Who’d have known on September 4, 1998, that SEO skills would be a thing?
My guess is no one knew.
Not even Larry Page and Sergey Brin.
Fast forward to 2018.
Exactly 20 years later, SEO is now an entire industry of its own—and it’s thriving.
The SEO industry is expected to receive over $72 billion in spending in 2018 alone, and is poised to get another $79 billion in 2020.
And depending on what you do mid-flight, you’ll either be smiling to the bank or loathing the bank.
Especially if you’re an SEO professional.
If, like me, you’d love to smile to the bank, the trick is simple:
Be the solution clients crave.
Let’s uncover the SEO skills you need to be that solution, cash in on the coming windfall, and smile all the way!
The Value of SEO Skills
The SEO industry in the US alone will receive $79.27 billion in spending by 2020.
In just 10 years, from 2009 to 2018, the industry has grown by 450%. That’s an average of 45% growth every year over that 10 year period.
Looking at the graph, you’ll notice that SEO spending has been on the rise for years. In fact, every year sees a new high.
That’s because inbound marketing, especially SEO, works almost all the time.
Successful SEO automates traffic and lead generation for businesses; a feat that’s previously been impossible for all business history.
So, why exactly do SEO skills sell? Because:
- White hat SEO scales with time
- SEO gives businesses 24/7 advertising without costing a ridiculous amount of money
- Up to 80% of searchers choose organic search results over paid ads on the SERPs
- Search drives 300% more traffic to content sites than social media does
- Leads generated from SEO close at the rate of 14.6% compared to the 1.7% close rate of outbound marketing
In a nutshell, the 450% rise in the SEO industry’s earnings over the last 10 years is because of the rich benefits of SEO. Due to these benefits, the demand for SEO skills has been on the rise.
How Much Can You Earn?
On average, an SEO specialist in the United States earns about $52,000 per year, and top earners take home over $130,000.
A step up from that is an SEO manager, earning nearly $63,000 per year on average. Top earners with this title earn up to $147,000 per year.
(For some context, the US average yearly salary is $44,564.)
But before you jump into building your SEO skills, you need to know what drives your earnings. As an SEO professional, how much you actually earn depends on factors like:
- Your experience and authoritativeness: It’s likely Brian Dean earns more than a lesser-known SEO professional. Having a standing history of success in a field as competitive as SEO can tilt the table in your favor.
- The company hiring you: Some organizations have deeper pockets than others and are willing to pay good rates to keep you from being snatched by the competition. That’s assuming you deliver best-in-class value.
- Your value proposition: Are you able to fix more than the basics? Can you rank for competitive keywords and land clients on page one of the SERP successfully? Then expect more pay than the guy who can’t do these things.
- The job you’re being hired to do: If clients hire you to optimize a single page on their site, that’s not going to earn you as much as if they hire you to cater to their whole site’s SEO needs.
- Job duration: Working long term with clients will pay you significantly more than working short term, especially if you’re an independent SEO professional. Your earnings will also be dictated by how long your clients work with you.
- Your location: Although most of your SEO duties are done right from your laptop and you can work anywhere, salaries of SEO professionals who work in-house will be influenced by the cities they live in. Yes, even if they work from home. An SEO in New York may earn almost $75,000 a year while an SEO in Tampa might earn under $36,000 a year.
10 Must-Have SEO Skills for the Coming $79 Billion Windfall
You need to be both mentally and tactically prepared for SEO success.
Let’s explore 10 of the most powerful SEO skills that you can develop to position yourself for the coming industry windfall of nearly $80 billion.
Mental SEO Skills
SEO skills are soft skills. An SEO professional is a knowledge worker. Hence, the need for mental SEO skills.
Mental or emotional SEO skills are character-based skills that the search optimization terrain demands of you. So, what mental skills do you need to succeed as an SEO professional?
Skill #1: Tenacity
Why do you need to be tenacious?
Client-attracting SEO skills take time to build!
You won’t become a Brian Dean or Neil Patel in one day. These things take time. And you must develop a thick skin to weather the storms.
No one’s going to hand you success on a platter. You’ll have to work hard for it. Albeit, gaining SEO skills is worthwhile hard work, as you might have noticed already.
Moz’s Rank Fishkin, on humility and developing a thick skin, says:
You have to anticipate negativity and be ready to not just not respond and shrug it off, but to be warm, courteous and hospitable even in the face of demeaning antagonism…
There have been plenty of times when I’ve had to swallow my pride, admit that I was wrong, and accept that I’m probably going to be wrong again.
SEO isn’t for the weak. And you must be strong—or you wouldn’t be here.
Skill #2: Flexibility and Resilience
The SEO industry changes often as search engines evolve and become more intelligent. So, you must be flexible and resilient to these changes.
What the search engines ultimately want to achieve is to serve searchers precisely what they seek. Consistently.
A simple mission statement but tough to achieve.
Search engines will keep evolving until they’re able to deliver accurate search results, 100% of the time. As these changes happen, you must develop the resilience and flexibility to adopt and adapt to them.
Skill #3: Learning Speed
New SEO skills, industry best practices and information will emerge. And keep emerging.
You must be abreast with the facts—or watch your SEO career dissolve into oblivion.
Google, Bing, Yandex and other search engines will keep adapting to their users’ needs. And SEO will keep changing and adapting to suit.
To remain relevant, you must be swift to learning these new SEO skills as they emerge.
For example, if you’re still clueless about how to optimize video content for search, you might be left behind when video search dominates 82% of internet traffic.
The point is, you always need to keep learning—and you need to learn fast.
Tactical SEO Skills
Search engine optimization also requires special skills that solve specific business challenges—these are tactical skills.
Let’s dive in!
Skill #4: Research, Planning and Strategy
This SEO skill involves gathering information about your client, their target customers, industry, competitors and products, and using these pieces of information to build a sound SEO plan and strategy.
Your skills in this area will ride on your knowledge of:
1. Keyword research and planning
2. Target audience analysis and development of reader personas
3. Content strategy
4. Content calendar planning
5. Defining and researching competitors
6. Opportunity discovery and analysis
7. Setting SEO KPIs
Here are a few resources you can use to quickly get up to speed with these areas:
Where you are on the experience spectrum determines what new experiences you should pursue and what abilities you should be vetting to develop these skills.
If you run a blog, then learn how to develop a reader persona and do effective keyword research based on that target audience.
You don’t own a blog? That’s a good place to start! Register a domain name and get a hosting account. You can’t acquire SEO skills in a vacuum or without the real-world experience of optimizing web pages for the search engines.
To vet your abilities, document your SEO processes and results, and then build a new project using the process you’ve developed.
Done right, you should’ve proven your SEO prowess at the end of this second project by ranking for reasonably competitive keywords.
In a nutshell, vetting your skills is an attempt to achieve measurable results with your newfound knowledge. Because in SEO, all that matters is verifiable results.
Not even a university degree weighs that much. While some organizations may demand you have a Bachelor’s degree in a relevant field, this is far from prevalent.
Just take a look at this job description on Indeed for an SEO and Content Strategist in New York:
You’ll notice that the first skill on the list is “planning,” and that you don’t need a university degree to work with the company. Albeit, you’ll need to demonstrate a minimum number of years of SEO experience.
That’s why you should always invest in developing and vetting your skills before seeking clients or an employer.
Because in SEO, real-world experience and results speak louder than formal qualifications.
Skill #5: Content Creation and Management
Content creation is producing and availing of your marketing message in text, audio, graphic and video formats. As you might’ve noticed in the SEO strategist job description above, the skill of content creation is a prerequisite for most professional SEO jobs.
Content management is using your client’s content strategy and editorial calendar to achieve their content creation goals. You’ll also need to be skilled at updating and repurposing old contents periodically.
In no particular order, you’ll need these pieces of knowledge for your content creation and management skill development:
1. On-page SEO
2. Off-page SEO
3. Grammar and communication skills (in whatever language you choose to write in)
4. Editing skills (in whatever format you create content in—text, video, audio or graphic)
5. CMS usage
6. Image sourcing, creation, resizing and reduction
7. Content formatting and style
8. Grasp of audience psychology
You have a flood learning resources you can use to bring your content creation and marketing skills up to speed. Start with these:
At this stage of developing your SEO skills, you probably have a website set up by now. You can create and publish content on your site on any topics you love or know about.
Another way to gain experience and vet your skills in this area is to find publications that cover topics you’re capable of writing about. Then find out who’s in charge of content for the publication, and ask if you can write for them for free.
You’ll be surprised at the open doors that can follow this simple action.
And if you have high-level expertise and experience on a topic or have written a number of articles on that topic, you can approach companies to write for or work with them using job boards like Upwork or Indeed.
Skill #6: Link Prospecting and Acquisition
You probably already know that Google factors a site’s backlinks profile in its ranking signals.
The best SEO professionals know how to attract editorial links from authoritative sources in ways that Google loves.
Link building is both vital to SEO success and delicate to practice. Search engines have become increasingly sensitive to link spam and now use robust algorithms to punish offending sites and pages.
So you don’t want to build just any links; you must be deliberate.
Link prospecting and acquisition relies on your knowledge of just about all SEO skills. You must be capable of developing best-in-class SEO strategies, creating epic content, doing outreach, winning social proof and utilizing analytics.
If you’re keen on developing your link building skills, here are a couple of resources to put to use:
Skill #7: Web, Integrations and Technical Work
SEO relies on web technology, and so search engines must factor in technical issues when ranking websites.
A slow site with security vulnerabilities and poor user experience won’t rank on Google—and I’m sure you don’t want to own that kind of site either.
With technical SEO skills, you can influence site security, page speed, troubleshooting, content management systems, APIs and integrations, and other technology-related issues.
I don’t think I could have ever been decent at SEO if I didn’t intuitively understand the tags and markup that comprise web pages.
You’ll need to understand:
1. Code prioritizations
2. Page and site speed optimization
3. Content Delivery Networks (CDN)
4. Content Management Systems (CMS)
5. HTML (and other web programming languages)
6. Integration of Secure Socket Layer (SSL) certificates
7. Hosting and database management
8. Website maintenance
9. Web security
10. Schema markup and indexing
You’ll skyrocket your value as an SEO if you know more than one programming language. But even if you don’t learn PHP, JS and others, at the very least, knowing HTML is fundamental.
You can start learning technical SEO by using these resources:
Technical SEO is a must-have skill for all SEO professionals since it influences all other aspects of SEO.
You’ll notice that even job descriptions for Technical SEOs are never standalone jobs—they always skew towards one of the other tactical SEO skills, like content creation or link building, with technical SEO as a necessary skill.
Skill #8: PR and Outreach
In case you don’t know, Google prefers content from authoritative brands to those from little-known brands or websites.
What does this mean for SEO?
It means you have to become an authoritative brand. Or help your client become one.
That’s what PR and outreach skills help you achieve.
To start taking advantage of PR and outreach, you must develop these skills:
2. Social skills
4. An international outlook (as you’ll be interacting with people across cultures and countries)
5. Time management
7. Reputation management
Want some tips on how to up your PR and outreach game? Here you have them:
- Help A Reporter Out for getting free media features for yourself or your clients
- Sujan Patel’s video (below) on sending PR pitches that work
Skill #9: Social Media and Influencer Marketing
Social media skills are close cousins of PR skills. The difference? Social media leverages user data and PR isn’t as sophisticated.
Search engines factor linkless mentions into their ranking factor. So what does that mean for your SEO?
It means that having influencers (including micro-influencers) talking about you can cause a shift in your favor. A massive shift actually.
Here’s a video from Gary Vaynerchuk to help you make sense of the power and scale of social media influence:
And you can use these resources to boost your social media SEO skills:
Skill #10: Analytics
You’re not missing the mark if you say that SEO is nothing without analytics.
In fact, borrowing from Peter Drucker‘s “You can’t manage what you can’t measure,” SEO won’t work if you can’t quantify and track it.
All successful SEO professionals are curious and highly analytical. They’re not blinded by results; they want to know the cause of an outcome.
Success demands that you track everything you do. Strategy, content, links, promotion and web infrastructure—everything!
This is what you’ll need to learn:
1. Ranking and traffic analytics
2. Competitor monitoring
3. Managing SEO KPIs
4. Research and keyword analytics
5. Conversion rate optimization (CRO)
6. User engagement analytics
7. Google Analytics
8. Net Promoter Score (NPS) and user opinion
And here are a few helpful resources to use to start out or improve your analytics skills:
I’d also recommend Monitor Backlinks for in-depth competitor, backlinks and keyword ranking analysis. It tracks data for you in real time and presents it in an appealing and easy-to-understand format.
You can use this tool to put your analytics skills into practice. Try Monitor Backlinks for 30 days, free!
SEO Skills Wrap Up
Just like the SEO practice itself, SEO skills are intertwined.
A client seeking an SEO strategist will need one that’s also an excellent content creator. And a job as a content creator will demand other related SEO skills like link building, outreach, analytics and more.
So it’s important to develop all these SEO skills, and keep evolving and improving them, even when you think you’ve mastered them.
Don’t let them overwhelm you. It’s okay to take it one at a time.
Remember, tenacity is skill #1—it’s vital for SEO success.
audentes fortuna juvat
Fortune favors the brave.