“We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience.”
― John Dewey
As an experienced sales rep, I came into the SEO world a relatively short while ago. Although I understand the art of selling and often have the ability to read people like a book, learning to sell SEO and web marketing services was like drinking from the proverbial fire hose. I quickly learned that what one company defined as SEO, might mean something totally different to the next. So I set out to determine what sets the leaders apart from the rest. Specifically, I wanted to see if there was one single attribute that was consistent among outstanding firms. I decided that this one factor was experience.
Without the ability to reflect on years of missteps, an SEO might lack the knowledge and experience needed to make crucial decisions, including developing the ultimate marketing strategy for a client. Yup, there are thousands of SEO/web marketing companies out there, but where do you start? I mean, what should you REALLY look for? Are you looking for the most outrageous promises and guarantees, the lowest prices, or are you looking for an SEO who has been successful and can repeat those results for you?
Do you remember AltaVista, Excite, WebCrawler and HotBot? Probably not, but your SEO should! Why? Because there is tremendous value in hiring an SEO/web marketing company with loads of experience. I’ll tell you why experience is something that you can’t fake, you can’t steal, you can’t replace, and you shouldn’t live without!
Do or Die Decision
For many businesses, their online growth and success is the determining factor in the success or failure of the company itself. The web has quickly become a “do or die” marketing channel for many businesses, and the web marketing company you select could have the single biggest role in the success or failure of your online efforts.
If you are seriously considering hiring an SEO/web marketing company, you should take the time to research to find the company that is just right for you. It’s likely that during that research process, you’ll find several blog posts about what to look for and what questions to ask when making such an important decision that will impact your business for years to come.
Most of the time, a well-written blog post will recommend that you consider a company that spends time evaluating your needs, one that looks into your current web marketing efforts and web presence, and one that builds a proposal specifically for your situation. Most industry experts would agree that you need a company that has experts in multiple channels—such as analytics, PPC, content, social media, link building, brand building, on-page optimization—and can blend all of these channels into one well-polished web marketing strategy. You might also read about how the companies you are vetting should be open and transparent about what strategies they are implementing, and provide frequent and thorough reports that show progress and growth.
All of this is really good information, and almost any SEO/web marketing company can quickly adjust their protocol to encompass these best practices. But there is one factor that no amount of effort, education and clever marketing can account for, and that is experience. There is only one way to gain it, and that is to live it. Just like the wise old butler offering the rebellious young Bruce Wayne advice based on a lifetime of experience, or your grandpa telling the young ones to enjoy life because it goes by fast, your SEO should be able to pull from years of SEO experiences—solutions found in the past, blog post archives, industry contacts, mistakes made, and the team he or she has assembled.
Ability to Adapt
Experience and longevity in the SEO world means you have several qualities that are invaluable to your clients. The first is a proven ability to adapt to the search engine algorithm changes that are inevitable in the SEO industry. No SEO company in its right mind would use keyword tag stuffing now as part of their marketing strategy, but it was a huge part of SEO in the ’90s. If an SEO company is still around today after 10 or 15 years, they have shown an amazing ability to adapt to changes and use intuition to adjust their efforts to stay current with change—and still provide great ROI.
Experience also means that your SEO uses intuition when it comes to “flash-in-the-pan” marketing schemes that don’t last. Remember, link wheels, link sculpting, hidden text or spam blogs? While your SEO may have dipped their toes into some of these tactics, they should have quickly realized they lacked long-term value.
When I asked one longtime SEO what sets an experienced SEO apart from a knowledgeable one, he responded:
“Intuition. There is a lot that we learn from testing, experience and other SEOs, but intuition is huge. You have to have some general idea of what strategies make sense. Something may work today, but if it doesn’t make sense in the long run then it’s a flash-in-the-pan strategy. Many SEOs jump on these bandwagons and get short-term success, but then flame out because they lack the intuition to know where the search engines are headed.”
The Industry: Know and Be Known
Your SEO should also have a HUGE library of blog posts, white papers, books or eBooks at their disposal. Again, you can’t fake this, and it takes years to assemble such an impressive collection of material. If you want to know if your SEO knows what they’re talking about, you should be reading their posts to vet them, and the SEO should be pulling from this knowledge base in everyday decisions. If you SEO has material that has been downloaded hundreds of thousands of times, that’s a good indicator that they know what they’re knowledgeable.
In the same way, if an SEO isn’t connected to other industry experts, they don’t have the support base of other knowledgeable people to turn to in order to exchange ideas and learn from each other’s mistakes and successes. This also shows that the SEO is capable of developing the long-term business relationships necessary for online marketing success.
Have They Stacked the Deck?
Lastly, your SEO is likely not the only person who will have their hands on your marketing strategy. What kind of a team have they assembled? Is it a bunch of snot-nosed college kids or a preassembled SEO factory in India, or have they used years of connections, relationships and careful observation to build a team that stacks the deck in your favor?
I’ll leave you with this, if someone was going to open up my head for brain surgery and the last thing I heard was, “Well, here goes nothing,” as the anesthetic took effect, I don’t think I would sleep well in my induced coma. If your business is as important to you as ours is to me, I hope you carefully vet your SEO/web marketing company and look for the one factor you can’t fake: experience.