7 Habits of Highly Effective SEO

When I started my professional career (selling advertising), one of the most influential books that I read at the time was "7 Habits of Highly Effective People", by Stephen Covey.

It’s not much of an over-statement to say that this book changed my life.

What’s interesting to me is how many of the tenets that Mr. Covey conveyed in this book hold true in many facets of my life, and specifically with digital marketing and search engine optimization (SEO).

I speak to many prospects for SEO services, every day. Some of these believe that SEO is a one-and-done affair.

While I find instances where companies could see some solid gains by simply implementing proper title tags and correcting a few things, more often than not, proper SEO efforts need to be worked on a regular basis to realize the types of gains that can deliver really solid, long-lasting and “optimized” (optimal) results.

Every SEO company will have its own processes for performing SEO, and I’m not suggesting that what follows covers everything that goes into an ongoing SEO effort, but the key ingredients are here.

*Note: items in italics come directly from Stephen Covey’s website.

Habit 1: Be Proactive

Instead of reacting to or worrying about conditions over which they have little or no control, proactive people focus their time and energy on things they can control. The problems, challenges, and opportunities we face fall into two areas--Circle of Concern and Circle of Influence.

Proactive people focus their efforts on their Circle of Influence. They work on the things they can do something about: health, children, problems at work. Reactive people focus their efforts in the Circle of Concern--things over which they have little or no control: the national debt, terrorism, the weather. Gaining an awareness of the areas in which we expend our energies in is a giant step in becoming proactive.

In our world, being proactive means you can't chase an algorithm.

What we can focus on are those things that we can control, which is develop a sound web presence that the search engines “should want to” rank – one that:

There are many things that are within our circle of influence, such as:

  • Selecting the right keywords to target.
  • Building quality websites.
  • Making sure that content is crawlable/indexable.
  • Developing sitemaps.
  • Maintaining clean code.
  • Promoting content.
  • Distributing press releases.

While we must be aware, and understand, things like Google Panda/Penguin and other major changes in the algorithms, if we focus on doing “good marketing”, all other things should fall in line, and major algorithm changes shouldn’t be a concern.

You want to try to build a company’s web presence that the search engines should want to rank. Perhaps, that way, you aren't reacting to algorithms but actually working “ahead” of any algorithm changes.

Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind

So, what do you want to be when you grow up? That question may appear a little trite, but think about it for a moment. Are you--right now--who you want to be, what you dreamed you'd be, doing what you always wanted to do? Be honest. Sometimes people find themselves achieving victories that are empty--successes that have come at the expense of things that were far more valuable to them. If your ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step you take gets you to the wrong place faster.

Habit 2 is based on imagination--the ability to envision in your mind what you cannot at present see with your eyes. It is based on the principle that all things are created twice. There is a mental (first) creation, and a physical (second) creation. The physical creation follows the mental, just as a building follows a blueprint. If you don't make a conscious effort to visualize who you are and what you want in life, then you empower other people and circumstances to shape you and your life by default. It's about connecting again with your own uniqueness and then defining the personal, moral, and ethical guidelines within which you can most happily express and fulfill yourself. Begin with the End in Mind means to begin each day, task, or project with a clear vision of your desired direction and destination, and then continue by flexing your proactive muscles to make things happen.

I have often asked prospects this very question (“What do you want to be when you grow up?”). Without knowing where you’d like to be, how do you get there? What are the goals?

When I hear “I want to rank for this one specific keyword”, I am very inclined to elect not to work with that company. I’m not about “empty” success.

When I hear “we’d like to grow sales by X” or “we’d like to grow traffic by Y," then I know that there is potential in an ongoing relationship.

Once we’ve determined that there may be a fit, it is the responsibility of any good SEO to lay out a plan based upon the end goals, and begin the process of developing the necessary steps to achieve the end goal.

Habit 3: Put First Things First

To live a more balanced existence, you have to recognize that not doing everything that comes along is okay. There's no need to overextend yourself. All it takes is realizing that it's all right to say no when necessary and then focus on your highest priorities.

Habit 1 says, "You're in charge. You're the creator." Being proactive is about choice. Habit 2 is the first, or mental, creation. Beginning with the End in Mind is about vision. Habit 3 is the second creation, the physical creation. This habit is where Habits 1 and 2 come together. It happens day in and day out, moment-by-moment. It deals with many of the questions addressed in the field of time management. But that's not all it's about. Habit 3 is about life management as well--your purpose, values, roles, and priorities. What are "first things?" First things are those things you, personally, find of most worth. If you put first things first, you are organizing and managing time and events according to the personal priorities you established in Habit 2.

Often, when performing a competitive analysis, we find websites that are quite successful (getting a lot of quality organic search traffic for keywords that we’d like to target). When we can identify those top competitors and uncover the reasons why they are successful, we can reverse engineer their success and build a program based upon “best practices”.

When you compare the reasons why a competitor may have more success than you, you can begin to develop a program based upon address those “holes” (deficiencies) and scope out a project plan, accordingly.

If you’re like most, you may not have an unlimited budget and you’ll need to prioritize your efforts. For some, link building may be the most glaring need. For others, a lack of content to support ranking for keywords in the issue.

However you go about getting to the end goal, you must understand the end goal – first – in order to understand the prioritization of steps necessary to be successful.

For SEO programs, most agree upon a common “hierarchy of needs”. As a general rule, this is a good illustration of those (SEO) needs:

hierarchy-web-presence-optimization

Image Credit: gShift Labs

Habit 4: Think Win-Win

Win-win sees life as a cooperative arena, not a competitive one. Win-win is a frame of mind and heart that constantly seeks mutual benefit in all human interactions. Win-win means agreements or solutions are mutually beneficial and satisfying. We both get to eat the pie, and it tastes pretty darn good!

A person or organization that approaches conflicts with a win-win attitude possesses three vital character traits:

  • Integrity: sticking with your true feelings, values, and commitments
  • Maturity: expressing your ideas and feelings with courage and consideration for the ideas and feelings of others
  • Abundance Mentality: believing there is plenty for everyone

From an industry standpoint, someone who has done a tremendous job in understanding this “habit” very well is Rand Fishkin. From my recollection, Fishkin was the first person to take his “corporate website” and turn it (largely) into a blog.

Fishkin then proceeded to “give away” his IP (Intellectual Property). Anything that he knew, or thought, or whatever was posted for the community at large to read, disseminate, comment and – yes – share (links).

I don’t know when that was, but it seemed very early (Rand, if you read this, I’d love for you to comment). Fishkin understood something that took me a while to wrap my head around: the more you give, the more you get. This has been the foundation of my advice for folks getting into social media, and it’s something that I can now demonstrate results from, myself.

My company’s website has earned most of its links through our blog. We try to write helpful, interesting posts and we promote those posts. Sometimes, we earn some pretty significant/“good” links.

I’ve also been writing for Search Engine Watch and/or Clickz for a little over 5 years now, and have been a speaker at industry conferences for a little over 6 years. “Giving away” content is a good thing (I’ve earned speaking engagements, new business and – yes – some links, because of these efforts). You get rewarded, if not immediately.

Convincing companies (clients, in my case) that they, too, need to consider this can be a challenge. But, if you step forward with proving helpful/resourceful content (even if your competitors are reading it), you position yourself as a thought-leader and can win “on the back end.”

Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood

Communication is the most important skill in life. You spend years learning how to read and write, and years learning how to speak. But what about listening? What training have you had that enables you to listen so you really, deeply understand another human being? Probably none, right?

If you're like most people, you probably seek first to be understood; you want to get your point across. And in doing so, you may ignore the other person completely, pretend that you're listening, selectively hear only certain parts of the conversation or attentively focus on only the words being said, but miss the meaning entirely.

Without understanding this principle, you may try to target keywords that you think everyone should be searching for, rather than doing the research to see how people actually search for your products and/or services.

How many SEOs out there have worked with companies that are clearly determined to push forward on their way of describing their products/services, even though research shows that no one is searching in that manner? I refer to this as CEO-itis. That is, the CEO has his vernacular and is very determined to have a website full of fluff content rather than crafting content to be more in line with reality.

When you listen first, and then understand, you have a much better chance at success. The same can be said about success social media marketing efforts.

Habit 6: Synergize

To put it simply, synergy means "two heads are better than one." Synergize is the habit of creative cooperation. It is teamwork, open-mindedness, and the adventure of finding new solutions to old problems. But it doesn't just happen on its own. It's a process, and through that process, people bring all their personal experience and expertise to the table. Together, they can produce far better results that they could individually. Synergy lets us discover jointly things we are much less likely to discover by ourselves. It is the idea that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. One plus one equals three, or six, or sixty--you name it.

A proper SEO effort is one in which PPC works with SEO, PR works with SEO, social marketing works with SEO, copywriting works with SEO, video/image teams work with SEO, web design/development teams work with SEO, and IT teams work with SEO.

Getting this synergy in place can lead to beautiful results. However, if synergy isn't in place, you can't expect to realize optimal results.

Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw

Sharpen the Saw means preserving and enhancing the greatest asset you have--you. It means having a balanced program for self-renewal in the four areas of your life: physical, social/emotional, mental, and spiritual.

Sharpen the Saw keeps you fresh so you can continue to practice the other six habits. You increase your capacity to produce and handle the challenges around you. Without this renewal, the body becomes weak, the mind mechanical, the emotions raw, the spirit insensitive, and the person selfish.

SEO, when done well, isn't a one-and-done affair. Optimization of results, via analytics review/analysis, usability reviews, on-going tweaking/refining of on-page/off-page SEO and conversion optimization lead to better and better results, over time.

You must sharpen the saw and always consider how things can be better. Certainly, new and interesting opportunities present themselves all the time.

If you had “completed” an SEO effort several years ago, you might not have been taking advantage of “new” opportunities such as local, news SEO, video SEO, shopping feed optimization or even blogging/social promotion.

Things change, and we must always look for ways to be better at our craft and seek out new/interesting opportunities for advancement of the SEO efforts.

Footnote

I need to provide a shout-out to Neil Patel for this particular column. While the idea for this column was 100 percent mine, I did a search and found that he had written a similar post (that I encourage you to read) titled “7 Habits of Highly Effective SEOs”.

About the author

Mark Jackson, President and CEO of Vizion Interactive, a search engine optimization company. Mark joined the interactive marketing fray in early 2000. His journey began with Lycos/Wired Digital and then AOL/Time Warner. After having witnessed the bubble burst and its lingering effects on stability on the job front (learning that working for a "large company" does not guarantee you a position, no matter your job performance), Mark established an interactive marketing agency and has cultivated it into one of the most respected search engine optimization firms in the United States.

Vizion Interactive was founded on the premise that honesty, integrity, and transparency forge the pillars that strong partnerships should be based upon. Vizion Interactive is a full service interactive marketing agency, specializing in search engine optimization, search engine marketing/PPC management, SEO friendly Web design/development, social media marketing, and other leading edge interactive marketing services, including being one of the first 50 beta testers of Google TV.

Mark is a board member of the Dallas/Fort Worth Search Engine Marketing Association (DFWSEM) and a member of the Dallas/Fort Worth Interactive Marketing Association (DFWIMA) and is a regular speaker at the SES and Pubcon conferences.

Mark received a BA in Journalism/Advertising from The University of Texas at Arlington in 1993 and spent several years in traditional marketing (radio, television, and print) prior to venturing into all things "Web."

Read more of Mark Jackson's columns at ClickZ.