They say learning SEO is like learning a new language. With such a skill, comes hours of pouring over educational materials and practising it until it comes with ease. But if you don’t learn the skill with the guidance of a teacher or the right resources, you can end up with holes in your knowledge and a wobbly accent (so to speak).
Luckily at Distilled, I have access to a full office of SEO professionals who have been practising such skills for years. It is this resource that I am going to share a snippet of, with you today.
This isn’t your typical SEO beginners guide. Instead, it’s a how-to-get-ahead and stand-out-from-the-crowd debut. The kind of thing when learning a new skill, you’d want to stumble across.
So - here’s what you need to know if you want to stand out from your average SEO newbie crowd...
1. Download these plugins/extensions to make life easier
If there is a way to automate something, do it. By installing the right extensions and knowing what tools to use for what purpose, can save you hours of long-hand work. Here are some tools and extensions that if you don’t have downloaded already, you need to do so now.
This extension will review all the key SEO elements of the page that you’re on. Instead of using the ‘inspect’ feature and locating page h1s, meta descriptions, title tags, and the rest of it on your own accord; this plugin identifies these easily and gives you a brief explanation per element.
This tool can be used for viewing:
- Link metrics (i.e. DA & PA)
- Page analysis (i.e. page title, markup)
- Highlight links (i.e. nofollow, follow)
- Keyword difficulty
- Page optimization
- On-Page content suggestions
As we can see, this tool gives you an easily laid out menu of some key web developer tools that can help you analyse a site from the Googlebot perspective.
As the name suggests, this tool identifies the redirect path of a URL. Simple, but effective.
Tag Assistant validates the implementation of Google tracking scripts on any page you turn it on for. Once you hit ‘record’, it will analyse all the pages on the current tab.
Again, this one is self-explanatory and basic, but very useful when you have a lot of links you need to check. Copying and pasting them into the box to open simultaneously, can shave a few minutes off your day.
Whilst this tool doesn’t have anything to do with SEO… it can definitely help in the presentation of your recommendations and SEO decks. For example, say you have Facebook as a client. To make things more presentable and visually pleasing, you can use this tool to pick the exact Facebook blue, to then use in the colour scheme of your deck or spreadsheets.
You can also click on a heading on a website, and it will tell you the exact font being used; of which you can replicate in your presentation materials.
This extension identifies what software technologies a website is using. Such features include analytics, programming language, web framework, widgets, tag manager, etc. It's your one-stop-shop to figure out all your web programming needs.
2. Get specific results from your common SEO tools
The following are tools SEO consultants at Distilled use daily. Instead of trying to capture what each of these can do for you in a few sentences, I’ve linked various blog posts relative to each tool for you to dive into.
What is it? A website crawler that crawls URLs to then provide you with data that you can draw insights from.
What is it? A crawling program that is cloud-based. This tool is ideal if you’re crawling a website with hundreds of thousands, or millions of URLs, and you don’t want to clog up your computer and make everything frustratingly slow on a downloaded crawl program.
What is it? An online tool that looks into the organic search traffic, keywords and backlink profile of a website.
How to use it? Create an account here. One of the most used features on ahrefs, is the ‘keyword explorer’ section, explained further here; A Beginner’s Guide to Ahrefs for Small-Batch Keyword Research
What is it? An online visibility platform that offers solutions for SEO, PPC, content, social media and competitive research.
How to use it? Log in and explore all of the different functions available. A Distilled team member has identified using the tool effective for keyword research. See here; How to Use SEMrush for Competitive Keyword Research
3. Don't underestimate 'soft' skills to complement your technical arsenal
A crucial skill to learn as a newbie SEO, is understanding that ‘soft’ skills are just as important as your technical skills.
It can be easy to get caught up in the technicalities and understanding your own findings and point of view; however, if you work for an agency or even in-house; you’ll have to explain your thought-process to someone who isn’t as familiar with it as you are. Whether it’s a client or management, nurturing this relationship is vital to your career progression.
Try and formulate your recommendations in a way that is most beneficial to the client → Take the context of their pain points & struggles into account. For example, ‘best practice’ solutions might not be applicable to them (due to their technical set up, resources, internal politics, etc). So make your recommendations relevant to them, not ‘the industry’.
Always try to be flexible and present several possible solutions → this gives them leeway and control over what they think would suit them best, without requiring you to go back to the drawing board unnecessarily. On the Moz Blog, Laurel has written a great post that dives into these soft skills in her post, ‘Empathetic consulting: 3 things to remember when working with other teams’. Have a read through to get more of an understanding of how clients can feel when dealing with accepting outside help.
Try to keep a stable team working on one account → Having team members drifting in and out of work might be misconstrued as your team not caring about the account. If someone can no longer work on it, inform your client properly and re-introduce someone else that does have the time and resources to dedicate to the client.
Further resources to improve your soft skills:
After combing through both the Moz blog and Distilled blog, below are a few quick links to some posts that explore various elements of developing your soft skills as a consultant that are available to you to investigate further.
- ‘How to Talk to Your Clients in a Language They Understand’
- ‘The MECE Framework — What It Is and How to Use It’
- ‘Communicating to Clients & Stakeholders in a Constantly Changing SEO Landscape’
- ‘How to Present a Recommendation’
4. Learn SEO from the right sources
The other day I was watching a video from SearchLove Boston 2019 by Daniel Russell, and he said something that resonated with me. He said he looks at how ‘the big dogs’ are doing it; whatever it is that you’re trying to learn, learn from the best.
Whilst finding the best person at SEO is near impossible, I personally have found going to a place where the best do tend to congregate, is a good start. Yes, I’m referring to conferences.
Not only do digital marketing conferences offer an opportunity to attend all the sessions you are interested in and want to learn about, but they are also a fantastic platform to network and build your contacts. Typically, networking might not be your first point of call when learning about SEO. But it really should be up there on your to-do list.
The conversations you have with SEO experts who are working in the industry, own their own agencies or have been working in-house for a big brand; will offer you exceptional insights and tips that your average SEO blog won’t touch on.
Furthermore, conferences such as SearchLove, offer sessions that are focused on the most up-to-date SEO practices, held by SEO experts who have been vetted and chosen to share their personal case studies and strategies with the audience. After two days of learning actionable SEO strategies, there are networking events held at the end of every day, to give attendees a chance to meet fellow SEO professionals, as well as meet the speakers.
If you’re interested in attending an SEO conference, SearchLove is the one for you! Held in San Diego and London, see which one is for you here.
SEARCHLOVE IS THE CAN'T MISS SEARCH EVENT OF THE YEAR.David Wilson (attendee)
Want to learn SEO the Distilled Way?
If you can’t stray from your desk, Distilled also offers an educational platform, called DistilledU, that has interactive SEO courses you can participate in; receiving a certificate at the end! If you’re interested in completing this online course, all you have to do is become a member of DistilledU. See here to learn more!
5. Track your own progress and identify areas you want to build on
Last but not least, is to understand that your progression is up to you. Whether you’re in-house or work for an agency, it’s down to you to manage your own time and progression. Particularly working in the ever-changing nature of SEO, things can begin to feel a little out of control. Here at Distilled, we place value on independent work; which doesn't mean working in a silo, but instead means that you manage your own time and tasks.
A common term that is used to refer to this process of self management of skill progression, is a t-shaped marketer. A t-shaped marketer is someone who develops a cross-discipline competence as well as have a deeper knowledge and expertise in one area in specific. These two blog posts I’ve stumbled across have proven to be useful in explaining this concept further, one by Rand Fishkin, ‘The t-shaped web marketer’, and the other by Mike Tekula, ‘Building a T-Shaped Web Marketing Skill Set’.
There are many ways you can go about tracking your progression across various tools/skills. A few time and task management tools have been passed around the office, with the following being most commonly used.
SEO Skills Checklist
My personal favourite is the excel spreadsheet my colleague, Arpun Buhni has developed and refined for all SEOs to use. By clicking on this link, and creating a copy for yourself; you can use it as a tracking sheet to watch the progress of your skills increase.
As you can see, there are different categories of areas in digital marketing that you can focus on, with each row containing a specific task. Nothing is too broad or overwhelming, instead, it is easily spread into bite-sized tasks where you can put in a score of your skill level for each. All the scores are explained in the sheet. Don’t worry if initially, you keep putting down 1s and 2s; that’s expected! It shows the opportunity to build those skills to 3s and 4s. Enjoy!
This is an online program that allows you to visually organise tasks through the creation of ‘boards’. You can share these boards with fellow team members, whilst also have private boards of your own for idea dumps and planning. Making a board for areas to learn, and areas to improve on is another effective way to utilise this system. Explore it here.
Whilst this may appear plain and mundane, Excel can be a great tool to manage your daily tasks and time. See the screenshot below of an example monthly planner structure. Make a copy for yourself here!
You could also make another sheet that focuses on progression, containing columns such as your progress made on Google Analytics, using Screaming Frog, how to do a tech audit; etc. This should be edited and checked monthly so you can see how you’re progressing and identify areas to work on.
That’s a wrap!
Please feel free to add any comments you have or further ideas you’ve come across that you feel would be beneficial for newbie SEOs.