Everyone can become a self-made search engine optimization (SEO) specialist. You don’t need to have a college degree or special education to work with SEO. All you need is the determination to learn and build the skills necessary to optimize a website for search engines. It’s not an easy task to do, it will require time and effort but it’s not impossible either.
In this post, you’ll learn what skills you need to become an SEO expert and how to build the necessary experience and start a successful career in SEO.
Let’s start with a brief definition of what SEO is.
What is SEO?
SEO is the process of making a website and its content accessible to search engines. The overall goal of SEO is to achieve high rankings in the search results for keywords that matter to a website.
SEO is a complex discipline, and to fully optimize a website, you need to consider hundreds of factors. To make it easier to handle, these factors are grouped into three main types: technical SEO, on-page SEO, and off-page SEO.
As you’ll see below, each SEO type deals with a particular area related to a website’s technical infrastructure, content, and online reputation.
Let’s see in detail what skills are needed for pure SEO work and what other supplementary skills self-made SEO specialists need to possess.
SEO Specialist skills
Good self-made SEO specialists need to have these skills:
- Technical SEO skills
- On-Page SEO Skills
- Off-Page SEO Skills
- Data Analytics Skills
- Project Management Skills
- Web Development Skills (Some)
- Communication Skills
Technical SEO skills
Technical SEO comes first. Before dealing with content, online reputation, or anything else, you need to make sure that your technical SEO infrastructure is optimized and error-free.
At this stage, any major problems or issues can be fatal, and that’s why learning technical SEO should be your priority.
As the name implies, there is some technical work involved in this stage, and this is where beginners find the most difficulties. Don’t worry though. There is an easy way out.
You can enroll in a good SEO certification (there are both free and paid options) that will take you through the process step-by-step, or you can learn using resources available in Google.
The first method is highly recommended because structured learning is always a more efficient and faster way to learn new skills.
Nevertheless, if you decide to follow the second path, here is a list of what you need to learn about technical SEO.
- Get a good understanding of how search engines work
- Learn how to use Google Search Console
- Learn what a robots.txt file is and how to optimize it
- Find out how to create optimized XML sitemaps
- Understand how to craft SEO friendly URLs
- Learn what are schemas and how to use them correctly
- Learn what Core Web Vitals are and why they are essential for rankings
- Understand the impact page speed, mobile-friendliness and security can have on your rankings
The list is by no means complete, but it includes the most critical skills an SEO professional needs to start working with technical SEO.
An excellent resource to start your learning journey is the SEO starter guide by Google. It will help you get an understanding of the basic SEO concepts.
On-page SEO skills
Now, let’s move to the second pillar of SEO, which is on-page SEO. This is the part where you deal with content and everything that is visible on a page.
To become an on-page SEO expert, you need to know how to:
- Create awesome page titles, headings, and meta descriptions
- Use keywords in the content of the page without doing keyword stuffing
- Optimize your images so that search engines can understand their meaning
- Write (or optimize) content to match the searcher’s intent.
- Format your content so that it’s easy to read by users (and search engines)
- Add the necessary elements in your content to showcase E-A-T (expertise, authority, and trustworthiness)
Off-page SEO skills
The last and critical SEO skill set you need to build is what is known as off-page SEO. Off-page SEO is all about promoting your website on the Internet to convince search engines that it deserves to be in the top positions of the search results.
You can improve your online reputation by acquiring links from other highly trusted websites. In the context of SEO, links are considered as ‘votes of trust’ from one website to another. Acquiring the right type of links can have a huge impact on your rankings.
The most important things to learn about off-page SEO are:
- What is the difference between no-follow and normal web links
- What is considered to be a good link for SEO purposes
- How to use different techniques like guest posting, email outreach, broken link building to get links to your website
- What are the Google rules on link building and how to avoid getting a Google penalty
- What is the role of social media networks and how they can help you with website promotion and link building
Undoubtedly, off-page SEO is one of the hardest areas of SEO, and professionals that can master this part, have more chances of succeeding in SEO either working for a company or doing freelance work.
Data analytics skills
Besides the standard SEO skills, a good self-made SEO specialist should know how to gather, analyze and interpret data.
When executing an SEO campaign, you have to monitor a number of metrics and having good knowledge of Data Analytics tools like Google Analytics and Google data studio is a must.
That’s why it is highly recommended to pursue a digital marketing certification, which will give you the overall picture of how SEO can be used effectively as part of a full-blown digital marketing strategy.
Project management skills
Every SEO campaign is a small (or big) project. Part of your job will be to manage this process and do this more efficiently you need to build your project management skills.
Knowing how to use tools like Trello, Astana, Microsoft Project will help you manage your SEO projects without missing any important tasks or deadlines.
Web development skills (some)
You don’t have to be a web developer to work as an SEO, but you need to have basic HTML skills and knowledge of popular website platforms like WordPress.
In big companies or agencies, any technical tasks are handled by developers. But in most cases, they will need guidance on what to do for SEO purposes, and knowing how web technologies work, will make your job easier.
Last but not least, a good self-made SEO specialist is also a good communicator. At some point during a project, you’ll have to talk with clients or other members of your team, and having good communication skills (both verbal and writing) is necessary and required.
How to build your SEO experience
Building the necessary SEO skills is only one part of the equation of becoming a successful SEO professional.
The other part is building hands-on SEO experience. Any SEO theories you will learn in a course or article are useless unless you know how to apply them in practice and get real measurable results.
The best way to build your SEO experience is to practice on your own blog. So, if you’re starting out now the first task is to:
- Pick a topic
- Create a website
- Start publishing content
- Start working on your SEO
That’s the only way to get a true understanding of how SEO works and what impact each of the SEO rules can have on your rankings and traffic.
As a second step, you should pursue a job to work as an SEO assistant or associate. There are hundreds of entry-level SEO job openings and you can apply to and get hired. You can do this while working from home or as a side hustle. The added advantage is that you’ll get paid while learning SEO from experienced professionals.
As a third step, once you feel that you have the necessary confidence, you can start doing SEO work for clients. You can find potential clients on websites like Upwork or flexjobs and help them with basic SEO tasks.
Start slow, charge low fees for your services, and as you gain more experience you can take on more complex clients and get paid more.
Becoming a self-paced SEO specialist is not as hard as it sounds. It does take a lot of work, time, and effort, but if you follow a plan and build your skills gradually, it’s something that everyone can do.
Working in the SEO industry is both rewarding (in terms of money) and a creative job. It’s also one of the professions high in demand now as more and more companies are investing in online marketing. What you should always have in mind when working with SEO, is to be patient. SEO is a slow process. If you are a beginner, It will take time to learn the theory and much more time to gain practical experience.
While working on SEO tasks, it will take time to see the real results from your work. The competition is intense and sometimes it may take months for Google to process any SEO-related changes you make to a website. So, be patient and have faith in your skills and there is nothing stopping you from starting a successful SEO career.
This guest blog post was written by Alex Chris, a digital marketing manager at Reliablesoft. He has more than 20 years of experience in SEO and digital marketing. Alex is also the instructor of the digital marketing full course. Connect with him on LinkedIn and Twitter @reliablesoftnet.