Students who are thinking about pursuing a career in digital media have many options to consider, ranging from journalism to graphic design to web analytics. But there is another option that many high school students may not have even heard of — the SEO specialist career path. What is an SEO specialist and how can students begin the process of how to become an SEO specialist? This in-depth career guide explains everything students need to know to get started.
What Exactly Is SEO?
SEO, or search engine optimization, is a set of techniques used in digital marketing. To fully understand how SEO works and why it's important, it’s first necessary to take a closer look at the broader field of digital marketing. Digital marketing materials encompass everything that a company could use to raise brand awareness and drive sales.
For example, a company’s websites, pay-per-click (PPC) ads, social media posts, white papers, eBooks, landing pages and blogs (just to name a few mediums) can all be used to further that company’s digital marketing goals. Digital marketing copy (text that is written with a sales purpose) can be clever and funny — designed to capture attention and attract a loyal audience. It can be informative or thought-provoking, intended to make the target audience think or to provide value to the audience.
There are many different copywriting techniques that digital marketers can use to make a digital marketing campaign a success. But one thing that all types of digital copy have in common is the goal of increasing sales for the company, and this is where SEO comes into play. In order to increase sales, a brand needs to drive as much web traffic as possible to its website, and then convert that traffic into sales.
When a person types a search query into a search engine such as Google, the search engine generates a list of search engine results pages (SERPs). The person can then choose to click on one or more links from the list of results. Although a search engine may return millions or even billions of results for any given search query, very few of those results will get any clicks.
Search engine optimization is the set of techniques that digital marketers can use to improve the chances of getting a website to rank high in SERPs. SEO is ever-changing, due in large part to Google’s frequent changes to its search algorithms. It’s believed that Google updates its search algorithms about 500 to 600 times per year (although the vast majority of these changes are not monumental).1 This means that SEO specialists must continually stay informed of the latest Google changes so that they can do their jobs more effectively.
What Does an SEO Specialist Do?
The goal of an SEO specialist is simple: to make any needed adjustments to a website so that it ranks higher in Google’s SERPs. In order to execute this overarching goal, an SEO specialist will do the following job tasks:
- Stay informed of the latest algorithm changes rolled out by Google that can affect SEO and various SEO techniques
- Evaluate existing websites to determine where they rank and which issues are holding them back from ranking higher
- Research keywords (terms that web users type into search engines) to identify the ones that would help a website become more visible to search engines and web traffic
- Change or add copy, links, keywords and images, and reformat website pages to optimize them for search engine rankings
- Ensure that a website is optimized for mobile searches
- Attend client and team meetings, and coordinate SEO projects with other members of the team
Where Do SEO Specialists Work?
Many SEO specialists work for marketing and advertising agencies. Here, they coordinate with other members of the team (such as copywriters and graphic designers) to develop optimized marketing collateral for a variety of clients. Other SEO specialists may work for an in-house marketing department of a large company. In an in-house marketing department, an SEO specialist will focus only on their employer company’s marketing campaigns.
Some SEO specialists are freelancers. They have a roster of their own clients for whom they provide search engine optimization services. Although it’s certainly not impossible, it’s difficult for a professional to begin a career as a freelancer. It’s more common for SEO specialists to first gain experience at a marketing agency or in-house marketing department before hanging up their own shingle as a freelancer.
Do You Need to Earn a Communication Education Degree?
SEO specialists are marketing professionals who are generally expected to hold a bachelor’s degree. However, there is some flexibility regarding the type of degree they can earn. A communication education degree is one possible choice that may lead to this type of career; however, there are other degree options that are more closely aligned with this career path.
A communications degree with an emphasis in communication education is ideal for individuals who would like to teach communications classes. Although it’s definitely possible to transition into a marketing career after earning a communications degree, it’s more ideal for students to choose a marketing-specific degree if they already know they want to pursue that particular career path. For example, an aspiring SEO professional may choose to earn a Bachelor of Science in Marketing and Advertising.
A bachelor’s degree in marketing will give students well-rounded competencies that are readily applicable in the field. Although the curriculum can vary from one school and program to the next, students can generally expect to study the following topics:
- Consumer and buyer behavior, with a look at the factors that influence buyer decision making
- The development of marketing campaigns and the use of promotional strategies
- Marketing research processes and tools, including use of data analytics and the development of marketing research plans
- Digital marketing techniques, such as search engine optimization and cross-channel digital marketing campaigns
During students’ four years of working toward a bachelor’s degree, they will have the opportunity to take a few elective classes. Aspiring SEO specialists are advised to take courses in computer applications, web design and similar topics, as a high degree of computer literacy is important for this career field. An internship is also strongly recommended, as much of a professional’s SEO-specific knowledge will come from on-the-job training and similar hands-on learning experiences.
Do You Need a Master’s Degree?
It’s not necessary to earn a master’s degree in order to become an SEO specialist. Graduates can begin searching for their first professional job with a bachelor’s degree. At some point, professionals may decide to go back to school for a master’s degree in order to further enhance their career qualifications, but this is optional.
However, working professionals who already have a bachelor’s degree in another field and who would like to transition to marketing may decide to earn a master’s degree. For example, an individual who has a degree in history or language may decide to earn an MBA with an Emphasis in Marketing in order to transition to this career path.
Additional Qualifications for Aspiring SEO Specialists
Although it’s not necessary for SEO professionals to earn a master’s degree, they can brush up on their skills and knowledge by earning voluntary certifications from reputable organizations. One or more voluntary certifications can potentially give a job candidate an edge in the job marketplace. Some of the most popular certifications for this field include the following offered by Google’s Skillshop:
- Google Ads
- Analytics Academy
- Google Marketing Platform
- Google Ad Manager
Other certifications offered by various organizations include the following:
- Moz SEO Essentials Certificate
- HubSpot Academy (various SEO training courses)
- SEMrush Academy (various SEO training courses)
- Yoast (various SEO courses, including site structure training)
Movement on the SEO Specialist Career Path
Individuals who become SEO specialists might not necessarily have the same job title for the duration of their career. Within this field, there is room for both horizontal and vertical movement. For instance, an entry-level SEO specialist might be promoted to senior SEO specialist, followed by a promotion to SEO manager. The job of SEO manager will typically involve some supervisory and mentoring duties.
Sometimes, an SEO specialist will decide that they want to broaden their knowledge base and job responsibilities. A related role is that of search engine marketer. SEO and search engine marketing (SEM) work together to increase web traffic. However, whereas SEO focuses on drawing in organic traffic from search engines, SEM focuses on paid traffic that is generated through ads (e.g. pay per click ads).
SEO specialists who decide that they prefer working with copy, rather than the more technical aspects of SEO, might pursue a career transition to the broader role of digital marketer. A digital marketer will do a bit of everything, from writing copy to optimizing existing websites to writing pay-per-click ads.
Essential Skills and Characteristics for an Aspiring SEO Specialist
An effective SEO professional must possess a varied toolkit of skills and characteristics. One of the most important of these is attention to detail. These professionals must be able to pore over minute details and analytics data without missing any key information.
While it might not be the first characteristic that comes to mind for this career path, creativity is also essential. Many websites must be optimized for keyword phrases that are quite tricky to work into copy in a natural, organic way. An SEO specialist must be able to develop creative means of working these keywords into the copy without having the writing seem forced or unnatural.
Other important skills and characteristics are as follows:
- Teamwork and collaboration
- Critical thinking and analytical reasoning
- A commitment to lifelong learning
- Strategic thinking
Students who aspire to become SEO specialists or other types of marketers are invited to explore the modern degree programs available at Grand Canyon University. The renowned Colangelo College of Business is pleased to offer the Bachelor of Science in Marketing and Advertising degree and the Bachelor of Science in Applied Marketing and Advertising program for students who are eager to make their mark on the world of digital marketing. Click on Request Info at the top of your screen to learn more about joining our
dynamic and supportive learning community.
1 Retrieved from: Search Engine Land, Google SEO news: Google algorithm updates in May 2022.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.