-Neil Patel, Co-Founder of KISSMetrics.
“Love what you do, do it with integrity, keep learning every day and use that learning to help your clients.”
-Mike Blumenthal, author of Understanding Google Places and Local Search.
“Get some skin in the game. It’s easy to offer clients advice and then go home at the end of the day, but when you build something you care about and watch those traffic numbers rise and fall, that’s when you learn what it’s like to live and die by the algorithm. It makes you a better SEO, and it makes you understand what webmasters go through when their businesses are on the line. It’s not just about education and empathy, though. If you succeed, you’ll have something to show the rest of the industry, and that’s when people start to notice you.”
-Dr. Peter J. Meyers
, President of User Effect
“Work a lot. Work hard. Be patient. Too many people quit before they see any results. Too many people never stop looking for ‘easy ways.’ But the truth is, there’s no an easy way. You need to take it seriously: read a lot, comment a lot, write a lot and test a lot. You need to build websites from scratch. You need to take over already established sites and see what you can do that. You need to work for free before you can make money!”
“Find a particular niche within the ever growing world of SEO and master it. If you do provide general SEO services, I strongly recommend working as part of a team. There is far too much to learn and understand for any single SEO consultant to properly service clients and stay abreast of the rapid changes related to SEO. There is too many varied skills required of a SEO for a single person to do everything at a high level. Site analysis requires a basic understanding of designing websites which is one particular skill set. Google Analytics and other methods of performance tracking requires working with spreadsheets, graphs and mathematics which is another skill set. Writing content requires extensive use of English, research and creativity which is yet another entirely different skill set. Lastly there is promoting websites through link building and social media which requires marketing and networking skills.”
-Ryan Kent, Director of Vitopian.
“I think that you have to be willing to set your ego aside and both continue to learn AND continue to teach, whether it’s through educating your employees and clients, participating in and/or moderating forums, networking offline and online, writing industry articles, and generally just becoming an approachable resource for others.”
, Director of Operations at Link Fish Media
“Form your own opinions. Don’t just naively believe everything you read or hear about SEO unless it comes straight from the search engines or is proven beyond a doubt. Keep an open and objective mind.
Consider searcher intent. Are you providing content and calls to action (above the fold) to satisfy the different types of intent that a searcher might have (to engage and convert them) or are you just writing content based around a keyword?
Consider the client: It’s easy to just say ‘here’s the problem.’ But also take the time to provide the solution with your client’s level of understanding in mind. Speak their language and make sure they can walk away knowing exactly what to do.”
, President of How’s Your Pony
“Be honest at all times and with everyone.”
, President of Alliance-Link.com
“Learn your craft.
Consider getting training like the SEMPO Institute’s Insider’s Guide to Search Marketing
. Read the blogs of SEO industry experts. Follow the SEO experts on Twitter and read the content in the links they post. Attend a conference or two. Join a user group (like the Seattle SEO Network). Study the available SEO tools and learn how to use them and understand what they do. Check out a great list of SEO resources
I’ve collected on these very items.
Push your comfort boundaries. Make yourself uncomfortable by asking questions of industry experts, tweeting about your lessons learned, writing blog posts to help others learn, and speaking at events when you have learned valuable information to share (depending upon the audience you’ll address, if they are not SEO-savvy, such as typical webmasters, developers, designers or business owners, you could do this pretty early in your career development process). The work you’ll want to do to be prepared for these efforts will help you learn more quickly. Ask, write, and speak!
Volunteer to help a non-profit. There are non-profits galore on the web who are barely scraping by, if that, and nearly all of them have websites in desperate need of optimization. They will likely be grateful for any volunteer assistance you can offer, and you’ll get a chance to learn new skills earlier in your career that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to do in a paid job you might not yet be qualified to get. You’ll be doing a great thing for a needy cause, and you’ll be learning on the job! Best of all, if you spend any money on PPC campaigns in behalf of a 501c3, these are likely charitable contributions for you!
Just do SEO. Optimize a site you own (create one if necessary, so if you screw up, there’s no harm done). Earn your reputation through high-quality, white-hat SEO work. You can also ask if you can help with the company website at work (it could lead to a great career move). Look for opportunities to do more, and eventually become a resource for others who will follow in your footsteps.”
-Rick DeJarnette, Website Optimization, Search Engine and Social Media Marketing, & Content Development at The SEO Ace
I want to thank everyone who contributed for being so generous with their time. Hopefully you can take away some insights to help your career. And if you have advice to share for being successful in the SEO field please add it below in the comments.