There are tons of articles on what you need to do in order to be successful at SEO. Usually, these articles talk about specific search engine optimization tips, strategies, and tactics. However, in this article, we're not going to talk about what Google likes and what you need to do to rank better. No. Here, I want to talk about the individual qualities that I believe every successful Search Engine Optimizer needs to have. That means we’re focusing on people and the personality characteristics that help you succeed.
Let's dive in.
1. Love Challenges
Many people ask me where to start learning about SEO and how to turn it into a career. I used to show them all sorts of learning materials, courses, blogs, etc. But then I realized that (as it's true for any other job) it helps to have to have a specific type of personality. Essentially, an SEO job is not for you if you don't like dynamic and often challenging environments. Otherwise, you won't be able to cut it. Not a chance.
So, even before you start thinking about doing SEO, do a quick test. Ask yourself some of the following questions:
Are you willing to work under constantly changing circumstances?
Can you bear high levels of vagueness?
Are you willing to learn new things constantly, like on a daily level?
If you answered "Yes" to all the above questions, then congratulations - you're qualified to become an SEO.
Despite the "negative" stuff mentioned above, SEO is beautiful. If you work hard, love challenges, and have stamina, you will see the most rewarding results! That's why you have to be in love with creating things and making them happen. This leads us to our second item on the list: execution.
2. Be Disciplined - Execute
You can read everything about SEO, but if you don't have an "execution" mentality, then all your knowledge is for nothing. There's an old saying in the SEO world: if it's not live, it doesn't exist. And this is so true. If you don't create and publish your content and Google can't see it, SEO is non-existent. But what does it take to make it real? One thing: discipline.
Recommended read: Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink.
SEO is like running a business - it's an intellectual sport. To succeed, you have to have much patience with all the processes and train yourself to be persistent even when you don't see the results right away.
Fun fact: in the moment of writing this article, a friend of mine sent me a message with a screenshot of the organic traffic of his site and an accompanying comment: Gosh, here's how this bloody or beautiful (still undecided) SEO works! I haven't touched anything in months, and now I can see results.
This friend of mine didn't get anything for free. He worked very hard for months and months - publishing quality content, optimising internal linking, UX, metadata, etc.
Naturally, he didn't see the results right after he published his first couple of articles. However, he continued to work on his website regardless. And then, only after some time had passed, he was rewarded with an uptick in organic traffic! Remember when I said SEO could be so rewarding if you're disciplined and love challenges? Well, this is exactly what I meant! Life is beautiful when SEO gives results!
3. Persist Until Successful
This advice might sound like the previous ones (Be Disciplined), but I think they still differ.
Namely, sometimes you could be doing everything right. You are publishing content; you're working hard, you wait - but yet, nothing happens. No results.
This kind of situation discourages people, and they stop working towards fulfilling their goals which is the biggest mistake one can make. All other mistakes are fixable, but giving up is one you can't come back from.
So, instead of giving up, try and find help. Ask other people. Maybe there's something you're missing. Read more about your industry. Analyse your competitors and reverse engineer what makes them successful. In other words - stay persistent until you become successful. That's the big secret of SEO success. Just don't give up because that's always an option, and it's the easiest one if we're being honest.
4. Be Organised
SEO has numerous moving pieces. There are dozens if not hundreds of things you could work on. Starting with technical SEO and content, then internal links, backlinks, UX, images, videos, and the list goes on. Each of the mentioned areas has its own lengthy list of optimizations.
If we observe things from that perspective, SEO is a never-ending process. That's precisely why you must (yes, must) be organised and manage your time efficiently. If you fail to do that, you will never accomplish anything - especially if you work with other teams (developers, content writers).
Other teams usually request additional inputs/info from the SEO team, so you better be prepared for them.
This is easier said than done when you're facing tons of requests and follow-up questions from all sides. That's why organising your work process is extremely important. You can observe this as building a machine, an engine that will help you produce deliverables for your site.
Keith Cunningham talks a lot about this in his book The Road Less Stupid. One of my favourite quotes from this book is: "Ordinary things consistently done, produce extraordinary results". Just think about it, pretty powerful! Therefore, think about your processes and deliverables. Be organised. Become an SEO ninja. Haha, just kidding. Or am I?
5. Habitually Commit
Yes, website optimizations take time to work, i.e. to become visible for search engines. Sometimes months can pass before you even implement what you intended to, and then a couple of months more before the whole thing takes off. That's why you need to commit to going through the entire process (period) until your recommendations are implemented and visible for search engines.
Create a habit of commitment to finish the project till the end. Know that things take time, and know that you should be the one that follows up with other people - especially if you need their help. If you create a list of recommendations and send it to developers without ever checking up on them about it,
you most probably won't succeed. It should be your job to follow up. Commit to that.
6. Embrace Change
Every job on the planet probably requires some level of adaptation to the circumstances. Still, I'd argue that SEO is one of the most volatile professions there is. What do I mean by that?
Well, nobody knows how search engines work. Nobody knows exactly how they "calculate" rankings and determine positions for web pages. But, that's not all. They constantly update their algorithms (specifically Google), forcing SEOs to continuously look for what's happening and how the newest algo update impacts their sites. Meaning, maybe you have had a list of things you wanted to do, but after the update, you suddenly have other priorities. You never know.
Does this mean you shouldn't have an SEO strategy in place? Far from it! You should always have one, followed by a plan for your site. But sometimes, you're simply forced to react to new conditions, i.e. reality.
Therefore, embrace change and plan accordingly. Adapt. Be creative. Sometimes you just have to correct things just a bit, and you're good to go. Don't waste time and energy grudging about changes. Focus on improving. Embrace change.
7. Be Unreasonable
When I say unreasonable - I refer to the quality and quantity of the work you deliver. Strive to the highest level of output. Do what others are not ready or not willing to do. As Grant Cardone says in his book "The 10x Rule", - you should 10x the amount of content you produce, you should 10x the number of links you land, you should 10x the number of pages you optimise. Don't just focus on having a little bit better website than others; try and 10x everything your competitors are doing, and you will see some great results. I can promise you that.
8. Be Goal-Oriented
When talking about SEO and goals, people usually think of more website traffic which is fine to a certain extent. Therefore, our job is to make sites more visible to get more traffic from the SERP (search engine results pages). However, traffic is also a vanity metric. It could be a trap for inexperienced search engine optimizers. Why?
Simply put - can you pay your bills with more traffic? Of course not. However, you can do that if you have more paying customers every month. And that should be your primary goal - website conversions. That's why SEO is so interesting. Just imagine how many people can visit your page today and how you can help them by offering your products/services. Typically, that number of people would never be served in a physical (brick and mortar) store in a day. Not because you don't want it, but because the laws of physics don't allow that. However, your site gives you superpowers, and you can do what you cannot do in reality. Sounds fantastic, right?
Anyway, define your goals clearly and then do everything you can, i.e. implement all the optimization to your pages, to achieve them. Determine your North Star Metric and work according to that. Goals are the powerful driving force for you and your business. Don't neglect them.
9. Be on a Mission
While it's important to have (financial) goals, they shouldn't be the purpose of any SEO work. SEOs should be inspired by a mission. That's the only way to stay motivated and continue working on your project.
Now, what should a mission consist of? It's rather obvious - think about the problem you're trying to solve. If you're not solving a real problem that people have, you won't be successful, and you won't be motivated in the long run. So even before you think about your goals, you should be thinking about the mission you'd like to fulfil.
10. Be Highly Ethical
Most people have heard about the so-called Black Hat and White Hat SEO. But I'm not going to discuss that here. First and foremost, there is no clear definition of Black Hat and White Hat SEO. For instance, did you know that link building is considered a bad (black hat) practice in Google's eyes? Yet, so many website owners are actively building links. Not me, though.
Being ethical in SEO means not doing things that hurt other people's sites, integrity, and dignity in any way. Just don't do that. Be kind to others. Even though we are separated by this technology (internet) and can't see each other, always remember that there's a real person behind every screen. Someone's business depends entirely on their website. Some entire families make a living by selling products on their site. Always keep that in mind. Lastly, don't try to defraud people by broadcasting false information. It doesn't pay off. It's not worth it.
11. Be Dedicated to Continuous Learning
I already talked about how the SEO industry is constantly changing. Therefore it ought to be expected (it's only natural) that one should be on a constant assignment for learning more. And I cannot stress this enough.
That's why I will reiterate this once again: devote at least 20 percent of your time to learning SEO. Every day. Every Week. Constantly. If you are doing SEO in 2022 using knowledge from 2021 - your knowledge is outdated. Not to mention if you stopped learning in 2019 or 2015. Trust me; you will do more harm than good to yourself / your website with that way of thinking.
12. Demonstrate Courage
I've seen it many times; great, knowledgeable SEOs avoid implementing certain stuff on their sites, afraid that they'll lose their currently ensured positions. I think this is a huge mistake. You should always strive to implement what's good for your users. Of course, always follow the recommendations you can find in Google's Search Quality Raters Guidelines - but still, execute on the things you think are helpful for your visitors.
Don't be afraid, and don't be too concerned about how Google will react to this. Always be thinking about your users and about the problems you're solving for them. If you implement stuff with that in mind, good rankings and more conversions will follow.