What is the point of having a website if no one can find it?
That’s the question posed by Search Engine Optimization, and the problem corrected by SEO Specialists.
SEO plays an integral role in the Digital Marketing landscape, as the Search Engine Optimization Specialist is responsible for analyzing, reviewing and implementing recommendations to ensure that a website generates as much visibility as possible within Google’s natural, or organic results (meaning the non-paid portion of the Search Engine Results Pages (or SERPs).
In the modern marketing era, it’s virtually impossible for any site to achieve prominent organic rankings, and thus capture valuable Google traffic, without the assistance of a professional SEO, which is why this field is in such high demand, and projected to grow considerably in the years ahead.
Getting into the industry is no easy task, especially as higher education has failed to embrace this important marketing strategy with effective collegiate-level degrees or training courses, but for the self-starter willing to invest some of their own time in learning the trade, SEO is a lucrative industry offering a great deal of potential for growth.
The toolbox of the SEO expert is varied and extensive, requiring considerable finesse to navigate what once was a simple, straightforward process, but which has become riddled with nuances in recent years.
Why is modern SEO so complicated? Because it requires technological and programmatic knowledge, incredibly sophisticated consumer research, keyword targeting and content writing expertise, as well as traditional tasks previously assigned to Public Relations firms, but which have been relegated to the realm of SEO experts in recent years, including link building, content marketing and even Social Media marketing.
Modern SEO Best Practices and SEO Strategy are most easily separated into two distinct fields – On-Page SEO vs. Off-Page SEO, the former involving anything that’s done directly to the website itself, and the latter including anything happening off-domain, but for the purposes of promoting it.
In the next sections, we’ll break down the specifics of On vs. Off-Page SEO.
Tasks within On-Page SEO vary wildly, posing a significant challenge to anyone just now looking to break into the field, but offering exceptional variety in terms of the day to day activities of SEO Specialists.
SEO Experts don’t get much time to rest, as they need to become experts in a huge number of processes, from website construction and design to webmaster administration tasks like configuring XML Sitemaps, creating Robots.txt files, building Custom 404 Pages, transitioning older sites to HTTS Secured Site Protocol, and interpreting/responding to Google’s Site Speed reports, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg, because the real meat and potatoes of modern SEO campaigns involves optimizing not just the sites code, but also its content.
Content optimization asks include processes like reviewing and optimizing Title Tags, Meta Descriptions, Page Content and Internal Links, all of which can only be updated once the SEO expert has fully researched consumer trends and especially search query data, constructed a detailed overview of the search volume available to the industry, used to determine priority keyword targets, then analyzed the competitive environment and hand-selected the most appropriate keywords for the site, a process that requires a great deal of expertise, finesse, and experience.
But that’s not all, because text content, image content and video content all have to be handled individually when optimized, and SEO strategies also need to be crafted not just for the traditional Search Engines themselves (like Google and Bing), but also modern disruptors like YouTube, Amazon, Etsy, eBay and others.
Off-Page SEO may not be as powerful as it once was, but it remains incredibly relevant and important to overall SEO success in the modern era, and it’s become even trickier than ever before, requiring SEOs to brush up on their Link Building, Content Marketing, Social Media Marketing, and Public Relations skills.
In years past, it was easy to build links, including relatively high-quality, or at least indexable links that would generate SEO momentum for a site, but post Google’s Penguin algorithm update, link building has become a dangerous, double-edged sword that must be approached with extreme caution.
Gone are the days of spamming web directories, Blog comments, Social Media and Social Bookmarking sites, and here is the era of the modern Content Marketing process, which requires creating content for the purposes of distributing it strategically around the web in order to create attention, citations and yes, of course, links.
But links aren’t the end-all-be-all of Off-Page SEO that they once were, because modern Off-Page SEO best practices also require excellent Social Media marketing strategies and Public Relations campaigns that bridge the gap between the digital and non-digital ecosystem, sometimes including liaising with traditional PR firms and PR Specialists to help create a synergistic campaign that’ll kill two birds with one stone, generating attention and visibility in both the real-world, as well as online.
Obviously, navigating these confusing and potentially dangerous waters requires a great deal of expertise, making SEO specialists who can successfully complete these tasks all that more valuable and in great demand.
No SEO work is complete without a detailed, comprehensive approach to reporting and analytics, and while Google Analytics remains the gold standard, the modern SEO should also be familiar with Omniture’s Web Analytics, as well as a variety of third party tracking and planning tools like SpyFu, WordStream, SEMrush, Moz Pro, AHREFS, Majestic, Bright Edge, SEO Clarity, and more.
Unlike other Digital Marketing strategies where a single platform is usually capable of handling all reporting and monitoring needs, SEO typically needs a variety of tools to put together a complete picture of site and campaign performance, once again proving that the successful SEO expert will need to go to the extra mile in order to do their job effectively.
SEOs must fully understand the importance and value in measuring Key Performance Indicators like Keyword Rankings, Organic Traffic and Engagement as well as Conversions and even Ecommerce data, or their efforts are likely to sputter.
This is no easy space to report and measure, so if you’re interested in breaking into the field, you’ll definitely need to allocate some significant research and training time to this part of the SEO process.
Since Search Engine Optimization is not directly taught at a 4 year University, any of the following Bachelor Degrees listed above are acceptable to get your foot in the door, however, realize that this is really only a stepping stone into a specialized industry that will more than likely require self-teaching or a great deal of on-the-job training.
Employers want to know that you are either familiar with marketing concepts, proficient in writing, and computer savvy, but that’s just the barrier for entry for modern SEOs.
Even if you haven’t leveraged SEO in a professional environment yet, you should definitely plan on being able to showcase examples of professional writing, blogs, or any websites that you have worked on in the past, as this activity will be invaluable to proving that you can help run a modern SEO campaign.
If you do not have much work to show from an online publication standpoint, it is a good idea to become certified by the Google Analytics Academy as this will at least show competencies in analyzing data and proving that you’re serious about getting into the field.
These skills are crucial for a career in Search Engine Optimization because almost all of them will be required on a regular basis.
Though on the job training is often provided, being able to show diversification and the ability to learn quickly or actual results from previous SEO efforts are vital to scoring a great role in the industry.
As for interpersonal skills, listening and communication are mandatory since the SEO space is incredibly service-oriented, perhaps even more so than results-driven similar channels like PPC, Email, and Display.
Most SEOs are likely to be responsible for managing relationships with clients and effectively communicating positive and negative performance results.
Though the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not provide data directly under the title “SEO Specialist”, they reported a 2% - 4% growth for the category of Search Marketing Strategist during 2014-2024.
This includes data for PPC Advertisers (the flip-side of the Organic Search Marketing or SEO coin), but it’s a good indication that SEO demands are likely to continue rising for some time.
Search Engine Optimization is a unique field that is constantly evolving as new strategies, tactics and trends emerge, but is likely to continue growing significantly in the years ahead and more and more companies grow to realize the value of putting their products and services at the top of the Search Engines.
With that being said, the ways in which people are searching the internet are evolving too, and SEOs will need to keep up with other Inbound Marketing Channels, adjusting SEO strategies to deal with disruptive new tech like virtual assistants, voice search, VR, etc.
Fortunately, SEO Specialists are of the few roles capable of successfully integrating all of the Digital Marketing channels into a comprehensive, cohesive strategy that uses the website as the core around with the other spokes revolve, ensuring the value of SEO strategy for years to come.
Glassdoor reports an annual average base pay of $37,620.
PayScale reports an annual salary of SEO Specialists at $43,345.
Indeed reports the average salary for job postings is at $61,696. This statistic combines both Senior and Junior level positions.