Organic search is a huge driver of traffic to websites in practically every vertical. Not only that — its focus on the end user experience makes it a component of digital marketing that simply can’t be overlooked.
Although some established experts have been operating in the world of SEO for more than a decade, there’s never a wrong time to learn how to become an SEO.
It’s true that SEO is a rapidly growing and developing industry, so it may feel overwhelming to dive in and master it, but it's precisely the industry’s fast development that allows anyone to jump in and learn the skills.
People who are starting out in SEO can, within a few years ... be at a similar level as some of the people who have been in the game for a long time, just because SEO is changing so often. — Jeff Davis
This post will give you advice on how to become an SEO expert, from the SEO experts themselves.
Before you discover the advice — what does it mean to be an SEO “expert”?
What is an SEO Expert? Understanding SEO Expertise.
It’s important to understand the definition of an “SEO expert” before you commit to becoming one. You wouldn’t want to work toward something without knowing the end goal, after all.
In the SEO industry, there are a number of terms that can be used to describe SEO professionals’ current position, or their industry aptitude. Let’s cover two of them here.
- SEO Specialist, and
- SEO Expert
An SEO specialist typically refers to someone who has a primary focus on a single aspect of SEO, such as content marketing or managing technical components of a website.
However, many enterprise companies use this term in place of "associate" or other entry-level title.
And so, “SEO Specialist” is a job title.
An SEO expert, on the other hand, is a subjective title given to someone, typically by their peers. Being an expert means that others see you as having vast experience and authoritative knowledge about SEO. Often, experts are also self-proclaimed.
Because of the subjective manner of the word, you never see it as a job title.
So, you can work to definitively become an SEO specialist by being hired in an SEO role, but only you (or your peers) will know when you’ve reached the level of “SEO expert.”
How Do You Become an SEO Expert?
Even though the term “SEO expert” is subjective and often self-appointed, that doesn’t mean you can’t work to have mastery of skills necessary to earn the title.
We’ve pulled from a variety of our very own SEO experts — they’re very good at what they do! — as well as those known in the SEO community to offer you their advice on how to get started on the path to SEO expertise.
How to Become an SEO Expert
- Learn the fundamentals of search engine optimization.
- Focus on educating those in your company.
- Constantly learn about SEO.
- Experiment on a website.
- Use SEO tools.
- Be patient.
- SEO Experimentation.
- Create regular touchpoints with partner teams.
Let’s break down each point to see what our own SEO veterans have to say.
#1. Learn the Fundamentals of Search Engine Optimization
VP of Product Marketing & Training, seoClarity
Organic search has many components that range from surface-level topics to in-depth, technical procedures. Before you dive into your journey of SEO expertise, you’ll first need to understand the basics.
You may have a (mis)conception that SEO is all about pleasing Google’s algorithm, but at its core, SEO is search experience optimization.
To help fully explain this approach, our marketing team put together a beginners guide to learn SEO.
When you learn the fundamentals of SEO, you also learn various specialized skills under a wider umbrella.
- Technical SEO: fixing site problems that can hamper or prevent search engines from indexing and understanding your site.
- Content Optimization: researching and determining the kinds of content and landing pages that will most help your site rank for keywords important for your business. Content marketing is a critical element of any SEO strategy, as the content pulls in organic traffic.
- Competitive Analysis: discovering and tracking gaps between what you rank for and what your competition does, with an eye for opportunities.
- Analytics: the ability to track and analyze rankings, page performance, and other search-relevant KPIs, that is, key performance indicators.
- Link Building: assessing quality target sites relevant to your site and doing outreach to try to obtain backlinks to your pages.
#2. Focus on Educating Those in Your Company
SEO Manager, Tractor Supply Co.
SEO tends to be isolated from other departments in any given organization. In order to master SEO, you have to be able to evangelize it within your company by succinctly explaining its value — this is especially true for enterprise SEO. (More on that below.)
When you show stakeholders, team members, and upper management how SEO can bring cross-departmental success to your organization, you not only educate others, but further educate yourself.
It’s best to do this sooner rather than later to avoid organic search landing in an isolated silo.
Stick around! seoClarity’s Julia Wisniewski Stewart explains how you can do this in point #8.
Looking for further expert advice from Ryan? Navigate to Ask the SEO Expert: Ryan D'Souza.
#3. Constantly Learn About SEO.
Head of SEO & Content Marketing, Intuit
Since SEO is constantly evolving, now is as good a time as any to hop aboard and start your path toward SEO expertise.
Find SEO thought leaders and follow them on social media, and read their industry columns and articles. When you can familiarize yourself with what SEO was, is, and will be, you allow yourself to stay relevant in such a fast-moving industry.
Julia echoes the same point. She highlights three SEOs whom she considers to be experts:
Looking for further expert advice from Jeff Davis? Navigate to Ask the SEO Expert: Jeff Davis.
#4. Experiment on a Website.
SEO Analyst, seoClarity
While it’s important to have a theoretical understanding of SEO, you’re not going to be able to be an expert by simply having this theoretical knowledge — you need practical knowledge, too.
If you’ve read a few industry news articles about Google search, you can’t call yourself an SEO expert (yet). Unless you do all the various aspects of SEO yourself, you’re not going to learn.
This is why it’s crucial to experiment on a website.
Whether it’s your own site that you build with a CMS like WordPress that houses blog posts, or the site of a local small-business, learn how to operate the various aspects of a website’s backend. Look at the site’s HTML code to learn how it translates to the actual web page that users will see.
Let’s say that you’ve read an article that covers what a page title tag is in SEO. In order to truly know how it operates and what it can impact, you need to write those titles by yourself and see how they perform.
That's how you develop your SEO skill to become an SEO expert. SEO is a continuous learning process. While the basics remain the same over time, new things regularly come up that change the industry. As an SEO expert, you will have to change your strategy and learn those new things, and you do that by being hands-on.
#5. Use SEO Tools.
Client Success Manager, seoClarity
The SEO industry is full of various tools that allow you to have a solid understanding of site analytics and other insights. Analytics and data points are foundational components to SEO that impact every aspect of your strategy and execution.
Without data, you would be shooting bling in the world of SEO.
Many tools are specialized, which means they pertain to one area of search engine optimization. With my work at SEO agencies, I used a variety of tools that helped with the entire digital marketing lifecycle.
That means that when you use these tools, you learn about a new aspect of SEO — and how these tools influence next steps.
Not sure where to start? Look at a compilation list of the best free SEO tools that you can use. A crucial (and free!) SEO tool is Google Analytics. It’s the most important tool to master along your SEO journey.
#6. SEO Experimentation.
Head of Growth, Carfax
When you begin to implement optimizations to your site, the only way to know for sure whether they worked or not is to run tests!
I once worked on a project that received initial pushback until a simple, yet powerful test showed the importance of both teamwork and testing in SEO, and worked to prove out the success.
Even if the test is small, it’s a major component in attributing changes in performance to specific optimizations.
We might be biased around certain initiatives and be quick to say something will work or not work based on our anecdotal experiences, but that may be totally wrong based on the industry. — Nakul Goyal
Looking for further expert advice from Nakul? Navigate to Ask the SEO Expert: Nakul Goyal.
#7. Be Patient.
VP of Marketing, Self Financial
SEO efforts take time, and so will your individual pathway to SEO expertise. Some things that seem like they’ll happen quickly actually won’t. This could be any optimization made to your site, really.
Plus, how the industry evolves also takes time. This was largely evident with the rise of mobile. It took longer to come into fruition than most were expecting.
So, patience is two-fold: be patient with SEO itself, and be patient with yourself as you work your way through the industry.
Looking for further expert advice from Jeff Smith? Navigate to Ask the SEO Expert: Jeff Smith.
#8. Create Regular Touchpoints with Partner Teams.
Julia Wisniewski Stewart
Client Success Team Lead, seoClarity
Create a feedback loop and regular touchpoints with the teams you work most closely with. This could be the development team, paid search, business insights, etc.
These touchpoints give all teams an opportunity to discuss ways to improve processes and standard operating procedures (SOPs). Plus, it gives you a stage to report on SEO success stories in an effort to evangelize your hard work.
Better yet, create a success story with a partner team to share with the larger organization.
These meetings also allow you to train partner teams on how they can use SEO KPIs, reports, and data to their own advantage. Search engine optimization will become a part of the conversation for every department that works on the website.
Looking for further expert advice from Julia? Navigate to Ask the SEO Expert: Julia Wisniewski Stewart.
SEO at the Enterprise Level
SEO is a challenge, and enterprise-level SEO is even harder! If your goal is to work your way up to the enterprise level, there are some obstacles you’ll need to be prepared to face.
One of those obstacles is the tactical approach. Enterprise sites have thousands (if not millions!) of pages. That of course means … more room for errors, and more work all around.
Recommended Reading: 25 Ways to Succeed at Enterprise SEO
As Ryan and Julia mentioned earlier, the other challenge comes with evangelizing SEO and demonstrating its value.
Luckily, SEO does provide value to every department in an organization, but that doesn’t mean your job is done. You need to continually prove the value of SEO to create an SEO Center of Excellence for repeatable, scalable results in SEO.
You won’t be able to do this well until you have an expert-level understanding of SEO, its importance, and its connection to other departments.
So, never stop learning about the industry, and never stop practicing hands-on, tactical work!