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12½ emotional ingredients for SEO success

In his book, “Twelve and a Half,” Gary Vaynerchuk explores essential emotional skills integral to his life and business success. 

Developing these skills as an SEO professional can set the stage for a successful career:

If I had been aware of these 12 and ½ emotional ingredients during the early days of my career, I would have approached many situations differently.

Let’s dive into each trait and how you can use them.

1. Unlock your SEO potential and embrace curiosity

Curiosity is a must-have trait for any skilled SEO expert. It’s all about diving deep into the company, product, customer persona, websites and other team processes. 

Without this contextual knowledge, your recommendations could miss the mark, eroding trust with clients, employers and teammates.

But curiosity doesn’t just enhance your SEO game – it fuels professional growth. By embracing curiosity, you uncover the latest in SEO, UX best practices, project management, and even “minor” skills like creating helpful prioritization matrices. These skills are invaluable when juggling multiple websites and stakeholders.

2. Learn to ‘count to 10’ with patience

Initial setbacks or early hurdles should not discourage you. 

Let’s face it: SEO success demands hard work, and results rarely happen overnight. 

As an SEO professional, you’ll often find yourself preaching the gospel of patience.

  • Educating stakeholders on why Semrush and Google Search Console show different positions for the umpteenth time. 
  • Explaining to the dev team why excessive redirects aren’t ideal, even if users remain unaffected. 
  • The classic question about the quarterly plunge in organic traffic (because nobody asks about the upward trend) from teams that haven’t implemented any recommended changes. 

In these moments, my golden rule is to respond with a deliberate delay, refining my initial reply and highlighting any positives.

3. Unleash your tenacity and embrace the ‘impossible’

Don’t be disheartened by discouraging responses like “I don’t know,” “Our website can’t handle it,” or the classic “This is impossible.” 

Tenacity means pushing on, asking how it can be done, and challenging the idea of impossibility. 

(Kudos to StackOverflow, Stack Exchange, and ChatGPT for showing that the “impossible” is achievable!)

I may not be a JavaScript whiz or well-versed in React or Node.js. But that doesn’t mean I won’t notice if a website fails to render correctly.

Just recently, in one of my projects, none of my trusty plugins rendered the website properly. Google Search Console hinted at occasional rendering glitches, but as a user, everything appeared fine. The dev teams were convinced everything was flawless. 

I endured the chorus for months, “Your SEO tools are faulty; check how they work and clear your cache.” 

But then, a tiny error message caught my eye in the Chrome console.

After half a day of research, it turned out my SEO tools were solid. A rendering issue indeed existed due to tag setup and a Node.js update months ago.

You can only imagine my pride. But what made me even prouder was how I handled it afterward.

4. Kindness wins, so join every conversation with respect

Our fast-paced lives are all focused on achieving results and meeting deadlines. But let’s not forget that we’re only human, and mistakes happen.

Take the rendering issue, for example. I’ll admit I was fortunate to discover it through my tenacity. 

However, a younger me might have started the conversation with, “I’ve been telling you for months that something’s not right, but you ignored it. Now, what will you do with this proof?”

Not the best approach for a productive conversation or future collaboration, right? Now, as a wiser version, I opted for a simple suggestion: 

  • “I came across this error in the Chrome console and did some research. Could you please check it out? It might be what we’ve been searching for.”

Same information, different emotions, and potentially different outcome.

Kindness isn’t so hard. Often, it’s about stepping into someone else’s shoes and asking simple yet powerful questions like, “How are you?” 

The challenge lies in giving ourselves enough time to do so. 

Think twice before speaking and four times before writing (since writing lacks tone and body language, which can easily lead to misunderstandings).

5. Know what you don’t know and embrace self-awareness

It’s vital to gauge your business-specific knowledge and understand your professional standing. We live in a fast-paced era where digital marketing and businesses evolve rapidly. 

Don’t hesitate to lean on the expertise of others or openly admit when you’re unfamiliar with certain concepts or lagging behind in the latest SEO tools.

Having a realistic sense of how you stack up against others is equally crucial. Being self-aware isn’t just about recognizing your skills and knowledge; it’s about keeping your ego in check. 

6. Stay grounded and deflate your ego

A valuable lesson came my way recently, courtesy of my manager. I’ve collaborated with various external agencies as an in-house SEO. 

Some partnerships were fantastic, with both sides learning and growing together. Others, let’s just say were a never-ending cat-and-mouse game. 

But no matter the relationship type, the journey always began with rough edges, fueled by my skepticism and a defensive stance.

It hit me that my hesitation wasn’t solely due to past experiences with these agencies. It was rooted in a slight offense, thinking outsiders lacking business knowledge would dare to review my work. 

Thanks to my manager’s guidance, I’m now trying to shift gears. I aim to view these agencies as extensions of our internal team, unburdened by history. 

It’s about adopting their fresh, critical perspective and learning from it. Over time, I hope to cultivate an open mind, eagerly seeking feedback and embracing the chance to fill gaps in my work.


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7. Listen and connect with empathy 

Building alliances and friendships with colleagues from other teams is vital. 

Show empathy, listen, understand their challenges and goals, and demonstrate how you can support them. 

Educate both teammates and stakeholders. These efforts will pay off in the end.

Picture this: You won’t have to be the constant website guardian, as others understand the impact of headline tweaks. 

Stakeholders will recognize the importance of effective page titles. People will invite you to crucial meetings about website, content and infrastructure changes.

By aligning your SEO strategy with other teams’ goals, more resources and support will flow freely to your projects.

8. Own your impact as accountability builds trust

Trust is earned through accountability. As a competent professional, only recommend changes you genuinely believe in, no matter their scale. 

When things go awry, take ownership of the outcome. Be responsible for SEO deliverables and the projects on which other teams rely. 

Avoid making empty promises about meeting deadlines you can’t meet. If you realize you won’t deliver as agreed, communicate promptly.

Here’s a handy practice: Keep a written record of agreements and promises and a list of emails where these were shared. 

It’ll save you from overlooking crucial details and help prevent last-minute scope changes. 

Furthermore, showcasing SEO’s meaningful impact on business numbers is essential. Your SEO efforts should translate into real customers for your business.

Now’s the time to dive deep into Salesforce (or your company’s equivalent tool) if you haven’t yet. Ensure your Google Analytics tracking is robust, capturing the entire user funnel and all significant website events.

9. Be ambitious and try to see the bigger picture

When you’ve earned trust, demonstrated SEO’s impact on crucial business numbers, and embraced accountability, people will be open to ambitious strategies. 

It’s time to think beyond boundaries and collaborate with content creators, developers, CRO specialists, UX designers, and UI experts. 

Understand how your recommendations intersect with their work and find common ground. It’s time to dream big.

Ambition isn’t easy. It takes a visionary outlook, a strategic plan and unwavering belief. 

You must convince others and decision-makers – a challenging task, especially when starting out.

10. Embrace conviction and never stop believing in the power of SEO

In the early stages, SEO can feel like a mysterious black hole. 

Results take months to materialize, and pinpointing the exact reasons can be challenging. 

That’s why it’s crucial to have an unwavering belief in your strategy and the tools you rely on. 

Take action and turn your strategy into tangible website optimizations.

The key is creating a strategy document for C-level executives, outlining your high-level actions. 

Then, transform that document into a detailed, step-by-step plan that considers your resources and those of other teams. 

My usual approach is an annual plan divided into quarters, which I update at the start of each quarter. 

Don’t forget to sync these plans with all the teams you depend on, such as content and development.

Have monthly or bi-weekly syncs with these teams to discuss the priorities and challenges for both teams. Try keeping detailed notes for every meeting so everyone can be on the same page.

11. Stay optimistic and don’t lose faith when your priority keyword’s ranking slips

Setbacks are inevitable in SEO. You may have experienced seeing your hard-earned results take a sudden nosedive. 

One day, you’re in the top five for your priority keyword, and the next, a Google update reshapes the entire organic landscape. 

This is the moment when optimism becomes essential. Remember that you can offset the traffic decline with other tactics.

However, there are two types of optimism. 

  • The first, “Based on Data,” stems from having faith in your thorough efforts and adherence to best practices. 
  • The second, “Believing in Miracles,” is not really reliable. 

Good SEO professionals rely on the former. 

Even if you’re 100% certain that you’ve done everything right, reexamine every step of your strategy if your rankings and traffic decline. 

12. Revel in gratitude and celebrate every achievement

Gratitude is a vital emotional ingredient, too. Appreciating even the smallest bits of progress along the way is crucial. 

I break down each project into meaningful milestones, allowing me to celebrate every incremental step. This boosts team morale and demonstrates progress to colleagues, other teams, and stakeholders.

Highlighting the impact of others’ work on overall company performance is equally important. In my regular reporting, whether weekly, monthly or quarterly, I make sure to mention the people behind the results. 

Celebrating small victories maintains optimism and highlights positive signs of progress. 

If you, as an SEO expert, believe in your ability to drive traffic and conversions, others will believe, too. 

And if you happen to be superstitious, you may be familiar with the phrase, “Positive thoughts bring positive results.”

12½. Embody kind candor

One of my former colleagues claims that “SEOs are naturally critical.” 

I would phrase it slightly differently: we should not shy away from being a bearer of bad news. As a responsible SEO, you must embody “kind candor.” This is the last bit of the 12½ emotional ingredients. 

Often, people undertake projects without fully comprehending the impact on organic traffic or the necessary work involved. 

As an SEO expert, it is your duty to openly express your concerns in a timely manner. Keeping silent typically yields more negative results. 

It is crucial, however, to articulate your opinions with kindness and respect.

By embodying the 12½ emotional ingredients, you can go from an SEO specialist who merely checks off tasks and generates a ton of work for other teams to a meaningful partner for your colleagues and the business.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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