Stephen Sandmann is a digital marketing consultant with a wealth of experience in SEO. With an award-winning skillset, which includes leading agencies, Ogilvy and Quirk (now Mirum), and corporate career at Vodacom. He is currently a consultant at Sandmann Digital for other leading South African brands. He shares his wisdom and insights about mastering SEO, based on the experience he’s gained over 10 years in the field and running his own consultancy.

Why should you care about SEO (Search Engine Optimisation)?

Well, in short, Google Search is still a major gateway to the internet for many South Africans and marketers need to fully harness this highly-profitable channel for their clients.

Is SEO for you?

Is a career in SEO for you? Well, one thing is for sure – it’s a skill in high demand.  It’s not for everyone – but if you’ve got an enquiring mind, are creative and technically-minded, then you’re two steps ahead.

Where to start?

Like many, I started out learning about SEO via books and online. The Red & Yellow textbook was a priceless launch pad.  So, first up, get a solid education, which you can then apply in your own unique and creative way. I studied Marketing, which helped to understand general marketing concepts, as these principles apply to SEO as well.

Get going and don’t hold back

Next up, dive head first into it! Don’t wait for anybody to show you how it’s done. I started tinkering on a few small websites across a wide range of industries. Work tirelessly until you start seeing results. This gave me the ability to take it to the next level, which was with some of SA’s biggest brands at Ogilvy, followed by Quirk (Mirum), Vodacom, and now my own business – Sandmann Digital.

Be curious

Keep asking questions and looking for answers. Digital marketing never stands still, and that’s especially true for SEO. Be practical with the knowledge you learn.

You need to know how to interpret the data. There is plenty of it available. You need to be able to sift through the data to find useful, actionable insights. Understand every nuance of your target market’s online behaviour. Why did they Google that? You’ve got to be able to shift your mindset between the micro picture and the macro picture to connect the dots. Organic search is highly interconnected with many things from social trends to marketing stimuli. Understanding these phenomena will help you better interpret the data.

Learn plenty about every other digital marketing discipline and find the connection to SEO. For example, SEO is impacted by users’ experience of the website in question. I love “Search Experience Optimisation” as the alternative definition of SEO.  Tick some technical metaphorical boxes and make sure the website experience that your target market experiences is the best it can be.

Find mentors to guide you, and learn something new every day. Be humble. You will never know everything, but someone may have that priceless insight that you lack.

Work well with others

Be kind. Work on your people skills. Know how to be effective amongst your co-workers and clients. SEO is highly technical. You need to be able to explain and convince people to approve your work every day.

Never settle for OK. Always push yourself to do better. Mediocrity won’t get you far in life. It’s not always easy. Put in those extra hours. Grow as a professional. Prove yourself.

Be inventive

While SEO is rather technical, it’s the creative application of your knowledge that will set you apart from everyone else. Clients aren’t looking for OK work. Clients want phenomenal results.

Good luck. Enjoy the journey. Have fun.

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