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by Mike Khorev | September 29, 2020

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Working as an SEO specialist is an amazing career opportunity for new grads and for experienced professionals looking to switch fields. SEO (search engine optimization) offers a lot of opportunities for growth as well as the ability to work with a wide variety of people in many different industries.

What is an SEO specialist?

An SEO specialist is responsible for evaluating and analyzing a website’s development, making necessary adjustments to web pages to optimize them for Google’s and other search engines’ SERP (Search Engine Results Page). An SEO specialist’s main focus is to improve the rank of a website in the SERP to improve the site’s visibility and generate more organic traffic in the process. 

Career options

SEO specialists work for a variety of organizations in numerous industries, but the most typical option for an SEO specialist is to find work within marketing agencies or as a freelance professional. In most cases, an SEO specialist starts out as a junior SEO officer/executive in an agency, executing SEO tasks for clients under the supervision of a more experienced SEO specialist or a digital marketing manager. The specialist can then work their way up from a junior executive to an SEO manager, digital marketing manager, or even director. Many experienced SEO specialists also decide to start their own SEO/marketing agency or become a freelance SEO expert.

How to get started

There are generally three main ways to start an SEO career: 

As an in-house SEO specialist, you’ll execute full-time SEO implementations for one company only (you’re on the company’s payroll) and optimize all the online platforms of the company (website, social media profiles, etc.).

Working for a marketing agency, you’ll work full time for a digital marketing agency (or a dedicated SEO agency) where you’ll manage SEO projects for different clients. You may handle various projects at one time for clients in different industries, so this is a great way to get a wide variety of experience.

Working as a freelancer in SEO can be difficult at the outset, but it’s very possible to succeed without much experience. In this option, you can handle a variety of clients on your own. 

Skill, school, and certification requirements

SEO skills

Before you apply for any SEO specialist position, make sure you have the required SEO skills. Fortunately, nowadays there are various free resources that can help you garner up the necessary SEO expertise. You should acquire at least the following basic SEO knowledge: 

  • Basic principles of the search engine and how it works
  • Knowledge of SEO ranking factors
  • Technical SEO and on-site SEO
  • Off-site SEO and link building

There are also various online courses with various price ranges that can help you in learning SEO knowledge. These courses can help you learn all the required information without spending hours Googling different SEO elements. 

Basic programming/development skills

You don’t really need advanced programming skills to become an SEO specialist, but some basic programming skills can be really useful, especially in implementing technical SEO optimizations. You should be able to read and understand HTML (nowadays, there are plenty of free resources that can help you with this, and today’s HTML is fairly easy to understand). You should understand how a website is structured, and a basic knowledge of JavaScript is also preferred. 

A key aspect of your job responsibilities will be to guide programmers/developers to implement technical SEO optimizations, and programming knowledge will help you in guiding them. 

Do you need a degree? 

Although formalized education in the SEO field is not a necessity, the majority of positions for SEO specialists do require a bachelor’s degree in business, marketing, information technology, or communications. Knowledge of HTML and CSS (as discussed above) and one to three years of experience in digital marketing are also preferred. 

Do you need certifications? 

It’s important to note that, at the moment, there’s no established professional standard in SEO, so there’s no official certification for the field. However, there are various (reputable) companies and educational bodies offering certifications for SEO, which can be a great way to acquire valuable SEO training.

Some certifications from reputable companies like Google Analytics Academy, HubSpot, and Moz can be useful in getting employment, but they’re not a must. There are also some reputable universities offering academic certifications for SEO that can be very valuable in the long run.

Required knowledge and experience

As discussed, experience and knowledge matter more than certifications and degrees in the field of SEO. On the other hand, SEO is constantly changing, so SEO professionals must continuously update their skills and knowledge to stay ahead of the competition. Here are some effective ways to acquire knowledge and experience in the SEO field: 

Online research: You can find various online resources that are dedicated to sharing SEO knowledge and techniques, such as:  

  • Google’s Webmaster Central Blog is an important resource where Google publishes details of recent algorithm updates and best practice guidelines for SEO.
  • Yoast is a famous SEO plugin for WordPress, and its blog is a great resource for the latest SEO news and information.
  • Moz’s blog is a great resource for SEO news and techniques.
  • Search Engine Land is a great resource for news and latest SEO updates.

Webinars and online courses: Today there are various webinars and online courses available offering valuable SEO knowledge and techniques. However, since SEO is rapidly evolving, make sure to check whether the included strategies are up-to-date before implementing them.

Offline workshops: Attending local workshops and/or SEO conferences can be a very effective way not only to gain information and knowledge but also to build a valuable network with other SEO specialists, experts, and potential employers. Check regularly for any conferences and workshops in your area.

Mike Khorev is an SEO consultant who helps SaaS, software, IT,  technology, B2B and startup companies generate more sales and grow revenue online. He offers expert advice on marketing your company the right way through performance-based SEO, inbound marketing, conversion rate optimization, search engine marketing, and many other online practices.

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