My First Year in SEO

February 25th, 2020 in SEO 7 minute read

At the start of 2019 I began my journey, not only at Zeal but in the SEO world as an SEO Executive. I often reference the SEO world in my monthly blogs and up until February last year, it was only a small part of my job. The ‘world’ is huge, ever-changing and fascinating to be in. 

A year on I thought I’d piece together a blog about all the important takeouts I’ve had from my first year in SEO and #LifeAtZeal. 

SEO Knowledge

SEO is more than just optimising your site

At Zeal and in our department we constantly look for ways we can push our clients further and regularly look beyond their websites.

Of course, as the biggest search engine out there, everyone is constantly trying to optimise their site for Google (other search engines are available). PR is never something I associated with SEO until starting at Zeal. It’s actually incredibly important, not just to raise brand awareness but to build high-quality backlinks towards your site. Not only does creating a cool campaign give you something to be proud of, but they’re also a great way to build quality, high-authority links back to your site. So bin the directories and paid links and get your creative hats on.

Creating a campaign takes a serious amount of patience and perseverance to be a success. To directly quote myself from an article I contributed to:

“Patience is key. If your campaign isn’t a success at first, you need to be able to maintain a level of patience with it. Campaigns take time and gaining quality links takes time.”

Being reactive is key

Ensuring you’re reactive is important, not just for technical SEO but also for potential campaigns. Of course, you have to be reactive when it comes to Google because they like to spring updates on you out of nowhere. This year, the Christmas Pudding hadn’t even settled before Google released their first 2020 update. As soon as you see drops in your traffic, you need to be reactive to work out why that’s happening. The quicker you react the more likely you are to avoid long term impact. 

It’s also important when it comes to the success of your PR campaign. Being quick and reactive to any news that people can’t help but share. A prime example was the speed in which ASOS reacted to the “EasyJet backless seat” news story. You can see their quick response here:

The importance of writing content for the user

If there’s one thing that Google’s BERT update showed us, it’s just how important it is to optimise content for the user. If you didn’t already know, BERT is an update introduced by Google in October 2019. The update aimed to help Google further understand user’s search queries, particularly more humanistic search terms. So essentially, your task is less about optimising for Google, and more about making sure your content is what the users are looking for.

A great example of this came from Google themselves, as you can see in the example below:

Before and after search query

Photo credit: Google

As you can see from the example above, the content optimised for BERT is far more humanistic and less structured. It’s conversational and answers the user’s query perfectly. Whereas the result pre-BERT is far more structured and less conversational in its form. 

Title Tags are one of the keys to success

Titles tags are one of the most important parts of any piece of content. A good title is what draws people in. Let’s face it, this all comes back to BERT and optimising your content for the all-important user. Title tags, otherwise known as a meta title, summarises your post in around 50-60 characters. Her’s a shameless plug and example of a title tag we used for our January 2020 update blog:

As you can see, the title summarises exactly what the user will find in the blog in a quick and simple title tag. It encourages the user to click and also shows Google what it is you’re looking to rank for.  

Google open on laptop

Training, Courses and the Fun Bits

Brighton SEO and Search Leeds

Brighton SEO is one of the biggest UK events for search marketing in the UK. We headed down in September last year and I’m happy to say we’re going again in April. If you haven’t been before, there are some fantastic talks from professionals from a multitude of different industries and platforms. One of my top takeaways was the importance of using your content to create a story. Creating an angle journalists can relate to and are interested in is one of the most important ways of getting your content out there. 

James and I put together a blog looking at our learnings from Brighton SEO so check that out if you want to find out more.

We also went up the road to Search Leeds at Leeds First Direct Arena. There were loads of talks, one of my personal favourites came from Britney Muller from Moz. She’d flown over from America for the talk and spoke about machine learning and the ways their intelligence is actually becoming quite scary! We wrote a blog looking at our experience at Search Leeds, click the link to find out more.

SEO games are a great learning tool

There have been some awesome SEO games released, most recently the Hidden Keywords game which really put your technical SEO knowledge to the test. It really tests every ounce of your SEO knowledge, taking you on a journey through every tool you can even think of. If you haven’t played it yet, give it a go and see how you do. If I could give you one key takeaway, at the start I massively over thought it and kicked myself when I found some of the answers were easier to find than I realised. 

There are some great online courses

At Zeal, we’re encouraged to further our education in our field to make our day to day jobs easier. Google and SEMRush have some great online exams which I’ve completed over the last year which have really complimented by job role. 

The top three I’d recommend are the Google Analytics IQ exam (you need a lot of patience for this one), the SEMRush Technical SEO certificate and Google’s Fundamentals of Digital Marketing exam. Soon I’ll also be taking a look at Google’s PPC exams to try and further my knowledge outside of my own department. 

Volunteering with Age UK

Age UK is one of our partner charities and this year I’ve been lucky enough to volunteer and help elderly people to better understand modern technology. It’s really heartwarming and more often than not all they’re asking for is help writing an email or working their mobile phones. A member of the team heads down every Thursday and always comes back with a smile on their face and a new story to tell. It’s a great way of developing as a person, speaking to strangers and building your confidence. I’ve found it’s helped me a lot when it comes to speaking to clients on issues they may not understand. Breaking issues down into bitesize chunks.

Teamwork makes the dreamwork 

One of the things I feel we do incredibly successfully is collaborating as one big team. Our department works particularly closely with the Web Development team and Performance (PPC) team on a lot of the more technical tasks. We’ve also worked closely with Creative and Social on our PR campaigns, producing brilliant ideas and graphics. The phrase may seem a little bit corny, but teamwork quite literally makes the dreamwork. 


Zelo in Italia

Otherwise referred to as Zeal in Italy, it would be rude to not mention the trip Zeal took us on to Pisa last year. From heading out on a yacht (on slightly rougher than expected seas) to a wine tasting tour it was a great 5 days away in Pisa and I feel we bonded as a team more than ever. It goes back to the point I made before. We came back and felt like more of a team which has made working as a team so much easier. 

So there we go, that’s everything I’ve learnt and experienced in my first year at Zeal in SEO. Roll on the second year…

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