One of the best things about the search space is that it’s hard. We are constantly working to keep our finger on the pulse, experiment with new ideas, and drive results. It’s why I love it.
At the same time, because it’s hard and because it’s constantly evolving, no matter how long you’ve been doing it, you are bound to make mistakes. In fact, search “SEO mistakes” and you’ll find about 18 million other people who agree.
I have made any number of mistakes in the past 13 years and while I’m not going to list them out line by line (we don’t have that kind of time), I do think there’s value in discussing what we can do to avoid some of the more common ones. Let’s jump in.
1. Always track changes
It’s an age-old tale; someone in an organization (the client, the dev team, the CEO) decides to make an update to the site without communicating it. Pages are gone or moved, content has been changed, and even worse, you didn’t notice it until a few weeks later when traffic was gone and rankings had tanked.
Unfortunately, as much as we communicate, as much as we try to stay involved, situations like this are bound to occur. The best thing to do is to prepare. Here’s how.
Set up change alerts
Tools like SEORadar or VisualPing will notify you when changes are made to a site. Whether it’s on-page or in the code, you will get an alert and immediately be able to see where the change occurred. For larger e-commerce sites where changes are made frequently, a tool like SEORadar will allow you to choose the types of changes you want to be notified about. A good feature considering none of us want to be bombarded with useless emails.
Keep a changelog
At KoMarketing, we use a combination of Basecamp and Google Drive to ensure we can easily find existing recommendations. After all, if a page is accidentally removed or you need to revert content or tagging, finding the approved content becomes pretty important. Even more importantly, if a site tanks, it’s good to be able to see what drove it.
A few things we do to stay organized:
- Shared Changelog. For a number of clients, we keep a shared changelog with the dev team. This way we know the when, what, and where of site updates.
- Analytics Annotations. When an update is released, recommendations are implemented, or a big announcement is made (ex: mobile indexing), make an annotation in your analytics platform. A year from now, when you are pulling data and wondering what happened, you’ll have it right in front of you. Annotations can be lifesavers.
- Close out messages. For example, if a page was updated, make a note in the original message, noting the date of the change and the URL. Record keeping FTW!!
2. Clean data = Good data
You spent hours creating a report. The results look good. You’re showing value. And just when it’s time to present the report to the team, you hear:
“Does this include login traffic?”
“We actually switched to a new profile.”
“We need to take out traffic from X.”
Make sure you’re using the right data from the start. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been on a project when one team has been using one data point and another team a different one. And you’d be surprised by the number of reports I’ve had to redo because we had the wrong information or the client wanted certain data points removed.
At the same time as you sync up with your team and the client, make sure your analytics is set up properly from the start – is tracking on all pages? Is sub-domain tracking set up? Are the correct goal URLs set up? Is event tracking working properly?
One of the biggest challenges we have in SEO is showing value and we rely on analytics data to help us. Without the right data in place, our challenge becomes even greater.
3. Knowledge is power
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again and again and again…there is a lack of education in the marketing space when it comes to SEO. Not only that, but the value of SEO is still being questioned, as Simon Heseltine pointed out in a recent post, “Is SEO table stakes? (Hint: No!)”.
Here’s the thing – while it’s changing, it’s not changing fast enough and we can’t get mad because someone doesn’t understand the value of what we are doing or understand everything that’s involved in the process. More importantly, we have to be able to explain things in a way that matters to the stakeholders. Here’s how:
Know Your Audience
How we talk to the PR team is different than how we talk to the Dev team and certainly different than how we talk to the CMO. Guess what? The CMO probably doesn’t care about the type of redirect you are recommending. What they do care about is the impact it has on the overall business.
Know who it is you are talking to, what their knowledge is, and what they care about. If you are unsure, ask ahead of time. During our initial discovery, we not only ask questions related to SEO but also get backgrounds on the people we will be working with.
- What is their role?
- What are their goals?
- Have they worked with an SEO team in the past?
This type of information can be really helpful.
Avoid the SEO bubble
Last week I was providing a recommendation on duplicate content. The client set up a sub-domain and a sub-folder containing the same information. As I started to explain the way search engines index pages, I realized they didn’t care and they didn’t need to know that information. What they needed to know was the result and why it was important we fix it.
Look, we spend hours of our lives analyzing Google, so I get why we want to share our knowledge. The thing is, it doesn’t always matter. Sometimes we have to step out of our SEO bubble and talk like regular humans.
4. Don’t forget the customer
Back in May, I gave a presentation on identifying gaps in your content strategy. One of the case studies I used involved lots of content, huge increases in traffic and rankings, and an unhappy client.
See, it turned out that while we were building an amazing portfolio of content that was driving people to the site, we were actually building an amazing portfolio of top to medium funnel content. We weren’t focused on conversions and we weren’t focused on existing customers. Fail!
As search marketers, it’s so easy to forget what it is we are trying to do. There’s so much pressure to improve results and improve position that we often forget why we are doing it in the first place…sales.
Make sure you are focused on the customer and what it is they want.
5. There’s more than one way
Can we all just agree there’s often more than one right way? That yes, maybe this way worked great for you but this other way worked great for someone else. Perhaps SEO has a lot of intricacies and nuances and is often specific to a site or industry or platform. Maybe?
I am harping on this a bit but the reason is that we often get too caught up in the “this has to be done a certain way” mentality. We get on calls with developers and tell them the way we want it done. We fight battles over meta tag lengths or how a title tag should be written. Come on.
To be a good SEO means being able to compromise and figure out how to make things work even if it’s not the way you would’ve done it. We have to pick our battles and push for the things that really matter. And remember, just because Google says jump, doesn’t mean you have to jump.
More lessons to be learned
If I’ve learned anything over the course of my career, it’s that there will always be new lessons. That I will always make another mistake and I will always have to face new challenges. The key is to learn and evolve and make myself a better marketer.
Remember, focus on the things that matter to the business, to the stakeholders, to the customer, and most importantly, remember that a successful SEO needs the support of those around them.