By Jon Kelly
Back in the old days, Digital Markting wasn’t a career people thought about getting into. Even now, you likely don’t hear five year olds, in circle time at Kindergarten, saying they want to be an SEO or social media marketing professional when they grow up. But, for those who are interested in marketing, business and technology, SEO in particular, can be a very solid career choice.
And yet, you can’t get a 4-year degree in SEO. So, how do you get started?
There are a variety of courses, webinars, articles, podcasts and videos on the market promising to teaching aspiring marketers how to be a top-notch professional. As an industry that has been around for over 20-years, it is also one that is always in motion. Fundamentally, how an SEO professional got a site to rank 20 years ago is similar, in theory, to how to get a site to rank now; however, some of the tactics are different.
Today’s up-and-coming professionals have a lot of resources to build their own skills from; however, there is more to SEO than what you can learn from an article or podcast.
In SEO, every website a professional encounters is a new experience with a new set of goals, potential problems and obstacles, keywords, targets and successes. An SEO professional continues to learn what the search engines need from a website to rank it appropriately, figure out what is missing, and strategize how to get it to the top.
It’s actually not that complicated.
A search engine’s only objective is to show the right results to the right person when they conduct a search. In fact, according to Google’s Quality Rating Guide, “good search engines give results that are helpful for users in their specific language and locale”.
The job of the SEO professional and team is to ensure the website is properly optimized for the search engine (back end and front end). Since the search engines want websites to offer the best in related content and user experience, the SEO professional has to take that into account, too.
SEO moves beyond a formulaic approach because of the target user and what they’re looking for.
In a competitive industry with a range of target markets, SEO can become complicated fairly quickly.
For those who are thinking about getting into SEO as a career, what you might lack in experience, you can make up for in personality.
To decide if SEO is a career that’s right for you, we’ve put together a list of personality traits that can help.
Analytical – The best SEO professionals love to dig into the analytics, the data and the numbers to continue to move strategy forward. They consider it like a treasure hunt, always on the lookout for a new piece of data that is going to help them either solve a problem, or grow the business. Google analytics, Google search console, Tag Manager, Spreadsheets, etc. — those are your friends.
Being analytical is a personality trait; however, it’s also a skill you can acquire. To ensure you have what it takes, it’s important to understand how analytics and reporting works and to see if you have the mindset to look out the numbers and determine a plan of action.
A variety of Internet marketing academies and online learning centres offer training in reading and analyzing website analytics. A good place to start would be Google Analytics Academy offered by Google.
Creativity – Over the years, SEO has moved beyond simply keywords, meta tags and titles. Today’s SEO professionals have to have an in-depth knowledge of best marketing practices, brand and call-to-action strategies. Clients will want to know more than just how many people are visiting a website. They want to see conversions, sales and results. There is a fine balance between brand, design and SEO and a top SEO professional will have the instincts to find the winning combination.
You don’t need to be a creative designer to be an SEO professional. But, you should have a good concept of the elements that go into a website, colour, branding, and website best practices from a visual standpoint. Sure, design is subjective. But, if you can clearly articulate key creative elements and objectives, you’ll have the upper hand.
General marketing courses, courses on brand, and learning the basic principles of website design are great skills to have.
Strategic – Google search “SEO strategies” and over 80,000,000 results will come up. Many SEO professionals will follow a strategy laid out by those who have come before. But, a top SEO professional has the instinct and savvy to look at a business, their target market and their goals and can then determine the best approach that is specific to that business.
Can you learn strategy? Experience in working with SEO strategies within a variety of industries for a variety of target markets can help a person have an innate instinct as to what will work and what will not work.
For those that are new to the industry, you can give yourself a head start by learning and reading from top SEO professionals. Discover what has worked for them and what might have failed. Learn from others. And trust sound SEO principles in your decision making until you have the experience to let your instincts guide you.
Communicative – An SEO professional cannot live in the numbers, data, code and content. They have to come up for air and communicate the strategy, tactics and results with their team and often the client. An SEO professional has to speak two, well maybe three, languages. Programming, SEO and Client. Being able to translate the jargon to client-speak effectively is a great skill to have.
A person can learn to be a good communicator. Take English courses or business communication courses to ensure you have the appropriate reading comprehension and writing skills to appropriately understand and communicate. If you’ll have to be communicating orally, you can take a course such as toastmasters which helps you articulate your ideas verbally.
Then practice. As you gain more confidence in your skills and knowledge, you’ll likely find it easier to get your pointacross.
Learner – SEO and the Internet is constantly evolving. Plus SEO isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Every industry, every business, every website requires new thoughts and ideas. Those who love to learn will find success in this industry. Staying up-to-date on industry trends, constantly learning about what’s worked and not for others, and staying in the know is not only helpful for an SEO professional, but essential.
How can you do this? Read. Listen to podcasts (like MOZ’s). Watch youtube training videos. Attend workshops and conferences. Take notes. Find a mentor. The more open you are to learning new ideas as well as the tried-and-true concepts the more successful you will be.
Competitiveness – Having a healthy dose of competitiveness can help an SEO professional. Think about it. Line the top competition up and put them at the starting line of a race. There can only be one winner. It’s a long-game race which means the results can change at many points throughout the course. If you’re constantly thinking about what you can do to get ahead, you will have an edge. Competitive people generally keep one eye on the prize and the other eye on those who are also vying for it. It’s that approach that not only keeps you on track, but propels you forward.
What is SEO and is it a career that’s right for you?Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the process of optimizing a website to affect the online visibility of a website or page in a search engine’s unpaid results.
It’s a fast-paced career that requires a person to be equal parts researcher, treasure-hunter, idea-guy, content creator and planner.
Do you have the skill set? Can you update a website? Can you read basic HTML code? Can you write? Are you good at coming up with headlines? These skills might get you further than a certificate or degree.
Can you be client-facing? A personable person with good communication skills, who is able to front-face a client can be more important sometimes than practical knowledge. If you can talk big-picture in a way the client understands you might be far more valuable than someone who can only speak jargon.
Certifications? Going out and getting certifications shows that you are keen. Google analytics, adwords, Bruce Clay SEO training, Moz course etc. will demonstrate your ability to learn.
So how do you get started? Ah, there is always that vicious circle of jobs that require experience; however, you need a job to get experience. The great thing about SEO is you can hone your skills on your own. Can you develop a website or blog that targets a specific market with specific keywords? Use that to your benefit. Make it into a case study that shows what you know but can also demonstrate your initiative.
Like with many careers in the tech-industry, seniority doesn’t always count for everything. While experienced professionals have a leg-up, if you can come in, learn from them, have a good idea and put forth the effort and work to make it successful, you can be successful sooner.
In addition, clients and business owners often have unrealistic expectations. You might tell them it will take six months to get results; however they might call you in two weeks asking where all their new business is. A lot of your job will be managing expectations.
There are a lot of misconceptions about SEO in terms of skill, how hard it might be, the time it takes to see results and what needs to be done. You may find yourself managing clients in a way that goes beyond your typical SEO job description. You may find yourself having to clean up after clients or their employees who are ‘trying something’ because they know.
then, you have to manage expectations within your own company and it might involve stepping on toes. Can you properly communicate your required changes and edits to a programmer or web designer without them feeling like they’ve failed? Often, you’re coming in and out throughout a project with a ‘change this’ or ‘change that’ approach with the best interests of the project in mind. Getting them on board the SEO train, helping them understand that SEO can enhance their quality work rather than replace it is key.
So with the right skills and the right personality, you could be well on your way to a successful SEO career. If you’re willing to stay up on current trends, while relying on tried and true business practices, if you like figuring out how things work, if you like going through stats and uncovering hidden opportunities, if you’re able to recognize the fine balance between SEO requirements and business requirements then yes, SEO is right for you.
Jon Kelly has been involved in digital marketing since 2004. He currently works for 1stOnThelist.com, an award-winning Internet marketing agency based in Vancouver, Canada. When he is not helping people with their website, he enjoys learning about cutting-edge technologies like crypto-currency and artificial intelligence.