Considering a career in SEO?
The sheer volume of information out there can be intimidating when you’re just getting started in SEO.
We asked industry experts to share their advice for those trying to find their way in a fledgling SEO career, and here are their top tips.
1. Build On Your Existing Skills & Knowledge
“Most SEOs start out with one of these skills: writing, marketing, or web design/development,” says Benj Arriola, Senior SEO Director at Assembly Global.
Once you’ve decided to do SEO full time, “start to learn the other two skills you’re weaker at but don’t need to be a master. It’s not your core strength, but this is where you learn to build teams, or even outsource tasks if needed,” he recommends.
Specializing is great, but having a working understanding of what your colleagues are doing, too, makes you far more effective at your own tasks.
Sam Hollingsworth, Vice President of Digital Strategy at Eleven Ten Thousand, suggests that you start with books and blogs.
“There are several legit web publications that can teach a great deal about SEO. Most are free like Google’s SEO Starter Guide and SEJ’s SEO for Beginners to name a few,” he says.
Webinars, social groups and forums, podcasts, and even YouTube videos are other great places to get a free education in SEO.
However, there’s a lot of misinformation and outdated content out there about what’s actually a ranking factor, which SEO tools and tactics work best in different scenarios, and more.
It’s important that you evaluate your educational sources carefully. Look for consensus among experts as to what is actually best practice today, and be aware that Google algorithm changes can come along and switch things up quickly.
You’ll also want to develop your understanding of the most important skills it takes to succeed in SEO – critical thinking, analytics knowledge, and your ability to adapt to quickly changing situations among them.
2. Learn The Basics of Website Building
“Over the past few years, I’ve helped several prospective SEO professionals kickstart their career,” shares Ludwig Makhyan, co-founder at Mazeless – Enterprise SEO. He usually suggests that everyone “start with exploring HTML and CSS and know the basics of a website in any case,” and advises that w3 resources are a good source for this.
“Starting a test mini-site is the best approach, where you can code and optimize a page on your own,” Makhyan adds.
Whether you’re in-house or freelancing/agency-side, it’s important that you have a solid understanding of how the websites you’re working in function, whether they’re custom builds, WordPress-based, on an ecommerce platform, etc.
While SEO best practices are largely the same across websites – links, content quality, and user experience are essential, for example – you might find SEO for Shopify a completely different beast than optimizing a Wix or Weebly site.
Dig into our Web Development archives to explore expert articles on the platforms and relevant to your work in SEO.
3. Brush Up On Your Communication Skills
“The biggest shock many new SEO professionals get is the lack of predictability and the uncertainty,” says Kevin Rowe, Vice President of Strategy & Product at Purelinq.
He advises, “You have to be an expert in operating in this type of environment by communicating up, setting goals, being flexible, building proofs of concept, and testing and scaling.”
Hollingsworth advises a similar approach.
“The basics of every job still apply: Use communication to your advantage. Be personable. Be motivated with a good attitude, and never stop learning,” he says. Hollingsworth explains and notes that a large part of effective communication comes from clear, well-written emails and deliverables.
“Another big part is breaking down complex concepts into simplified ideas to better understand them,” he adds.
So-called “soft skills” like communication are often overlooked in an SEO’s professional development as there are so many technical and analytical things to learn.
However, your communication style can have major impact. It could be the difference between your landing that client, or not; or getting that promotion… or not.
When it comes to the specific communication skills you’ll need in SEO, Adam Proehl cites the ability to listen, thinking on your feet, and knowing how to distill complex information down into a format that meets the needs of your audience as among the most important.
4. Learn How To Tell Stories With Data
“Get good with data,” advises Lee Foot, Director at Search Solved.
“Learning how to use LOOKUP and COUNTIFS in Excel is a must. Learn how to find the story within the data and present it in an easy-to-understand way to stakeholders,” he says.
Failing to use visual cues to accommodate text, trying to tell your story without necessary context, and lacking confidence and authoritativeness are among the biggest mistakes SEO pros tend to make in their approach to data storytelling, says Justin Lugbill.
You can dig into more of the top mistakes he’s identified and how to solve or avoid them here.
Amy Hebdon recently shared these compelling examples of data storytelling designed for paid search that you can adapt to meet your SEO reporting needs, as well.
Claudia Higgins, SEO Insights Strategist at Conductor, recently shared some of the toughest lessons she’s learned about SEO reporting. Prior to joining Conductor, she managed SEO data and insights in-house with a large ecommerce website.
There, she learned the value of constantly working to improve SEO reporting.
“Establishing consistent, accurate data earned trust within the business,” Higgins said. She added, “The less labor-intensive I could make the process, the more time we could spend diving deeper into the data and uncovering root causes and emerging opportunities.”
5. Expand Your Network
Foot also suggests that interning in an SEO agency will help you develop your skills fast. “It’s great for networking too if you decide to freelance in the future.”
Chouinard shares the same perspective. He believes, “Most SEOs are analytical and learners. SEO is great because you get to drive business decisions, build your specialization, and discover new things firsthand.”
“The hardest part is to learn to fail. Not everything works. Be humble enough to accept defeat (or change imposed by Google) and possibly restart from scratch occasionally,” he advises.
It’s been a difficult time for many new to the SEO industry to make connections, as the pandemic has seriously impacted our ability to get together in person.
However, virtual and hybrid events have become much more common.
It’s also a good idea to follow SEO pros on social channels. Many share their articles, blog posts, and case studies for the benefit of the industry as a whole.
This monster list of 202 SEO experts to follow is a good place to start.
Don’t be afraid to engage and be part of the conversations happening online.
As you learn and grow in SEO, trying new tools and having all different kinds of experiences, you’ll find an area of focus that suits you best.
But when you’re just getting started, it’s a good idea to try as many things out as you can.
See if you can build some links to your own website.
Set up a site you can mess around in, trying different optimizations on for size to see what works.
Read SEO books, make time to visit reputable blogs, and invest in training programs when you find an area you’d really like to dig into.
SEO is very much an ongoing learning industry, where even those who’ve been in it for 10 or 15 years or more can’t afford to sit still lest competitors pass them by in the rankings.
If you feel like there’s a ton to learn, you’re not alone – it’s part of what so many love about being in SEO.
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