What I Learned from My First Year in SEO
There is a popular saying you’ve probably heard before: “time flies when you’re having fun.” I recently completed my first year working in search marketing for Web Talent, and I must have had a lot of fun, because the last 12 months have flown by! And if fun isn’t what caused this time warp, then maybe that saying needs to be changed to “time flies when you’re a digital marketer…” but I’m pretty darn sure it’s the “fun” thing.
Anyway, all clichés aside, I have really loved being a part of the Web Talent team. I came into this job from a customer service position at a large ecommerce company, so I didn’t know much about SEO: a true rookie. I still have a ton of things to learn about search marketing and the mysterious world of Google algorithms, but I thought perhaps other SEO newcomers and marketing managers might benefit from a brief review of some lessons that have stuck out to me over the past year. Here are a few actionable tips for both onsite and offsite optimization challenges that many of us face.
Our agency works with national, regional, and local companies. No matter the size of the client’s business, the need for name-address-phone (NAP) information to be disseminated accurately and consistently across the web is absolutely vital. I once worked on an account where the client’s business address had changed several times over the years, so the business’s local citations were all over the map…literally. Correcting these local listings to reflect consistent NAP information was priority number one in our offsite SEO strategy because potential customers were searching for my client’s service + geographical location and being served multiple addresses for the same business. Users were confused and frustrated by the inconsistent information, and search engines were picking up mixed signals as well, making the business look less credible than competitors with accurate local citations. If your business—or your client’s business—relies primarily on local search traffic to pay the bills, make sure to verify the correct business NAP information right away, and then check that this information is listed accurately across the web. I recommend starting with your Google My Business, Bing Places for Business, and Yahoo Small Business listings. There are several paid tools such as Moz Local and Localeze available to help identify inaccurate local listings online.
Title Tags and Meta Descriptions
Building high quality links is a long-term effort. Sometimes a great link might take weeks or even months to earn. So while you are building relationships with industry experts or waiting for a publisher to give final approval on your article, you may want to turn your attention to other aspects of optimization, such as onsite optimization. At one point this year, we found ourselves queuing link opportunities for a client until they were able to send us their content for promotion. Rather than twiddling our thumbs, we looked at their site’s top pages and found several title tags and meta descriptions that needed tweaking. After making the necessary adjustments, these pages saw bumps in organic traffic within a month’s time. If it’s been a while since you’ve evaluated the search terms your target market is using to find you and/or your competitors, try doing so and adjusting your site’s title tags and meta descriptions where appropriate.
This is a topic that has received quite a bit of attention with digital marketers as part of the overarching call for businesses to produce original content in all forms – blog posts, infographics, videos, photos, etc. But despite the SEO and user experience (UX) benefits that come from publishing and optimizing original images, we continue to see businesses use stock photography or, worse yet, copied images from other sources. People want to see what your business is really like, so don’t be afraid to show them. If you install HVAC units, show your audience some photos of your projects. If you operate a tour bus company, feature images from a few of your exciting trips. Not only do original images make your site more engaging for readers, they are recognized by search engines as original content as well…and search engines like original content.
Brand Mentions are Worthwhile
Every so often, our sales team will get a call from someone looking for a digital marketing agency that can promise “X” amount of links each month. They don’t care about implied links or social engagement, and they don’t want to hear about the importance of building relationships with bloggers and online publications. Links. They want crazy amounts of links. Oiy! There are so many things wrong with this point of view that I do not have time to get into right now, but I will at least touch on the fact that links are not the be-all and end-all of search rankings anymore. If you are looking for ways to improve your online business presence, consider going after unlinked brand mentions in places that will reach highly qualified traffic for your site. Sure, it’s not a traditional link, but would you rather have a link from a site that averages 50 visitors a month or a brand mention in an industry-specific blog post that reaches an average of 5,000 readers a month? With Google’s ability to look at terms people have previously searched to find your site, it can essentially map relevant keyword groupings to your domain; and these groupings can include unlinked brand mentions. As I said, it’s not all about explicit links anymore. The Moz blog published a great article about the power of brand mentions that discusses the topic in greater detail.
It Doesn’t Hurt to Ask
Online PR is the new link building. And with this shift, comes an emphasis on building relationships with bloggers and perfecting the art of pitching. Something I have realized as an online PR specialist is that the best placements I have earned for clients have often been the ones I thought I had no chance of getting. I’m learning that as long as I’m offering publishers something valuable for their audience, it never hurts to ask for placement. The same thing is true when offering webmasters new resource links. I recently contacted the career services coordinator at a technical school to offer my client’s job board as an employment resource for graduating students. The coordinator responded within a day or two, confirming that the job board link would be included on the school’s career services page. When pursuing resource link opportunities, guest posts, or other content promotions, keep in mind that it is still important to follow a publisher’s guidelines and preferred methods for pitching ideas. You don’t want to annoy them and ruin any chance of publication.
These are just a few of the SEO strategies I have learned during my first year in search marketing. I hope they are able to help others who are new to the industry as well! If you have any questions or comments about optimizing your site, feel free to get in touch with me!