SEO business lessons from an SEO expert

6 Business Lessons Learned as an SEO consultant

One of the most important assets for your career success is the business lessons you learn from your years of experience. Learning from your working experience is an ongoing process with good and bad times, but these business lessons are a catalyst for your journey to the top!

Embracing life as an SEO professional is a constant adventure down the rabbit hole. Many know what it is, but few people ever truly understand it unless they’ve lived it.

It’s a life of undertaking new experiences and constant learning. In the past five years, I have worked as an SEO Specialist at various agencies, and for myself as a freelance SEO expert.

Suffice to say I have screwed up A LOT over the years, but learned from my experiences. I  have both learned a lot and have screwed up just as much.

Through the countless business lessons (and the screw-ups), I have been able to condense the toughest lessons I have gone through thus far and what I learned from them.

Business Lesson #1: There Will Be Months in Rags and Months in Riches

I would say this lesson was the first tough business lesson I personally faced in my career so far. There is an ebb and flow to clients and they are not created equally.

Everyone has their origin story — so here’s mine.

Few people know this about me (except for a few close SEO friends) but when I first got started as a freelance SEO consultant, I was technically homeless, living in Boston. I lived and worked out of the conference room at my employer (who shall remain nameless), and was hustling links day and night. It may sound a bit extreme, but it was one of the most exciting periods of my life.

Now, you don’t need to go that far when bootstrapping your SEO business. But it’s worth mentioning that some clients will be great and some won’t be worth the effort. The inconsistency in my schedule drove me insane at first but I quickly realized that freelancing isn’t your typical 9-5 job.  The only option was to adapt my personal schedule with my professional one and eventually, I found balance.

That aside, it’s not all about grinding 24/7 and eating ramen noodles. One of the most rewarding aspects of SEO is having explosive growth every so often (after months of hustle). If you asked me five years ago whether I’d be doing what I do now — working for myself, traveling the world, and living quite well — I could not have imagined it.

Business Lesson #2: Don’t Bite Off More Than You Can Chew

If you’re like most SEO consultants, then you probably have several projects going on at once. While this is a sign of consistent work and precious income, it also is, potentially, a recipe for disaster if you don’t have methods in place to optimize your workflow.

Say you’re working on articles for clients, collecting keywords and links for your personal site, and have a few side projects going at once.

I’ve found it’s best to adopt the 33% rule; 33% of your time on clients, 33% of your time on personal projects, and 33% of your time doing side work and acquiring new leads and clients.

While it may not seem like much time, just utilizing time management will show that less can be more. I have a maxim: success in SEO (and many businesses, for that matter) boils down to hyper-effective time management.

Business Lesson #3: Continue to Creatively Evolve

Over time, SEO algorithms come and go, keywords change, and no tactic will always work the same way forever. But this doesn’t mean your creativity and tactics should stagnate along with outdated principles.

Don’t blindly follow the SEO tips of online gurus and alleged “SEO experts” in the field. Commit yourself to the path of creative self-discovery, find new ways to build links, mix your style up a little here and there.

Being lulled into a sense of complacency can spell doom for an SEO consultant, no matter how long they’ve been in the game. This business lesson says that you shouldn’t allow yourself to fall prey to this classic folly and be confident enough to bring new creativity to your work.

There is one thing that never changes about SEO, and that is that it constantly changes from month to month, week to week and day to day. If I had any advice for my younger self, it would be to embrace this change and recognize that it forces your creative spark to ignite. I also believe that is a business lesson that fits in any sector relevant to Digital Marketing.

Business lesson #4 – Understand the Differences in SEO Content

Having a mere understanding of the current situations of a website or online business isn’t enough. The best SEOs have an intimate understanding of the websites target demographics, where they live, and what they’re searching on the internet.

Once you understand the best kind of content for your site(s), such as commerce, lead generation sites and user-generated sites, you will begin to see changes in the formatting of your content, which is a little menacing at first but once you get the hang of them, they become second nature.  

Case in point: I’d worked on hundreds of sites by mid-2017, both for clients and for myself. Yet despite my best efforts, I had yet to achieve any blockbuster success — the type I’d read about on SEO blogs and forums. Then, I tried a different approach. I decided that I would hire or work with subject matter experts only. In effect, people who had spent decades learning about a particular topic, and who could write about it well.

Six months after revamping my content team, I had my first big win. It came with the site HostingCanada.org; a web hosting review site with content written entirely by Canadian university students. I’ve since replicated the expert-writer approach for all my clients with dramatic results. If you’re just starting out, save yourself years tens of thousands of dollars and years of effort by paying for quality work up front.

Business Lesson #5: A Little Empathy Goes a Long Way

If there’s any one thing that an SEO consultant needs to know above all else, it’s that you have to understand your audience if you want to make it to the top of the SERPs. This reaches far beyond providing information and the tools your audience will need to succeed, it means understanding who they are and what obstacles they are up against.

Too many SEO experts (myself included) waste time trying to appeal to algorithms. Granted, knowing how to “win at Google” is extremely important for SEO. However, knowing the algorithm is like SEO 101; knowing people is the natural next step. It wasn’t until I invested heavily in copywriting that my sites started to really take off.

The thing is, people want to be heard and understood. And, it’s our job to show the reader that we get them and what they’re going through. So, a good SEO consultant will fulfill all technical aspects of the content as well as succeeding in building rapport with the audiences and keeping them engaged through the duration of the article or content. This, surprisingly, leads to better click-through rates and higher rankings.

I’ve found humor is a great tool to keep in your arsenal. If you can make someone laugh, you can capture their attention. Keeping that attention is up to you and your understanding of whom you’re speaking with.

Business lesson #6 – Design Matters Wayyyy More Than You Think

Have you ever found yourself landing on a website that was so appallingly designed, you can’t even bear the thought of staying on it for a second longer before you inevitably click the back arrow?

Yeah, we all have.

But on the flip side, have you ever landed on a website so well crafted, you spend hours browsing their blog post and visual content to the point where time itself seems to have utterly dissolved?

The latter is exactly the kind of content you want to be known for.

It doesn’t matter if you’re creating your own landing pages or if you’re writing content for clients, you don’t to skip on the WOW factor.

Much like our content, the website should be designed to be visually appealing and easy to use. Content should be engaging and humorous but contain credible information you can build a trustworthy brand in.

Once you start to gain traction, you will become an authority in your niche and people will come to know you as the person who has the correct answers over your competitors.

Conclusion

Being an SEO consultant is about so much more than just keywords and building links. To reach the level of the SEO expert/ninja/master is a mix of knowledge and business lessons.

Granted, those things are still extremely important and should be the foundation for any SEO campaign. However, keywords and links will only get you so far.

Ultimately, SEO is about building trust and providing a product or a service with information people need. After internalizing this (through thousands of hours of painful trial and error), I can rest easy at night knowing my intentions are good — that I’m making the internet better.

Hire Dan on PeoplePerHour.

Dan Fries
Dan Fries is a location independent entrepreneur based in Hong Kong. He writes technical copy for a handful of open source groups, including Red Hat, IAPP, and the Linux Foundation. In his free time, Dan enjoys learning to code applications in Rust and playing classic rock on his guitar.
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