Wow. It’s now been just over 5 years since I began working in search and in that time there has been an enormous amount of change across the industry, and for the company that I work for Vertical Leap.
So, 5 years ago, I was a 23-year-old fresh graduate, with a degree from Portsmouth University in Entertainment technology. I knew some HTML, could manipulate imagery in Photoshop, could do some really basic flash and 3D modelling work, and even more basic Video & Sound production. I had been taught a lot about the management of projects and how to handle working on different tasks simultaneously as effectively as possible.
I knew I didn’t want to be a web designer – as I couldn’t really design, and I wasn’t a confident coder by any stretch of the imagination, although these were the first types of job I was looking at once I left University. I spoke to a few people I knew in the web design industry, and they all told me that whatever I did, I needed to steer away from getting websites traffic – they said by all means build people sites, but that it was too much trouble getting involved with how they may get traffic.
Of course, I was intrigued and decided that perhaps this was something to look at getting into, if this is where the opportunity was. I researched a bit about what sort of techniques were available to gain traffic to websites, and from there noticed that the big local Search Engine Optimisation Company Vertical Leap, were hiring.
After a couple of interviews, I got the first job I applied for out of University and the beginning of my search marketing journey began.
I started a course to teach me the basics of SEO as I started to get to grips with the skills I was going to need. I learned about title tags, writing descriptions, writing keyword tags (which I had used in my earlier university days when a couple of sites I’d created were 100% image based), and beginning to look at information architecture, URL Structure and internal linking properly. I also did a lot of work on alt tags, although I wouldn’t care to implement now some of the ones I wrote back then.
So – have any bits of that changed in 5 years? Well, I think that there is more craft involved in how I write titles and descriptions now. It’s not about ramming a huge title tag full of as many variations of the targeted keyword as possible – what I write now is much tidier and cleaner.
Descriptions – these are a lot shorter than some of the huge ones that I used to write, and are less keyword focussed than they used to be, and much more about tempting a searcher into a click.
Keywords – these are things that I rarely spend any time on anymore. I have been known when a client was insistent to still specify them for a website, but for the most part this is a tool out of the arsenal now.
My internal linking & URL recommendations are wildly different to what I started out doing. It used to be a case of creating a page targeted to a specific keyword, without giving any thought to how it might fit into the websites structure, and just pointing site-wide footer links at it. This was effective too! So, we identified more keywords to target and get copy for, and from then repeated the process until the point where this lost the majority of its effectiveness.
Nowadays, I am focussing much more on sustainable practices for internal linking like this – decent organisational structure on the website, decent paths and architecture for search engines and users alike on a site, rather than taking what is in place and doing the best work-around.
Link building has changed a lot as well. I’ve never been a link builder really, and mostly oversee a team of people doing this, but things have moved from automated directory submissions, reciprocal link directories and the like towards guest blog posting and trying to encourage natural links on a larger scale. It seems to me that in some ways “link building” as I knew it as I started is a completely different animal.
A lot has changed – it really has – the fundamentals of what you have to do and how you run the checks to identify these issues have become a lot more refined. But at the end of the day, we still optimise websites for best performance in search engines. This involves changing a lot of the same elements as 5 years ago – the biggest change for me has come in the refinement of the process of how to do this.
Social of course is another massive area of differentiation.
When I started in SEO, being tucked away in Portsmouth led my outlook on the rest of the SEO community at large to be through the goldfish bowl. I participated in a couple of forums, commented on a few blogs, but by and large didn’t communicate with my peers doing SEO around the country and in the wider world.
Since then social has exploded. I joined Twitter, somewhat grudgingly, and have frankly found it a revelation. A fantastic way to engage with real people, share ideas and concepts, tips and tricks, and beyond work – forming real relationships.
I’ve personally got a lot from my Twitter usage. It has brought me in to the UK SEO community. I’ve since gone to conferences and met real people who I have been talking to for years in some cases. I’ve had a number of instances of meeting old friends for the first time, and begun to communicate with people in ways and places that I would never have imagined I would be doing 10 years ago.
If there is 1 thing that I have learnt over the last 5 years, it really is that communication is key! This goes for customers, colleagues, bosses, peers and casual acquaintances that show interest. Don’t neglect this communication – forming strong relationships from this communication is vital now and will remain so in the future.
When I started in search, whilst it *was* marketing, it always had a very technical slant. It was easy to hide behind emails, not pick up the phone, not to pre-empt customers with requests for meetings, and hide to a degree with regular reports full of technical jargon and lots of graphs that make things look like they’re moving up, even if there isn’t a return being given on the investment.
It seems to me now, that it is much more about relationship building and maintaining networks, with marketing much more at the forefront, with technical skills as a means to an end. I’ve met plenty of technical people who have survived this transition, by embracing greater communication, but I have also met those that have struggled.
I’m sure that over the next 5 years there will be further evolution of the role of search marketers – will there still be a market place dominated by Google? Possibly – but Facebook is gaining a lot of traction, and there is a lot to be said for social recommendations by your peers.
Will online activities still start with a search in the same way? I suspect so in 5 years time, but who knows! Perhaps rather than being a “search” marketer, in future my peers and I will be much more online / website marketers, with larger toolsets to bring in traffic to websites.
All I do know is that this is a great and exciting industry to be a part of – and I look forward to what evolutions will be coming in the future, and learning to incorporate these into my daily life.