8 Valuable Lessons Learned in 8 Years of SEO Consulting

It’s been over eight years since I’ve joined the wonderful world of digital marketing — specifically SEO. I’ve had some absolutely amazing victories and some defeats that I still scratch my head thinking about. With that said, today, I want to share with you 8 thoughts and lessons that might help you continue to grow in your careers.

if only my fortune cookie had told me this 8 years ago…

1. Never let anyone tell you that anything in SEO is “wrong” unless they have the data to back it up

Too many people make tactical decisions based on the fodder they read online from “SEO Gurus”. Many of the times individuals in the industry are correct and you can learn from their experiences. It is important however to never let someone online or in person convince you to not go about testing or implementing your strategy without any concrete data to support it. SEO is just as much about testing theories as it is executing against the tried and true. You never know how much it’s going to take to get you to the top. So unless someone can show you the data as to why you shouldn’t go about your strategy — move forward and test on.

2. Embrace “Moonlighting” and don’t hide it from your employers

As a manager myself, I am much more intrigued by candidates that moonlight on the side or run their own websites. It shows hustle and these people are typically the ones that do exactly what it takes to find success. If your employer does not value this then you need to consider if you are in the best place to grow and maximize your potential. Don’t let it interfere with your day job and use it as an excuse to learn beyond what the “9–5” teaches you each day. Your bosses should be embracing this, not fearing it.

3. Remember Why You Left A Company and Don’t Second Guess Yourself

I once left a cozy job that was consistently providing little to a zero stress, great benefits, and decent pay. I ultimately left because I questioned my ability to grow and maximize my potential. After leaving, at one point, about a year later, I considered coming back. Not only did I consider it but I actually interviewed for an open position.

It was awkward interviewing with my old peers and having them question things you felt strongly about at the time of my previous employment. At that point, I remembered exactly why I had left. I was focused on re-obtaining convenience and I am forever thankful that they didn’t offer me the position. about a year later I even sent the hiring manager a thank-you note for not hiring me back as I had taken several huge steps forward in my career that wouldn’t have been available to me at this company.

4. Communication is Key — don’t avoid it!

I wrote an entire post about how effective communication is the most underrated SEO skill. I can’t say this enough. I spent several years avoiding client calls and any and all 1:1 communication. The thought was that if I wasn’t strong in my communication I could make up for it in my execution/results.

Results are great and the reality is that you can achieve them 10x as fast if you are in constant communication with your clients and or the team executing against your strategy. Once I dedicated myself to getting better in my public speaking and overall communication was when the results came quicker and people started recognizing the skills and value I can bring to the table.

Don’t hide behind your computer monitor. I did it for years and it’s probably my single biggest regret.

5. If You Can’t Teach it, You Don’t Know it

This lesson goes hand in hand with #4 (communication). Until you can teach effectively you don’t know SEO. Unless your in a position where you will be executing every single one of your recommendations — you will have to communicate what you want others to do for you. It’s one thing to ask a developer to upload a robots.txt file vs implementing dynamic no-follow/no-index rules based on product SKU counts on various faceted navigation within an e-commerce site.

If you question whether you know a concept or not I highly suggest you talk it through with someone who isn’t in the know. I have a buddy that’s amazing at PPC/Feed Management but could care less about SEO. We both run concepts past each other to truly test whether we know what we were talking about. If the other individual feels confident they understood and their questions are being answered then we both leave the room feeling great. If not, we know exactly where we struggled and how we can go about getting better!

6. Collect Emails. PERIOD.

I don’t care if you never ever plan on consulting on the side or sell your own product. If you start growing an email list you will never regret it — it’s the best form of internet marketing insurance you can have. My days of hardcore blogging are in the past but had I collected emails from people within the industry who read my posts I would have a MUCH bigger list than what I have today from the #SEOForLunch newsletter but… why do I value emails so much?

Some of you might have heard of the concept of “fuck you money”. If you haven’t its the idea of having enough money in your bank that if someone asked you to do something you didn’t want to you could tell them to “fuck off”. The concept is relevant to email lists. While I love my job, let’s say things go south and I don’t have a job anymore, what would I do? I’d like to assume that I would apply and get a new gig fairly quickly but what if that’s not reality? Now I have an email list that I can reach out to for short-term consulting. Better yet, if I happen to stumble upon the next biggest digital marketing concept, I have a list of people to get feedback from or potentially sell the product too. I’m not limited to what someone else requests of me, I get an opinion, I get a say, and if they don’t like it I have something to fall back on.

Contacts are invaluable. Network, build an email list, get phone numbers. I simply don’t see a situation where they can’t be worth (at minimum) the time you put into collecting them.

7. Find Work-Life Balance

Work/life balance is my kryptonite. I love my job and when I’m not working the “9–5” I’m working on side projects revolving around SEO and digital marketing. The days where I routinely put 60–70 hours into SEO are gone. I’m every bit as passionate about SEO as I was 5 years ago but I’ve realized it’s ultimately just a means to pay the bills. I have three kids now, I love SEO but without a question, I love my time with them more.

Nobody has sat on their deathbed wishing they had worked more. I put the time into SEO that I do because of two things. 1. Getting better each and every day within my trade and 2. $$$$. Depending on the day you can swap which one is #1/#2.

The point is… enjoy SEO, enjoy work but also separate yourself from it. It will help you avoid burnout and I promise you, it will actually make you more productive and effective with the time you do dedicate towards it.

8. Don’t Just Be Good, Be Great

8 years ago, every internet marketer knew something about SEO, PPC, email marketing, affiliate and so much more. Eventually, people realized it was difficult to be impactful as a generalist so they focused on maybe one or two. SEO, for example, continues to split as you get more granular, Technical SEO, Content marketing, link building/outreach, Local etc. I’ve found that many of the greatest SEOs I know are especially great in one of these very niche areas within the larger SEO category.

If I need help with local SEO, I’ll hit up Darren Shaw, questions on outreach — you know I’ll be reaching out to Melanie Nathan or Julie Joyce, content marketing I’ll chat up Joel Klettke. The point being is that SEO is so complex that you’re better off finding a niche within it and becoming dominate at it. I love technical SEO, it’s my bread and butter. I can do technical SEO audits in my sleep. However, I know enough about the other components of SEO to talk about them and even build a decent strategy. I do however purposely surround myself with the smartest in each area so that when I have a project that requires the best, I have it available to me.

That’s it, folks. 8 tips and lessons learned over my 8 years practicing SEO. Most of these if not all should be valuable whether you perform SEO in the UK vs the US, believe in Black Hat vs White Hat or even question the value of SEO vs PPC. Would love your insights in the comments — what have you learned in your time within the digital space?