Should You Get Into SEO?

What is SEO and Why Should You Care

This article – the first in a multi-part series – is tailored towards people entering the workforce and considering a career in digital marketing, or for people looking to switch career paths.

SEO, or search engine optimization, is the process of getting websites to rank higher in search engine results for relevant terms in order to accomplish business objectives (article views, products sold, etc.).

It’s a new discipline – arguably less than 20 years old – and the number of SEO jobs, as well as their salaries, have been growing rapidly over the last few years as more companies, big and small, realize how vital it is to their success.

There is no formal path to becoming an SEO. There are still no degrees, widely acknowledged certifications, or set curriculums. The field moves quickly and there is a tremendous amount of opportunity for people looking to learn and grow.


What Do SEO Jobs Look Like?

There is a great deal of diversity in both job types and approaches.

SEO jobs are available in-house (working client-side at a company) and at agencies (typically working on multiple accounts for different brands). Everyone from small businesses to Fortune 500 companies are hiring SEOs, and agencies themselves range from smaller search-specific startups to advertising and marketing giants. There are pros and cons to all of these, but I personally recommend starting your career at an agency where you’re going to work on a lot of different accounts.

The approaches vary as well. This can be due to need – smaller and newer websites require a different approach than big sites for established brands. And also habit – search has changed rapidly and not everyone has evolved quickly. There is a lot of difference in opinion about what works and what doesn’t. And there are different specialties. For example, some agencies focus on content marketing while others prefer to dig into technical issues more.

You may not know at the beginning what kind of approach you prefer. As much as you can, try to work with different teams and learn about different approaches. I’d also recommend, and this may be controversial, working at a few different companies in the first 5-10 years of your career. You get more exposure to diverse clients and approaches, and you should also get a nice pay bump when you switch jobs.


Do You Have What it Takes?

Not everyone is cut out to be an SEO. As mentioned above, the nature of SEO work can change quite a bit depending on the company or account, but there are some basic traits that all SEOs should have, and that interviewers will be looking for. We’ll get more into specific skills in the next article ‘Getting Started in SEO’.

  1. Curiosity and Ability to Learn: I’ve done a fair amount of hiring at different companies and with different people, and the number one trait – especially in entry-level people – that good SEOs look for in other SEOs is the willingness and ability to learn. SEO keeps evolving and if you don’t have the drive and the ability to learn new things, you will become obsolete. You also must be a self-directed learner, as there is no set path to becoming an SEO. That curiosity is also crucial in discovering problems that are affecting accounts, and coming up with new strategies.
  2. Ability to Communicate: Most clients (and your friends and family, and sometimes your coworkers) don’t really know what SEO is. It’s your job to be able to educate people on what you’re doing and how it’s performing. Written, verbal, and visual (oh, PowerPoint) communication skills are all crucial to being a successful SEO.
  3. Critical Thinking Skills: You do a lot of questioning as an SEO: what’s the goal, how do we accomplish it, how do we measure it, what are the obstacles… You’re constantly breaking down problems, coming up with solutions, and questioning your own assumptions. Your coworkers are, too. If you don’t like analyzing and discussing problems, you’re not going to last long in this field.
  4. Being Okay With Ambiguity: This may seem weird, but it’s really important. SEO is not a science. Few parts of digital marketing are, but SEO has a lot more ambiguity than, say, PPC (pay-per-click marketing). You want to be as logical as you can in the construction of hypotheses and analysis of results, but there are always many factors you can’t control for, and rarely do you have 100% certainty as to why something worked or failed. This can be difficult to accept, and if you need things to be black and white you should probably try something else.


Why People Love It

Here are some of the perks to a career in SEO:

  • You can climb high, quickly, and make good money without a lot of formal education or need to go back to school
  • There’s a lot of room to experiment and innovate
  • It’s rewarding to drive great results and help your clients succeed
  • There’s often room to evolve your role and develop expertise in the areas you find most interesting
  • You learn a ton of different things
  • Your coworkers are often really smart, cool people who come from a wide variety of backgrounds (some of the things my coworkers have majored in: marketing, literature, computer science, physics, art)

If you’re thinking more about getting into SEO, start reading the many SEO blogs, following SEOs on Twitter, and attending any conferences or Meetups you can.

But first spend some time reading these excellent SEO guides to get a better ideas of what exactly SEO entails: