One SEO’s Journey: Disillusionment to Success

From a pure traffic gain devotion to analytics addiction; from disillusionment to achievement – one SEO’s journey in a blog post…


I think one of the more interesting parts of my career growth is something I sort of focused on when I first started out solo, and which is now what pretty much rules my day. I wanted to share some parts of that journey with new and old SEO’s alike to encourage anyone who’s been where I’ve been, felt what I’ve felt and gained what I’ve gained.


(Please read my disclaimer at the bottom of this post regarding employers, past and present).


When I started out on my first foray as an affiliate, I really didn’t know too darn much search. What I did know was that I wanted this little affiliate of mine to make me enough money to warrant me not working 9-5 everyday – enabling me to stay at home with my little son. Despite my husband’s income, we like to travel, and two incomes definitely make things easier, especially when we found out we had twins on the way.


My first objective at the time was simply to gain maximum exposure and traffic for the universe of key-terms identified (via somewhat archaic keyword research back then) on a page by page basis. I slapped a site together in a few days, and with (again very archaic methods) backlink generation, began to gain some traction in the SERPs. Being as new to the field as I was, I realized stats were important, but did not realize how important. I was using the free, early version of statcounter. This is all way before Google’s acquisition of Urchin and the subsequent launch of Google Analytics. I was very focused on simply gaining traffic thinking that anyone who found my site would ultimately be swayed into buying something. Myopic enthusiasm was my driving force, as well as my near downfall.


Despite my babe-in-the-woods attitude, I did finally realize there was a problem when I started to see hits go up astronomically, but with little to no improvement in conversions. Basically, the design stank, usability sucked… the site was a mess as far as human users were concerned.


My second objective was to veer not away from traffic maximization, but towards more relevant traffic sent to a more usable, friendly web page. The end design result is still being used, with some minor modifications, by the primary company today. A baby step in the right direction, but still missing some key ingredients…


I saw a dramatic increase in conversions which pleased me no-end, but then – being a bit of a geek – and upgrading to a paid version of statcounter, I became shamelessly addicted to the analytics data. So much so that I actually fell off the bandwagon a bit and paid more attention to fixing the analytics data than towards usability and conversion rates. I got excited when I saw bounce rates fall, time on site increase, Google share improve, international visits increase… without checking what effect these seemingly positive data changes were having on conversions.


After about 3 months of things stagnating in terms of conversions despite all my work  at tweaking and adjusting things on the site, I actually found that the pages had not changed much despite my incessant fiddling in all that time, and my pay check wasn’t getting any bigger. I actually seemed to have harmed myself in the rankings – not a lot, but to some extent (yes I can hear you laughing).


My third objective was to pull back from being a total wally with the site, leave it alone and start generating more relevant backlinks, adding relevant pages if feedback indicated they would be of benefit, and start concentrating on other affiliate initiatives while doing more about staying up to date with the industry, and learning as much as I could from forums and blogs as I carried on building and playing and experimenting. Being the goody-two-shoes I am, I never experimented with black-hat (at least not intentionally). I think I may have missed out on a significant experience and a lot of knowledge relating to SEO, white and black, that can only be gained when getting involved in the depths of what really can be done even if it shouldn’t be. I am not condoning black-hat, nor saying it is something you should engage in. I am saying that in retrospect I would possibly be better armed as a white-hat if I knew more about black-hat techniques.


We ended up moving as a family internationally not long after I had had the super affiliate site for about 4 years, and I sold it to the primary company. Not for very much money as the director of the company who had suggested I get started as an affiliate in the first place was a friend, and had also introduced me to SEO, and trained me initially by sharing all his knowledge with me.


What had happened was that I had been offered a great job at a big agency in our new country of residence as their SEM Manager, and I leapt at the chance of a real job with real hours. One thing no-one told me when I first started as an affiliate was how much time it takes to develop and run a successful affiliate web site. I was happy to try out in the real world again.


At the agency my objectives were dictated by client requirements. I found it incredibly limiting, infinitely boring and inordinately frustrating. SEO was not – in my opinion – a primary consideration to the big brands they serviced at the time. Whether this was due to account manager trepidation or actual client unconcern I am unsure, and even when SEO was on the radar, any input provided was severely curtailed by brand and legal requirements. I did not have much direct contact with any of the clients, most work being shuttled through account or engagement managers, and any impact the SEO team may have made – which I still believe would have been significant – was minimized to the point where I quit due to utter disillusionment after a year and a half. I could bore you with the efforts I went to to integrate SEO, train SEO, and involve SEO… but I won’t. Those in the industry who know me will know that it is very unlikely I left any stone unturned; they will also know that if I say I was unhappy, it took a lot to make me feel that way, and one whole lot more to result in my actually quitting.


My move at that point to Epiar was a breath of fresh air. The services we provided from audit to AccuLink, from MarketView research to the BluePrint of siteplans for IA were all carefully and meticulously structured towards improving the clients online revenues and profitability. The real business of making money for the client, based on clear objectives and well designed processes and procedures was a total joy.


Both of these Canadian companies were agencies, and when I was approached by a friend at Intuit Canada about an inhouse SEO managerial position, I was enormously tempted. I had not had full inhouse experience before, and despite consulting with some very big brands, this would be a challenge and a very real privilege. It was the best move I have ever made.


A typical day for me at Intuit Canada does not ever deviate at any stage away from a few core objectives and principles, all of which I adhere to implicitly not only because they make sense and they work, but because they suit my own personal and career ideals perfectly:


·         Teamwork, honesty, integrity and ethical responsibility – we work with and for each other, and we work with and for our stake and shareholders; many of us ARE shareholders.


·         Growth – the willingness of every member of staff (at least within my remit) to share information, learning’s, insights and potential growth initiatives is fantastic. The trust and respect team members have for each other is omnipresent. The desire team members have to grow themselves is matched by their willingness to help their team members do the same by sharing and mentoring wherever required.


·         Profitability – for my unit – which feeds to profitability up, and up, and up until we mesh with the overall profit objectives. The holistic and inclusive view of Intuit is enormously empowering, very motivating, and is in my case breeding a deep sense of loyalty and belonging. I am not one bit surprised at their status of most admired corporates – and I’m remote!


·         Information sharing walks hand in hand with profitability. The frequency and method by which information is cascaded to teams and individuals from top level execs as well as team members is remarkable. It is quick, open, friendly, to the point, and always aimed at ensuring full understanding, interaction, integration and ultimately at improving communication and profitability, either in terms of staff knowledge, staff retention, staff growth or pure money profits based on ensuring a cohesive approach to any objective. One thing I mentioned in my last speaking engagement at SMX West was the need to ensure SEO is part of the overall marketing strategy, both off and online to ensure that relevant keyword research is done, relevant landing pages are developed, backlinks generated, tag lines employed, PPC amended etc. It’s hard to go wrong when your teams are as motivated to share and learn as they are at Intuit Canada.


Thought for New Market Entrants

If you are starting out in SEO, my humble recommendation is to join as many forums as you can, find some great blogs to read, and get to at least a few conferences every year to meet the people that make it happen for networking, as well as to get first hand knowledge and ask questions of the those who really know what it is that makes an SEO, but more importantly, what makes an SEO a success.


In Closing

SEO is no more special, different or important than any other marketing discipline. It is more profitable when done correctly as, apart from fixed salary costs, there are very few other costs involved. But for it to work well, the SEO’s objective should always slot into the overall online business objective as does a piece to a puzzle. In some cases it may very well be a corner piece, in some cases it may be less vital to success; but always, SEO is vital for long term profitability for any online business hoping to make a buck online for itself, it’s employees and as ever, it’s shareholders. I find SEO an ongoing challenge. It is a challenge I am good at, and thank God, one I like. I have learned much in 9 years. I have much to learn. It is a good industry with a lot of great people, many of whom I am privileged to call my friends,


Disclaimer: nothing I say here may or should be attached to any employer, current or previous. This is my personal blog. The views expressed on this page are mine alone and not those of my employer.


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