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Becoming an SEO expert isn’t easy, but it’s worth it. SEO is the most cost-effective way to generate traffic to a website. Anyone can learn the basics, but it takes much more to become an SEO expert.
Luckily, learning the steps to become an SEO expert isn’t as difficult as actually becoming one. In this quick guide, you’ll learn everything you need to know to start your journey today.
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What does it mean to be an SEO Expert?
Lots of non-experts call themselves SEO experts. On the other hand, even some of the most well-known names in the SEO industry would hesitate to call themselves experts.
Because everyone has a different definition of an SEO expert.
Brian Dean says:
“An SEO expert (also known as an “SEO specialist”) is someone that optimizes websites in order to achieve higher search engine rankings.
Put another way:
An SEO expert is someone that knows how to get more traffic from search engines.”
But this definition might be a little too loose. If knowing how to get more traffic from search engines makes someone an SEO expert, you’ll be an expert after reading this guide.
If only it were that easy…
Becoming an expert takes more than knowledge. It takes experience, too. In their definitions, Nathan Gotch and Joshua Hardwick point this out.
“When I say a “real” SEO expert, I mean someone who can grow organic search traffic on a consistent basis. “Expert” level also means that you have enough knowledge to combat unexpected outcomes. Getting to this level takes time and effort.”
“Expert is a relative term. You might see me as an SEO expert, but someone with more experience like Rand Fishkin almost certainly wouldn’t.
No matter how much you learn about SEO, there’ll always be someone that knows more.”
For that reason, your goal shouldn’t be to become an SEO expert per se. It should be to learn enough to get results consistently.
All three definitions have great points, but I tend to agree with Joshua. “SEO expert” is a vague term. It’s hard to quantify.
For that reason, you shouldn’t aim to be known as an “expert.” Instead, you should aim to consistently run great SEO campaigns that improve search engine rankings. If you do that, the label will come on its own from your peers and clients. So how do you earn the label “SEO expert”?
- Understand how Google works
- Learn the foundations of search engine optimization
- Consider certification programs
- Choose a specialty
- Equip yourself with SEO tools
- Get experience
- Follow SEO industry trends and influencers
- Practice, practice, practice
1. Understand how Google works
To understand how to improve search engine rankings, you need to know how search engines work. Specifically Google. It’s where the vast majority of searches take place.
How Google finds your web pages
Google finds your web pages with search engine “crawlers” or “spiders,” also referred to by Google collectively as “Googlebot.”
Googlebot travels the internet looking for all kinds of pages to store and show its users later. This is known as “crawling” and “indexing.”
As it crawls, it looks for signals like an informative HTML structure, hreflang and canonicalization tags, an XML sitemap, internal links, and more. Once you know SEO foundations, you can make it easier for Google to crawl and index your web pages.
How Google ranks your web pages
Google uses over 200 ranking factors to determine which pages to show its searchers. Luckily, you don’t have to know them all to be an effective search engine optimizer.
Mostly, Google is looking to make sure that your web pages are optimized for the user experience. They want to make sure your website is trustworthy, it’s an authoritative source of information, and that you have an expertise in what you’re writing about.
In other words, is your page the best page to show the user for a given query? Will it answer the user’s question accurately so they won’t have to return to Google and search again? If so, Google may show your web page to the user.
But becoming “the best page to show a user” takes time. It takes strategy and practice. And it starts with knowledge of SEO foundations.
2. Learn the foundations of search engine optimization
Generally, SEO can be separated into three main areas. There’s on-page optimization, off-page optimization, and technical SEO. Together, these three form a comprehensive SEO strategy.
On-page SEO refers to the practice of optimizing the user-facing parts of your web pages with the goal of improving search rankings. This involves:
- Keyword research to learn your customers’ needs
- A high-quality content marketing strategy that satisfies search intent
- Internal linking to make your pages easy to find and use
- Descriptive and compelling meta description and title tag creation
Off-page SEO is about improving your search engine rankings through signals that aren’t on your website. Google wants to see if other people find your content valuable. Mostly, it measures that through backlinks.
Backlinks are links to your site from other sites. When your site has a large number of high-quality, relevant backlinks (links from sites that Google trusts), it means that other people trust you as a source of information. You can improve backlinks by:
- Building an audience with engaging content
- Guest blogging to reach new readers
- Using link building strategies
- Boosting content reach with social media marketing
Technical SEO is about improving the unseen parts of your web pages that affect site performance. Your users won’t see these improvements, but they will experience them. Mobile-first design and page speed are two examples.
Technical SEO also puts a lot of emphasis on making the site easier for search engines to crawl and index. SEO strategy in this area includes:
- Making sure Google can find your important pages with an XML sitemap
- Using the canonical tag to keep from creating duplicate content
- Picking an optimized URL for easy crawlability and good user experience
- Prioritizing mobile-first web design
- The Detailed Guide to Technical SEO Basics
- What is technical SEO? 8 technical aspects everyone should know
3. Consider SEO certification programs
Once you’ve learned the foundations of SEO, you’re just getting started. There are lots of programs you can learn supplemental knowledge from, or go deeper in SEO training on specific subject areas.
The additional benefit of getting a certification from a well-known organization is that you can use it as a selling point to clients and employers. Anyone can call themselves an SEO expert, but if you have a document certifying you know SEO, it goes a long way toward convincing people you’re worth taking a chance on.
Moz is a name that carries a lot of SEO authority, and they offer an SEO course. The same goes for SEMrush, Yoast, and others.
4. Choose a specialty
You can’t be an expert at everything. SEO encompasses a lot of techniques and industries. Instead of trying to offer everything to everyone, choose a specialty. Do one thing well instead of a lot of things decently.
There are two ways to do this.
First, you can pick an industry. Focus your efforts on B2B SEO, or SaaS SEO, or e-commerce SEO, and become an expert in SEO strategies for that industry. There will be some overlap in SEO techniques between industries, but a lot will be unique. Knowing these unique SEO strategies will make you more marketable than a general search engine optimizer.
Second, consider picking a technique or branch. SEO encompasses lots of different tactics. Instead of being a general SEO who practices on-page, off-page, and technical SEO, you could become an expert at technical SEO, or at link building, or at SEO copywriting. Choosing this route means building a deeper, more valuable skill set than a shallow, generic one.
5. Equip yourself with SEO tools
Search engine optimizers are only as good as their tools. In the industry, you’ll encounter the same ones quite often, and should be prepared to know how to use them.
These include not only tools for SEO, but ones like content management systems and plugins, which work in cooperation with SEO tools. A few common ones are:
- Google Analytics
- Google Search Console
Another benefit of working in an SEO agency or as an in-house SEO is that you’ll have the opportunity to learn these tools on someone else’s dime. Not all of them are expensive, but they’re not all free, either.
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6. Get experience
Theory and knowledge aren’t enough. To become an SEO specialist, you need hands-on experience.
If you don’t already have a website, some people recommend creating your own, then improving its search rankings by applying what you’ve learned.
While that’s certainly a way to get experience, it’s not the only way.
There are always businesses looking for help with SEO. And, though you may not be in a place to command top dollar as an SEO manager, there are entry-level positions in-house, internships at digital marketing agencies, and even SEO freelancer opportunities on a contract basis.
The benefit of getting experience as an entry-level SEO is that you’ll have someone to learn from. Of course, there are other ways to find a mentor, but the most accessible is usually a manager/superior at the workplace.
If you’d rather offer SEO services as a contractor, that’s ok, too. But don’t try to hide your inexperience. Remember, small business owners have to trust you with their livelihood. As an SEO contractor, your work will have a serious impact on their bottom line.
If your client knows that you’re a beginner, and they’re okay with your inexperience, there’s nothing wrong with working with them as long as you’re using white hat SEO and not black-hat SEO, which can result in a crippling penalty from Google.
7. Follow SEO industry trends and influencers
A mentor will only take you so far. To keep your SEO skills sharp, you’ll have to keep up with industry trends and influencers.
Follow and other SEO professionals on Twitter and LinkedIn, get SEO tips by engaging in forums. Attend conferences. Join online marketing communities. Read SEO blogs, listen to podcasts, and watch videos on SEO.
Google algorithm updates are always happening. And that means SEO is always changing, too.
Some of the tactics that were effective years ago are actually considered black-hat today. And some of today’s best tactics haven’t even made it to the mainstream. You have to look hard to find them.
So stay current. Keep gathering SEO knowledge. And remember, as Joshua said earlier, there’s always someone better. Learn from them.
8. Practice, practice, practice
But as we also know from earlier, knowledge is only one part of the equation. To reach your potential as a search engine optimizer, you have to practice, practice, practice.
if your goal is to eventually become an SEO consultant or manage your own SEO team, you’ll need a mix of practice, knowledge, and a lot of motivation.
Learn everything you can. Practice it, make mistakes, and learn from those mistakes. They’ll be calling you an SEO expert before you know it.
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