how to become an SEO Specialist (2024 Guide)


BrainStation’s SEO Specialist career guide can help start a lucrative career in search engine optimization (SEO) and digital marketing. Read on for an overview of the differences between search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM).

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While SEO involves trying to get your web pages to organically rank higher in search results, search engine marketing (SEM) is the more direct route: marketing a business using the paid advertisements that appear in search engine results.

SEM ads, a subcategory of pay-per-click ads, come in a few different forms. The most common are the small text fields that appear at the top of search results pages, and which are typically formatted to look much like other page listings. Product listing ads (or PLAs), which appear under Google’s “Shopping” search results tab, display in a more catalog-like format, with photos, pricing, product details, and even customer reviews. Image search results often display PLAs as well, typically as a row of images atop the organic results.

What Is SEO?

SEO stands for search engine optimization, which is a digital marketing strategy that optimizes your website to get organic traffic from the search engine results page.

By understanding how SEO works, you can create content your potential audience is looking for—and present it in the best possible way—your site will show up more often in search results, which in turn connects you to new users and grows your business.

What Is SEM?

SEM is a great alternative to SEO when your competitors have a head start in establishing their search rankings for extremely common terms. While the click-through rate for SEM ads is not as high as with organic search results, they have the advantage of being much more easily obtainable; if you have the money — search engines like Google, with its Google Ads platform, typically sell the ad spots associated with specific keywords to the highest bidder.

SEO and SEM both display your brand and its products to potential customers at the moment they’re most likely to commit to a purchase — as they’re conducting an online search for the type of products your company sells. This makes SEM uniquely powerful among paid ads—another reason that, while it can’t match the click-through rate of organic search results, SEM is a crucial pillar of any comprehensive digital marketing plan.

SEM can also help analyze your traffic and discover the search intent of your users and customers. Analyzing the search ads you run on search engines can allow you to find patterns in search terms, and determine which ads and what forms of messaging generate the most clicks and conversions.

Why Is SEO Important?

SEO is important because users click organic search results over ads as much as 94 percent of the time—and as a result, more than half of all website traffic starts with a search. So if you’re not appearing in the earliest search engine results pages, you’re missing out on half your potential audience.

And it’s not enough to simply appear in search results; you have to rank well, too. One study suggested that Google’s top five search results for any given query claim more than two-thirds (67.6 percent) of all clicks.

However, ranking well is easier said than done. If there were a simple way to trick search engines into ranking your site higher, everyone would be doing it (and make no mistake—they’ve tried). Search listings may be free, but it’s not possible to pay for a better ranking. Improving your ranking—using SEO techniques—is something of a dark art that calls for a special blend of strategy, science, and creativity.

How Does SEO Work?

SEO works by helping search crawlers and algorithms access and understand your content, allowing them to figure out if your page is the best choice for the search query.

There are a number of factors that can optimize a website for search results, ranging from quick fixes like properly labeling your images all the way up to reimagining your entire approach to content development. One key to the latter is creating content with clear, descriptive language that includes the key phrases you suspect a user might search for when seeking information, products, or services related to your site. Even in this, though, some subtlety and prudence is required; trying to game a search engine’s algorithms by littering your copy with every keyword you can think up will backfire if Google thinks your website is being deceptive.

Other factors that contribute to on-page SEO include keyword relevance, site experience, sculpting (the process of editing away the needless bulk on your site), and site architecture, as well as external factors like backlinks—how many other websites organically link to yours. But ultimately, one of the best ways to rank well is to tailor your content to the things your audience is searching for.

Types of SEO

When we talk about Search Engine Optimization (SEO), we mainly talk about three types of SEO:

On-page SEO

All the content on the website of your company or business qualifies as on page SEO. Any efforts to ensure that a page or website is optimized to rank well in search engines is an example of on page SEO. This type of search engine optimization includes keyword research and keyword optimization, page optimization, as well as the creation of content like blog posts written with search engines in mind.

Off-page SEO

Putting aside the content of the website itself, off page SEO techniques are intended to build the reputation and authority of websites, with the ultimate goal of affecting how search engines perceive websites. This mainly relates to having high quality back links, which requires solid link building strategies.

Technical SEO

This type of SEO concerns anything on websites that isn’t content – for example, the readability of websites will affect how search engines interpret and rank them. Other forms of technical SEO would include the site speed, the structure of internal links, mobile friendliness or data structure of websites. 

Benefits of SEO

There’s a reason SEO has become a top area of focus an investment for forward-thinking companies. Here are some of the main benefits of search engine optimization (SEO):

SEO brings in higher quality traffic

Search engine optimization is an example of inbound marketing, a consumer-centric approach where a user winds up at your web site because they are looking for help or an answer. A majority of digital marketing professionals say inbound marketing techniques generate better quality leads.

SEO doesn’t require that you pay for ads

The ultimate goal of SEO is to boost rankings in search engines like Google, and those search engine results are organic. So while it will take time – and money, for companies or a digital marketing team without a dedicated SEO Specialist on board – to create high-quality content that will draw the approval and improve your rank on search engines, there won’t be an ongoing investment in paid advertising to worry about.

SEO complements communications strategies

Of course, public relations and SEO are totally different in some ways, they can work hand-in-hand for the same goal when it comes to link building. An SEO Specialist must focus on identify opportunities to earn links from reputable websites, so landing blog posts, placements or other coverage is a goal shared by SEO experts and PR pros alike.


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