Whenever I type something into Google, I expect the site to spit out relevant search results in less than a second. For every search you type in an input and Google gives you an output, but the entire process in between just seems like magic. And it is to an extent. After months of SEO experience, it still feels like Google uses Internet magic to filter millions of results at the push of a button. But at least now I understand that there’s a method to this madness and normal people can actually figure out how Google works. This is just as much technical as it is an art, and we call this art search engine optimization.
As I’m walking into my first interview, I realize that my computer skills are limited to Microsoft Word. I have no background in programming, graphic design, or just about anything tech-related. I figured I’d try my luck anyway at a friendly Atlanta digital marketing outfit and see how things turned out. Little did I know I was about to take part in one of the fastest growing business niches around.
After six months in the industry, I’ve gone from a complete outsider to an experienced link builder and content writer. Making the jump into SEO has a bit of a learning curve, but with practice and creativity it’s a truly rewarding industry that will give you the skills you need to market yourself or your business online. Most people have never heard of search engine optimization, but learning about it will give you a leg up on your competition and teach you a great deal about how the Internet works.
So, what are some of the most important things I’ve taken away from my first SEO internship?
Let’s try a quick experiment. Open up a new tab and type in a Google search for the simple keyword “dentists.” Is your local dentist on the first page? The second? Personally, my dentist is all the way on the fourth page. She is an absolutely great dentist, but her office has put almost no work into their site’s SEO – which is going to be detrimental to the future of her business. It will be incredibly hard to attract new customers if they can’t easily find the site on Google.
Statistics show that almost no one wastes their time looking at results on even the second page. That is precisely why SEO is so important. Search engines, or specifically Google (which controls well over a majority of the market), are how people do business in the digital age. This means that the underlying goal of SEO is to put your business on the exalted first page of results.
In a technical field like SEO, you might not imagine that creativity is worth more than you think. Link building is an important part of any SEO strategy, which entails garnering inbound links from other websites to your own. This drives traffic to the site, but more importantly, helps search engines determine how important the site is. There are two ways to go about this process: quality or quantity. Most websites go with the latter and simply pay for thousands of low-quality links on worthless directories. Sure, this might give your site a slight boost in the short run, but this is never a lasting solution. Real SEO strategists will always go with quality over quantity.
When we talk about quality links, this is where creativity comes into play. To continue off our dentist example from earlier, where could you possibly find relevant, high-quality links? Of course, go for the low-hanging fruit first on sites like the local chamber of commerce or national dental associations. After you get the easy links, it’s time to get creative. What about a small candy store that wants to partner with a dentist? Or, let’s think about a beauty salon that wants people to have nice teeth. Does the client specialize in pediatric dentistry? If so, local elementary schools may be another place to check for possible links.
Finding a balance between relevance and creativity can sometimes be difficult, but as soon you land that perfect link it is totally worth the extra work. As you can see, there are tons of creative opportunities to expand your link portfolio and boost SEO performance. Creativity is really the best solution for gaining an advantage on your client’s online competitors.
Interpersonal Skills, Huh?
I will never forget the time I found an extremely high quality travel website that was a perfect fit for one of my client’s link portfolios. Unfortunately, joining the site was very difficult and there was an entire application process that had to be approved to get your site listed. I waited weeks for the application to be approved to no avail, so I took to the phone and dialed the travel website’s number.
I explained my situation – that I was working with the company to help boost their online presence. I spoke calmly and politely as I tried to finagle my client onto their site. After several minutes of cordial conversation, the operator said something along the lines of, “I will just give you the administrator password so you can add your business.” And it was that easy. Within one week, my client had a link on this high quality travel site.
Sometimes it’s not about technical knowhow, but personality that will give you an edge in the world of SEO. Whether you’re emailing a client or a website administrator, a life in this industry means constant communication. Checking your email several times throughout the day is the norm and you can’t be afraid to pick up the phone. Marketing yourself could be the most important determinant in a successful SEO strategy.
Be Prepared for Defeat
Search engine optimization (and especially link building) is a numbers game. If you pick out 50 potential links for a client, I would expect your link-success rate to be somewhere around 10%. In fact, if you get five links from a list of 50, I would say you’re doing a great job. Now, these would be horrible odds if I were shooting free throws, but this is the world of SEO where nothing goes according to plan and it is a constant uphill battle against online competitors.
Despite the setbacks you face, there is something immensely gratifying about watching your client climb the search results on Google. Yes, it was probably a slow and bumpy road, but the eventual outcome always justifies the harrowing labor that preceded it.
Awesome Search Engine Skills
One of the best parts about working in SEO is understanding how Google works and applying this knowledge to everyday situations. Because of my SEO experience, I’m able to find information on the Internet more efficiently than just about anyone I know. I understand the types of keywords, phrases, and tricks that will query exactly the information I’m looking for. Tricks like “intitle:___” or “allinurl:___” are Google advanced search operators that will filter results more specifically than an overloaded search like “Kevin Bacon movie where he plays some guy that dances a lot.”
SEO professionals use search engines hours on end every day and this translates into real world productivity. These types of search tricks are unknown to the average Googler, but for any SEO professional, these make life immensely easier whenever we turn to the Internet for answers.
Search engine optimization exists in a constant state of mutation. We all know that search algorithms are updated hundreds of times throughout the year, so this ever-changing science is constantly a work in progress. Any information we know about SEO today will probably be obsolete a year from now. It’s a constantly evolving field and that’s part of what makes it so exciting. There are always new opportunities, which means that your job is never complete and there is always room for improvement.
Not to mention, the SEO community is tightly knit and there is a wealth of online support to help you out as you begin your journey into search engine optimization.
Published 11/10/14, Edited 05/21/17.
About Michael Nozick
Michael is pre-law student at the University of Georgia. In his spare time, he works as a link building consultant and online writer for local Atlanta, GA businesses. He loves reading up on international and technology news, especially new developments in SEO. See more of Michael's work here.