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For the many Seinfeld fans out there, that marine biologist line is one of the more popular quotes out there. To refresh your memory George Costanza is once again pretending to be someone he really isn’t, namely his dream job…a marine biologist. When the problem of a very real beached whale comes up, George is in the hot seat. George is forced to go and try to save the whale even though he doesn’t really know what he is doing. It’s quite a funny episode.

So how does that relate to SEO? Well, I found myself thinking that we, as SEO professionals, claim to be the experts even though sometimes we might not really know everything. So, when the client is as upset as an old man trying to return soup at a deli, we often need to approach the situation with the knowledge we do have, and try to figure it out some things as we go.

In the SEO world, which is constantly evolving, there is so much to learn that staying on top of all the changes is practically another full-time job. I am going to relate the book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, by Steven R. Covey, to the world of SEO in an attempt to help lay down some principles that will help you. Like Mr. Costanza says, “When the sea is angry my friends”, you need to step up and figure it out.

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective SEOs

#1 Be Proactive:

The success of an search engine marketing campaign is determined by you as the expert, but that success hinges directly on your attitude. The best part about being human is that we have the ability to choose. You can choose to have success, maintain a good attitude or even give in to failure. Some things that happen are beyond your control. But for the most part, it comes down to being proactive and taking responsibility for SEO decisions. You can blame Google for algorithm changes (like the recent Penguin update), you can blame your client, you can blame your computer – you can even blame the weather if you want.

A proactive person will use their resourcefulness and initiative to find solutions rather than just reporting problems and waiting for other people to solve them.”– (S. Covey)

There are a lot of things that will and can affect any campaign for good or bad, and the greatest power you have is to choose your response. A proactive SEO uses proactive language (“ I can,” “I will,” “I prefer,” etc) instead of language like “I can’t,” “I have to,” “if only.” Focus time and energy on things that you can control. You really can’t control what Google does but you can control what kind of links you build, what keywords you choose and what content to optimize.

#2 Begin with the End in Mind:

What do you want to know about SEO in one, three, five, or even 20 years? What exactly do you want to see at the end of a client’s campaign? Is your SEO knowledge where you want it to be? This second point is based on imagination, having the ability to envision in your mind the results that you cannot, at present, see with your eyes. Results and success can be created twice, first as a mental-creation — to really look at a client’s site and envision page-one rankings and success for their targeted keywords — and again when those envisioned results are fully realized. This also means beginning each day, task or project with a clear vision of the direction you want to take the client’s site. You can flex those proactive muscles to make it happen. Make a personal mission statement for each of the clients you are working on. Writing your personal goals down will give you something physical to look at which can serve as a motivation and a reminder.

#3 Put First Things First:

With any SEO campaign, figuring out the correct strategy that will work for a particular SERP is critical to the success of that campaign. There are many different strategies to choose from. Each SEO team has a certain way they start each campaign. Typically you’ll start with keyword research and map keywords to particular URLs, then figure out the correct link building strategies for those keywords. After covering the basics of an SEO campaign it’s important to figure out which particular link-building strategies need to have top priority. Going back to habit two, what can you accomplish first that fits into your personal mission statement? Not every client is going to need the same style of link-building. The first two habits are more conceptual, but habit number 3 brings them together to start taking action. As you start turning your mission statement into a strategy, you’ll begin to realize what the “first things” are, what is of most worth, and how to prioritize tasks in your campaign.

#4 Think Win-Win:

Success doesn’t come from being nice or developing a quick-fix technique. This is more character-based, having to do with human interaction and collaboration. This principle can be related to client interactions and even interactions within your team or company. The majority of people have been brought up to have a competitive thought process — win or lose.

With SEO we need to think in a more cooperative state, seeking mutual benefit in all human interactions. Our relationships with our teams and client’s all need to be mutually beneficial. When a win-win deal can’t be achieved with a client, we may need to accept that making no deal at all is the best alternative. I am not saying you should act super nice to the point people are walking all over you, but an aggressive attitude often just won’t work. To be able to accomplish this you should try to possess these three character traits:

  • Integrity: Stick to your true feelings and values. This can be related to life values, but also SEO feelings and values.
  • Maturity: Express your ideas and feelings with courage, keeping in mind the ideas of your team and client.
  • And finally believe that there is enough for everyone, basically be a team player.

#5 Seek First to Understand, Then to Be understood:

SEO is more than just sitting in front of a computer and being a nerd. Like in life, communication is one of the most important skills you can have. As an SEO expert you probably seek first to be understood, you want to get your point across. Sometimes we have selective hearing once we start speaking with a new client before we actually listen to them about their business strategy and goals. The problem with this can be that we SEOs need to listen to the client and our teams with the intent to understand, not with the intent to reply. Effective listening will solve a lot of problems with clients because it will allow you to see things from their perspective. So the main point is to first seek to understand the client, and only then try to be understood.

#6 Synergize:

Following the definition of the word two heads are better than one. I also interpret this as trustful communication; you need to earn someone’s trust. This Habit is all about creating cooperation and teamwork. Working with a team or with another expert can and will bring far better results than what just one great SEO-mind can come up with. This does come with an exception: people need to be willing to work with others and be open to one another’s ideas. It will make your campaign that much stronger if you can take differences and turn them into strengths. Be willing to learn from others and accept the fact that you aren’t Albert Einstein.

#7 Sharpen the Saw

So this one sounds easy enough. What saw can you sharpen right now that would provide the most benefit to your clients and team? This doesn’t have to be directly related to work, maybe there are things outside of work that is affecting you. What Covey means by “sharpen the saw” is to have balance in our lives (physical, emotional, mental, etc.). And I do believe that balance in our lives outside of work will help us stay more focused in our careers so that we can provide better professional SEO service to others. That being said, look for balance in your SEO campaign—on-page, off-page, customer relationships, and team balance. You will get to a point in your career when you become really good at certain tasks, and this can cause complacency. It’s important to keep yourself fresh so you can constantly hone your existing skills and add new knowledge, and adapt to changes in the industry. Every day is a new opportunity to recharge and learn more.

What do you think of these habits? Do you have additional ones you would add? If so, leave them in the comments below.