How to Start a Career in SEO
I remember graduating undergrad with a decent finance degree, ready to take on the world. I was under the assumption that I had a golden ticket to a cushy, high-paying job. Dreams of being the next Wolf of Wall Street danced around in my head.
Then reality hit. I applied to hundreds of finance jobs with no real promise. Sure, I was offered a few jobs working 70-hour weeks selling financial planning services to the wealthy, but that wasn’t for me.
I had to rethink what I wanted to do with my life, and fast.
While researching new jobs, I saw the term “SEO” pop up here and there. In university, I had worked on websites and even sold advertising on some of them to lawyers and doctors, which turned out to be profitable. It was just a pastime for me, and I didn’t realize that it was a viable career.
I enjoyed working with websites, and I had a bit of experience ranking websites – so I said, “What the heck – let’s apply to some SEO positions.”
It was the best decision of my life. I’m currently 24, and since the time I applied for my first SEO job, I’ve:
- worked for four different marketing agencies as an SEO specialist;
- built up a nice SEO consulting gig on the side;
- traveled the world and paid off my student debt;
- and built an eCommerce website to half a million dollars in revenue in a year and sold the business.
Currently, I’m the marketing director for an up-and-coming software company and the co-founder of an Indonesian eCommerce company Healthy.co.id. This was all made possible because of SEO.
SEO, or search engine optimization, is now a key part of the marketing puzzle for most companies from corner stores to the Fortune 500. SEO was even listed as No. 4 on LinkedIn’s list of the top 25 hottest skills that can get you hired in 2016.
I think SEO work is a fantastic job, because it’s a happy mix of technical know-how and marketing. Also, there’s still lots of potential in the field of SEO and content marketing.
Would I recommend it? Absolutely.
If I had to do it all again, these are the steps I would take to kick-start my career in SEO:
1. Get Some basic skills
When I got my first job in SEO, I had already worked with websites in the past. That’s not to say that I was an expert. Even now, I’m an absolutely terrible coder and hire people to do most technical jobs. But it’s important to know the basics of:
- graphic design (Adobe Photoshop)
- Google Analytics
Lucky for you, all of this can be learned for free! Take some courses on Udemy or Codecademy, or just Google around and figure it out on your own. You don’t need to be a pro to start. Just get down the basics, like learning what meta tags are. As long as you are resourceful, you’ll be able to learn as you go.
2. Read Everything You Can Find
SEO is constantly changing. It’s radically different now than it was even five years ago. That’s why it’s important to always stay on top of the latest news and always be reading. The best SEO professionals are the ones who are agile and can alter their strategies quick.
One of the great things about SEO is that the experts love to share. Writing in-depth articles on SEO is what gets them their readers, so there’s a wealth of knowledge online – and most of it is absolutely free.
To get started, I would recommend reading some guides. I’ve put together a list of the 19 guides you need to learn SEO. They cover a number of topics, including keyword research, technical SEO, and link building.
I also recommend creating a Feedly account and filling it up with some good blogs. This list is a pretty good place to start. SEO news and tips come out fast and furious, so get ready to read every day.
Fianlly, you should also be checking Inbound.org every day for the latest news on inbound marketing and SEO. It’s a great resource, and I still check it daily. The beauty of Inbound is that it filters out a lot of the poor quality content. If an article has been voted to the top, it’s because a number of SEO and marketing professionals have voted it up there. You’re also welcome to jump in on the conversation and ask questions.
3. Get Familiar with the Tools
Everyone’s heard the saying, “Use the right tool for the job.” While it’s possible to use a hatchet to cut down a tree, it’s much easier to use a chainsaw. The same applies for SEO.
There are many moving parts of SEO, including keyword research, link building, and auditing websites. Using the right tools can save you hours of time. For large enterprise projects, the right tools become an absolute necessity.
A few basic tools I would recommend playing around with are:
Brian Dean has put together a thorough list of SEO tools that you can peruse. Take some time and use a few that you find interesting. You will be asked what SEO tools you’re familiar with in an interview – I guarantee it.
4. Start Experimenting
I highly, highly recommend that you start your own website if you’re interested in becoming an SEO professional. That’s the best way to learn the ropes, and it shows initiative to potential employers.
One way to differentiate yourself from other applicants is to make a personal blog and use it as your resume. Rank the website for your name, which should be easy, and tell employers to Google your name. It’s creative and shows that you understand the basics of SEO.
You can take it one step further and start an eCommerce shop. You can start a Shopify store for as little as $9 a month and find products to drop ship, which means you don’t even have to hold inventory! It’s a fun learning experience, and it can make you some money on the side, too.
5. Go to Meetups and Talk to People
Get out of the house and go meet some people in the industry. Not only can you learn a lot from presentations, but you can also make some valuable connections. I landed two of my four agency positions through meetups. If you play your cards right, you may not even have to make a resume!
6. Apply, Apply, Apply
When somebody tells me they can’t find a job, I ask them how many they’ve applied to. All too often, people pick their favorites and only apply to 5-10 open positions. But finding a job really is a numbers game – the more you apply to, the better. There is no downside to applying to more jobs. If you don’t like one of the jobs you are offered, you don’t have to take it.
To get my first job in SEO, I applied to 100+ jobs. They weren’t all exactly related to what I wanted to do, but any job is better than no job.
If you follow all of these steps, you will find a job in SEO. That, I can promise. Mop up all the information you can handle and hustle. It’s well worth it. Working in SEO was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made!