Table of Contents
Like a lot of people in SEO, I found myself here by happy accident. I had the extreme fortune to graduate in 2020, in the middle of a pandemic, with a vague idea of doing something in advertising, and a lot of student loans.
When I ended up networking and eventually applying to work with Uproer, it was like a lifeline. A company that wanted to help me learn a new skill, was in the general advertising field, had crazy smart employees, AND wanted to pay me? Sign me up.
But starting a career in SEO isn’t always easy. You need to master the basic technical skills of a developer, the strategy brain of an advertiser, the creative genius of a copywriter, the social skills of a salesman, and the analytics tools of a measurement specialist.
But lucky for you, I’m here to break down some of the most important things I learned in my first 9 months working as an SEO Analyst at Uproer.
1. SEO is an Eternally Steep Learning Curve
The simultaneously amazing and challenging thing about SEO is that you will never, ever know everything. There’s either a new Google algorithm update, a new tool out, a new ranking factor, or a post is losing traffic and there’s not a clear reason why… You are constantly learning and having to self-correct and adjust.
The key to not just weathering, but thriving in this constantly changing environment is grace, humility, and self-respect. Here me out. I know that sounds really squishy for a hybrid tech/advertising industry. But I’m for real.
You are going to make a bunch of little (or big) mistakes. You’re going to have to be the type of person you’ll jump into the deep end without knowing how to swim, and have the self-respect and confidence to trust that you’ll learn. You’ll need the grace to tell a client that you don’t know the answer right now, but you will sure as hell figure it out and get back to them.
If you want a less squishy solution for how to thrive around a steep learning curve, consider:
- Signing up for industry newsletters. Try Uproer's Searchlite, SEO for Lunch, or Women in Tech SEO. These will help keep you on top of all the trends.
- Set up Google Alerts for your clients. You won’t always know all the other marketing initiatives a client has going on. A Google Alert will make sure you have some of the extra context you might need to explain traffic trends, or just be an engaged partner.
- Chat with your team or wider SEO network. SEOs are meant to be pack animals. A lonesome solo SEO doesn’t last very long. There’s too much to keep track of. You need people to ask questions to and bounce ideas off of.
2. You Will Learn About Lots (Seriously, LOTS) of Different SEO Platforms and Tools
It took me until month 2, MONTH 2(!) before I fully realized that Google Analytics and Google Search Console were different things. In my head, I just assumed that Google was Google, and they had one tracking tool, in a centralized marketing hub… This is not entirely true. So without further ado, here are some of the most important platforms and tools I learned to navigate.
Every day I learn how to do something new on Google Analytics (GA). If it’s configured correctly, this is a powerhouse of information. If you’re experienced in SEO, GA is old hat, but if you’re new, you’ve likely never used it. It’s Google Marketing Platform’s web analytics service, that tracks website traffic. Pretty important if you want to see which of your blog posts or pages are driving traffic, revenue, or goal completion.
Google Search Console
Famously NOT Google Analytics. I have no idea how Google organizes all its services, but Google Search Console (GSC) is not part of Google Marketing Platform, but like GA, operates almost independently of the other products. GSC shows you how your page is showing up on Google’s search results. It collects data to help you understand and improve how Google sees your website.
Ahrefs is an SEO analysis and backlinks tool. But I use it primarily for keyword research and competitive analysis. It uses its own algorithm to estimate which keywords a URL is ranking for and then can find similar pages, similar keywords, or questions people are asking about that keyword. It can also find content gaps on your site, run an SEO audit, or check backlinks.
SEO Monitor is a keyword tracking tool that takes your site, and the keywords you are trying to rank for, and well, gives you a status update. It shows you where you’re ranking for that keyword, what page, how its position has changed, what other opportunities you have, and has its own algorithm to suggest keywords.
Screaming Frog is an SEO spider that crawls your site, and gives you all the technical information you could ever want. It pulls meta descriptions, headings, indexability, response codes, coding languages, pagination, canonicalization, content similarity data, broken links, you name it, there’s probably a way to do it on Screaming Frog.
3. You Will Very Quickly be Called Upon to Educate People About SEO
Turns out, not everyone knows what SEO is. At all. My parents still think I come up with general advertising campaigns for all my clients. And that I choose all the graphics and images for their website? I think? Honestly, I am confused by what they sometimes say when they are talking about my job. I think they understand the blogging part, maybe?
But my parents aren’t in the minority, here. A lot of people don’t know what SEO really is, and that includes clients. A big part of your job will be breaking down what SEO is (sans jargon) and why it matters. I’ve put together a mini tutorial of how to do this.
How to Explain Your SEO Job to Your Friends and Family
- Don’t be the first to bring it up. Like, you don’t need to open the can of worms if you don’t have to.
- Tell them you work in a subsection of digital marketing, called “search engine optimization”, or “SEO” for short. This is when half of the people you are talking to will say, “Oh, ya, I know what that is!” If they are in advertising or marketing themselves, go ahead and just take their word for it. If they aren’t, they are probably bluffing.
- Say that primarily, you work with [insert type of client here, in my case, primarily smaller local eCommerce businesses or publishers] to get their pages to rank higher on Google. (Most people understand ranking, but you know, you might have to get into that too.)
- If you want to go further, tell them you do some blog content creation and some back-end technical fixes. Throw in the words “optimize” and “strategy” a few times to sound cool, but know that again, if they’re not in the industry or an adjacent field, that probably won’t actually mean anything.
- Leave it there. Any further, and you might have to whip out a slide deck, and frankly, that just doesn’t need to happen at Grandma’s 72nd birthday party, you know?
How to Explain SEO to a Prospective (or Current) Client
Explaining your complicated and interdisciplinary career choice to friends and family is a little bit funny. But explaining your business to a potential client is really critical, and really easy to get wrong.
- Always enter these conversations from a place of curiosity, rather than judgment. Never assume a client knows a lot about SEO, but also never assume they don’t know anything. It’s honestly okay to just ask them how familiar they are with SEO, and what they are looking for.
- Avoid jargon. First, because a lot of jargon is industry-specific. Second, because it can easily come across as showboating. You don’t have to showboat if you’re confident that what you’re doing can withstand scrutiny, and actually work. And three, it can put the client in a more defensive position, having to ask a question or that you repeat yourself. A client meeting isn’t a power play, folks!
- A lot of agencies will have a template deck or a few slides for explaining SEO in initial conversations. If you’re new to the field, poke around and find those onboarding decks. Get comfortable and familiar with them. They can guide the conversations you’ll have with clients over the course of your engagement. Our deck has a few slides outlining how we start with research and auditing of a site, design a roadmap to execute foundational best practices, a slide about top, middle, and bottom of funnel content, and a slide about how we measure success. Outline clearly what a client is paying for.
- Use examples and data, from a client’s own performance, or from similar industry case studies. At the end of the day, most clients care about the results you can provide, and so after explaining what you do, show them, don’t tell them, why it’s a good fit and why it works.
- Be prepared to revisit this conversation. Have a strategy deck for each client with their goals, and how you’re executing them so that you can come back to it as a touchstone when things get murky. Have something to circle back to that explains what, how and why, you’re doing what you’re doing.
4. You’re Going to Need to Learn the Basics of Other Disciplines
SEO is at its core, a very interdisciplinary field. You will likely need to know some basics in a few areas. Don’t be afraid to call in experts when you need help - SEO is a team sport.
Analytics and Measurement
You’re going to get mathy, folks. A good SEO tracks their progress and reports on the site’s organic traffic and performance. Some clients will already have tracking measures in place, and some won’t. You might need to set up Google Analytics for them, or set up new goals, or configure their tracking.
Web Development and Coding
At the most basic level, you’ll want to know enough about HTML to create a jump link on a Shopify blog post. But you might need to be able to navigate the back end of the site to identify certain best practices, and whether or not they’re in place, especially with the rising importance of Core Web Vitals.
How to structure a site, creating sitemaps, setting up redirects - these are all pieces of technical SEO and part of your job. It’s also not uncommon for a client to assume you have web development skills. Make sure you know when to say yes, and when to call in an expert.
Content Creation and Strategy
If nothing else, you’re likely doing keyword research to help determine what blog posts to write. But a good SEO will dig beyond that, and look at the end customer, search intent, length of content, timeliness, how scalable it is, and more. You might also get your hands dirty and actually do some outlining, writing, or editing.
A Career in SEO is Worth It
Switching to any new career field is an uphill battle of learning, adapting, and meeting new people. SEO perhaps more so than others, with its fast-paced nature, and ever-changing landscape.
Learning SEO comes with its pain points and challenges, but you can give yourself a huge leg up by embracing all the research, instruction, and self-teaching that goes along with it. The tools are out there to start using.
You’ll learn some basic copywriting, coding, measurement, and account management skills - and figure out which you like best. And before you know it, you’ll be teaching all your clients, friends, and neighbors, why SEO is the greatest channel, and how you can conquer Google.