How to Successfully Become an SEO Specialist

Patryk Wawok
May 22, 2019 · 9 min read

Maybe you already know what you want to do with your life. Maybe you found your true passion early. Or maybe your parents decided your future for you.

It’s just as likely that you are as lost as most of the people in your age group.

Choosing a career path is one of the hardest decisions you need to make in life. One such path you may consider is SEO.

If this is something you might be interested, then this is the article for you.

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What is SEO?

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Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a process that influences the online visibility of a website in organic (unpaid) search results. The goal of SEO Specialists is to make a site rank higher in organic search results for valuable key phrases. To do that we need to optimize the website according to a search engine’s (most frequently Google’s) ranking factors.

In Technical SEO, we (obviously) focus more on the technical side of the website, such as optimizing a website’s performance, information architecture, internal linking strategy, as well as crawling and indexing strategy, and many more technical aspects.

The world of SEO is far broader than this brief summary, but now that you understand the basics, let’s look at some of the skills you’ll need to have before you start learning.

Basic Skills

Before we jump into how you can learn SEO, there are a couple of basic abilities that you should obtain that are pretty much a must in this line of work. They will also help you learn much quicker.

  • Fluent English in Speaking and Writing

This point is crucial. SEOs often work with clients from many different countries, create reports for them, talk to them during video conferences, and write articles like this one.

This all means that great English language skills are a must in this job. Also, most of the great resources (like the ones I’ll be recommending below) are written in English, so being able to understand them correctly is a key.

  • Basic IT Knowledge

Our SEO work at Onely doesn’t have much to do with coding, at least as long as you don’t work with Tomek Rudzki (Head of R&D) or another Technical SEO Mad Scientist.

Mainly because we work with companies that have their own developers and we work directly with them (I wrote more about our workflow with clients in my article on How To Successfully Cooperate with SEO Specialists.)

This workflow works really well for us but it doesn’t mean every SEO agency works this way. In some SEO agencies, you actually need to know how to code and fix your client’s website on your own.

Even if we don’t code at Onely, a basic idea of what a website’s source code looks like helps a lot, especially with technical SEO.

Any additional IT abilities like knowing programming languages or popular Content Management Systems (CMS) is a plus for you.

  • Analytical Thinking and the Ability to Recognize Patterns

Because SEOs often work with humongous amounts of data, you need to be able to tame it, which might sound terrifying, but it really isn’t.

Being able to analyze data methodically and find patterns is all you need. You probably already do it. Logical thinking will help you deal with all that scary data.

  • Mad Research Skills

You will often come across problems you have never seen before. That’s when research skills will come in handy. Finding solutions to problems is an everyday occurrence in an SEO’s world.

All right…

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Learn by Reading

I’m not a big fan of learning new things by reading long documents and even longer guidelines. However, in every field you need to read some dry theory to gather information and SEO is no different.

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There are a lot of resources you can use to find out more about SEO, but while you’re looking through them, one thing might catch your attention — contradictory information.

Because search algorithms change almost every day, SEO strategies that worked out great a year ago, might not be so great now.

Unfortunately, there are SEO specialists that still use old SEO strategies, but keep in mind that some of these relics from the past could be considered black hat SEO in the industry.

You should avoid these resources like the plague.

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Here are some beginner’s guides that I began my education with:

Below is a list of SEO resources and blogs that contain great content to learn from. I follow them to study valuable SEO articles and news that appear in the industry:

Knowing Google’s updates is simply the absolute basics for a job in SEO. You have to learn to play the hand that has been dealt, and who better to get information from than the dealer.

I especially recommend the Whiteboard Friday series. Thanks to fantastic visualizations and interesting hosts, even the hardest topics are easy to understand.

If you are an SEO beginner, Yoast’s blog has an SEO Basics category that covers intro topics like “How Google works?” to more advanced like “What is CDN?” When you are ready, you can move to other categories. I highly recommend Technical SEO — this category will keep you busy for a while.

I especially recommend the Unwrapping the Secrets of SEO series. It is a great source of Technical SEO information.

All four of the above blogs are gargantuan vaults of SEO news and knowledge. There is no specific category that I can recommend, just dive straight in and look for something that catches your attention.

While you’re at it, some people say that the folks at a small Polish agency called Onely create great SEO content for their blog — maybe it’s worth checking it out.

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The final thing I want to emphasize in this section is Twitter. It’s a very popular social media platform among SEO specialists who use it for tracking news and sharing their thoughts on SEO strategies.

Obviously, SEOs are not the only people who use Twitter. Companies providing SEO tools, SEO blogs or even Google itself have Twitter accounts that provide valuable SEO information.

With this broad SEO community on Twitter, it’s easy to find plenty of hot news and information in one place.

Learn by Practice

Without actually practicing what you learn, it is pretty much impossible to be good at it.

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There are two ways to learn SEO from a practical point of view.

Learn by Experimentation

Create a simple website, like a WordPress blog, in a niche you feel comfortable with and experiment with SEO on it.

Change its heading structure, optimize the URL structure here and there, add structured data, and so on and analyze how your Google rankings change over time.

Note: You don’t need ANY programming skills for WordPress; plus you can use some dedicated SEO plugins, like Yoast SEO. Setting all this up is easy as pie.

Try to get your website higher and higher in the search results and learn, learn, and learn at the same time. Playing in your own playground with your own toys is the easiest way to familiarize yourself with a website’s code, SEO, and content optimization.

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This way of educating yourself will bring you visible results because one of the best ways to learn is to learn from your own mistakes.

And I think your SEO education process will be more satisfying if you experience the same pain that your future clients will feel from owning a website and trying to get more traffic.

Learn by Working

Another way to learn SEO is by getting a job. It’s as simple as that…

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There are two popular types of job in this industry.

  1. You can work as an in-house SEO and work on your company’s own website(s).
  2. Or you can work in an SEO agency as a specialist and work with multiple external clients and their sites.

If you don’t have any experience, look for an internship for either of these options. Maybe even we are looking for someone.

For me personally, working as an SEO has been the best way to educate myself and it works exceptionally well in our niche.

Why? Because it’s very likely that you’ll have a mentor that will lead you in your job.

If you start working in an SEO agency, there will be a bunch of people around you with much broader SEO knowledge. You can always ask them and suck all of this knowledge out of them.

I can say that it works.

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Since we explored a lot of ways of learning, you probably noticed that I skipped a big one.

Learn Through a Formal Education

First off, you DO NOT need to have a college degree (in a technical subject) to work in SEO.

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Most colleges don’t teach SEO, at least not formally. You may have a single lecture about SEO in your web development or marketing course and that’s it.

It’s really rare to find a college with a dedicated SEO course mainly because the curriculum would have to be changed and updated very often due to the frequent changes that happen in search algorithms and the entire SEO industry.

I gathered some information about the people in Onely’s Technical SEO department.

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As you can see, most of our SEO team said that their studies did not have anything in common with SEO. Our team has a pretty varied background when it comes to college studies — from English philology to archeology to astronomy.

The few people who answered that their field of study had something in common with SEO have some form of Computer Science degree. And because we at Onely focus more on technical SEO, it is understandable that IT studies might be helpful.

I also asked our team which abilities they use in SEO that they obtained in college, even if their studies weren’t related to SEO. The most popular answers I got were “research skills” and “analytic thinking”.

Overall, even if your college study is not related to SEO, it’s not useless — the research, analytic skills, and soft skills you obtain during your education will certainly come in handy.

Never Stop Learning

If you want to start a career in SEO you need to enjoy learning new things.

Strategies that worked a few years ago probably won’t work today because search engine algorithms change constantly. That’s why SEOs need to learn more technical parts of SEO and search for new case studies from the other specialists. It’s very important to keep pace on what is going on.

Obviously, there’s a lot to learn.

I hope this article doesn’t stop you from diving deeper into SEO, but rather shows you that it can be a serious career path with a lot of amazing possibilities.

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Originally published at


2018’s Best Small SEO Agency in Europe has evolved into the…

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