How to become an SEO Specialist


Search engine optimization or SEO has emerged as an important industry in recent years due to the increasing power that search engines like Google wield.  As companies try to raise their rankings on Search Engine Results Pages (SERP), they are turning to a specialized marketing professional to accomplish this goal, the SEO specialist.  SEO specialists are tasked with designing, developing and promoting high quality websites.  SEO specialists are not typically of the builders of the website, but are more often a consulting authority

SEO Specialist are charged with a number of responsibilities, depending on the company and industry, within which they work.  SEO specialists who work as freelancers or within a marketing firm should have a number of important skills:

  • Website analysis–It is critical to the success of any SEO marketing campaign that the target company website conforms to the latest standards for search engine optimization. Keywords, back links, formatting and content are but a few of the important areas that a SEO specialist considers as he analyzes, redesigns and rebuilds a website.
  • Keyword optimization–Researching keywords and organically introducing them into a website is essential to a SEO optimized page.
  • Content generation–The keywords are important, but the textual, informational, and graphical content that constitute the page must also be produced by the SEO specialist.
  • Search Engine Parameters–This may be the most important job of a SEO specialist. Maintaining an updated understanding of what the major search engines, and especially Google, are using as criteria for SERP informs all of the design choices a SEO specialist makes.
  • Information Technology Skills–A skilled SEO specialist should possess a strong background in HTML, CSS, a number of programming languages and familiarity with a variety of operating systems and hardware platforms.
  • Client Management–The SEO specialist must maintain a working knowledge of his employer’s or client’s objectives. Any optimized site must, first of all, conform to the business strategy of the site owner.
    Analytical Processing–The ability to analyze problems, find appropriate resources and develop solutions goes to the heart of the SEO specialist position.

As the name denotes, a SEO specialist may focus on a specific part of search engine optimization. Some of the most important roles a SEO specialist may take on are:

  • Content Writer–Many SEO specialists acquire this skill early in their careers, as it requires less technical knowledge than other SEO professional roles.  The production of new and unique content is critical to raising a SERP, and may focus on producing short articles, web dialogue or other forms of online text.
  • Link Builder–This is an SEO specialization that is growing in importance as more search engines have adopted back linking as an important part of their search algorithms.  Developing authentic back links to the client’s website from reputable websites can be a complex proposition which requires extensive expertise and critical human management skills.
  • Web Researcher–The Internet is a complex, dynamic environment that requires constant analysis and evaluation.  The research component of a SEO professional’s responsibilities can easily grow into a full time job.  These SEO specialists often provide background for content writers, web developers, and link builders.  They also provide valuable information about the latest SEO guidelines.

Education

The most common educational requirement for an SEO specialist is experience with search engine optimization in a variety of online activities, including web design and web content production. The majority of positions for SEO specialists require the following:

  • Bachelor’s degree in business, marketing, communications or information technology
  • One to three years in online marketing
  • Knowledge of HTML, CSS and various programming languages

The speed at which the SEO industry changes is so rapid that the importance of formalized course study is questionable. Although education about web development, marketing and information technology may be important foundations, the majority of SEO methodology information will be acquired to online.  Many SEO positions will offer on the job training but will still require some post-secondary education. An outstanding work history may supersede any educational requirements for some positions.

Although formalized education in SEO related fields is not a necessity, the need for ongoing education is absolute.  Search engine optimization is a rapidly evolving field and requires SEO professionals to constantly re-evaluate and update skill sets and search engine criteria. SEO is a constantly changing interplay between the major search engines and SEO professionals trying to raise the online profiles of the clients they represent.  As Google, Yahoo, Bing and others modify their search algorithms to provide a more objective hierarchy of websites, SEO specialists reshape the digital profiles of the clients to enhance their search rankings.  This back and forth demands constant training and re-attunement to the subtleties of each new search engine modification.

Certification

The emergence of SEO as a profession has spawned a number of accrediting organizations that provide some form of certification for completion of their training programs.  Some of these organizations are considerably more reputable than others, with well-established universities providing the most legitimate certifications.  Academic certification typically involves the completion of a course or training program provided by a university or college. These courses may be available on campus or through an online portal.

Unfortunately, there are no national or regional certification boards. SEMPO, or the Search Engine Marketing Professionals Organization, is widely considered to be the closest thing to an industry central body, and did offer certification courses, but recently discontinued its online institute for certification. Without a centralized sanctioning body for the industry that establishes professional standards, certification for SEO specialists is of questionable importance.  There have been suggestions of establishing such an organization from various members of the SEO community, but due to the nature of SEO, which many consider more of an art form than a science, it is unlikely to occur in the near future.

Industries of Employment

SEO specialists are most often found in marketing businesses, but can be found in virtually any industry.  The need for SEO enhancement is an imperative for any business or industry that conducts business online.

According to State of Search Marketing Report 2016, companies are increasingly relying on third party marketing firms to perform SEO duties.  In 2016, 51% of companies were performing SEO in-house, but in 2017, only 44% of companies were assigning these tasks to internal marketing teams.  The shift from marketing teams that are not as knowledgeable about SEO best practices to specialized SEO marketing professionals indicates the increasing reliance on SEO experts.