How to Become an SEO Specialist
Maybe you already know what you want to do with your life. Maybe you found your true passion early. Hell, maybe your parents decided your future for you. However, it’s just as likely that you are as lost as most of the people in your age group. This included me, at least before I started working at Onely.
Choosing a career path is one of the hardest decisions you need to make in life. One such path you may consider is SEO. But how do you learn about it? In this article, I will try to help you with that and present ways you can start and take the first bite out of SEO Education.
But first, we need to answer one question.
What is SEO?
If you haven’t seen a Wikipedia article or other reasonable resource that answers this question, let me introduce you to SEO.
SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is a process that influences the online visibility of a website in unpaid/organic search results. The goal of SEO Specialists is to make the site rank higher in organic search results for valuable key phrases. To do that we need to optimize the website according to a search engine’s (most frequently Google’s) ranking factors.
In Technical SEO we focus more on the technical side of the website – thank you Captain Obvious! Like for example optimizing a website’s performance, information architecture, internal linking strategy, as well as crawling and indexing strategy, and many more technical aspects.
The world of SEO is far broader than this brief summary, but now that you understand the basics, I will try to show you how can you get to know SEO better and learn more about it.
Learn by Reading
I’m not a big fan of learning new things by reading long documents and even longer guidelines. However, in every field you need to read some dry theory to gather information and SEO is no different.
There are a lot of resources you can use to find out more about SEO, but while you’re looking through them, one thing might catch your attention – contradictory information. Because search algorithms change almost every day, SEO strategies that worked out great a year ago, might not be so great now. Unfortunately, there are SEO specialists that still use old SEO strategies because in their mind “these techniques work” even if these relics of the past are considered black hat SEO in the industry. You should avoid these resources like the plague.
So where can you find resources that are up-to-date?
There are multiple great resources from which you can learn SEO. Cody West wrote a great article for Ahrefs’s blog on How to learn SEO where he gathered a huge compilation of resources for learning the fundamentals of SEO in his SEO Essential Starter Kit. That’s why I’ll only list a couple of resources that I used at the beginning of my SEO journey.
Beginner’s Guides that I began my education with:
Below is a list of SEO resources and blogs that contain great content to learn from. I follow them to study valuable SEO articles and news that appears in the industry:
- All official Google Resources – Developers Google, Support, Google Webmasters Blog
Google is pretty much the dealer when it comes to SEO. Knowing Google’s updates is simply the absolute basics for a job in SEO. You have to learn to play the hand that has been dealt.
- Moz Blog
In particular, I recommend the Whiteboard Friday series. Thanks to fantastic visualizations and interesting hosts, even the hardest topics are easy to understand.
- Yoast Blog
If you are an SEO beginner, Yoast’s blog has an SEO Basics category that covers intro topics like “How Google works?” to more advanced ones like “What is CDN?” When you are ready, you can move to other categories. I highly recommend Technical SEO – this category will keep you busy for a while.
- Searchmetrics Blog
I especially recommend the Unwrapping the Secrets of SEO series. It is a great source of Technical SEO information.
- SearchEngineLand, SearchEngineRoundable, SearchEngineJournal, SearchEngineWatch
All 4 of these blogs are humongous vaults of SEO news and knowledge. There is no specific category that I can recommend, just dive straight into it and look for something that will catch your attention.
Some people say that the folks at a small Polish agency called Onely create great SEO content for their blog – maybe it’s worth checking it out.
The final thing I want to emphasize in this section is Twitter. It’s a very popular social media platform among SEO specialists who use it for tracking news and sharing their thoughts on SEO strategies.
Obviously, SEOs are not the only people who use Twitter. Companies providing SEO tools, SEO blogs or even Google itself has some Twitter accounts that provide valuable SEO information. With this broad SEO community on Twitter, it’s easy to find plenty of hot news and information in one place.
One thing I want to talk about in this section is MONEY. Should you pay for SEO education? After reading the previous section you can probably answer this question yourself – just in case, the answer is, “not really.”
Paid SEO education offers a more structured education process with blocks/classes that cover particular topics. If this structure is important to you, or if you need the motivation that paying for a class provides, then maybe it is worth the money.
The only paid online SEO course that I had a chance to use was DistilledU. DistilledU offers over 80 hours of SEO education divided into modules covering topics like Technical SEO, Keyword Research, Competitor Research, and many, many more. Every module contains easy to understand content combined with video library.
Disclaimer: This article was not sponsored by Distilled. My wallet is as thin as always. By the way, you can check the episode of our podcast with Distilled’s VP Product Tom Anthony. Anyway, let’s go back to the topic.
You can try the demo of DistilledU yourself. It contains three free modules that cover Search Engine Basics, Search Operator Basics, and Technical SEO.
For me, DistilledU was an enjoyable course to get to know the basics of SEO. When I actually started working as an SEO, continuing this course lost its purpose because I started learning SEO much quicker by actually doing SEO. We will focus on that a little bit later in this article.
Most paid SEO courses don’t really cover anything that wasn’t covered earlier in the free resources mentioned earlier. All you need to do is look for them – paying for pretty much the same thing is unnecessary in my opinion.
Of course, reading books, articles, guidelines and other documentation is only a part of the education process. Let’s get into the practical part!
Learn by Working
You can’t learn how to ride a bike without actually putting your butt on a saddle. Without actually doing the stuff you want to learn, it is pretty much impossible to be good at it. Talking about SEO, there are 2 ways to learn it from a practical point of view.
Experiment on Your Own Website
Create a simple website like a WordPress blog in a niche you feel comfortable with and experiment with SEO on it. Change its heading structure, optimize the URL structure here and there, add structured data, and so on and analyze how your Google rankings are changing over time.
Note: Don’t worry, with WordPress you don’t need to have ANY programming skills; plus you can use some dedicated SEO plugins, like Yoast SEO. On top of that, you can buy a small place on a hosting with a shared IP for close to nothing. Setting all this up is easy as pie.
Try to get your website higher and higher in search results and learn, learn, learn at the same time. Playing on your own playground with your own toys is the easiest way to familiarize yourself with a website’s code, SEO, and content optimization.
This way of educating yourself will bring you visible results because one of the best ways to learn is to learn from your own mistakes. And I think your SEO education process will go way better if you experience the same pain that your future clients will feel from owning a website and trying to get more traffic on it. Have fun!
Get a Job
The second way you can learn SEO by doing is getting a job. It’s as simple as that… Or maybe it’s not quite that simple?
There are two popular types of job in this industry.
- You can work as an in-house SEO and work on your company’s own website/s.
- Or you can work in an SEO agency as a specialist and work with multiple external clients and their sites.
If you don’t have any experience, look for an internship for either of these options. Maybe even we are looking for someone.
For me personally, working as an SEO is the best way to educate myself and it works exceptionally well in our niche. Why? Because it’s very likely that you’ll have a mentor/senior that will lead you in your job.
If you start working in an SEO agency, there will be a bunch of people around you with much broader SEO knowledge. You can always ask them and suck all of this knowledge out of them. I can say that it works.
Basic SEO Abilities
There are a couple of basic abilities that you should obtain that are pretty much a must in SEO. They will also help you learn much quicker.
- Fluent English in speaking and writing
This point is crucial. SEOs often work with clients from many different countries, create reports for them, talk to them during video conferences, and write articles like this one. This all means that great English language skills are a must in this job. Also, most great resources are written in English so being able to understand them correctly is a key to learning from them.
- You have some basic IT knowledge, mostly you are familiar with HTML, CSS, and JS at least on a basic level.
Our SEO job at Onely doesn’t have much to do with coding, at least as long as you don’t work with Tomek Rudzki or another Technical SEO Mad Scientist. Mainly because we work with companies that have their own developers and we work directly with them (I wrote more about our workflow with clients in my article on How To Cooperate with SEO Specialists.)
This workflow works really well for us but it doesn’t mean every SEO agency works this way. In some SEO agencies, you actually need to know how to code and fix your client’s website on your own.
Even if we don’t code at Onely, a basic idea of what a website’s source code looks like helps a lot. When you’re not afraid to look at code you will absorb SEO (mostly technical SEO) way quicker.
One of the basic tools that we use every day is Excel. And because we use it a lot, you need to not only know basic formulas, you need to actually like Excel to stay sane as an SEO. I understand that looking at spreadsheets might seem boring, but since you do different things with it, like Keyword Research or Redirect Map files, that is not always the case.
Any additional IT abilities like knowing programming languages or popular Content Management Systems (CMS) is a plus for you.
- You obtained the secret ability of analytical thinking and finding patterns
Because SEOs often work with humongous amounts of data, you need to be able to tame it, which might sound terrifying but it really isn’t. Being able to analyze data methodically and finding patterns in it is all you need. You probably already do it. Logical thinking will help you deal with all that scary data.
- You have the superpower of research skills
- You will often come across problems you have never seen before. That’s when research skills will come in handy. Finding solutions to problems is an everyday occurrence in an SEO’s world. Proper usage of the mysterious tool called Google is a must.
- You want to learn new things (we will focus on this later)
SEO Job Interview
TL;DR: If you want to prepare for a job interview as an SEO this paragraph is for you. To shorten it you can check the compilation of SEO Job Interview Questions from Search Engine Journal.
Firstly, let’s get rid of the general job interview questions like, “Tell me about yourself,” “Why should we hire you,” and so on – there are better places to read about that.
Secondly, in an interview for an SEO Intern position, you don’t usually need to worry about the level of your knowledge. Just prepare yourself the same as you would for almost any other job interview – read about the company, understand what type of SEO they do, and try to generally familiarize yourself with the topic. In some companies, you will have to know at least the basics of SEO so it’s a good idea to learn at least something before you go.
One myth I want to debunk is “You must have a college degree (in a technical subject) to work in SEO.”
The reality is, “No, you don’t.” Why?
Because most colleges don’t teach SEO, at least not formally. You may have a single lecture about SEO in your web development or marketing course and that is it. It’s really rare to find a college with a dedicated SEO course mainly because the curriculum would have to be changed and updated very often due to the frequent changes that happen in search algorithms and the entire SEO industry.
I gathered some information about the people in our SEO department. I wanted to know what fields of study did they were in and if their field had anything formally in common with SEO.
As you can see, most of our SEO team said that their studies did not have anything in common with SEO. Our team has a pretty varied background when it comes to college studies – from English philology to archeology to astronomy.
The few people who answered that their field of study had something in common with SEO have some form of Computer Science degree. And because we at Onely focus more on technical SEO, it is understandable that IT studies might be helpful. Just about every Computer Science student has had some experience working with code and should feel comfortable looking at it on a daily basis.
I also asked our team what abilities they obtained in college do they use doing SEO, even if their studies weren’t related to SEO. The most popular answers I got were “research skills” and “analytic thinking” and I can see why they said that.
An important aspect of college is learning how to learn by yourself – researching and analyzing information is crucial. SEO is ever-changing so you need to have an analytical mind that can also easily adapt to changes. The second most popular answer was, “basic IT knowledge” and as I stated earlier, that helps a lot when you start doing SEO.
Overall, even if your college study is not related to SEO, it’s not useless – the research, analytic skills, and soft skills you obtain during your education will come in handy.
Cody West, a co-founder at Assisted Reach, made a great point in his article on what degrees might be actually helpful in SEO.
“Although SEO can be learned online, getting an entry-level job at an agency or in-house can require some kind of degree.
Here are some of the best degree to get if you want to pursue a career in SEO:
Computer Science or Computer Information System. You will learn the basics of web development and internet technology making the transition to the technical side of SEO easier. A number of the agency professionals mentioned that web developers make very good SEOs.
English (or another degree that requires a lot of writing). The ability to write well is an invaluable skill in SEO because great content is a necessity in SEO.
Marketing. A degree in marketing can provide you with an introduction to all the elements of traditional and digital marketing and will give you a firm grasp on the psychology behind how consumers purchase.“
I agree with all three of them. Even so, these fields are not directly related to SEO, and they don’t need to be. The abilities and knowledge obtained during these studies will turn out to be very useful in your SEO career.
Note: In the case of English Philology studies and Marketing studies, they are also very helpful in the content marketing niche. Also, several people from our Content Marketing team studied Communication Design.
Even if SEO wasn’t the main focus, they are using a big chunk of education they gathered there in their job as Content Marketing Specialists. For example, how to communicate a brand’s value to clients, how to make the communication process consistent, and how conversions work. Also, they got to know some tools they are using every day like Google Analytics or Google search operators.
Let’s go back to SEO.
There is only one more thing I want to emphasize.
Never Stop Learning
It’s the essential thing of your SEO journey; If you want to start a career in SEO you need to enjoy learning new things. Strategies that worked a few years ago probably won’t work today because search engine algorithms change constantly. That’s why SEOs need to learn more technical parts of SEO and search for new case studies from the other specialists. It’s very important to keep pace on what is going on.
With all that being said, I hope you are not scared to dive deeper into learning SEO. There is a load of things to learn and you can easily consider SEO as a serious career path.