So you want to be an SEO? I’ll be the first to tell you that working as a Search Engine Optimization professional is a very cool gig, but doesn’t come without it’s challenges. SEO’s are a very special group of people (that’s just my opinion) that often have a very diverse set of skills and experience.
Just like any other profession, there are good SEO’s, bad SEO’s, and a lot of other SEO’s in between. Now far be it for me to use this as a place to toot my own horn, but I feel like a pretty good SEO – definitely not an industry leader at this point, but still very far from bad.
To be a good SEO, you MUST have a diversity of skills. It’s not like some other professions where you can just be really good at one thing, you’ll usually have to be a “Jack of All Trades” so to speak.
So if Search Engine Optimization is a career option that you’re considering, let me describe some of the skills that a good SEO should possess:
#1. Problem Solving Ability
With SEO, you’ll find that you’ll do a good amount of problem solving. Whether it be finding potential issues with a client site so that you can fix them, or competitive research to figure out how a client’s site stack up, you’ll have to be able to find some sort of answer to many complex issues that come up during the course of an SEO campaign.
A good SEO should not just be able to identify problems, but find efficient paths to solving those issues as they arise.
#2. Data & Analysis
As an SEO, one thing that you’ll constantly have to look at is some form of data. This could be traffic data, ranking reports, inbound link data, indexed pages, etc. So if you’re not a numbers person, maybe it’s time to start thinking numbers.
As a kid and now as an adult, I am big into sports. And because of sports, I’m way into reviewing data and statistics. Whether it be my favorite player’s batting average or how many touchdowns my team’s running back scored last season, stats are something I’ve been analyzing my whole life.
#3. Connecting Dots & Making Assumptions
Having a stat-driven background is definitely something that has helped me as an SEO, but you have to remember to look at statistics with an analytical mind, which means you have to look at the numbers and make logical assumptions based on those numbers.
You’ll have to look at trends within your traffic reports and be able to answer the how’s and why’s. You’ll have to look at ranking reports and be able to find the correlations to your efforts. You’ll find that a lot of SEO is about connecting the dots and making assumptions based on the numbers that are in front of you.
Think of yourself as Vegas odds-maker. You may not make the right bet with your SEO strategy every time, but over the long-haul you should be able to look at the trends to make accurate decisions about your SEO campaign going forward that should eventually bear fruit.
#4. Research, Research, Research
It almost seems like SEO campaigns that I work on are 80% research and 20% action. You’ll have to be able to perform keyword research, analytics research, etc, and (like I said in the above point) be able to make assumptions as far as which direction you’ll need to go with your strategy.
This is probably one of the most important skills you must possess, as bad research at the beginning of the campaign can lead you down the path of no results and can cost your clients a lot of time and money. And believe me, you don’t want clients on your butt all the time, so you better learn to make smart decisions up front and get the most out of your research skills.
#5. Coding & Design Principles
Surprisingly, coding and design is not a skill for many SEO’s – but it SHOULD be. As an SEO, you’ll need to be able to quickly scan through back-end and front-end code to identify issues (and not just meta tags). Sometimes there’s tricky stuff going on with code that will make search engines want to kill your site, and you’ll be responsible for knowing how to resolve those issues.
Even though I said that many SEO’s don’t possess a knowledge of coding, there are still a fair amount of those who have a coding and design background (including myself). I actually started as a web designer, and the transition from web designer to SEO has been a very natural one once since I started to wonder why the hell my sites weren’t ranking.
In addition to code, it’s also good to have an understanding of design principles and graphic design. If you’ve been in the industry at all, you’ll know that a lot of times a pretty site might sacrifice SEO, while an ugly site may have great SEO. I will be your knowledge of good design principles that will keep you team’s designers from committing mortal SEO sins to produce a pretty site with pretty SEO.
So if you’re a web designer already, it may be an easy transition into an SEO career if you have enough of a desire to learn the stuff that goes with it.
#6. Marketing & Tech Savvy
In order to maximize your the results of your SEO campaigns, you’ll have to have a pretty heavy understanding of marketing techniques both online and offline. Trust me, this will be helpful in plenty of other areas as well (up to and including personal branding, if you run a blog like mine)…
In addition, you’ll need to know what is going on in the tech space so you can ensure that you’re on top of all the latest goings on to ensure that you’re getting the most out of every opportunity on behalf of your clients.
#7. Client Facing & Putting Out Fires!
Gone are the dark rooms devoid of light where developers and designers prefer to lurk. Just pretend you’re a customer service representative with SEO skills, because you’ll need to be in front of clients a lot.
Prepare to do a lot of talking, a lot of explaining, and a lot of expectation setting (as I’ll detail below).
#8. Results Oriented & Expectation Setting
The bottom line in any SEO campaign is profit. What kind of profit can you generate for your client’s investment? There is a lot of grey area in SEO, and a lot of SEO folks out there who do little more than take a clients money while providing nothing in return.
Don’t be one of those SEO’s. Clients will appreciate you a lot more if you’re results-oriented and willing to show them the results (good or bad) in a manner in which they can understand.
In fact, being up front about your strategies, results, etc often leads to being able to set reasonable campaign expectations, which will save you a ton of headaches in the end. Trust me.
#9. Work Smart, Not Hard (But Be Relentless While You’re Doing It
How well a site does SEO-wise is usually a reflection of how much time and effort somebody puts into it – so be relentless as hell and literally outwork other sites into sweet victory.
That being said, nobody wants to work any harder than they have to, so be sure to work smart, not hard. That means being efficient in completing your tasks, making good decisions based upon a foundation of solid research, and be generally smart and logical when approaching your campaign’s unique set of issues.
#10. Industry Awareness
The SEO industry is constantly changing, and you’ll have to be prepared to keep up with all of the latest trends. Your awareness of the current going-ons in the industry can literally be where you will sink and swim. A good way to keep up with trends (and how I first learned SEO) is to keep up with leading SEO industry experts and their blogs, which can provide tremendous insight into what’s really going on in the industry.
Now this probably isn’t everything that you’ll need to be a success within the SEO industry, but it’s a good start.
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