Surviving as an Inexperienced SEO: 3 Principles to Keep You Afloat

I first encountered the term SEO less than a year ago, when I was still trying to make it as a freelance writer. I quickly learned that web content publishers were not interested in my English degree not my background in creative writing. Rather, all these clients seemed to care about was ranking in search engines—by any means necessary. 

Later, having learned the most rudimentary aspects of SEO copywriting, I stumbled into my current position as the editor in chief at Career Karma. It soon became clear that my crude understanding of SEO best practices would not be enough for me to thrive in this new position, so I had to get serious about SEO and start performing at a high level, despite my relative unfamiliarity with the field and its endless complexities. 

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The process of getting up to speed with SEO, a topic that resists all attempts to fully grasp, has been one of the great challenges of my working life, as well as one of the most rewarding endeavors. So, I’m writing this post with the intention of offering some guidance and advice to all those who have unwittingly found themselves struggling to keep afloat in the turbulent and constantly-shifting ocean of SEO. I’m not here to provide tactics or strategies. Instead, I want to share three guiding principles I wish I had arrived at sooner.

Find Your SEO Touchstone, and Stick with It

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Early on in my SEO trial-by-fire, I wasted countless hours desperately grasping at any SEO information I could get my hands on. This aimless approach likely set my learning back considerably, as I filled my SEO toolkit with a volatile combination of tactics from reputable, questionable, outdated, and flat-out unethical sources. 

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But with the staggering array of SEO “experts” out their preaching their own forms of the optimization gospel, it’s a challenge to know who to believe. That’s why my advice for brand new SEOs is to find one or two sources of SEO guidance that you find reasonable, practical, actionable, and ethical—and stick with them.

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It’s not really that hard to deduce who the unquestionably-reputable players in SEO are. The usual suspects almost always include SEMrush, Moz, Yoast, and Ahrefs, as well as the slightly more aggressive approaches of Neil Patel and Backlinko

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Why limit yourself—at least initially—to only a couple sources of SEO wisdom? There are two reasons:

  1. Exposing yourself to excessive amounts of conflicting approaches to SEO in the beginning will confuse far more than it will enrich your understanding of SEO.
  2. Especially when it comes to SEO tools, focusing on one or two will allow you to more fully understand what those tools can offer. My biggest mistake was trying to learn and use every single SEO tool I could find, while never really becoming effective with any one of them. 

So, my advice is to do a bit of product research and select the one or two tools and publications that seem like the best fit for your particular needs. Then, devote considerable time and energy to learning every detail and function of those tools. 

Take the Time to Understand Your Brand Deeply 

One of my biggest mistakes as a would-be SEO was assuming that, if I could just figure out keyword research and on-page SEO, it would be smooth sailing. What I failed to recognize is that the most important aspect of any SEO strategy is internalizing the my company’s business objectives. No one told me that SEO was a means to an end, not an end in itself. 

It wasn’t until I learned more about my company, its values, its mission, and its users that I began to find measurable success with SEO. Having in-depth conversations with your client or your company’s leadership is the best way to convert your newly-acquired SEO tricks into actionable strategies that benefit your organization. You simply have to have a deep understanding of your brand before you can find any beneficial SEO success. 

Slow Down. Ask First. 

While SEO is largely a game of trial-and-error, the early days of your SEO career is not the time for wild experimentation—especially if the organization is not your own. 

Once you’ve developed some real SEO chops,you can start experimenting more often with different strategies and techniques. But when you’re just starting out, it’s best to stick to the basics: proven strategies, things you actually know how to do, and—most importantly—what you’re client or supervisor wants you to do. 

And if you’re ever unsure about whether you should be doing something, always ask the appropriate people in your organization or your client first. This will keep your relationships strong, prevent unnecessary mistakes, and open the door for ongoing and productive communication that could lead to greater autonomy and improved SEO strategy down the road. 

Isn’t this All a Bit “Safe”?

In short: yes. But since the world of SEO is constantly changing, making it quite challenging for newcomers, your best bet is to err on the side of caution as you begin your SEO career. 

So, as you embark on this exciting new journey to learn SEO, remember to do the following—until you’re truly ready to branch out:

  1. Stick to one or two SEO tools and master them before you try new ones.
  2. Develop a thorough understanding of your brand and its mission.
  3. Leave the experimentation for later, when you have more experience, and communicate with your clients or supervisors frequently and honestly. 

If you adhere to these basic principles, you’ll set yourself up for a much smoother ride up the steep learning curve of SEO. And more importantly, you’ll establish a more reliable foundation on which to build your SEO skills as you gain more experience. 

Good luck! I hope to see you in the SERPS!

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