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How to Become an SEO Specialist

What Is an SEO Specialist?

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A Search Engine Optimization or SEO Specialist tests, analyzes, and changes a website so it is optimized for search engines, and the website subsequently ranks higher in the search results on major search engines such as Google and Bing.

An SEO expert performs page optimization across a website to ensure search results are relevant and to create a positive user experience, growing website traffic, lead volume and brand awareness. In other words, an SEO Specialist is no different from any other digital marketing or traditional marketing professional: they’re ultimately trying to create more sales for the company they’re working for.

By conducting keyword research and leveraging SEO tools, such as Google Analytics, an SEO Specialist can increase the visibility of a website on Google, which in turn has major benefits for any company. Some might also work closely with other members of a marketing team to develop new initiatives or better manage social media accounts to boost user engagement and traffic.

What Are SEO Specialist Job Responsibilities?

SEO Specialist job responsibilities vary based on whether someone is working for a digital marketing agency, in the digital marketing department of a company, or freelance for a client, but the job description for the vast majority of SEO Specialist postings will include all or most of the following:

  • Develop optimization strategies that increase the company's website search engine results rankings

  • When conducting paid search campaigns, the SEO Specialist will execute tests, collect and analyze data and results, identify trends and insights in order to achieve maximum ROI

  • Manage the expenses of SEO campaigns, staying on budget, estimating monthly costs and reconciling differences

  • Closely collaborate with web development team to ensure SEO best practices are properly followed throughout website content

  • Work with editorial and marketing teams to drive SEO in content creation and content marketing

  • Take responsibility for page optimization for search engine marketing

  • Perform ongoing keyword research, discovery and optimization for new SEO keywords to use throughout the company website and marketing materials

  • Research and implement search engine optimization recommendations

  • Create and execute link building strategy

  • Change website architecture, content, linking and other factors to improve SEO positions for target keywords

  • Determine measurable goals that demonstrate improvement in marketing efforts

  • Monitor daily performance metrics with SEO tools such as Google analytics to understand SEO strategy performance

  • Collaborate with others within the marketing department to manage SEO strategy

  • Write compelling and high-quality website content, including blog posts and page descriptions to improve website search results

Where Do SEO Specialists Come From?

Most SEO Specialists and other search engine optimization professionals begin their career in another field before working on their technical skills and leveraging their transferable skills and educational backgrounds to make a move into a job in SEO.

There is no college or university degree related directly to SEO -- and certainly no four-year marketing program is going to give you the specific technical skills you’d need to thrive in the SEO field -- but it is rare to see a job description for an SEO Specialist that doesn’t list a Bachelor’s or equivalent in some sort of related field, like business, marketing or communications.

Most SEO experts working in the field pursue some kind of additional certification to show employers they have the specific skills needed to execute their digital marketing strategy, boost their search engine traffic and make sure their website is near the top in search engine results pages. Courses like BrainStation’s Search Engine Optimization Certificate Course will also allow you to create actual work that demonstrates your abilities, and it will be created under the instruction of an SEO industry pro who knows what employers are looking for.

Even if you do have a relevant degree, upskilling with a certification course or other online course will probably be necessary to prove that you are on top of the ever-changing world of SEO.

Characteristics of a Successful SEO Specialist?

Here are some of the key characteristics that successful SEO experts must have to thrive in the world of digital marketing and search engine optimization:

1. An Understanding of the Three Levels of SEO

There are three tiers to search engine optimization and any good SEO Specialist should be keeping all three in mind in developing a marketing strategy:

  • Technical refers to the non-content elements of your website. This section includes strategies to improve the backend structure and foundation of a website. Part of this job will involve performing a thorough website analysis, which can uncover opportunities for technical SEO to improve website speed, indexing, mobile friendliness, crawlability and website architecture. Technical SEO will also crucially improve the readability of a website, which in turn improves user experience and shows search engines that the website is a good one.

  • On-page SEO relates to the content on your website and optimizing it to help search engines understand the topic of your content and see the website as a valuable resource. On-page SEO includes the use of such elements as keywords, meta tags, internal links and HTML title tags in ways that help increase search engine traffic and make sure it’s near the top of the Google results.

  • Off-page optimization is about creating a stronger relationship between your website and other websites through a variety of link building tactics. Off-page optimization also includes strategies to build the reputation of a website to show search engines that a website is a trusted source and therefore should be positioned near the top of search engine rankings.

SEO experts need to know how all tiers of search engine optimization contribute to how prominently your website is ranked amongst Google search results.

2. A Savvy Mind for Marketing

The technical aspects of SEO are obviously a huge part of the job, and understanding the issues that could be causing Google to bury your website in the search results is crucial. But once you’ve overcome that, jobs in the SEO industry tend to have a lot in common with other digital marketing or even traditional marketing jobs: ultimately, you need to create and position content so that it outlines the benefit of the consumer while nudging them closer to a sale.

The tricky part is creating content that will be compelling both to the people at the other end of the search engine while also pleasing a Google algorithm. That comes with experience.

But the SEO expertise required to really connect as an SEO Specialist and digital marketing professional more broadly goes deeper than that. To really succeed in an SEO role, you must always consider content marketing at a deeper level, as well as consumer psychology and, the target audience to whom you’re marketing, the social media landscape, web design and development, viral marketing strategies, and overall business goals that help drive brand awareness and conversions.

3. An Ability to Think Big-Picture

As we’ve established, SEO touches everything. And company websites are so important, SEO can’t be disconnected from the rest of these considerations.

It helps to have specific goals around SEO campaigns. As an SEO Specialist, it is your goal to focus on search engine rankings, driving traffic, increasing brand awareness, or conversions (turning someone who visits your website into a customer)?

Defining those goals and then being able to keep the larger goals of the organization in mind while executing an SEO strategy will set an SEO Specialist up for success.

4. Top-Notch Communication Skills and a Collaborative Spirit

An SEO Specialist will work with a wide variety of departments in a business, including sales, customer service, web development, analytics, IT, marketing and more. And it’s not always easy to explain why making changes to a website will boost SEO and ultimately result in more traffic and conversions. That’s where your communication skills come into play.

SEO Specialists need to know how to explain in a persuasive and accessible way why certain changes are necessary and how they will benefit the website and the company’s bottom line. Further, part of your job is being able to do that with teams of many different backgrounds and perspectives on the website.

Not only that, but you could be involved in the specific content that is being developed for the site, so you have to make sure your writing skills are excellent for SEO jobs.

5. Curiosity and Adaptability

Google changes its algorithms for how it ranks search engine results constantly. That could either be frustrating or exciting for you, depending on your perspective -- but a good SEO Specialist takes this challenge on with enthusiasm.

You’ll need to be agile to thrive in the SEO space. Many professionals would benefit from continuous learning, but an SEO Specialist needs it to survive. Further, if you’re responsible for the website of a single company, you can’t afford to be complacent -- as an SEO expert, it is your job to constantly review its content to see if it aligns with ever-changing SEO best practices.

What Are Some Job Descriptions Relating to SEO Specialist?

The following are common job descriptions that are close to SEO Specialist:

  • Search Engine Marketer: Too often, search engine optimization and search engine marketing (SEM) are lumped together, but in reality, they are very different. Search engine marketing is much broader and actually incorporates SEO. Search engine marketing requires that you master skills including Pay Per Click marketing (PPC), advertising, and some customer relationship management, as you will have to work to market to consumers as well as to search engines. While search engine marketing professionals specialize solely in paid search, some handle both search engine marketing and SEO. Mastering keyword research and SEO tools like Google AdWords, Bing AdWords, and Google Analytics is a prerequisite.

  • Business Marketing Consultant: SEO professionals have insight that is in high demand. You will need to be able to demonstrate a proven track record of SEO related success to qualify for a job as a Business Marketing Consultant, as this position would require you to work with clients to provide solutions to their specific needs, plan and assist in implementing SEO and other marketing initiatives, measure the effectiveness of existing marketing strategies as well as ones that you put into place, and provide long-term support and strategization to create value for those companies.

  • Digital Marketing Manager: The worlds of digital marketing and SEO are intrinsically tied. Digital marketers typically handle all types of online marketing including SEO, SEM, PPC, and social media. Digital marketing professionals create and execute marketing strategies, work to boost SEO, manage content, and use social media to maximum effectiveness to drive traffic, brand awareness and sales.

  • Social Media Manager: A social media manager’s job description calls for the creation of compelling social media content that works across every social media platform and is published at the right times and in the right formats to make the biggest possible splash with a company’s target audience. Like an SEO Specialist, part of a Social Media Manager's responsibility is to drive traffic to a company website while also interacting directly with consumers and users through their social media accounts.

  • Email Marketing Specialist: Digging into a deeper niche within digital marketing, Email Marketing Specialists know exactly how to create compelling content for email campaigns that will entice customers to click. Email continues to be one of the strongest methods of reaching a committed target audience. Email marketing is primarily a lead-generating activity, so these email efforts would always be part of a larger marketing strategy.

Who Do SEO Specialists Work With?

Most SEO Specialists would work directly as part of a larger marketing or digital marketing team, so they would work with social media marketing teams, Search Engine Marketers, and email marketing teams.

But more broadly, SEO touches pretty much every part of a company website, which means it affects pretty much every part of a company. As a result, an SEO Specialist could expect to work with development, design, sales, IT and customer-service teams, among others.

Reasons to Become an SEO Specialist

There are lots of compelling reasons to consider a career as an SEO Specialist, given that it’s a fast-growing field with applications to many other realms of the digital marketing and communications spaces. Here are a few reasons you might consider becoming an SEO Specialist:

1. You Have a Way With Words

We sometimes forget that writing well is the very basis of SEO. An SEO Specialist will need to know how to write clearly and concisely while creating content focused on user intent. Further, wordsmiths might enjoy seeing how small tweaks in word choices and structure, based on keyword research, will result in boosting your SEO. Communicating to people and search engines at the same time while creating content that will be deemed as compelling to both is no easy task, so writing skills will take you a long way.

2. Few Fields Are as Dynamic

If you’re the type with a never-ending thirst for information -- and an appreciation for all things digital -- a career in SEO would be a good fit. An SEO expert knows that constantly studying revisions to the Google algorithm and adjusting accordingly is a key part of driving search engine traffic and staying effective as an SEO expert. An SEO Specialist needs to stay on their toes as you never know what changes could be around the corner. If that’s exciting to you, then a job in SEO would be a great fit.

3. Strong Job Security

Businesses have only recently come to their senses in investing more in search engine optimization and search engine marketing. According to one recent report, companies spending more than $25,000 a year on marketing reported that search engine marketing and SEO provided the best return on investment, and two-thirds listed SEM and SEO as an extremely high priority or very high priority going forward – moreso than email marketing or social media marketing. Companies are already directing more money toward digital marketing than ever before -- as SEO takes a bigger part of that pie and continues to provide further value, it should lead to more jobs for people with an SEO skill set.

4. Scratch Your Design Itch

A good SEO Specialist never considers SEO in a vacuum. An SEO expert must factor in the entirety of a client or company website, and take into account not just the structure but also the user experience and overall look and feel. So an SEO Specialist's job doesn't just involve writing compelling content, they also need to know how to exercise their eye for aesthetics and web design. There aren’t many jobs that would allow you to flex so many creative muscles as you would as an SEO Specialist, and that’s an appealing prospect for many.

5. SEO Skills Are Transferable

Once you have an SEO skill set in place and you've mastered SEO tools, you will be an attractive candidate for a number of other jobs in different industries and businesses. Take a look through a non-SEO Specialist job description and you’ll still be likely to find SEO expertise a fixture of jobs in fields including communications, content management, marketing, social media and journalism.

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