How to Become an SEO Specialist (Career Guide)

Illustration of three people analysing search engine analytics

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last few years, you may have noticed that Google (and other search engines) have become integral to the way we live. Whether you’re checking your medical symptoms, hunting for a new job, or simply looking for a place to eat, Google is increasingly the first port of call.

This fact isn’t lost on businesses, either, who are starting to recognise the importance of being found online; companies are investing large amounts of money in their search engine optimisation (SEO) strategies, with the recruitment of skilled SEO specialists a priority.

Therefore, if you’re interested in this fast-moving and interesting field, you could be in luck! Here is all you need to know about becoming an SEO specialist.

Is it the Right Job for Me?

Before you make any snap career decisions, you first need to ensure that the job is the right fit for you. SEO experts need to possess a multitude of soft and technical skills, utilising their knowledge of marketing, technology and analysis to achieve results, so if this sounds like you, then you’re in the right place.

Do as much research and reading as you can into the role, too. As a profession, SEO is relatively new and, depending on the size of the company you’re working for, you could either be spending all your time on one aspect of it, or you could be running the whole show. As a result, it’s hard to pin down a definitive description of what your experience is going to be, so you should try to get as many different perspectives as possible and tailor your aspirations accordingly.

What Qualifications Do I Need?

Many companies will and, indeed, do, ask for a bachelor’s degree in marketing, communications or information technology, but, as many SEO specialists will tell you, this isn’t necessarily a requisite. Given the ever-evolving nature of SEO, it is more important to be aware of the ever-evolving best practices than having a certification. As a result, many consultants and experts working in the field are self-taught.

Indeed, there’s a wealth of information available online, with leading industry blogs such as Moz, Yoast and SEMRush offering up-to-date guides, tutorials and forums, while online learning providers such as Udemy and Khan Academy offer more structured courses.

Regardless of how you gain the knowledge, though, there are several tools in which you’ll need to be fluent before you even consider applying for a role. Some of the most important include:

  • Keyword Planner: There are several keyword research tools available (which one is the best is open to debate), but if you don’t understand how keywords work and how to research them, then your fledgeling SEO career is going to be doomed. To put it simply, keywords are the building blocks on which SEO strategies are built, so it’s vitally important that you are au fait with a good keyword tool.
  • Google Search Console: This tool will give you invaluable analysis insights into how your organic growth is going, as well as what keywords you are getting found for.
  • Google Analytics: This powerful tool gives you a complete and customisable breakdown of your website's overall traffic profile, and is highly useful for reporting.
  • Ahrefs: Invaluable for checking out competitor backlinks, as well as auditing your own SEO profile.
  • Moz Pro Suite: Moz also features a keyword tool, as well as a Link Explorer function that allows you to check out potential backlinks (and the link profile of your own website(s)).

Of course, there are many other tools available, and different SEO specialists have different preferences, but if you can understand the information that these tools provide, then you’ll be well on your way to becoming an expert.

What Skills Do I Need?

As previously mentioned, there are several skills you need to possess as an SEO specialist, including:

  • Analytical skills: You will spend a lot of time looking at Search Console (and other similar tools) and making changes based on what the data is telling you.
  • Creative thinking skills: There are plenty of tools to assist you in keyword planning and research, but a good SEO specialist can also think outside the box.
  • Writing skills: Depending on the size of your department, you may have a content writer to call on, but you should still be able to write SEO-friendly articles and copy.
  • Negotiation skills: Obtaining backlinks, guest posts and collaborations with other organisations is an important part of SEO, so you’ll need to be able to convince people to work with you – often on a budget.
  • Communication skills: When working under an SEO or marketing manager, you need to be able to take direction, as well as report the progress of your implementations.
  • Teamwork skills: In larger organisations, you will likely be working within a dedicated marketing department alongside writers, designers, web developers and digital marketers. Therefore, it’s vital that you are all on the same page and that you can collaborate effectively.
  • Technical skills: As well as understanding the technical fundamentals of SEO, you’ll also need basic knowledge of HTML to make on-page changes where necessary.

How Do I Land a Job?

As mentioned, many companies ask for a degree in marketing or communications, although if you can prove your expertise, then they will likely overlook this. For example, if you work in a similar field, such as content creation or digital marketing, then it’s more than likely that you will have a strong existing knowledge of how SEO works.

Finding a Job

Increasingly, more and more companies are advertising for SEO specialists, so keep an eye out on all the traditional mediums, such as general job boards, industry job boards and LinkedIn. SEO experts are particularly in demand at smaller companies and startups who are looking to build their online presence, so this could be worth looking into, as well.

Acing the Interview

If you get invited to an interview, the key – as with all job interviews – is to be prepared. Set aside as much time as you can to brush up on recent trends and developments, and focus on preparing answers for the types of SEO interview questions you’re likely to be asked.

Don’t forget to research the company, either. In the modern job market, being the right cultural fit for an organisation is nearly as important as the skills and expertise that you bring to the role, so make sure that your goals and motivations align with your prospective employer’s.

Where Should I Work?

Typically, SEO specialists are found at digital marketing agencies, consultancies, and digital media firms, but many companies are, now, looking to move their digital operations in-house through dedicated marketing teams. Therefore, it’s possible to find work as an SEO specialist in nearly any industry, especially for businesses who are looking to increase their online revenue.

There is a huge potential market for traditional and offline businesses who need to be pulled into the 21st century, too, so if you have an entrepreneurial streak, you could set up your own SEO agency, or start freelancing your services.

Ultimately, there are numerous ways to become an SEO specialist, but you will need to be pro-active, flexible and willing to constantly stay abreast of trends and developments. For instance, if you work in a marketing department and want to understand SEO better, ask to be put on a relevant training course. As with all career goals, you get out what you put in, so don’t be afraid to show initiative.

Are you an SEO specialist? Do you have any other tips on how to break into a role? Let us know in the comments below!