SEO is a very lucrative industry. But there is no clear path to success in this field. Since most of the SEOs are self taught, you have to chart your own career path.
Here are 16 SEOs sharing their best piece of advice on how to succeed in SEO.
Jeff Gapinski, Huemor
Being knowledgeable about SEO is an amazing skill to have. It opens up both opportunities to advance within a corporate career path and allows you to get many types of businesses off the ground if you choose an entrepreneurial route.
I'd encourage anyone first starting out with SEO to focus on understanding the fundamentals. Moz and Hubspot have great free and paid courses you can take to understand how the process works from end to end. It's important to understand all of the moving parts and how they work together, but it's going to be impossible for you to become a master at all of it.
Like many other careers, there's a ton of nuance to SEO.
Based on your exposure to the various aspects of SEO, focus on a specific topic.
On-Site SEO, Content Creation and Link Building tend to be the three big categories you can go after. Pick one of them and learn as much as you can about it.
Carlos Obregon, Bloom Digital Marketing
Always keep studying, budget at least one hour per day to read the official Google blogs as well as industry-specific blogs that you find interesting. Also do not be afraid to ask questions, SEO is not an exact science, do not hesitate to ask for help or for validation if you are not sure of what to do next. Get as many certifications as you can, this industry is largely unregulated, anyone can call themselves "SEO experts" the only true measure of your worth as an SEO consultant is your certifications and your track record.
Don't offer guarantees, instead point to case studies of projects you have worked on with specific outcomes.
Don't try to be a do it all, some SEO consultants are very strong in technical SEO, others are great at content development, as SEO becomes more specialized it is better to be known as the rock star SEO in "x" area than an all-around mediocre SEO consultant.
Skyler Reeves, Ardent Growth
There are a 3 things I would focus on:
First, learn to read code (and maybe write a little too). I’m a little biased here due to my background, but by learning to understand code you’ll be able to solve problems many SEOs cannot.
It’s like learning math — some people use rough estimates to solve problems, others get precise answers using calculus.
Learning more about code will also help you communicate with developers and other folks responsible for implementation — being able to speak their language and show you understand them will go a long way toward getting the work done.
Secondly, get proficient with spreadsheets. They’ll be a big part of your day-to-day work. Being able to work comfortably with data in a Google Sheet will dramatically reduce the time you spend on tasks. Helpful functions to learn include things like, VLOOKUP, ARRAYFORMULA, and QUERY.
Lastly, focus on documenting the work you do. Doing so will allow you to better reverse engineer what’s working and what isn’t.
You’ll often find that some things that work for one page won’t always work for another. There are many nuances between what the algorithm favors between search queries.
Being able to identify these by referring back to your documentation will save you a lot of time and show you’re a professional and not a snake oil salesman.
Chris Castillo, Propel Digital Media Solutions
Get through the basics by using resources like Moz Blog, Search Engine Journal, Ahrefs Blog (and their Academy). Follow guys like Ryan Stewart on YouTube who are sharing legitimate, proven, white-hat strategies. Once you've learned enough to start applying a lot of technical factors, create yourself a small website and start applying those strategies to that site. Don't get distracted with shiny objects (fringe tactics and hacks) - focus on the core strategies and get really good at those things. The core strategies are what every SEO executes on regardless of what crazy strategy they might be hung up on at the time.
Once you're ready to take on client work, try to get someone who is experienced at managing an SEO campaign to work with you. Focus on client management and managing the aspects of the campaign you're comfortable with and have the other person work the aspects you're not as comfortable with. Not only can you fast-track your learning and improve your overall processes when you work with someone who already has some experience, but you also improve the results you can produce. Focusing on generating results will help to build case studies which will make growing your client-base easier. Don't focus on vanity metrics like organic traffic, but rather on conversions.
In terms of tools, try to do the best you can with the free tools available - especially when you're just starting out. Industry-leading tools like Ahrefs can give you a significant advantage, but are very costly. I would recommend starting with a SEMrush subscription when you can afford to invest a little bit on more data and tools. Also, Screaming Frog is an incredibly versatile tool for On-Page SEO.
Jeremy Moser, uSERP
"Pick a lane. Search engine optimization isn't a single thing. In fact, it's literally the opposite. SEO is everything from content strategy, to link building to on-page to technical and dozens more. If you are just starting out as a career in SEO, pick one thing and spend hours each day learning about it. Watch videos on YouTube, listen to podcasts, and read articles top to bottom from big names in the space. Having overall general knowledge of all facets of SEO is great. But the real money comes in when you specialize in one sector and you do it better than your competitors."
Austin Cline, Sitemap
SEO can be challenging to learn in the beginning. There are many moving parts and it all changes quickly. And if you're not careful, it can become overwhelming. As a self-taught SEO, one piece of advice I would give anyone starting out is to develop a strong SEO process at the beginning of your career.
Not sure how to develop a process? As you take on more work, you'll find every project has certain steps that are repeated each time. For instance, you might always need to get Google Analytics and website access at the start of every project. Your next step might be to perform a crawl of the website, and after that do keyword research on their current pages. Or maybe your content strategy always follows your technical work. However it works, document each step to create a "process" that you can follow for each project.
Your process will of course evolve. You'll make mistakes and learn from them. But over time, it will become stronger and help you minimize mistakes so you can get better results for your clients.
Matthew Dobinson, Expert Cog
Focus on the user, google has been saying it for years. Sure you can find loopholes and shortcuts but they only last so long, google will eventually close them and it will be the person who can give the best user experience. Give yourself a head start and start focusing on it now.
Jamie Irwin, Irwin Organic
If you're just getting into SEO and see it as a long term journey for career development then invest in yourself, and your learning, by acquiring a website.
Hands down, there is no better way to apply the new SEO principles you have just learned.
It's a bonus if you can monetize the content on your website. Then your career development project starts to produce a ROI and your investment in yourself begins to pay off.
When I first got into SEO I was obsessed with finding courses, qualifications and paying for accreditations. But my portfolio of sites has become my accreditation.
Kevin Dam, Aemorph
Read and watch videos online of how the search landscape has changed over the past 20+ years. Once you get an appreciation of the way the search engines work and how they've evolved you should learn what factors are commonly influenced to improve rankings and piece them all together since everything is interconnected.
Then get into the trenches of implementation and master each aspect of SEO at a time and find out what works, what doesn't work, and what part of the whole SEO process is most enjoyable for you then focus on it 100%!
Amanda Thomas, Konstruct
Choosing to pursue a career in SEO is an exciting yet daunting choice. When first starting out the basic concepts can seem simple, but it’s definitely one of those fields where you begin to realize “the more you learn, the less you know’.
Here’s my advice:
- Always be Curious: SEO is a field that’s full of a lot of conjecture and noise. You can’t always take articles or “studies” at face value, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t value within them. Try to understand the “why” behind everything.
- Commit to Continuous Learning: SEO skills can get out of date quickly. You must set aside time every week for your learning development.
- Start an Affiliate Site: there’s no better way to learn or try new theories in a real environment. If you’re working for a company or agency, it’s likely too risky to try these types of practices for your business or clients. Use an affiliate site as your own personal sandbox.
- Find a Community: Consider joining a community where other people working in SEO knowledge share. I personally like Traffic Think Tank.
SEO can be a highly rewarding career if you put in the effort.
David, Diving Bell Creative
With SEO being so results-oriented, I recommend getting some experience with a bigger domain that has a lot of content and isn't optimized. That sounds like an oxymoron but they exist. Those opportunities are with non-profits. They often have a ton of authority but have never been properly optimized. That's usually because the people putting together the content are on a volunteer basis and don't know how to optimize for SEO.
The downside is that no one wants to work for free and it's not a luxury a lot of people have - free time. Here's the way to structure it - if you can. Find a non-profit organization that is a cause you or your business supports. Reach out to them and offer to do some SEO work for free. You'll almost never be turned away, you'll get valuable experience and you're being altruistic. With that, future prospects or employers will not only think you've got the chops - but that you're also a good person.
Shaurya Jain, Attention Always
SEO is one of the fastest changing industries because SEOs essentially are trying to game google and Google's algorithm is the smartest in the world. So to keep up, you need to be continuously staying up to date. And this involves constantly learning new stuff not just from industry publications but also from courses. Never be afraid to invest in your knowledge because it will pay you back several times over.
SEO is all about testing and you can't do all the testing yourself. so it's better to pay someone else and learn about their SEO tests results.
Andrew s Ansley, Syndiket Marketing
SEO takes a lot of patience, open mindedness, and dedication. SEO isn't incredibly complicated, but it does require consistency and organization. If you're trying to grow as quickly as possible I recommend joining a paid SEO group to ask questions. I also recommend joining a few facebook groups or forums just to keep your ear to the ground for SEO knowledge nuggets.
Lastly, I'd encourage you to rank your own website for an easy keyword using the knowledge you pick up from blog posts, forum discussions, or a paid course. Ultimately, SEO is about experience. If you have no experience then you can't really call yourself an SEO.
Steven Orechow, Steven Orechow Creative
SEO has been a polarizing topic online for some time now. However, many people are still unsure whether they can effectively manage it on their own, rather than viewing it as an opportunity.
When you're starting out in SEO, everything is uniquely challenging, and you need all the simplicity you can get. My first opportunity in the field was in-house at a mid-sized local business, and we had to be clever with our budget. I learned pretty quickly that there aren't any shortcuts.
There are plenty of "SEO Gurus" and "Marketing Ninjas" out there that make all kinds of guarantees that you'll rank #1 if you buy their courses or follow a specific strategy. Honestly, a decent percentage of them are full of BS. The simple truth is that you work in a profession that changes every day, and requires high-level expertise that you just can't get from watching a few YouTube videos.
There are no guarantees, SEO is about maximizing your odds of ranking in your niche and driving organic traffic to your site. I started having more success when I started my own small website – Having a place where you can experiment and learn will help you learn how to really execute. It's not an easy process, but it's an undeniably cool feeling when starting from 0 to getting your first visitors and continuing to grow as you stay the course.
Uma Aravind, DigitalSEO Marketing Pvt Ltd
Every year the industry is flooded with fresh SEOs. The post-pandemic situation will see a lot of influx, and even experienced SEOs who lost their job will become your competition.
To get a chance to work with the best companies or even as an SEO influencer, you need to differentiate yourselves. If you are wondering how you showcase yourself apart, get started by "Branding" yourself.
Think of yourselves as a BRAND and not as an individual. Throw away the conventional concepts that branding can only start with a costly website based portfolio. Instead, steer your focus to Social Media and LinkedIn. Establish yourselves on these platforms, and now you have given yourself the best and right kickstart to Brand yourself and make yourself noticed.
Why choose LinkedIn when there are plenty of other options?
As an SEO, you can be recruited, work as a freelancer, or even start your own company with like-minded friends. Whatever be your choice, LinkedIn will be the ideal pedestal to launch yourself forward.
A. To begin with, optimize your LinkedIn profile. Your profile should not be something that you create and forget. Keep it constantly updated. Use it to throw more light about the brand called YOU.
- Make sure to include all your significant professional moves.
- Include your certifications and any client testimonials of your work.
- If you happen to attend industry-focused webinars or take part in conferences and symposiums, remember to update these details. You may get vital connections from co-participants.
- Don’t just call yourself an SEO or Digital Marketing Expert. There are numerous ones out there who claim to be one. Quantify your expertise, include numbers that could speak for your proficiency. Businesses trust doers than sayers.
B. Treat your LinkedIn Profile as a live resume, something that quickly reflects all your professional accomplishments and screams your expertise out loud.
C. Be strategic while updating your skills section. Know how to market yourself. Focus more on those skills that your prospective clients may look forward to.
D. Keep your LinkedIn Profile active and happening. Attempt to involve yourself in group discussions. Respond to queries, participate as an industry insider, initiate conversations, strive to be useful. Share industry news or updates and seek opinion, engage your connections. Ensure your posts and comments are positive, thoughtful, and thoroughly professional.
E. Write articles and post them periodically. Be original. Rather than reproducing things that have been said umpteen times, stand out by offering insights or key learning on already known concepts.
F. Share your success stories. How about your failures? I am not going to sound cliche and preach that failure is a stepping stone for success. But don’t be afraid of failures. If you have not failed, you have not dived deep in.
G. Seek recommendations by offering one. Carefully, consciously and judiciously build your connections.
H. Set aside some time every day for this BRAND building exercise. You will never regret doing this.
When a prospective recruiter/client searches for "SEOs in XYZ location," your profile should pass LinkedIn's automated sorter and come up on top of their search. As an SEO, you should be well aware, how a thoroughly updated profile stands a great chance to be highlighted in searches.
A well updated LinkedIn Portfolio creates an identity for you even before you begin a one-to-one conversation with your prospective client/recruiter. How you win the second part of the challenge is entirely dependent on your talent to drive the conversation forward.
But don’t forget. In this industry, it is all about BRAND building/marketing yourself, and that is where you need to focus first. Get going and get started.
Iris De Geest, Survey Anyplace
As an SEO expert, you should keep your eyes open at all times. Have a curious mind, try to find new ways to optimize landing pages and learn from your observations. Research the web for interesting SEO tools and connect with fellow SEO experts by joining social media communities where SEO knowledge and innovative techniques are shared daily.
That's how I develop my SEO skills: constant research is important, but the connection with other, like-minded professionals (whether it's a colleague, your manager or a fellow marketer in a Facebook or LinkedIn group) will boost your expertise, jargon and ability to stand out eventually.
Author Bio: Shaurya Jain is the owner of Attention always marketing, a digital marketing agency. When he is not working, he is either traveling or thinking about traveling.