SEO or search engine optimization has been a lucrative industry for a decade. Yet, SEO skills are not taught at universities. Young professionals often have no clue what is needed to kickstart a career in SEO and gain relevant experience.
The majority start in marketing and later transition to SEO. This is how I became an SEO specialist.
If you are looking to learn more about the peculiarities of work in SEO and the skills required for SEO to build a search engine optimization career, this article is for you!
As a marketing specialist with over three years of experience in SEO writing, I share my learnings, experience, and opinion on the following topics:
- What does an SEO specialist do?
- What type of skills do you need to be an SEO pro?
- Where and how to learn SEO skills
- How to showcase your SEO skills in your resume
- How to prove your SEO skills in a job interview
- What jobs you can do with SEO skills
It’s a pretty long article because I tried to make it insightful, practical, and applicable. I hope you will find it helpful.
Please, do not hesitate to leave your comments in case something is unclear, or you would like me to share more details on a particular topic.
Before we dive deep into learning SEO skills and how to be great on top, let me quickly crush the myth many entry-level marketers still believe in — “SEO is hard.”
How hard is SEO?
As a marketer and an SEO writer, let me share my opinion on this matter.
SEO does seem complicated until you step in and start doing it yourself!
I was clueless about SEO when I got my entry-level SEO job long ago. I had no SEO abilities and did not know how to learn it. In time, I realized, the best way to learn SEO and gain valuable SEO skills is to start doing it!
I started learning SEO as an intern, I continued creating SEO-friendly content for a UX agency, and now I have my own, well-optimized website with high rankings in search.
SEO is not for everyone. However, if you are patient, diligent, and on a mission to create impactful results, you have a high chance to succeed!
Google offers an incredibly insightful guide for learning beginner and advanced SEO I recommend you to look at it. Don’t waste lots of money on SEO courses that repeat the same information. Instead, learn from the primary source — learn from Google.
What does an SEO specialist do?
I’ve been working in marketing for over three years. Despite being called “a digital marketing specialist,” I’ve always dealt with SEO in its different kinds.
If you decide to pursue a career in SEO, your high-level goals might be the following:
1. Help businesses attract the target audience from organic search.
As an SEO expert, you’ll have to use your SEO analyst skills and SEO writing skills to conduct keyword research and create optimized content.
If you do your job well, Google will notice your content and push it to the top of the search engine result page. The more optimized content you create, the more traffic you can potentially attract to your client’s website.
SEO is not rocket science. However, you’ll have to possess particular experience and SEO marketing skills to help businesses stand out in organic search.
Optimization has been a great tool for marketing, especially for digital marketing agencies to scale their businesses.
2. Help conduct SEO audit
SEO experts are not always involved at an early stage of websites growth. Many website owners believe they can manage their websites on their own. However, they often waste their time and resources without seeing any impact.
If you have no clue why your website does not grow and what to do to improve its performance, you need an SEO audit.
SEO experts utilize various SEO tools to discover poorly performing pages, 404 pages, broken links, and desktop, and mobile usability issues.
After conducting an in-depth SEO audit, they recommend a set of actions intended to improve your website’s performance.
Based on my experience, an SEO audit is the first thing SEO experts do when jumping on a new project.
3. Help improve website performance
Besides creating optimized content, SEO experts deal with websites’ technical aspects, such as loading speed, indexability, appearance in search, mobile user experience, etc.
Some people don’t understand why it falls under SEO specialists’ responsibility since technical SEO skills are required. As a marketer, I can clarify this point for you.
Imagine, you open one website, but you have to wait a lot for all pages and content to load. As a user, you don’t want to wait. And you should not!
There are millions of other websites which can satisfy your needs.
So, you close that website and navigate to another one, which is fast, looks good, and answers your questions. You seem to be happy, and so does Google!
Google has a robust algorithm called RankBrain that analyzes user behavior, and rewards websites with good usability and fast loading speed. On the other hand, it downgrades unoptimized websites with poor mobile user experience.
The ultimate goal of any SEO professional is to push websites to the top. However, it’s no longer possible without technical optimization. Therefore, optimization experts need to have technical and HTML SEO skills.
4. Help acquire valuable backlinks from trustworthy websites
The number and quality of backlinks are among the ranking factors, according to Google.
Creating optimized content combined with gradual backlink profile growth will inevitably lead to success in the long term. I know, it’s easier to say than do. However, SEO was never a low-hanging fruit.
It takes time to collect website ideas, reach out to website owners, negotiate backlinks placement and see the impact of link building.
Based on my expertise, you need at least six months to see the first impact of SEO. However, it might be longer in some competitive niches.
What are SEO skills?
Tim Soulo, Ahrefs marketing CMO, defines the SEO job and skills in the following way:
“As an SEO expert, the goal is to provide the best information for Google to identify that you have the best information and show it to users.”
My SEO skills definition is the following: A set of soft and hard skills required for a marketer to achieve impactful results in SEO.
Whoever’s SEO skills definition you read; the ultimate meaning behind will be the same — you need to develop multiple SEO skills to grow as an expert and help businesses drive their organic growth.
In 2020 Semrush, a popular marketing tool analyzed around 4000 SEO vacancies and job offers on Monster, Indeed, and Linkedin to define the following most desirable SEO skills.
Note that the percentage shows the number of mentions of a particular skill in SEO job offers.
- Google tools — 47%
- HTML, CSS — 45%
- Keyword research — 36%
- Link building — 34%
- Technical SEO — 31%
- Java script — 18%
- On-page SEO — 15%
- Mobile SEO — 11%
- Local SEO — 10%
- A/B testing — 8%
Even though Semrush research was conducted several years ago, it is still a solid study to rely on when developing new skills for SEO.
As a marketer, I created my list of skills for SEO specialists that you will need this year and beyond to kick off a career in SEO.
What skills do you need for SEO
My top 10 digital marketing SEO skills list is based on over three years of professional experience. The following are the SEO skills companies look for.
- Research and analysis
- Being a fast-learner
- Being patient and flexible
- UX basics
- HTML and CSS basics
- Ability to use SEO tools
- Knowledge of Google tools
- Ability to use WordPress content management system
- Understanding online business strategy
1. Research and analysis
If you want to achieve epic results in SEO, your actions should not be based on gut feelings.
SEO experts don’t “guess” which topics work well in Google and where competitors get backlinks from. Instead, they apply their research and analysis skills to create customized SEO strategies.
Keyword research is the core of SEO. It’s one of the essential skills needed for SEO and is part of my everyday job. To say more, one of my first tasks as a junior marketer was to conduct keyword research for a brand new website.
Your website’s traffic, rankings, and overall success highly depend on the keywords you choose to rank for. Therefore, researching, analyzing, and collecting juicy keywords are among the basic SEO required skills.
Let me use my website, selfmademillennials.com, as an example of well-done keyword research on my end.
Many bloggers write about SEO, and this niche seems saturated at first glance.
Despite the competition, I want to write about SEO writing, share my experience and marketing tips.
Therefore, I did intensive keyword research to define low-competition keywords with promising global volumes.
Keyword research applied together with SEO writing skills helped me create well-optimized content that ranks on the second and third Google search result pages without link building.
2. Being a fast-learner
SEO and marketing, in general, are very dynamic. New tools and strategies appear every day that you should be aware of. If you miss the latest updates, you might be outperformed by someone else who’s faster.
As a marketer with an SEO background, I have to keep an eye on Google updates, review SEO tools functionality updates, and stay up-to-date with the industry trends. It’s challenging, but it’s part of the search engine optimization career.
Apart from developing hard SEO skills, you’ll also need to work on soft skills! You have to be a fast learner to process big chunks of SEO-related information, analyze data and make data-driven decisions.
It might seem impossible to track all the latest updates in the SEO industry. In fact, you don’t have to! Below, I share my top SEO resources I keep an eye on weekly.
- Google Search Central account on Twitter
- Google Search Central website
- Google Algorithm Update History by Search Engine Journal
- Ahrefs blog
- Search Engine Journal
You will find the following free courses helpful if you are new to SEO. I have personally passed all of them, and I can certainly say you won’t find a better free (or even paid) alternative:
Writing seems one of the most underestimated skills.
Many people believe there is no need to learn anything to start writing online. As a content writer with over 200 blog posts on Medium and this website, I would agree to some extent only.
It’s super easy to become a writer nowadays. Anyone can do it using different blogging platforms. However, you should possess storytelling skills and have solid experience in writing to create engaging content.
I spent several years learning SEO and developing my writing skills before realizing that content writing combined with SEO skills creates outstanding results!
As an SEO specialist, you know how to optimize content for search engines. As a creator, you can write SEO-friendly content users will like to read!
SEO content writing skills are valuable nowadays!
Every business owner wants to have impactful content on their websites. Therefore, they collaborate with the writer teams and SEO experts. Imagine you can do both! You have the experience and the skills needed to be an SEO writer!
As a marketer, I know SEO experts with copywriting SEO skills cost more and are quite hard to find.
If you are at the beginning of your SEO career, start developing your writing skills. How?
Practice writing roughly 500 words on a random topic daily! Yes, daily! It does not matter how good or bad your writing will seem to you. The most important is the writer’s mindset you’ll be developing along the way.
SEO content writing skills will help you become a valuable expert on the market!
4. Being patient and flexible
SEO is not a sprint. It’s a marathon!
Those eager to grow websites using white-hat strategies and create helpful content will be rewarded with users’ attention and Google’s mercy.
As a marketer, I worked on several websites that grew from zero to hero in a few years. Success did not happen overnight. Other specialists and I worked hard to make it happen!
SEO experts have the patience to wait for results because at least six months are needed to see the first positive (or negative) shifts. They are also flexible to change their SEO strategy if something goes wrong or does not perform as it should.
5. UX basics
In May 2020, Google introduced a new page experience update called Core Web Vitals.
Later, Google confirmed that on-page user experience, website loading speed, responsiveness, and visual appearance are now part of the ranking signals.
Even if your website has helpful content, but for some reason, users leave it (high bounce rate), Google will notice it and take some action. A website will likely lose its rankings until the owners investigate the issue.
Perhaps, the user interface design is not appealing, content is barely readable on mobile, or too many banners make users leave.
There might be lots of reasons. If you have a gut feeling that something is off on your website, user experience research and testing can help you discover the exact reasons for poor website usability.
As a marketer, I am convinced that UX is essential for SEO.
Ten years ago, you could overoptimize content with the target keywords and rank at the top of search results.
Today, it’s no longer the case! Google and many other search engines assess user behavior to display the most relevant search results in the top 10.
As an SEO expert, you should create optimized and readable content that makes sense and looks good. Too many ads might harm user behavior and signal Google about spam.
On the other hand, the too plain design might indicate that the website is not trustworthy and its owners don’t take it seriously.
Many SEO experts keep search engine bots in mind while creating optimized content. This tactic has been around for years. However, ranking algorithms constantly change, and so should your SEO strategies.
Whenever you create SEO-friendly content, think if you would enjoy reading it yourself. Is it well-structured and easy to read? Is it insightful and adds value to users?
Search engines heavily rely on UX making judgments on websites’ rankings. Therefore, UX basics are among the good skills to have for SEO.
If you are determined to learn the basics of UX skills for SEO, I recommend you start with the following course by Google:
6. HTML and CSS basics
Would you like to become an SEO expert? Let me ask you if you can spot any website-related issues below.
Any ideas what might be wrong?
P.S. I intentionally made some changes to my website code for educational purposes. The following are examples of what you should NOT do if you want to grow a healthy website over time.
You should have noticed the following tiny detail on the first screenshot: <meta name=”robots” content=”noindex, follow”>
This one-line piece of code tells Google not to index this particular page.
You might have a fascinating website, but Google won’t show it in search, and people won’t find it. That’s a severe issue SEO managers should be able to discover and fix!
The following rules in the robots.txt file tell Google to disallow the crawling of the entire website! No epic SEO results are possible if your website is excluded from indexing.
I’ve shown the two examples above for a reason! Besides content optimization, every SEO professional should possess technical SEO skills to keep websites “healthy.”
What are the top skills used in technical SEO? I would highlight the following — SEO skills HTML and CSS.
As an SEO specialist, you will closely collaborate with developers and recommend what to update or change to improve the website’s performance. You should possess technical SEO skills and read HTML code to do so.
You won’t need to code websites, but you must understand the code. Based on my experience, the following are a few issues that an SEO professional faces daily, where SEO technical skills are required:
- Poor website loading speed
- Poor indexability
- Absence of sitemaps
- 404 pages and broken links
- Pages redirects
- Issues with duplicate content and lack of meta tags.
If you are determined to improve your technical SEO skills, I recommend you start with the following:
7. Ability to use SEO tools
Using various SEO tools, automating routine processes, and making data-driven decisions are essential SEO specialist skills.
I’ve changed several marketing jobs, but they all required knowledge and experience in Ahrefs or Semrush.
These are two world-known toolkits marketers use for SEO, PPC (paid advertisement), link building analysis, competitor and keyword research, and much more.
Your value as a specialist grows on the market if you possess SEO expert skills and leverage various marketing tools.
For example, I use Ahrefs for keyword research, SEO audit, and SEO writing. I learned how to use it by trial and error at my former workplaces.
There are so many SEO tools that it’s easy to get confused about what to use and when. My advice for you will be to try several marketing tools, both free and paid.
In time, you’ll figure out what works best for you, and which tool saves your time and helps you achieve impactful results. Learn from trial and error. It’s the best strategy based on my experience. If you win, you win, but if you fail, you always learn!
8. Knowledge of Google tools
Every website owner uses (or should use, if not yet) Google Analytics and Google Search Console.
Google Analytics can help you understand your most popular website pages, users’ demographic and behavioral data, best-selling pages, exit pages, and more! It is a powerful tool to analyze your website’s current state and define opportunities for improvement.
Google Search Console helps you track your website’s indexability, performance in search, and technical errors, such as a 404 page.
These are free tools developed by Google to help website owners and webmasters grow their websites. When combined together, these tools provide insightful data you can’t find elsewhere!
Knowledge of Google tools is a basic SEO skill every marketer should possess to qualify as a professional.
In March 2020, I gained Google Analytics Certification after passing Google professional test. Apart from years of experience with Google tools, this certificate proves my expertise in my resume.
You only need one source to master Google Analytics from zero. The good news, it’s free!
Google Analytics Academy is the best free resource that teaches you everything you need to know to become skilled in GA. Upon passing all the courses, you will be qualified to take the test and get certified.
9. Ability to use WordPress content management system
Over 64 million active websites used content management systems in 2021, according to First Site Guide.
Why are content management systems so popular? They let you create and publish new pages in a few minutes without coding.
It’s super convenient for bloggers, startups, and small businesses that don’t have enough resources yet but want to establish their online presence.
To say more, I run and monetize my website using WordPress — the most popular CMS up to date.
WordPress takes over 43.41% of the total CMS market share, leaving Wix, Joomla, Drupal, Squarespace, and other content management systems behind, according to First Suite Guide.
Like other website owners, I publish my content via WordPress, use different plugins to optimize WordPress performance, and reduce the website’s loading speed.
Since I know WordPress and SEO, I can easily set up a simple WordPress website and publish optimized content. However, many companies and solopreneurs need WordPress specialists with experienced SEO skills.
Since most corporate and private blogs are powered by WordPress, you should get familiar with the WordPress interface, Yoast SEO plugin, content editor, and other features.
“Experienced WordPress user” is a valuable skill for SEO jobs employers look for that can become your competitive advantage and land you the job of your dream.
10. Understanding online business strategy
Marketing is an essential part of any business strategy, along with sales, finance, and product development.
SEO, on the other hand, is part of marketing. Together with social media, paid advertisement, and content marketing, it helps businesses achieve their core objectives.
As an SEO expert, you will have various tasks which will always be in line with the business goals, like making X number of sales per month or increasing the traffic by X%.
A basic understanding of the online business processes gives you a better idea of what your employer might expect from you as an SEO expert.
For instance, if you do SEO for an online store, you might need to increase the website traffic to help a company make more sales.
When I joined the marketing department during my internship, I could hear all the business discussions daily and get a holistic overview of how the business worked.
This way, I could better understand how my job tasks are aligned with the core business objectives. It motivates you to work harder and helps you see the positive impact of your work.
You can only prove your expertise and SEO skills as long as your work has a positive impact.
Therefore, take some time to learn the basics of online business strategy and marketing strategy. I share some introductory courses on Coursera which can help you do so:
How to put SEO skills on a resume
“How to list SEO skills on a resume?” “How to advertise my SEO skills?” — the following are popular questions SEO specialists ask when looking for new jobs.
After three years of marketing work, I wondered how to present my expertise and skills to stand out among job seekers.
I realized the competition for top marketing positions is high. A simple list of “here is what I did” won’t help to land a dream job. You need to highlight more achievements and the impact of work to hook employers.
I’ve recently landed a senior SEO expert job at a big company.
I went through a relatively long and challenging recruitment process.
Here is how I described my SEO skills and relevant marketing skills in my resume that helped me get the desired phone call from a recruiter. You can see a screenshot from my Linkedin profile below.
First, I listed my former workplaces in chronological order and the tools I work with. Besides, I added the links to the content I created.
This way, potential employers can assess my blogging and SEO writing skills. However, that’s not all!
In the cover letter, I explained that my transactional blog posts rank in the top 10 Google search results and generate leads.
I also mentioned that my Medium content reached over 300,000 readers worldwide within two years. Inspired by my humble Medium success, I launched my website, ranking on the 2nd and 3rd Google search results a few months after release.
Why did my job application stand out? I have a few assumptions on this matter:
- I showed “what I achieved,” instead of “what I did.”
- I showed tangible examples of my work, such as published articles and optimized blog posts.
- Not every SEO expert runs a blog. It was my competitive advantage.
I have also accompanied my CV with a short bio section focused on my main professional achievements:
If you wonder how to sell your SEO skills, make sure to create a compelling CV first! Focus on the impact of work. No one is interested in what you did if you can’t talk about your results and achievements.
How to prove SEO skills in a job interview
Get ready for tricky questions if you are interviewed for a middle or senior SEO specialist position.
Based on my experience, the interview part lasts up to 1.5 hours. You will be asked to summarize your experience, highlight the most notable projects, list failures and explain your motives for changing a job. Better prepare the answers in advance!
Next comes the question & answer part to check your skills for an SEO job.
I had the following questions during my interview that I did not find online during my preparation:
- How to prove the value of SEO for stakeholders?
- Imagine we have a page ranking on the first position on Google. How many clients can we expect to get from it?
- What is the latest Google algorithm update?
- How would you explain SEO to a five-year kid?
- What would you do on the first day at work as an SEO expert?
An interview should be a friendly discussion with a positive vibe. Don’t try to come up with the answers if you don’t know something. Instead, you can share your thoughts and how you would approach problem-solving.
During the interviews, I referred to facts from research studies and the latest industry trends, which helped me impress my interlocutors.
SEO is a big industry where changes happen daily!
If you want to develop website SEO skills and succeed as a specialist, follow the latest trends, and research studies, experiment a lot, and be bold to share your achievements regardless of the outcome!
What jobs you can do with SEO skills
If you spent some time developing skills for SEO, now it’s time for action! You can kick off your career in SEO in one of the following positions:
- Junior SEO specialist
- SEO content writer
- Technical SEO specialist
- Link builder
- On-page SEO specialist
- Expert with local SEO skills
My humble advice is to get an entry-level marketing job regardless of the industry.
You will learn and practice a lot as a junior marketer within 1 to 2 years. This way, you will gain the necessary mindset and skills to get ready for SEO.
SEO career opens up many opportunities and grants you “freedom” to some extent.
Freedom to work on projects you want, anywhere you want, and whenever you want. If you nail SEO, you won’t be dependent on employers. Instead, new exciting opportunities will find you on their own. All you’ll have to do is catch yours!
Grab my 50-page guide to learn how I create blog posts that hit Google front page. You can easily replicate my 3-step process even if you are just starting.