“Learning” On The Job – SEO Ninja Training

How do you feel when someone accuses you, an SEO, of “learning on the job?”

What if they top off the accusation with “and so-and-so said they saw you reading!” (Oh me. Oh my. Oh no!!)

It’s like you’ve been accused of cheating, being “green,” or a neophyte not deserving of an SEO Karate white belt.

You may be prompted to write a “Dear Ignoramus” letter to the accuser if you hadn’t already given them a Karate sidekick. As an SEO, you may realize the idiocy of such comments and decide not to waste your energy.

Monica Wright - SEO Ninja, Training

SEO Ninja always training - Monica Wright

SEO is like Karate. It’s a martial art. Serious SEO ninjas never stop training.

SEO Experience

Let’s make it clear…

No matter what stage of experience you are in SEO – white belt, brown belt, black belt or Sensei, you’d better be reading, researching, testing, and “learning on the job” regularly!

I’m not advocating you ignore the need for billable hours or meeting client needs. However, if you work at an agency or on your own, you’d better schedule time training on the SEO dojo floor to perfect your search marketing skills. There is no level of “attainment” in which you rest on the laurels of the color of your SEO belt. Your clients need you to be a Master.

I don’t yet know the demographics of readers on Search Marketing Wisdom. I imagine, however, that most of you who practice SEO and search marketing break down into the following as practitioners:

  • Freelance
  • Partner
  • Agency employee
  • In-House SEO
  • Owner/Operator of your own retail or lead-gen sites

Each one of you (correction) Each one of us has a pressing, dire, need to stay on top of what is happening in search. It doesn’t matter how many site audits, competitive analyses, information architectures, optimized pages of content and links we have under our belts. We live in a constantly-changing, metamorphosing world of search.

Rapid-Fire SEO

“Rapid-fire SEO” is the first adjective that comes to mind when thinking
about SEO the past few years.

Matt Cutts in an interview with Virginia Nussey on interview on SEM Synergy, said that in 2008 Google had approximately 450 algorithm changes.

Did you pick up on that?

That means Google changed the way they index, rank, and display results FOUR HUNDRED & FIFTY times in one year. That was 2008.

2009 brought an influx of universal results and personalization. The rapid-fire changes to search algorithms continues. Matt Cutts, in a Google Webmaster video answered the question, “How many changes did Google make to their primary search algorithm in 2009?” He explains Google averages 350-400 per year, averaging 1 change per day overall.

Chop. Chop. Hiya!

Do you remember December 8, 2009 when Google launched Twitter Real-Time results in their SERPs? The ramification on what it meant for spam in search results was tremendous. If you weren’t paying attention, you wouldn’t have informed clients of the resulting opportunity (or missed opportunity) to participate as well.

Enter and exit 2010.

You’ve heard the adage…

“Don’t blink or you’ll miss it.”

Yes, Google changes faster than you can blink.

What about the other search engines? If you blinked too long, you were not prepared for one Bing and Yahoo! index. Or you may have missed Blekko.

Alan Bleiweiss recapped the continual “gifts” we received in 2010 in his Search Engine Journal post, “An Epic Year for SEO.”

SEOs who were not constantly reading, researching and testing would not have been responsive to help clients with Google Caffeine, May Day and the rising influence of social media and mobile. If you were not learning on the job, you would have missed:

  • September 8 when Google Instant was unleashed, changing the way we search and the way we instantly access sites deemed relevant to our queries.
  • October 27 when Google Places changed the game of local SEO, placing significant emphasis on citations and reviews and changing SERP layout and real estate. If your target query has a geo-related modifier, the way you optimize for that phrase has changed. At PubCon Las Vegas, Greg Boser called October 27, 2010 “Black Wednesday” for SEOs.

Earned your black belt yet?

What about 2011?

SEOs have another hugely significant “learning opportunity” that affects all Internet marketing strategies… Facebook.

Remember, Facebook IS a place where people search and look for stuff! Will it ever be a search engine? Search Engine Land reported on 1/3/11 that Facebook has raised $500 million from Goldman Sachs. As the article ponders, is a Facebook search engine inevitable?

Time for Learning, R&D

How will you be keeping up on the latest in 2011 and the rapid-fire changes in search? Will you be learning on the job? Heck, you’d better get caught in the act often!!

Not everyone reads and studies search and Google patents like David Harry, SEO Sensei behind the SEO Dojo. David constantly reads with his ear to the search ground. Ask Dave one of the “changes” of 2010 that’s significant for 2011 and beyond, and he may tell you Google’s purchase of Metaweb. Dave calls the need to be in constant study, “research and development.” It’s essential to anticipate for what’s coming!

Creative Commons Share Alike credit to JadeXJustice on Flickr, Danae Hurst

SEOs need to wax on, wax off.

A highly-regarded SEO friend told me he spends about 3 hours/day in the SEO Book forums – studying and “keeping up with the latest.” Constant study is a necessity for any skilled marketing Ninja.

If you’re a search marketer, no matter the color of your belt, you had better be “learning on the job” – watching, sharing, testing, evaluating AND reading. If you get “caught” doing so, you’re on your way to black belt. And if your SEO skills are already at the black-belt level, you’ll need to study to retain your belt and become Sensei to teach others.

“Wax on. Wax off. Breath in. Breath out.”

How many hours a week do you spend sharpening your skills?

About Dana Lookadoo

Dana Lookadoo is a search marketer who works with select clients, often as an in-house SEO consultant and trainer to help companies plan and develop their search engagement efforts. The slogan for Dana's agency, Yo! Yo! SEO, is "Word-of-Mouth SEO." She focuses on helping organizations attain visibility by optimizing their website and online conversations for search engines, social media, and audience engagement. She entered the Internet field in 1996, because it provided the ideal confluence for her passions of technology, writing and people.

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  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Matt Siltala, Monica Wright, Alan Bleiweiss, Boris Krumov and others. Boris Krumov said: RT @SEOAware: RT @AlanBleiweiss: Learning on the job – SEO Ninja Training – by @lookadoo on @srchmktgwisdom http://bit.ly/i27d2y #GREAT ! […]

  2. Julie Joyce says:

    What an awesome post!! We usually hire people with zero link building experience simply because we like for them to learn on the job. It’s really no different than hiring an experienced link builder, as that person would also have to learn how we do things. I love the point about retaining your SEO black belt. We all have to constantly keep abreast of what’s happening and be able to respond to it. That’s probably what keeps most of us so fascinated.

  3. Rebecca L. says:

    Right on.. I follow 100+ blogs, and while I’m not reading every single one of them every day, the first thing I do every morning is catch up on the latest news, trends, revelations, etc. – even when I have deadlines to meet. I will swear by it until I die, because frankly, this is how I learned so much about the industry and how things work in just two years. And as a research junkie, the atmosphere of constant change is what keeps me interested.
    Rebecca L.´s last blog ..Is Google the only search engine I should target and other questions – SEO Basics VIIIMy ComLuv Profile

  4. Dana,

    Excellent post – confirmation that there was wisdom in inviting you to join in on the SMW fun! This post is a great reminder that can also be reflected in all aspects of life. If we’re not progressing, evolving and adapting, we’re falling behind.

    • HONORED, Alan!

      In life, and especially in SEO, we’re also like a plant. We have to water and fertilize to keep it growing. We also have to pull a few weeds now and then. In SEO, what worked once upon a time may not work today, thus those weeds need pulling as well.

  5. JadedTLC says:

    SEO is learning. That’s why I love this industry. You can’t ever get bored. I spend at least 2/3 of my time learning (reading/testing/thinking) and maybe 1/3 of my time implementing etc. This industry DEMANDS that you learn, or you too will become irrelevant.

  6. Jey Pandian says:

    I am subscribed to about 300 blogs, online publications + 5 seo/marketing forums. I’d say that I consume about 300-500 pieces of content every night and read an additional 3-5 books per week (lol).

    We need to stay ahead of the curve lol and I completely agree with your statements.

    As Alan once told me recently in a tweet – “Always being willing to learn is a cornerstone to continued success and adaptability to changing markets” #SmartDecision and as Aaron said years ago – “There’s no such thing as an old SEO or a dead SEO but there is such a thing as an SEO who stopped learning.”

    • Jey Pandian says:

      Most people you will see tend to subscribe to blogs/publications/forums in their country of residence but I strongly advise that you seek out SEOs in other countries too because there are some extraordinarily smart individuals out there.


      • AGREE! One of the best aspects of connecting with SEOs in other countries is comparing notes about different types of results. For example, I learned Google was testing new interfaces that none of our US ninjas were seeing. But they were showing up in Spain and Poland first.

    • Jey, 3-5 books a week???????? How many of us have read 3-5 books in a year? You are a motivation, for sure!

      The foundation for being an SEO Ninja must surely be:

      Learning is a “…cornerstone to continued success and adaptability to changing markets.”

      WOW, that’s good! Now, could I borrow your speed-reading glasses. 🙂

  7. Jim Magary says:

    Very inspiring post, at least for those of us with a passion for SEO. 2011 will make things much more complicated, as if they aren’t complex enough already. Fake SEO’s will be more exposed and professionals will command client attention and dollars by showing strategic thinking, integration with broader media strategy, nimble planning and execution, and measurable ROI from SEO tactics. Game on, Ninjas!

  8. Doc Sheldon says:

    Great piece, Dana! Absolutely true, that we have to be constantly on the lookout for new information, techniques and metrics. Particularly in such a fast-paced industry as ours, the old adage, “If you snooze, you lose” is true.

    If you don’t like the way things are done in the SEO world, stick around a few minutes… it’ll change!

    Anyone that thinks they can survive in that kind of environment without constantly studying, has a rather loose grip on reality.

    I spend nearly half my time on reading, studying and research. And I STILL can’t keep up with all the changes.
    Doc Sheldon´s last blog ..Tweeting Above the CrowdMy ComLuv Profile

  9. Justin Freid says:

    Great article – I had a lot of trouble attempting to break into the SEM/SEO industry. Every ad agency, SEO company etc.. wanted people with at least one to two years of experience. Well if no one was hiring newbies then how do I get one to two years of experience. Finally I was given a chance about 3 years ago to learn on the job and am thankful for the opportunity.

    I now love to stay on top of the latest trends/tips etc.. and I think its due to the fact I started out with the need to learn.

  10. Keeping up and knowing everything is impossible, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed. This is not just in SEO, but any kind of study. People who are passionate will keep moving forward, and implement steady practice, and learn from the journey. Great post Dana!
    Monica Wright´s last blog ..My Big Lessons From 2010My ComLuv Profile

  11. Dana –

    I found this post from a Facebook “like” so there you go – FB as a search engine works for consuming information…but how about conversions and SEM?

    SEO Book did a piece on that in 2010, Google remaining on top simply because FB is more of a social site. If I see a friend likes something that interests me, I may read it…I can’t recall if I’ve ever bought a single thing off a FB ad, though.

    Nonetheless, change is the name of the game (was that Parmenides or Heraclitus?) – it’s the only constant in this field. I think it’s the secret sauce that makes me love it – on most days, anyway.

    Thankfully, if you have common sense, you’ll go pretty far in the business. No matter the changes, the bottom line is connecting people to the information / products they seek – our job as freelance writers is to know what the market wants.

    Provide it in content – make sure the spiders eat it up and people connect…

    That will never change. It will also remain true that there’s always a way that David gets Goliath, no matter the changing armor. Part of the challenge and fun of SEO is to out-think the thinkers.
    JamestheJust on Elance´s last blog ..December 2010 Passive Income Earnings ReportMy ComLuv Profile

  12. Kayden Kelly says:

    You must always continue to learn and not forget that SEO is much bigger than what you read on SEO forums. User experience, persuasion strategy, content strategy and other marketing resources are key to help you become the street fighting SEO ninja.

    Plus, I leave you with this statement to consider…

    “The more you can Zoom out and embrace complexity…the more you can Zoom in on Simple Details that matter most.” –TED Talks

    Great post as usual Dana.

    • Thanks, Kayden

      Pure SEO involves increasing organic traffic and online visibility via search. What a visitor does after they reach the site falls into the related verticals of Internet marketing you mentioned. Those are very important, and SEOs need to be familiar with such. However, they do not experience rapid-fire change, which is why constant study is key for an SEO black belt.

      That’s why I maintain my practice of staying connected. It’s essential. The forums offer many of us a team to research, test and discuss the latest changes in search and algos.

      • Doc Sheldon says:

        Good point, Dana. I often find it difficult to fit in the time necessary to stay updated, but it’s well worthwhile. Things happen fast in the SEO world, and quite often I find myself hearing about things days ahead of time, via my involvement in various forums and communities.

        Reading blogs, newsletters and feeds, along with forums and comments provides a constant flow of information to sort through. Twitter’s great, but it’s not enough.

        Collaboration and information sharing is invaluable, and anyone that isn’t taking advantage of that side of the SEO community is losing out on a lot.
        Doc Sheldon´s last blog ..Tweeting Above the CrowdMy ComLuv Profile

  13. Tabrez says:

    Hey Dana,

    good to see you in SWM, I have been a long time reader only fan of Alan and SWM and its great to see the changes he has brought…they are epic indeed!

    while I don’t comment on blogs often, the subject of this post has been the underlying factor of my career in this industry and has brought me out of my shell to comment…:)

    I accidentally stumped into SEO, after being a fan of JAVA for a long time and have been hooked-on to this industry from there on… and one of the key factor for my growth professionally has been reading / learning / absorbing all the dynamics of this industry (including other verticals like development, design, usability etc…) from day one.

    Thanks for bringing this up 🙂

    • Brought you out of your commenting shell? THAT is a great honor, Tabrez! Kudos go to Alan for all his “epic” work and changes on SMW.

      It’s especially good that you are also studying related verticals. It’s important to be well-rounded. I’m not sure what services you offer, but having SEO as a foundation is helpful for all. If SEO is the primary focus, then it will definitely take the greatest amount of study.

      Look forward to connecting more.

  14. This is a great post and so true, SEO is like karate, you are constantly training and learning and that is what makes it fun, it’s constantly changing and evolving.

  15. Gabriella says:

    Needless to say, I had to really think about your post. Nothing wrong with it mind you, but I was stumped at the first sentence, “learning on the job”. Excuse me? What was that? In this industry, my SEO (brick & mortar) crew had better be reading and staying up-to-date on the latest developments.

    As a matter of fact, I personally spend a hefty amount of time in my day reading about SEO, trends, social media and so on. How else are you going to know what’s going on? Anybody who considers reading about, and keeping up with, industry news as a bad thing is a moron, IMHO.

    First and foremost, I’d encourage my team to know and stay updated on the latest developments. I’d even go so far as to test new theories and see if we can push the envelope. Any professional worth calling themselves one, in any industry, should strive to keep up with changes. I always strive to know more and hear every aspect of a strategy before approaching it.
    Gabriella´s last blog ..Writing Organic SEO Content – How To &amp Definition TermsMy ComLuv Profile

  16. Dana, darlin, today you are my hero!

    I’ve been wanting to write a post like this, but couldn’t figure out how to put it together. You’ve done a marvelous job.

    Hardly a day goes by that I don’t get on the computer and see a link left by Gabriella along with a “read this. Do you know about this?” or “Check this article out… good reminders in here”. With search changing so rapidly, how else are you going to keep up? (not only does she expect me to keep up, she pushes info on me… evil, evil woman)

    Do YOU have time to go dig through the search patents? I certainly don’t… I’m busy working with client stuff. So I read articles from those who live and breath the stuff (can you say “David Harry is my friend”? I know you can lol).

    I’m flabbergasted that anyone would think “learning on the job” was a bad thing… like “learning” is a four-letter word. If you aren’t paying attention to changes, you might as well take down your shingle, chop it up and burn it.

    Kudos and hero worship to you!

    Disclaimer: my hero worship is fleeting, but it’s yours for the moment! lol
    Jahnelle Pittman´s last blog ..Writing Organic SEO Content – How To &amp Definition TermsMy ComLuv Profile

    • LOL – All I can say is that I’m honored for a fleeting moment of your attention. Hero worship? Let me go grab my red and yellow cape! HA!

      Kudos to you for team tagging so well with Gabs! Keep up the “learning” curve with the testing and research and the awesome writing that comes out of Level 343.

  17. garethjax says:

    Nice post! 🙂
    Indeed is true, some components of our work can only be learned “on the job” expecially if you are a junior SEO you may be technically skilled, but you lack the expertise that come solving problems and handling other people needs (namely clients but coworkers too).

    Fortunately we have plenty of sources to stay up to date, i recommend feedly a cool plugin for chrome that manage rss feeds in an amazing way.
    garethjax´s last blog ..Cordialmente… i 9 migliori Plugins SEO per WordPress! secondo meMy ComLuv Profile

  18. Great post Dana. I can relate. Learned the craft on the job, and have been hiring people to learn on the job as well, both on SEO and PPC aspects.

  19. […] Already, just in the first week of the new year, two of our newest authors, Dana Lookadoo and Michelle Stinson Ross have posted their first SMW articles. Michelle wrote about her excellent (and dare we say “wise”?) 2011 Social Media Resolutions, and  Dana reminded us that if you want to be an SEO Ninja, it requires training! […]

  20. Peter Young says:

    Great post Dana and completely agree with everything that you have said above. I think its hugely symbolic that many of us in the industry still spend time engaging, talking,reading, commenting with each other to further our knowledge and experiences and to develop that never ending thurst for knowledge.

    Learning on the job in SEO is a necessary evil. Standing still is not an option – as those that do are often left behind or do not fully embrance/exploit the opportunities they have.
    Peter Young´s last blog ..Experts View 2011- Where do you think the growth area in search will emerge in 2011My ComLuv Profile

    • Peter, “necessary evil?” Two short words put learning on the job into context. If you don’t, you’re doomed.

      The sad part is that clients are the ones who lose out, because they are paying for “SEO,” assuming the consultant is “embracing/exploiting” all opportunities to maximize their investment.

      Appreciate the perspective!

  21. Dan Kornak says:

    Awesome post. Whenever online, we should be sharpening our SEO skills. It’s a constant learning process. With 400 changes to the search algorithm a year, how can we not all be students of search engine optimization.

  22. […] Learning on the Job – SEO Ninja Training Great post that likens SEO to ninja training. In SEO, because it is ever evolving, you never stop training, never stop learning. The same goes for martial arts training, to better yourself, you must always be learning, training and bettering yourself. […]

  23. […] “Learning” On The Job – SEO Ninja Training by Dana Lookadoo <self promo here> SEO is like Karate. It’s a martial art. Serious SEO ninjas never stop training. If you’ve ever been accused of “learning” on the job because you were staying on top of the latest developments in search, you’ll surely relate. […]

  24. […] “Learning” On The Job; SEO Ninja Training – ok sure, Dana is a friend of the Fire Horse. Yes, the post does mention my wandering web warriors from the Dojo. But seriously, it’s still a damned fine post ok? Sheesh. Thanks to Dana for preaching the gospel of never-ending learning on the job. It’s not a bad thing ya know. […]

  25. Athar says:

    Thanks for the great post..

    I love the way you explained on how to learn and to get updated in SEO field.

    ooh aah..

  26. Formula for success: Rise early, work tough, strike oil.

  27. […] on Search Marketing Wisdom, author Dana Lookadoo compares learning SEO to being a martial artist. “Learning” On The Job – SEO Ninja Training explains, with lively metaphors, how mastering SEO requires ongoing training. Lookadoo presents […]

  28. DigiSavvy says:

    I’m not so sure I’d pluck a person who’s totally green on link building, but that’s just me. =)

    Nice article, though. SEO is definitely a career of keeping after moving targets, often times we’re not even aware of it.

    Nice piece! First time visitor and commenter.
    DigiSavvy´s last blog ..Only the Strong Businesses SurviveMy ComLuv Profile

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