Search engine optimization. For many, it’s a career we never imagined ourselves in. Some of us started our professional journeys by studying journalism or computer programming. Some of us were lawyers or veterinarians before making the switch to SEO. There may be much we don’t know about SEO, but one thing is for certain — SEO is made up of a diverse group of professionals who come from a variety of different backgrounds.
But why so many backgrounds? What is it about SEO that draws so many people from such different walks of life?
Part of the reason for that diversity is the fact that SEO isn’t a formal discipline that’s taught in schools, so many people stumble into it — either to promote their own website, a friend’s website, or their employer’s website. Because there’s no formal education for SEOs, it can be confusing for beginner SEOs to know what to do to grow in their careers.
- Millions of blog posts to read
- Thousands of SEO professionals to follow on Twitter
- Countless SEO courses to take
It can be difficult to know where to turn for the best chance of leveling up in your SEO career. Whether you want to deepen your skillset, land a better SEO job, or otherwise, growth is a must. So where can we turn?
We asked SEO professionals from around the globe, “What's one piece of advice you'd give to an SEO who's trying to level up in their career?”
Here are their responses:
Curiosity, continual learning, and being quick on your feet
"In my experience, the SEO department often runs very lean with one or two SEOs for a 10M+ page website. This means you have to be quick on your feet and mindful of how you spend your time. The ability to build automated dashboards and alerts helps you refocus your time on strategy, implementation, and testing.
Always be curious…
Don’t limit yourself to only analyzing external search engine data. Dig into your internal search data, and meet with your customer service team regularly. You may find a few surprises, like new products or services your company can launch.
Never stop learning…
You’ll need a breadth of skills – from writing, to analytics, to basic computer programming. When first starting out in SEO you don’t need to have all of these skills. I started out in copywriting and later took night classes to learn more technical skills, like computer networking and HTML. This breadth of knowledge allows an SEO to form partnerships with other digital marketing channels, IT, customer service, content, and creative departments.
If there is one thing I have learned, SEO cannot be done in a silo. The most successful SEO programs are rooted in these cross-departmental partnerships."
“A habit that has enabled me throughout my career in this industry is the fact that I prioritize learning daily. In an industry that is rapidly changing and filled with noise, you have to consume a lot regularly while distilling truths for yourself.
I set aside an hour in the morning for SEO-specific learning and then two hours each night for reading or learning cross-functionally.
The only way you stay current is by learning. Feed your curiosity. It’s a non-stop endeavor and a shared facet of all SEOs near the leading edge.”
“Don't be afraid to dive in. So much of SEO is a guessing game and one where, for everyone who thinks one thing, there's someone else who thinks something else on that same topic. So don't be afraid to give it a shot yourself and fail until you succeed. And always remember, ‘it depends,’ is your friend.”
“Test, stay up to date, and automate.”
"The foundation of a successful SEO strategy is laid on a solid understanding of your customer. SEO experts who build solutions with a view to improve user experience seldom go wrong. A search engine optimizer should:
- Invest heavily on Technical SEO keeping the 2 main users in mind - Your customer and the Search Engine bot."
- Innovate continuously to stay ahead of competition and adapt to an ever changing search landscape
- Be up to date on the trends in the industry and leverage opportunities to gain an advantage"
Collaborate with peers
“Form your own mastermind group with other SEO practitioners in different industries, set up monthly meetings to share knowledge, industry updates, and current challenges. Remember we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with, so get out there and find your mastermind group to level up your SEO career.”
“While your knowledge is very important and will help navigate seas of doubt from colleagues, partners, and even vendors, getting out there and creating working relationships with your counterparts and cross functional teams is what will let you get things accomplished. Continuous education around whatever you don’t know about search, conferences and workshops – are the things that will let you be ahead.”
Communication skills are a must
“There are a set of key skills you need to master to level up in an SEO career, but how well you communicate with your internal audiences – developers, web designers, executives/clients, marketing, PR, data analysts/scientists, etc. – is the real secret sauce. SEO technical knowledge is obviously important, but alone it only takes you so far. Learn to identify what is valuable to each and every SEO audience, then how to effectively communicate how SEO can help them reach THEIR objectives and goals. SEOs who master the art of business communication are the ones who will earn the resources, the nice titles, and the big paychecks.”
“Above all, learn to communicate. There won't be an SEO task that's easier to do alone than with cooperation. Learning to win buy-in from stakeholders and communicate in ways that invoke action from others will move both your campaigns & career forward.”
Show the business value of your SEO efforts
“If you want to grow in your current role, become more effective at accomplishing key SEO projects, and level up your career, the most important thing you can do is tie your efforts to business value. Revenue could be the ultimate goal; however, you can earn nearly all of the benefit by getting part of the way there.
Start small by reporting not only traffic, crawlability, and rankings, but add in complementary information like site speed, user engagement, and conversions. Next, connect your projects to larger marketing and/or product initiatives and demonstrate cross-team alignment. Seek to eventually quantify the value you create to the business overall (and maybe the bottom line).”
"My advice would be to – assuming you got the SEO fundamentals nailed, understand the business you are working for first and foremost. Why does the business exist? What are the key value propositions? And always remember business strategy comes first. It is your job to create a SEO strategy to deliver on the business strategy, not the other way around. No business works with SEO best practices front of mind.
I have experienced many senior SEOs not understanding that, becoming obstacles to the business rather than assets, and creating friction to adopt SEO specially in larger corporations with legacy ways of working.
So, business strategy first, and then create SEO strategy to deliver on the business strategy."
"I wish there was just 1 piece of advice that would help you "Level Up," so instead I've put together 4 points that are sure to get you there:
- Experience – it’s obvious years of experience count, but experience both Agency and Client side wins. Company structures vary, lingo varies, and it’s imperative you find and build good relationships with the people who can make your SEO Wishlist come true.
- Confidence – get to know your stakeholders, do not be shy to educate staff and prepare to be educated (LISTEN!). It’s super important for you to have a good relationship with them, as they will be the ones to accelerate your project(s) and make your work a success.
- Reporting – set up your reporting suites from day 1 of joining a new company or the first day you on-board a new client. There is nothing worse than having no data and no reference points, especially when meeting senior management!
- KPIs/Goals – Shout about the Wins; you will drown in marketing if you do not showcase the worth of your channel. And on the flip side, do not hide the Fails! Fails are just as important to identify and showcase where you went wrong and how you’ve learnt from them (honesty and trust go a long way!)."
Testing strategies is key
“Prove your expertise by testing and implementing new strategies. Set up baseline tracking ahead of time to support your hypothesis with numbers. Keep track of all implemented changes and be ready to explain positive or negative fluctuations in metrics.”
“Be curious, test, and enjoy the journey! Also, get to know how to use Excel. There are so many shortcuts you can take just by using the software most of my students HATED when I was teaching.”
“Don’t always listen to the advice of the ‘godfathers’ of SEO without questioning it. Yes, a lot of people have been doing this for far longer, but changes happen daily and you could be the one to work on the next big strategy breakthrough. Always be testing, failing, and trying again.”
"Create your own website about something you're passionate about. By developing your own website and experience the roadblocks and successes to drive traffic to your site, it will provide great hands-on experience and a deeper understanding of SEO."
"No matter what the idea, try it and don’t be scared to fail. I think too often in SEO people get stuck in the ‘well that worked/didn’t work before’ mindset and hold back on trying out things that may end up leading to positive impacts. Or on the idea that a failed idea is terrible – it’s just part of a learning curve. It’s always better to come with a potential solution to a problem rather than just a problem, even if it doesn’t pan out exactly how you planned."
Be well-rounded, patient, and one step ahead
“Read SEO blogs, but don’t always assume everything is right. Hands-on experience is the best. Test and see what works.
Aim to be the well-rounded person that people go to for answers, whether that is training on influential on-page best practices, technical SEO, content, or content marketing.
You don’t need hundreds of SEO tools to be successful. Choose a few to help with different areas, such as crawling and indexation, content research, competitive analysis, etc. — you get the point!
The search landscape is constantly evolving. Be patient if your sites drop, learn, and make the fixes. There are no fixed rules."
“I think exposure really helped my career — exposure to different types of clients (enterprise, SMB, etc.), different types of websites (e-commerce, lead gen, etc.), and different CMSs. It gets you comfortable with the uncomfortable and unfamiliar, and I think that's important if you want to level up and stand out from the pack.”
Familiarize yourself with SEO-adjacent skills
"Do your best to become conversant in all processes, technologies, and languages required to be a full stack developer for enterprise scale web experiences. Understanding the challenges faced by your UX and IT partners will help you to advocate more effectively for the optimizations you want to put in place. I doubt I'd be in the position I'm in now if I didn't have a good relationship with folks in IT and UX."
“Work with the development team. We don’t bite. Developers are an important part of SEO strategy. Don’t think you can go anywhere without an SEO-aware development team.”
"The advice for all those who want to grow in this field is to study people's habits and needs. Observe and analyze the behavior of people and therefore of users on websites. Match the study of SEO with UX and CRO. It will be an increasingly important feature for the success of the SEO. We must always think about satisfying a research intent (text or voice), exhaustively answering what people ask."
Stay ahead of the trends, anticipate change, and keep it interesting
There you have it. Key advice from veteran SEO experts working in tech, real estate, the airline industry, and more. If you’re looking for the answer, SEO may not be the field for you, but if you’re craving challenges, big and small, to keep you on your toes, then it just might be!
With SEO constantly evolving due to daily search engine updates and hastening advancements in technology, one thing’s for sure. SEO is not only essential for any business’s long-term success - it’s also exciting!