The habits of highly-effective SEOs

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James Clear, author of Atomic Habits defines habits as:

Habits are the small decisions you make and actions you perform every day.

According to James, what you repeatedly do forms the person that you are.

By making a habit of working out and eating healthy you are a healthy person. By making a habit of giving and volunteering you are a selfless person, and so on.

SEO is not a one-and-done activity.

Sure there are the basics that you can learn, but good SEOs are not people who are born SEO-geniuses. Being effective at SEO is simply a matter of good SEO habits. Over days, weeks, and years of practicing good SEO habits you will become proficient at SEO and be able to create content and websites that rank on Google.

I know this firsthand, having learned SEO and teaching it throughout our group and one:one coaching programs.

While there are certainly large-scale projects that you will undertake as an SEO, things like:

  • Website optimization
  • Building a strategy
  • Link building campaigns
  • Content audits

Real, sustainable results from SEO come out of the good habits you form.

These building blocks are what will separate you from your competitors on Google and help you outrank and outsmart them eventually.

To help you on your journey, I’m going to break down the essential SEO habits I’ve seen or developed over the years that will put you on the fast track towards SEO success.

Let’s dive in!

General SEO habits

Let’s start things off broad strokes.

Whether you are on a marketing team of 2, 20, or 100 these general SEO habits will serve you well in your job and career. SEO is only effective if your suggests are implemented; otherwise it’s all planning and talk.

These habits will help you build good relationships in your organization (no matter the size) and get sht done.

Spend time with your web developers

Unless you’re a one-person shop, chances are you work alongside a web developer or development team.

Be friends with them.

Simple as that. A key ingredient in getting results out of SEO is making it simple and easy for Google to find and index your content.

By prioritizing things like crawlability, sitemap structure, and site speed, your strategy is in the best position possible to succeed. Ignoring those things puts all your hard work at risk of being wasted.

You get those items prioritized by having a good relationship with your development team.

Book time with them, have coffee, maybe host a team lunch (in person or virtually)—whatever it takes to get to know them and form a bond so that you can work together rather than bring them a list of demands.

If you’re the web developer also, then set aside time regularly to review and address the technical aspects of your website alongside your other priorities. Like a product development team, it’s important to track and stay ahead of tech debt.

Read or join customer calls

This is one far too few SEOs are doing.

It’s tempting to lock yourself away with a database of keywords and a call that research, but you’re forgetting a key ingredient: the customer.

SEO is about answering two questions:

  • Who is doing the searching?
  • What are they searching for?

You can’t answer that with a spreadsheet. You need to talk to people, or listen to recordings/read transcripts from people who have.

That is the best, and most efficient, way to understand the target customers for your company and the questions they ask. Ask Sales or Customer Success if you can listen to calls to get a better sense of what your customer is trying to achieve, their goals, and their challenges.

You can then augment that with traditional keyword research tools (we constantly do it with our keyword research tools).

Spend time with the rest of the marketing team

If you’re just one part of a larger marketing team, try to get outside your SEO lens and understand the broader goals of your team.

If you’re a one-person marketing team, make sure to chat with the CEO and the sales team (sometimes the same thing).

Doing this broadens your scope beyond the nitty-gritty of search engine optimization.

SEO alone is not the goal. It’s a tool used to achieve a business goal, like more customers for a product line or beta participants. As an SEO, you’re on a mission to help your company thrive, so it’s important to know what ‘thriving’ means.

The firmer your grasp on the goals of your company and organization, the better your SEO efforts will align with and support those goals which means your work becomes much more effective.

Always keep the end goal in mind

Unfortunately, Lewis Carrol was wrong, if you do not know where you are going just taking any road will not suffice.

We talk a lot about goals, specifically setting SMART SEO goals for your strategy.

Without good goals, it is easy to get bogged down in busy work and very far off course. It’s critical to regularly review your goals and assess the progress you are making towards them.

None of us SEOs actually know for sure how Google will react to the changes we recommend. Occasionally, we’re wrong, and when we’re lucky, we’re right. It’s important to chart your progress against your goals to ensure you are moving in the right direction and course correct as needed.

Always be learning

The best SEOs I know are constantly curious and always hungry for more.

Question constantly. An innate sense of curiosity will serve you well, and this goes for any profession.

If you ever find yourself thinking you have all the answers or are getting bored, stop and find someone you admire and talk to them about what they are working on, and in 5 minutes you’ll realize how much further you have to go.

Subscribe to blogs, listen to podcasts, engage in conversations in Slack communities… whatever it takes to keep your mind and skills sharp. There’s a strong temptation in SEO to always be right, I like to be proven wrong. It’s when we’re proven wrong that we actually learn something; otherwise you’re not being challenged.

SEO habits for writing

Now that you’ve got the basics down and are equipped to be a rockstar SEO in your organization, let’s talk turkey. And by turkey, I mean content.

I love to write, and I’ve been writing for nearly 20 years (isn’t that scary to say out loud). Here are my top habits for writing content that ranks.

We’ll get a bit more tactical now, as these are the habits I and our writers follow when preparing new content.

Research search results before writing

It used to be that just by publishing a blog post, you could get results out of SEO.

Now? Not so much.

It’s not that blogging does not work. It’s just that there are likely hundreds or thousands of pieces of content just like yours and only 10 spots on the first page of Google.

Yeah, I don’t like those odds either.

You can give yourself a leg up by studying what already ranks for the question you are trying to rank and asking what you can do to improve on the existing content. Google won’t rank your content for simply existing, it needs to be better than what is already there.

Better does not mean longer, better could be longer/more in depth, but it’s best to focus on the intent behind the keyword you are targeting and ask how you can match it better.

Brainstorm related questions before writing

While every piece of content should be designed to answer one question, chances are your reader has a few other questions in mind.

Study the search results and search features to get a sense of what the follow-up questions your reader may be asking that you can address.

This is a great way to build authority in your content and ensure it is as comprehensive as possible. It’s also an excellent way to just write some great content that serves your reader and helps them solve problems and make better buying decisions.

Consider the buyer's journey when writing

One of the biggest reasons people say blogging “does not work” is because they are thinking of two-dimensional content that does nothing more than scratch the surface and move on.

Of course, that content won’t work—no one likes reading it, and it does nothing to guide a reader further down your funnel.

When you are about to write a piece of content, ask yourself where in the buyer’s journey your reader is.

Are they at the top of your funnel? If so….

How about at the bottom of the funnel? This is a great time to help them make a better buying decision by buying from you. Perhaps you can guide them to a demo page, a free trial, or a consultation. High-value conversion assets are great here too.

Not only will this content match the intent of the reader better (and rank better as a result), it will serve your business goals better too.

SEO habits for content review

Creating content is one side of the coin. Once publish your content though, that’s not the end of the story. You can and should test and iterate on your content to constantly improve it. Content is a living component of your website and should be treated like a product which can be tweaked and optimized.

Regularly review top-performing content

If you have content that is consistently ranking on Google, congrats! Your job is far from finished, though.

Depending on the search volume for the topic, you could be getting anywhere from hundreds to thousands (or hundreds of thousands) of visitors to your website every month. What a shame it would be if they all bounced off that piece of content and never came back.

Take time to review your top ranking content to improve your conversion opportunties on it so that it can become a conversion machine for your business.

Regularly review underperforming content

On the flip side, once per month at least, I like to take some time to review my worst-performing content.

If content is not ranking, it’s time to ask why.

  • Is it not indexed?
  • Is it hard for Google to find this page?
  • Is the content not authoritative or comprehensive enough?
  • Could it match the intent better?
  • Could you improve the structure?

There are countless ways you can improve your content to test if it will perform better; otherwise it may be time to retire the content and re-direct it to a different page.

Pay attention to high-ranking low-converting content

It’s likely you are missing out on some serious traffic opportunities.

Just because content is not getting traffic does not mean it’s not ranking. In fact, there are probably pages on your website that are ranking on pages 1-2 but not getting much traffic.

I call this high-ranking low-converting content, it’s content that ranks but for whatever reason is not getting clicked on.

The solution? Flex those copywriting muscles.

Test out different titles and meta descriptions to see what can catch the eye of your readers more and entice them to click. This is the quickest and easiest way to increase traffic to your site and cement the authority of your high-ranking content.

Iterate on your content regularly

Once published, your content is not a finished piece.

You’re not writing a book or creating a piece of art to sit static. Content is a living, evolving part of your website that should be reviewed and updated regularly.

Just like you are never done working on and evolving your product or business, you should view your website like a product that needs to be reviewed and evolve as time goes on.

This way your content stays updated and relevant, plus Google favors fresh content, so it’s a win-win for SEO and for your readers.

SEO habits for analytics

We touched on analytics a bit, though there are some more SEO analytics habits I try to form that will be helpful for you.

You’re probably already checking your traffic and search console reports, so let’s go beyond the obvious here. When it comes to an SEO strategy, you need to make intentional decisions on the content you will create and keywords you will target.

Regularly review target page and query performance

If you’re following through on your strategy, you’ll need a way to track whether the content you’re creating (or links you build) are making a difference. I do this by regularly (usually weekly or monthly) reviewing how my target pages and target keywords are performing.

For target pages, the key metrics to track are:

  • Organic visits
  • Bounce rate
  • Conversions/events if applicable

For target keywords, it’s:

  • Impressions on Google
  • Clicks
  • Click-through rate
  • Position

Watch newly published content for trends

Once you publish content now the real work begins!

First, make sure Google indexes it. If Google does not see and index your content, then it does not have a chance at ranking.

Next, it’s time to monitor its progress in search:

  • Is the content being shown in search results
  • What keywords is your content ranking for?
  • What keywords is it getting clicks for?
  • How do impressions, position, and traffic change over time

These are all important questions to ask yourself with each new piece of content you publish.

SEO habits for technical SEO

No SEO strategy would be complete without a few technical elements. Again, make sure to become friends with your developer(s) as they will be your best ally in ensuring your website is in good technical shape and your strategy is set up for success.

Stay up to date on your site coverage

I alluded to it above, but it’s worth calling out here.

If your content is not getting indexed, then it is not going to appear in search results. Fortunately, Google Search Console provides a handy coverage report showing you how much of your website has been crawled and indexed and which pages are being left out.

Routinely monitor site speed and Core Web Vitals

Google is paying an increasing amount of attention to website speed and page experience.

It makes sense. Google is in a mission to return the best answer for every question, and their dominance as a search engine is dependent on the quality of the content they return. This goes for any search engine, for that matter.

An easy way to tank your quality (outside the obvious) is for it to load slowly, be laden with popups or other poor user experiences.

Fast content is not guaranteed to rank, but it will provide a better experience than slow content, which will have a hard time competing with content of the same quality.

I don’t obsess over page speed, but I do pay attention to it sporadically.

Bad SEO habits to avoid

You’ve got a nice, healthy list of good SEO habits, so I’ll leave you with some bad habits to avoid. These are things I see many folks newer to SEO get in the habit of doing, as well as things perpetuated by outdated advice.

  • Obsessing over keyword density
  • Obsessing over domain authority (which is a made up metric)
  • Relying too much on SEO tools and the data they provide
  • Obsessing over a “focus keyword”
  • Worrying about domain authority and other made-up metrics
  • Obsessing over links
  • Related to the above, spamming people for links (seriously, please stop)
  • Focusing too much on word count

These are common “bad” SEO habits that I see.

It’s not that they’re toxic or will kill your rankings, they’re just not as productive as the ones above. Like a bag of chips they may feel like they’re helping in the short term, but in the long term they’re not doing much for you.

Conclusion

I hope this (somewhat) exhaustive list helps.

I know the last thing anyone wants is more work. Isn’t SEO enough work already? If you’re feeling stumped as to where to go next or how to grow as an SEO, this list is a good starting point.

Try incorporating one, or a couple, of these habits at a time. Remember, you are what you do. By practicing these core habits, you will end up with the same natural instinct some of the best SEOs have. It’s just a matter of repetition and consistent focus.

Good luck!

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