Do you have everything you need to build an SEO career? Find out what the 8 best skills are here.
Although it has been around for a few decades, SEO is not yet taught in many colleges or referred to in most CV marketing (at least according to all the practitioners I interview).
SEO professionals come from a variety of backgrounds. Some are developers, some are entrepreneurs, some are traditional traders, some are journalists, and some are even rappers. During my work, I spend a lot of time interviewing candidates for open SEO roles.
The 8 Best Skills SEO Every Great Professional Must Succeed
- There is no consistent list of SEO the 8 best skills that everyone needs, but there are some things I look for in each candidate, depending on their level of experience and position.
- To put it simply, I’m looking for someone who has a background I can rely on (development, marketing, content, etc.) and a data-driven and results-based thinking process.
- If you read the above interview article, it should be immediately apparent.
Anyway, let’s talk about the 8 best skills for SEO success. This is not an exhaustive list and I’m sure there are many people out there who have succeeded without these 8 best skills, but what fun would a list be without some controversy? Here are the eight key 8 best skills I am looking for when hiring an SEO.
1. Critical Thinking
This is difficult to measure, but it is important for SEO professionals to have an analytical mind that can differentiate between correlation and causation. I want an SEO who can see the data and understand the 3 what is:
- What happened?
- Because What happened, happened
- What should we do about this?
There are many ways to measure this, but I stop asking them to find the fastest way to cross a bridge with a shared lens or the classic lamp problem. Instead, I’ll ask hypothetical interview questions to help me understand their thought process. Some sample interview questions include Let’s assume you and your client disagree on what to do. Walk with me in this meeting with them and your approach to it.
Another is The account just sent an email to a client’s new site. What are the first things you see? A good way to measure this is to ask them about the biggest problem they solved, how they identified it, how they did it, and how they measured success. I want to see that they understand the problem from many points of view and use data and logic in decision-making.
2. Ability to Speak and Write
An SEO professional who can do his own keyword research and create content that includes it is extremely valuable. However, we are not just talking about writing articles like this or speaking at conferences. I want an SEO that can persuade internal teams and clients to do the right thing and that comes from talking in meetings and writing decks, case studies, POVs, etc. All of these include speaking and writing the 8 best skills. SEO requires not only confidence but also the ability to distill complex ideas and thoughts into concepts with which people outside of SEO can understand and make decisions.
3. Technical and Programming Skills
I am equally sure that there are many SEO professionals who are now doing an outstanding job without any programming knowledge. The truth is, they could do an even more outstanding job with some programming knowledge. As SEO professionals, we give tips on page speed, performance, slow loading, server redirects, adding microdata, and basic HTML tags.
All of these conversations become easier if you can talk to the developer and offer information and not just requests. Understanding where the programmer comes from when you go back is surprisingly helpful in reconciling the differences. Evaluating the level of engagement with respect to the SEO impact is also crucial.
- I’m not saying SEO professionals need to be able to code, but they need to understand the consequences of coding the changes they seek and what it means for developers, what common mistakes and objections are, and even how to overcome them.
- It’s not enough for an SEO professional to copy a page speed report from Google and send it to developers. You need to understand what these changes are, what they mean for the site, and what effort it takes to make them happen.
- Technical knowledge can also make your life easier, whether you’re writing a quick Python script to automatically add HREFLANG to your XML sitemap or a quick scraper for data collection.
- As search engines evolve to use more machine learning and NLP, there are many things an SEO professional can do with our current datasets and some Python NLP libraries.
4. SEO Developers
Today’s SEO developers are doing amazing things with data and code that help them gain an information advantage and win. One of the most insightful conversations I ever had was when I drank with a friend and started talking about how to code a search engine using only what SEO professionals believe are ranking factors. We went deep enough on how to detect these indices and how to index them and how to use them in the rankings and it was clear which ones might not work and which others might not be realistic at the query or site level.
Our knowledge of programming and previous work in information retrieval helped us understand what was possible and what was not possible. This is an invaluable asset. I still see many SEO professionals claiming every day that they believe algorithms work and that all computer scientists would know they cannot be coded.
5. Social Skills and Alcohol Consumption Skills
During my career, I have made so many wonderful relationships and I learned so much by hanging out in bars. To do this, however, you can not be a worm and must be able to match others. If you spend your time in the bar discussing politics, you will miss something. You should also be able to withhold your drink or dispose of it respectfully, as many great SEO professionals love to drink.
Reminder: the conference line is never the place to look for a new girlfriend/boyfriend, but it is a great place to talk about SEO theory and tactics. No one wants to hear about this particular issue that only applies to your site and takes 10 minutes to explain (unless you are buying drinks). However, they will love learning about new and exciting things you have seen or done.
6. Data Skills
When I first wrote this post, I called this section Excellent Skills and it still applies today, but it goes further. Extracting the data is not enough. Sometimes you have to manipulate it a bit to get the information you need.
- I have met many SEO professionals who cannot do the simplest tasks in Excel.
- The lookups concatenate and if perspectives (among literally 473 other functions seriously, there are 476 built-in Excel functions) should be part of every SEO pro toolbox.
- Over the course of my career, I have created countless Excel templates that help solve everyday problems.
- Convert a screaming frog Scan into an XML sitemap, measure algorithm changes and their impact with ga/Adobe data, generate custom cars with position curves, or quickly convert keywords from the search console into product groups with branded/unbranded products, excel is invaluable.
These days, using Excel isn’t enough. A truly integrated SEO professional will be able to create toolbars in data study. Use various APIs to extract more data (search console, google NLP, beacons, AdWords, various tools, etc.). And understand basic data to do great things with this data.
Both R and Python and the tableau are worth mentioning. Also in this category, there is mathematics! I still see so many correlation studies and statistical analyses that they don’t really tell what the author thinks. A good example: examining clicks each month during a pandemic can tell a different story than examining CTRS over the same period as demand fluctuates due to external forces.
7. Driving, Motivation, and Adaptability
The thing I like and hate about working in SEO is that it doesn’t shut down at 5 pm. Marketing isn’t one of those jobs you leave in the office every night. To be truly great at SEO these days you need to have an internal drive. That compels you to keep learning. Whether it’s a new programming language, a new framework (WordPress, react, angular, etc.). With a new search engine model like drawing or understanding machine learning, there is always something to learn.
The candidates that make it to the top of my recruiting list are the ones. Who have their own subproject sites or create their own tools to solve their own problems. For example: use the webmaster tools API to automate data collection and report formatting. I just hired this person.
- SEO also requires adaptability and a thick skin. Our industry is changing and sometimes we have to admit to our clients. Submitting Directories, ranking pages, rejected links, or other things we once recommended are no longer the best idea.
- I want a candidate who is willing to put his ego check in the door. And admit when they are wrong. We’ve all made mistakes and that’s okay. It doesn’t make us any fewer gurus or experts. This is how science works.
- This is the priority of the client’s goals, sometimes before the SEO earning opportunities. (I told you I’d start a discussion in the tweets leading up to this article.)
8. Sense of Humor
We face many ups and downs in the SEO industry, often at a rapid pace. Sometimes it is important to step back and remember that we are not saving lives, we are just marketing. As stressful as work can be, most can wait until tomorrow. A sense of humor goes a long way in making our work much more enjoyable and productive.