In this guide, I am going to walk you through the basics of becoming an entry-level SEO.
Before we get into how to become a specialist, let’s go over what one is and why do businesses even need them.
What is an SEO Specialist?
An SEO specialist is a person who specializes in helping businesses rank their website on the top of search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo. The specialist does this by “optimizing” or modifying the website’s pages in order to help search engines easily find, crawl, index and display the content when someone searches for a specific question or topic. They can do this through technical modifications like adding or changing “meta tags”, or through creative means like writing content that is “keyword-rich” and more search engine friendly.
The reason why businesses will pay top dollar to someone who is an expert of this, is because traffic from search engines like Google, is extremely profitable and essentially free. As in business do not have to spend on ads for SEO, like they would for pay per click or social media ads. But that doesn’t mean it is an easy feat to get this traffic, because as you could imagine, everyone is vying for this lucrative placement. But if you are able to do this for a business, the rewards are immense.
How much do SEO Specialists make in the United States?
The amount that an SEO specialist can make varies on the state that the job is in and the state you live in, even if you are planning on working remotely.
Here is a table of the top ten states with the highest paying SEO Specialist salaries.
Top 10 States with the Highest Paying SEO Specialist Salaries
Data aggregated from Indeed, and Glassdoor salary calculator
Average SEO Specialist Salary for the United States is $54,496*
So before you dive into learning how to become an SEO specialist, I think it is important to see if this field is really for you!
Who should become an SEO Specialist?
You should become an SEO specialist if you are someone who is a self-starter, data-driven, a good problem solver, and loves to read and write.
Unlike paid marketing, SEO is more about researching, analyzing data and writing content.
Another good reason to become an SEO specialist is because all the jobs are in high demand. Companies of just about any niche need someone to help them grow their traffic on Google.
So if that sounds like you, then here’s how to become one!
How to Become an SEO Specialist?
Okay, hopefully at this point you are pretty excited about potentially becoming an SEO specialist, now let’s go over 5 steps you can take to join this amazing career path.
Step 1: Learn SEO
I first want to preface, that you can definitely learn SEO on your own, so don’t worry about needing any bootcamps, or courses. But, I do want to be honest, if you want to be an expert in SEO, realistically you should take 2 -3 years to learn, but that should not stop you from taking on freelancing opportunities, along the way to make some money and gain some experience with performing SEO.
Here are some basic concepts I would learn:
How Search Engines Work
It was reported that Google can change its algorithm as much as 3,000 times a year! (Moz). So as an SEO Specialist you have to have an above average understanding of how search engines work and the algorithms they use to determine which websites to rank and why.
For an introduction to how search engines work read my SEO beginner guide.
What a keyword is and how to find them
A keyword is a word, phrase or question that someone types into a search engine when looking for information on the internet. The strategies you use to find these “keywords” is called keyword research.
In my opinion, the best way to find these keywords is to use a free tool from Google called Keyword Planner. But as you begin to learn SEO, you will hear more about a multitude of tools that can help you get this research done faster.
To learn more read my beginner keyword research guide.
On-Site SEO (SEO Copywriting)
Modifying a web pages’ Title Tag, Meta Description tag, Alt Text tag, internal and external links are all examples of On-Page SEO components, that you can modify to help a website rank higher in the search results.
The strategy you use to write this new content and manipulate the “tags” is called SEO copywriting, which is a bit different then traditional writing:
In general SEO copywriting is more about using:
- Shorter sentences and more white space
- Natural language
- Page Headings
- Bulleted list
- Active voice instead of passive voice
Using copywriting methods like these not only help you rank for search engines but also provide a pleasant user experience.
To build a basic understanding of this concept, read my On-Site SEO beginner guide.
To learn more about copywriting I would recommend reading Brian Dean’s SEO Copywriting guide.
“Backlinks” or links a website has from other websites is considered the number one factor when ranking websites on Google ( BacklinkO).
In order to get these links, you have to do a process called Link Building. This can be done through several ways:
- Blog Outreach
- Citation building
- Help a Reporter Outreach
- Social media
To learn more, read my Off-Site SEO beginner guide.
While SEO is primarily a non-coding tech job, in order to be successful you must still have an understanding of how websites work and what are technical factors that can prevent them from ranking high on search engines.
The number one factor being slow website speed. So when learning technical SEO, I would first start off with learning simple tools like Google Page Speed Insights, Google Lighthouse, and Screaming Frog.
These basic tools can help you quickly diagnose a website, make recommendations, and then create a plan to optimize the website to increase its performance.
Read my technical SEO beginner guide to develop a basic understanding of how to perform these tasks.
Data collecting and Analysis
A part of being an SEO expert is you have to be able to explain how what you are doing is actually helping to improve the business. You can do this through data collecting and analysis.
With Search Console you can keep track of a website’s search traffic, analyze keywords, and see how your website is doing in the search results.
Read my guide on how to install Google Search Console on your website.
With Google Analytics you can use event tracking to see how many people visited the website from Google and became a lead, or a person most likely to purchase a business’s product or service.
And then with even more detailed tracking you can see how many of them actually made a purchase and brought revenue into the business.
Being able to collect data and analyze it in my opinion is the best way to maintain your position and to then pursue more lucrative opportunities later down the road.
Step 2: Create projects and start freelancing
As I mentioned previously, as you’re learning the basics of SEO I highly recommend you start creating projects and getting some freelancing opportunities under your belt, even if they are unpaid.
For instance, a great project to create is an SEO audit because with this project you are able to practice checking a website to make sure it is up to standards for all three domains of SEO (On-site, Off-site, and Technical).
Check out this video below that my intern did on how to do a basic SEO audit:
Also, you get some great experience with using a variety of tools like Google’s Page Speed insights, Ahrefs Domain authority checker, Screaming Frog, and other keyword research tools of your choosing.
For freelancing opportunities you could just simply ask your friends and family if they need help with a website or if they know someone who has a business and they’re trying to get some traffic from Google.
You’d be surprised how many people you would know that could use some help.
Another great idea is to practice SEO for yourself.
Starting a YouTube channel could be some good practice with doing YouTube SEO.
Or starting an Etsy shop or Amazon business could give you some practice with eCommerce SEO.
As you can see there are numerous ways to practice SEO. All of them can help you become a better and more rounded SEO specialist.
Step 3: Write a resume and cover letter
So now that you’ve racked up some freelancing opportunities and some relevant work experience now is the time to write a resume and a cover letter.
Resume and cover letter tip: When mentioning freelancing opportunities on your resume and cover letter, I would highly recommend making it clear that the opportunities were in the past, and you are no longer freelancing.
Reason being is that you want to make it clear to recruiters that you are looking for a position and not currently doing “side work”. It can be a bit worrisome for recruiters if you are doing opportunities on the side because it says that you may not be ready to fully commit to the position you are seeking.
You can make it clear that the opportunity has concluded by adding the start and end date of the opportunity on your resume, and mentioning that you have moved on somewhere in your cover letter.
Step 4: Apply for jobs
Okay, now that you have an awesome resume and cover letter, it is time for the moment of truth:
applying for a job!
When searching for SEO jobs to apply to, I recommend looking on:
Job Application Tip: When applying to a job, you will be asked to submit the application, resume, and in most cases, a cover letter. In addition to these three components, I also recommend submitting a project that you’ve completed, such as an SEO audit.
When applying to jobs, you can think of it as a “point system” – and each project you add is considered a “point”.
An application with a cover letter, resume, and a project will “score higher” or stand out more than an application with a resume alone.
So I do believe it can be worth the extra effort to include a project with your application.
Step 5: Interview and Keep applying
Okay, so maybe you’ve applied and have secured a few interviews, even though you may have interviews, you should still keep applying.
I’m going to be honest, recruiters are interviewing multiple candidates for a position, so you don’t want to make the mistake of waiting for a response, only to be told that they have moved on with another candidate.
Sometimes companies don’t email you at all letting you know that they have moved on.
So don’t make the mistake of waiting for a response you may never get.
So with that being said, I would keep applying even if you believe you may get an offer soon.
Best practice is to apply to at least 10 positions per day.
I’m also going to be honest again, it is not uncommon for it to take at least 30 interviews before you get your first position, but if that scares you then this is not the field for you anyway.
I like to think of each interview as an opportunity to learn and grow in the field. Getting a job is just a side effect of putting in the work to learn the skills.
Not to mention, once you do get the job you will now have leverage. That you will be able to use to get an even higher paying position later on down the road.
Get Your SEO Career Starter Pack
I remember when I was becoming an SEO specialist, and how confusing everything was to learn.
So I understand if right now all this information is a bit overwhelming. To help you unpack the ins and outs of the SEO profession, I would like to offer you a career mentorship opportunity, where I can coach you on how to get your first job in SEO from start to finish.
If you are interested in this opportunity, please leave your name and email in the form below and I will send you a cover letter, resume, and portfolio example that you can download to modify for your job.
Along the way through my emails, I will also send you an email with information on how to schedule a mentoring session with me.
Now I do want to preface that this opportunity is only for individuals looking to become a United States SEO Specialist and the reason being is I personally have only worked in this market so I can only give you information based on that market.
But nonetheless, if you are interested leave your information in the form below to get started!
SEO Career Path FAQs
Here are 6 common questions that I get asked all the time about pursuing a career in SEO:
Do you need a certification to get hired?
No you do not need any certification to become an SEO specialist, but getting some can help you stand out from other applicants when applying for jobs.
Here are four certifications I would recommend getting anyway￼:
- Google Analytics For Beginners
- Google Tag Manager￼ Fundamentals￼
- Hubspot Inbound Marketing￼
- Coursera Google SEO course￼￼
How Do I Describe SEO On My Resume?
The best way to explain SEO on your resume is to highlight any task that you have done to increase a websites’ traffic. So if you have rewritten content to make it easier to read, put it on your resume. If you have added internal or external links to a website. Put that on your resume.
So anything that highlights the impact you have made. Here are a few more examples you can include:
- Rewrote Title tags and Meta descriptions to make them keyword rich
- Added meaningful Alt text
- Performed Blog outreach to increase Backlinks
- Add Schema markup to increase click through rate
- Used SEO tools to perform Keyword research.
Again, just think back to previous positions you’ve worked and mention any skills that are relevant to a recruiter.
What Knowledge Do You Need to Become an SEO Specialist?
To become an SEO Specialist you need a strong understanding of all three domains of SEO. On-Site, Off-Site, and Technical SEO. Also it is helpful for you to know what a search engine is and how they work. Another thing you may be asked to do is data analysis. So a basic understanding of Google Search Console, Google Analytics and Tag Manager may be helpful as well!
Is an SEO Specialist a Good Career Path?
Yes absolutely! Becoming an SEO specialist is a great idea for many reasons:
- Work remotely
- Paid time off
- Valuable skill set
- No bossy managers!
Not to mention, you do not need a college degree or certification to get a job! So now what are you waiting for?
What do SEO Specialists do on a day to day basis?
As I mentioned, SEOs have to know the ins and outs of how SEO works. The task that an SEO specialist may be asked to do on a day-to-day basis may vary depending on the type of company the specialist works for.
For instance, a specialist working for a digital marketing agency may spend more time optimizing on-site content, as they are primarily working with clients that need new content.
On the other hand, an in-house specialist might spend more time performing link building, as the brand is already established therefore the company would primarily need help with growing their presence further through gaining backlinks.
With that being said, here are several tasks that are applicable to just about all specialists regardless of where you work:
- Performing keyword research
- Analyzing keyword rankings and Google Search Console data
- Optimizing Title Tags, Meta Descriptions, and Alt text
- Reading over content and optimizing it with keywords
- Writing Schema Markup
- Performing competitor analysis
- Fixing indexation errors
Where can I learn more about SEO?
I would visit other SEO blogs, YouTube, and Google itself to learn more about the way SEO works. I would also recommend taking an online course. Courses typically provide you with an overview of the skills I mentioned above and a breakdown of the tools (e.g., Ahrefs, Screaming Frog, etc.) you will most likely be using on the job.