Luca Mussari

Luca Mussari

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Luca Mussari. All rights reserved.

8 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started My Career In SEO

Unconventional advice for junior and aspiring SEO professionals.
The interest in Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) has seen exponential growth in the last few years. You don’t believe me? Go ahead and check this Google Trends chart which shows the interest over time around the keyword ‘SEO’ worldwide from 2004 to date.

And if you are one of those people who don’t like boring charts, type on Twitter or Linkedin the name of the first digital marketers that come to your mind. High are the chances they are discussing the latest new Google algorithm update or any other SEO-related topic somewhere throughout their feed.

And although the demand for SEO professionals keeps growing in countries like the UK and the US, when talking to recruiters I’ve learned that many companies still struggle to find high-skilled professionals in this field.

If you are among the people that are thinking to kickstart their career in SEO, well, this is a fantastic time for you to take advantage of this favourable market. 

In this post, I thought to share with you the eight things I wish anyone had told me when I started my first job in SEO as this would have saved me a lot of time and sweat. 

Let’s not waste any more time, and let’s get straight into it.

1. You Are Never Going To Be An Expert

Since our early days in school, we’ve been thought to excel and to always strive to learn as much as we can about a subject, whether this is math, literature, history, or art. But we all soon come to realise that the knowledge around us is virtually infinite, and pursuing perfection can only lead us to burnout.

Likewise, when it comes to building your knowledge in SEO, you are never going to be an absolute expert. You might certainly find your niche and become a well-recognised professional in a certain SEO area (I can think of Bill Slawski with his immense expertise on search engine patents or Aleyda Solis with her incredible knowledge of International SEO) but you will be hardly able to keep up with everything going on within this fast-changing industry.

So what can you do about it? Just keep learning new skills that could make you stand out in the long run and keep up as much as you can with the industry trends. A good way to do so is by following the most well-known publications such as Search Engine Journal, Search Engine Watch, Search Engine Land, Search Engine Roundtable and the Google Search Central blog among others.

2. Learn How To Play The Game

This is something that I’ve often heard people not feeling particularly comfortable about. 

“The guy really knows how to play the game” or “She didn’t deserve that promotion. She had it only because she played it well”. Those are just a few comments you might have come across yourself at least once in your career.

It took me some time to realise that people who make these comments are definitely oversimplifying the whole thing. Their assumption is that, as long as you are the best in what you do and you deliver great results in your day-to-day job, then you must be rewarded. For them, there are no other factors that can hold you back from climbing the corporate ladder if you just keep doing a great job. 

Of course, the reality is different, and the workplace is made of humans (at least for now!) so you can’t ignore the millions of factors that come into play when working with people within an organisation. And that’s OK because we are all working in a team to bring value to organisations and, along with our expertise, we also bring our personalities, emotions, struggles, insecurities, and, unfortunately, our biases as well. This is not to say, for instance, that you should feel OK when you see injustice or discrimination in the workplace. In such circumstances, it’s absolutely wrong to not speak up if you see bullying, abuse of power, or any social, ethnic, or gender discrimination and I would walk away from such a toxic work environment. 

Excluding any form of discrimination that should be absolutely condemned, there is nothing wrong with observing the dynamics and politics within a company and learning how to navigate them. This is actually one of the most invaluable skills you can gain to build a strong SEO career, whether you are working in-house or on the agency side.

3. Focus On Finding A Great Manager Before A Great Job

If there is something you should pay so much attention to during your job hunt, is actually spending time to find out more about who your future manager is going to be. 

There is of course a limited amount of information you can gather during your interviews but take any chance you can to ask questions to your future managers. 

Remember: they are going to be the people that will make your life easier or harder during your time at a certain company. They could also be your greatest mentors or even possibly your worse opponents, so make sure you prioritise finding a great manager over working for a great company. Otherwise, you might well end up with a job in a company where other people would tell you how lucky you are to work for them but inside you might struggle to express your ideas and develop your potential. This is then something I would highly suggest you take into serious consideration, especially in the early stages of your career.

4. Learn What Your Strengths And Weaknesses Are

We all have strengths and weaknesses and understanding what those are can give you a considerable competitive advantage in the long term.

Although many professionals in the SEO industry manage eventually to become full-stack SEOs, the large majority often rely on their expertise in one of the ‘SEO pillars’ (i.e. local SEO, content marketing, technical SEO, or digital PR and outreach). 

Others, instead, decide to stick to a specific industry (retail, finance, SAAS, telco, etc.) or even focus on the company size (i.e. large enterprises vs small and medium organisations, or startups).

Whichever your inclination is, try to picture what your potential career path might look like and see if you can find a pattern within the existing skill set that you have already acquired, whether it is in previous unrelated jobs, in university, during internships, or apprenticeships.

You might be certainly thinking though: how can I find my strengths and weaknesses if I’m just starting off? And that’s a reasonable question I would have asked myself as a Junior SEO too. 

A good exercise I still love to do is applying a SWOT analysis framework to myself. If you never heard of this term, ‘SWOT’ is a common term used in marketing and business which stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. Although this is usually applied to business strategies, this planning technique can also be easily applied to personal development. I’ve linked here a guide that will teach you how to do just that.

5. Adapt, Adapt, Adapt!

I can stress enough how important is to learn to adapt in the early stages of your SEO career and beyond. 

You might need to adapt to so many situations, including the type of organisation, the size of the company, the type of product, the competitiveness of that industry, the company structure in which the SEO department sits, the tech stack you have available, the different personalities and strengths your team members have, etc.

The list goes on and on. 

So please, be prepared to find sometimes a hostile environment and you will be already halfway through overcoming any obstacles.

6. Build True Relationships In The Workplace

There are a lot of amazing people you will encounter during your SEO career. Every one of them will teach you something remarkable and will set you up for success and, sometimes, for failure.

It is essential, however, that you focus on building true relationships that will last if you can. 

During my few years in the SEO industry, I’ve met such incredibly smart people with whom I keep in touch on a monthly or even weekly basis. 

Your effort when building a network shouldn’t be focused on who you think might give you something in return but on who you think might bring you stimulating conversations and, why not, a long-lasting friendship as well.

Surround yourself with great people and leave behind those that don’t believe in yourself or, worse, treat you as a potential threat. They are simply not worth your time.

7. Be Patient And Be Kind To Yourself 

There will be times when you will be overwhelmed by the amount of information that is thrown at you daily. Other times you will feel emotionally drained because you have been facing some challenges in your new role.

And that’s OK. Those are the moments when you should take the time to take a step back and breathe.

Like virtually anyone else, I’ve found myself many times in a situation where I’ve doubted my skills, where I thought that I was a fraud, or that I didn’t deserve the position I was currently holding. I’ve learned this is normal and everyone feels that way at least once so there is no shame in feeling a bit weary sometimes. 

When this happens, I usually take some time to analyse the value I’m bringing to a company as objectively as possible. If I feel my worries are justified and I could probably do more, then I start working on a solution which might consist of learning a new skill that I was afraid of not being able to do or finding inspiration for new ideas to bring into my current role.

On the other hand, there will be moments in your early career when you will be really making a difference to your team or your company and you realise that people around you appreciate those efforts. That is the time to shine, enjoy that feeling and do all you can to keep the momentum going.

Either way, patience should be your close friend and you might want to focus on the big picture instead of focusing on the here and now.

8. Build A Long-Term Plan For Your Career 

This is also why is a good idea to build a long-term plan and (pro tip) to draw your exit plan.

If I had not kept asking myself where I see myself in the next 5 to 10 years, I would have probably deprived myself of so many learning opportunities. 

The rule here is clear: avoid staying too much in your comfort zone. If you are feeling super comfortable with your job and everything is working amazingly, then there is a good chance that your learning curve is not currently looking great. 

At that point, you have two choices: 

  1. stagnating in your current role and stop being marketable 
  2. leaving in your highest moment and embarking on a new exciting challenge where you will have to prove yourself again and therefore learn tons of new things

This is when the exit plan comes into play. Make sure you always have an exit plan, no matter how amazing or horrible your current employer is. Always consider your options, plan your financials, speak with people in the industry and inquire about the trends in the job market.

Of course, this rule needs to be treated with a pinch of salt and it might change depending on which stage of your career you are at. You might get to a point where you will have to take a break for whatever reasons, happy or less joyful those might be. But, generally speaking, keep always an eye on what’s going on around you. 

Bonus Tip: Keep Being Curious

If there is one thing that I’ve seen happen many times in the SEO industry is people being stuck in this field and getting deeper into their SEO knowledge.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not necessarily a bad thing but I highly suggest keeping this in mind when planning your next move.

At some point in your career path, you could hit a ceiling from which you might find it challenging to get out. Of course, that’s not always the case, and there is always space for horizontal moves in the job market so nothing too irreversible either.

Whichever your career options are, something you can’t afford to do is stop learning. Don’t be afraid to go beyond your job title or skillset as one day you might find those skills useful to start a new chapter in your professional life.

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