Myriam Jessier outlines the importance of navigating rapidly transcending market conditions with a willingness to embrace change and a desire to keep educating yourself and those you work with.
Myriam says: “Things will keep evolving faster and faster in our industry. If you ever feel inadequate, like you can’t keep up, remember that we all feel this way from time to time. We shouldn’t, but we do, so it’s important to remember that you’re not alone.”
Should we try and stay on top of everything SEO-orientated or is there a better way to approach things?
“It’s natural to want to be the best SEO ever. However, in pursuit of this, it’s easy to get burnt out. As SEOs we often recommend following the long-tail and finding your niche, but why can’t we do this in our industry? If you like something like image SEO, go down the rabbit hole. That doesn’t mean you should specialise in something so narrow that you’re not able to find a job easily. It simply means that you can add a few things as you go, pile on and build your SEO stack.”
Do you need to be more of a generalist when you’re working in-house but hone in on something more specific if you branch out independently?
“Absolutely. If you’re working in-house you’ll already be a niche SEO in a sense because you’ve specialised in the niche your employer works in. If you’re in an agency you’ll have lots of generic dealings, but you’ll also need to address specific problems that nobody else experiences. In this sense, you could end up becoming a ‘clean up on aisle 5’ type of SEO. You might also encounter people experiencing technical problems without knowing exactly what needs to be addressed.
You’ll have to wear many hats and take on mandates, but you won’t have to go after every single eCommerce opportunity. Yes, you can take on some Magento opportunities, but you can choose to specify in a given area - for example, Shopify SEO. That’ll be a great way to set yourself apart from SEO agencies. Niching down can be quite smart if you know your market.”
Should SEOs be trying to educate themselves about other aspects of digital marketing?
“Definitely. SEO does not operate in a vacuum. It’s important to know the context and appreciate that the whole is always bigger than the sum of its parts. Marketing is far bigger than just SEO by itself, CRO, or copy. It’s important to educate yourself so you can communicate with the other people you work with. Ensure they understand your priorities and that you can communicate these priorities so that they become their priorities as well.
There’s a good chance people won’t always take you seriously, but you have to carve out a spot at the decision-making table. This might involve learning some things that aren’t shared in SEO tutorials or courses but are instead embracing practical learning in the real world.
Focus on being a human who operates with other human beings: someone who appreciates the importance of communication and understanding. You should do everything within your power to ensure your priorities align with the priorities of the human you’re collaborating with. Create an environment where the people you’re working with feel comfortable expressing their requirements. You can then clearly communicate the best course of action - for example, your page needing more visibility.”
How is being human-centric impacting SEO success?
“The thing about being human-centric is the unpredictability of outcomes. It’s a ride that teaches you a lot as you go through life, where the importance of a conversation you’ve had with someone years ago could resurface at any moment.
In 2023, we need to take time to learn from humans and train the machines, not the other way around. In SEO we tend to think we can beat the machine - we can be smarter - but that’s not how any of this works. Being human-centric means consciously correcting algorithm biases instead of reinforcing them. This is a great way to integrate ourselves into marketing and make a huge difference for humans.”
What’s an example of an algorithm bias?
“Say you type ‘Swiss Army’ into Google. You’ll see a lot of watches but not so many military men. In a location like Switzerland, this search result is biased. Google has learned to show Swiss Army watch models to this demographic. It does this because it deems them to be more interested in watches than military folk.
There is another concern regarding the French language, where describing yourself as a female SEO expert means adding an ‘e’ to form ‘experte’. However, that word has no search volume. You might think about countering this by calling yourself a male expert, but then you would compromise getting hired because you wouldn’t have exercised your native tongue properly. To overcome this bias, you could use a middle-ground term like ‘epicene’ (a gender-neutral way to describe yourself as a specialist). The problem here is that there is lots of search volume for ‘specialist’ and a very low search volume for ‘epicene’. If you type that you’re looking for a copy expert using feminine language, Google will show a few female results, but it will assume the most dominant search you want to see is the masculine version.
In this situation, you’d be competing for the top three spots because that’s all you’re afforded. You’d also be competing with folks that get more visibility than you could ever hope for and all because you have an ‘e’ at the end of your title. These are the types of biases that, in theory, Google says we adapt ourselves - but in practice, they take some pointing out to correct.”
Why does this need to be pointed out? Can’t Google use a dictionary to take account of language differences?
“Google explains how that is the theory and that it’s working to adjust and show you these results. However, the actual practice often differs from their intentions. Google does understand but it’s been biased. It’s been autocorrected and not everybody sees this. For example, if you were to have a conversation in Gmail with all ladies you’d be autocorrected to masculine and not exist.
You have to fight against the machine because it’s very exhausting to be erased like this. There have been cases where humans have sent very strong messages to the algorithms and influenced the answers to questions. The machine will learn about what people want to know about a given search term, so it’s important to focus on correcting inherent biases.”
How do you train the machine to understand a result should qualify for the number one position and are there any specific techniques that you could use to train a machine?
“We often experience Google bombings, where lots of people on Reddit send strong messages to ensure every signal sent points to the same thing until search results are impacted.
What can we do, as SEOs, to help provide feedback? We can raise this problem during office hours or we can write about the problem. Our industry is focused on explaining how things work. Google is making a genuine effort to integrate inclusive writing to better understand, for example, specific ‘epicene’ terms or the fact that more and more women will start using ‘experte’ and see results.
We can all hope that when people search for the feminine they get the feminine, rather than Google assuming you’d enjoy the male-dominant result more instead.
Would the French language move toward having singular versions of each word in the future?
Inclusive writing is welcomed and encouraged in Quebec but has been banned from schools because it’s been deemed to be an attack on language.
In the UK you have the terms ‘actor’ and ‘actress’. In France, you have specific gender roles for the same job because they’re not seen as being as valuable as the male equivalent. The problem is that the machines have learned this from us. We need to consciously correct algorithm biases. When we feed this information - when we use a stock photo of a businesswoman crossing her arms and looking at a laptop - we’re sending a message.
As SEOs, we have a small margin of action but, together, the whole is bigger than the sum of its parts. Our conscious efforts as an industry will have an impact.”
What shouldn’t SEOs be doing in 2023? What’s something that’s seductive in terms of time but ultimately counterproductive?
“We all fail to prioritise. We get lost. There’s so much to know and so much to do, but SEO can often feel like poker. You never know whether you’re going to win or how things will pan out. You want to do everything to make sure you’re a good student. However, it’s easy to get frustrated when your peers and colleagues are not implementing what you asked them to because it’s not their priority.
For anyone entering the industry, you shouldn’t feel like you need to be the perfect student. You’ll be dealing with a website with many moving parts, stakeholders, and people working on it. You are not alone and you are not in a vacuum, so remember to prioritise your time and prioritise your colleague’s time.”
Myriam Jessier is an SEO Trainer at Pragm and you can find her at pragm.co.
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