SEO Specialists: What They Do + Steps on How to Become One
If you’re looking to forge a career in the digital marketing industry, there are three letters you need to know.
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization and it is the means by which popular search engines like Google determine where a website is placed on their search engine results pages. Anything beyond the first page gets little to no traffic, so SEO is a constant complicated battle, with tremendous spoils going to the victor.
Because of the importance placed on SEO, qualified and skilled SEO specialists are in high demand. But what is an SEO specialist? What do they have to do? How do you become one? And most importantly, what kind of money does an SEO specialist make?
What is an SEO Specialist?
An SEO specialist is charged with implementing website changes that make the site more appealing to Google and its ever-evolving search algorithm.
It is the sole goal of the SEO specialist to increases the flow of traffic by improving a website’s overall Google ranking, thus making it more visible to the prospects searching for similar products or services.
The ultimate prize for an SEO specialist is the coveted number one spot on one of Google’s search engine results pages. While the goals of an SEO specialist have remained the same, the actual role has changed quite dramatically as compared to 10 years ago. Modern SEO specialists require a completely different skill set than they once did.
That’s because Google is constantly changing and evolving its search algorithm. This all-important algorithm determines how pages are ranked. Because the algorithm is constantly updating itself and shifting what it looks for, it is the duty of the SEO specialist to keep up with the industry and understand what is changing and when.
The major changes that have occurred within the past several years mostly involve content. Google now places more value on quality content than ever before. Not only has Google better clarified what it wants, but it is also clearly defining what it does not want.
Google frowns upon techniques that have come to be known in the industry as black hat SEO. There are a number of ways SEO specialists used to try and trick Google’s system back in the day. For a while, it worked.
Black Hat SEO firms were the masters of producing duplicate content, stuffing pages with keywords at the expense of the message, and creating bogus links to the site.
However, Google is a constantly evolving and growing system, and eventually, it caught on to the many ways these firms attempted to cheat the game. Now, black hat SEO will not only not help you increase your standing, but it will also actually penalize you, up to and including banning your site from Google altogether.
What Does an SEO Specialist Do?
There are a number of qualities that companies look for in an SEO specialist.
For starters, an SEO specialist’s job description needs to include the ability to make decisions and solve problems. When Google makes major changes, the SEO specialist needs to not only know what to do but have the confidence to make those changes without having to hold someone’s hand.
An SEO specialist also has to develop a strong ability to develop content and prioritize tasks. That’s because the duties of an SEO specialist are long reaching and require a lot of commitment and time. Without proper time management skills or an ability to multitask, an SEO specialist could find themselves overwhelmed.
Specialists also require a strong research mindset. There’s a ton of research that goes into every SEO strategy, and no two strategies are the same. For starters, as a specialist, you have to know how to perform a SERP analysis. SERP stands for search engine result page. When you analyze a SERP, you perform a Google search for the terms you’re looking to rank for in order to determine the intent of prospects who are performing these searches.
You also have to do extensive keyword research, determining not only what the most relevant keywords are, but what the search volume is for those terms. It is also important to research what the competition is like. That’s why SEO specialists should familiarize themselves with Google’s Keyword Planner tool. It makes the entire process easier.
The test and implementation of various SEO techniques are also a regular part of the SEO specialist role. As we said before, no two strategies are alike and what works for one company might have the exact opposite impact on another.
An SEO specialist’s key functions all occur on the website itself. For starters, you will have to optimize the website’s layout to make it more user-friendly.
After that, the bulk of your work will be to write quality content. Note, the word quality, meaning that your content must be contextual, informational, and graphical to have a hope of impressing Google’s search bots.
You’ll also need to know how to sprinkle keywords into your content strategically, and in a way that does not feel ham-fisted. When you’re reading content that has overstuffed itself with keywords, you can tell. There is an art to crafting the perfect SEO content while maintaining readability.
Another key function of an SEO specialist’s role is to cross-link content for internal linking. All of your pages have to connect to one another in some way. It’s important to find the best locations for these links and to approach them in a way that feels natural.
Perhaps the most time consuming and difficult task in the life of an SEO specialist is to develop backlinks for the site in question. That means you have to get high profile industry relevant sites to link back to your site, giving Google its seal of approval.
Once all of that is done, the specialist’s job is nowhere near finished. SEO management involves constantly analyzing the website for any improvements that might enhance your ranking. This all has to conform to the latest Google standards.
As a specialist, you will be constantly redesigning and rebuilding your website, treating it as though it were a living, breathing, and evolving creature.
That’s not to say that the life of an SEO specialist is all computer screens and dark rooms. You also have to serve as a liaison between various departments like social media or SEM for example, coordinating their efforts to contribute toward the overall SEO strategy.
All SEO specialists should have a working knowledge of HTML, CSS, programming language, and blogging best practices. You don’t have to be a full blown website designer, but you do have to know enough to be able to make changes where needed.
It is also your job to manage your client or employer’s overall vision while implementing the SEO strategy. While you’re optimizing content and layout, you must also conform the changes that you’re making to the business model and strategy of the company. You don’t get to change the entire direction of the company for the sake of SEO.
Average Salary of an SEO Specialist
There are many different takes on what an SEO specialist makes in terms of salary. It all boils down to how much the specialist in question will be doing. Some companies like to spread the SEO specialist position out among many different employees. Others prefer to have one central figure handling all of their optimization.
Payscale.com claims that an SEO specialist makes an average salary of $45,216. Crandall Associates, on the other hand, states that starting salaries range from $50,300 to $59,100.
SEO specialists find themselves in an enviable position right now, because the work that they do is so important to a company’s continued success. The end result of that ongoing need is salaries consistently going up as the need becomes worse.
An SEO specialist position can also be found in any industry, not just marketing. While it is common to find an SEO specialist position as part of a marketing firm, some businesses want an in-house marketing specialist. So, by that logic, an SEO specialist could be working for a contracting company or shoe store, rather than a marketing agency.
Marketingcareeredu.org states that a specialist dedicated solely to research and content optimization with link building responsibilities can make anywhere between $45,000 and $85,000. Additional duties would obviously see that salary increased accordingly.
It’s also possible for SEO professionals that have specialized functions to have different titles and salaries, as shown in the image above.
How to Become an SEO Specialist
To become an SEO specialist, you need a number of skills, as well as certain educational qualifications.
Content Writing – To work in SEO you have to be a writer, first and foremost. The content that you create needs to be optimized for keywords and appealing to Google’s search bots, but also good in quality. It’s an art form to find the balance.
Technical Skills – No one is saying that you have to be a coding genius who can build a website from the ground up. But in order to be an SEO specialist, you have to at least be familiar with the basics of web design and understand HTML and CSS. The more technical knowledge you have, the better qualified you are to be an SEO specialist.
Link Building – Believe it or not, this is a skill that you can cultivate. One of the best ways to generate backlinks is to create blogs that can be featured on other sites. You then shop those articles around and try to get them listed on reputable websites that are relevant to your industry. This is how you develop authentic backlinks. It may sound simple but it is actually a complex process which calls for a working knowledge of human management and sales skills.
Researching – SEO is a constant study session, with copious amounts of analysis and research needed. Make sure you’re not only staying on top of Google’s changes, but also analyzing the competition, researching keywords, and performing a SERP analysis for every term. SEO research is almost a full-time job in and of itself.
Most SEO specialist positions want to see a bachelor’s degree in marketing, communications, business, or information technology.
It’s also not an entry-level job. Most companies will want you to have one to three years of online marketing experience before entrusting such an important role to you.
Unfortunately, the industry changes so much that formalized course study is seeing less importance, but it is a strong foundation on which to build your SEO career. Here are some of the best free and paid seo courses.
On the job training is usually involved but there are certain certifications which help like Google Analytics. An SEO specialist needs to engage in ongoing education by constantly attending conferences and workshops.
They also typically make a habit of watching webinars and training videos. You should also read industry-related blogs to stay on the cutting edge.
Certain institutions offer SEO certifications. Some of these include ExpertRating.com, SEOPros.org, and Bruce Clay Inc.
The Search Engine Marketing Professionals Organization is the closest thing to a central body for the industry, but they don’t offer online certification anymore. Because of that, there is no centralized sanctioning body for the SEO industry to establish professional standards.
SEO is here to stay. It’s not a fad, but rather it is the evolutionary future of the marketing industry. A career as an SEO specialist is a smart move for your ongoing professional life as it is a service that is in demand and constantly evolving.
Develop the right skill set, get the proper certification, and an ongoing role as an SEO specialist could become your career.