If you’re interested in transitioning to a career in SEO (search engine optimization), or you’re currently an SEO professional looking to improve your performance, it’s helpful to take an analytical look at the skills most important to become a successful search marketer and find ways to improve them in yourself.
Obviously, there are many factors that determine the effectiveness of an SEO campaign, but at the core of every campaign is at least one person calling the shots. This person will be setting goals, leading team members, performing research and accomplishing a ton of miscellaneous tasks; but without the right general skills to back these responsibilities, your entire SEO campaign could fall apart.
So what are the most important skills you’ll be using in SEO?
The first and most important skill on this list is analysis, a vague concept that applies to a number of individual SEO areas. What you need as an SEO professional is the ability to take data about who, what, when and where, and understand the “how” and “why” questions that go along with them.
For example, you’ll need to look at reports on organic traffic increases and determine which of your tactics were responsible for that increase. You’ll need to look at recent ranking drops, and track down the root causes for that setback. You’ll need to crunch data on thousands of keywords to understand the best direction for your campaign, and you’ll need to figure out which pieces of content best resonate with your audience (and why).
The second most important skill after analysis is research -- and you’ll be doing a lot of it. Research for an SEO campaign often starts with a basic keyword and competitor analysis, which provides the insights necessary to create the strategic foundation for your campaign. But SEO demands far more research than that; you’ll also need to read up on the latest news about search engine technology.
Next, you’ll need to run experiments to see how your tactics affect your search rankings (and user perceptions). You’ll even need to look up answers to your problems when you inevitably run into challenges. The faster and more efficiently you research, the better.
3. Coding basics
You don’t need to be a professional programmer to be successful in SEO. Today’s CMS systems often have basic SEO functionality built in, and if push comes to shove, you can follow step-by-step instructions online if you need to make a change to the backend of your site.
Still, it helps to have some familiarity with coding basics; you should be able to peek at the source code of a given website and identify the key features relevant to your campaign. You should also be able to quickly and easily make swaps and changes without breaking your site.
After a few years on the job, search marketers may feel that they’ve learned everything and that they’re some of the best experts in the business. But SEO is a field full of surprises; just because you think you know something doesn’t mean that's objectively true for all clients, or that things won’t change in a few weeks or months.
Staying humble opens you up to new possibilities, and helps you solve problems faster (especially when you’re working with a team).
The importance of communication in an SEO environment can’t be understated. You’ll need to communicate proactively with your other team members to ensure your directives are carried out. You’ll need to explain complex concepts to your clients, who may or may not have much technical proficiency in the subject.
You’ll also need to produce content that your readers can relate to. All these responsibilities require excellent communication skills; without them, you’ll have a hard time remaining competitive.
6. Learning speed
Learning speed is also important, in part because there’s always new information emerging about SEO and the effectiveness of specific strategies within that field. It’s also important to be a fast learner because there are many different platforms and tools you’ll be using to get the job done.
Tenacity isn’t really a skill, but it is a characteristic you’ll need if you want to be successful. SEO can be a challenging industry at times: Your assumptions will be overturned, your efforts will occasionally be fruitless, and you may face criticism and misunderstanding from your clients. Being able to persevere past those low moments, and find solutions to your problems no matter what, is vital if you’re going to succeed.
If you don’t currently possess these skills, or there’s one skill you feel the need to improve, there’s always time to make yourself a better fit for your chosen career path. These foundational skills will guide you in everything from campaign planning and keyword research to reporting and retrospective analysis, so improving even one of them could improve your performance in multiple areas simultaneously.The more you invest in yourself, the more you’ll be able to do to achieve your goals.