Our Best Advice For Graduates Seeking A Career In SEO

It’s no secret that the internet is changing the way we work.

It’s changing the way we interact with each other, how we entertain ourselves, and how we do business. In fact, it’s changing so rapidly that the job market can hardly keep up. So what does this mean for you if you’re looking for a career in digital marketing–or more specifically, SEO?

All that growth bodes well for you as a college student or soon-to-be grad: search engine optimization (SEO) specialists–or search engine marketing (SEM) specialists–are in high demand–and all you’ve got to do to succeed in the rapidly-changing marketing industry is rise to the challenge.

If you can do that–if you can work hard, learn as much as you can, and make the contacts to help you along the way–you’re sure to find the success you’re looking for in the SEO field.

And the even better news? SEO isn’t about how many years of experience you have. In such a rapidly changing marketplace, why should it be? No, success in SEO is about adaptability and the ability to get results, which is great news for newcomers looking to build a name for themselves as an SEO expert. If you’re adaptable, eager, and ready to learn, you’re ready to start building your career as an SEO specialist.

What to Expect From a Career In SEO

So, what does a career in SEO look like?

It depends, of course. Will you work as a freelance SEO consultant or will you work for a digital marketing agency? Or perhaps you’ll be an in-house SEO specialist for a non-marketing company? Even 2 seemingly similar SEO roles can be completely different from one another due to factors like the size of the company and whether or not you’re working solo or as part of a team.

That’s the beauty of an SEO career. Proving yourself and getting results will help keep your options open so you’ll have the freedom to choose the role that suits you. Below we’ve collected the best advice from SEO specialists all over the web and condensed it into a straightforward, actionable guide on how you can get started building the SEO career you’re looking for.

But before we get into our best advice for those seeking careers in SEO, let’s go over a few fast facts about the SEO industry and what they could mean for you:

  • SEO job growth is most rapid in large cities like New York, San Francisco, and Chicago, but is growing rapidly almost everywhere.
  • Some common SEO job titles are SEO Manager, SEO Specialist, and SEO Analyst.
  • SEO specialist salaries range anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000+ a year.
  • The SEO job market has grown about 18% in the past 3 years.
  • Various SEO job titles have seen a salary growth of anywhere from 10% to 26% in the past 3 years.

What does all this mean for you? It’s simple:

  • If you are skilled at SEO, your skills are in demand.
  • If you work hard–if you work smart–you can find the position that’s perfect for you.
  • If you find an SEO role you love, you’re likely to make a great living doing it.
  • Your success is entirely up to you.

Now that we’ve reassured you that your career aspirations in the SEO field are a safe bet, let’s move on to our best advice for succeeding in any whatever SEO role you may choose.

Our Advice: 5 Tips for SEO Success

  1. Be a Sponge

Learning shouldn’t stop once you walk out of the classroom. If you want to become an SEO expert, it’s wise to treat it like a favorite pastime. Spend your free time learning all you can and practice what you’ve learned any chance you get.

Soak up knowledge from all directions:

  • Read popular SEO blogs and sign up to receive their email newsletters
  • Read SEO books
  • Follow SEO gurus on Twitter
  • Explore specialty SEO topics like:
    • link building
    • copywriting
    • keyword strategy

It’s like Rand Fishkin, SEO expert and founder of Moz, says: “There’s just so many aspects of SEO that you still need to be thinking about consciously and layering on top of all these other [marketing] things.”

Things are always changing in the digital marketing industry, which is why you need to continue learning no matter how experienced you become. Read, immerse yourself in the online SEO community, and stay hungry for knowledge. Stay in the know about what’s going on in the constantly changing industry of SEO. It could mean the difference between connecting with a potential employer on a deeper level (“Hey, I love that blog, too!”) or making a lackluster impression in an interview.

  1. Start Practicing Now

Even if you haven’t graduated yet–even if you’re still in high school–it’s time to walk the walk.

The great thing about breaking into the SEO field is that startup costs are almost none. It’s fairly cheap to start your own website and start putting your SEO skills to the test. If you have a computer and a bit of extra cash for a domain name and hosting service, all you need is right at your fingertips.

Not sure what your website should be about? It’s simple–choose a hobby or interest of yours (perhaps SEO!) and blog about it. Give readers helpful information on this particular topic–content you’d want to read–and you’ve got a simple foundation to test your SEO skills with.

If you’d rather not start your own website just yet, how about reaching out to those around you who could use some SEO consultation? Friends, family members, and local small businesses with websites are perfect outlets for practicing your SEO skills. Let them know you’re still learning and will work for free or cheap and you’ve got another low-stakes situation to test your SEO skills in.

And what if you’re afraid to jump in and finally get started after all that book learning? Heed this advice from Danny Dover, writer at lifelisted.com:

90% of the information you need to know about SEO is available online and in books. Once you have figured out that much (you will know because you will start to feel like you aren’t learning anything new from reading and attending conferences) spend the rest of your time innovating and trying out completely new tactics. That last 10% might be findable through the right connections but honestly, your time is better spent coming up with your own ideas.

  1. Build Your Resume and Portfolio

Here’s where that personal website of yours comes in handy. The beauty of SEO is that you don’t need a “real job” to build your resume and portfolio–you can get all the experience you need to shine in a job interview right at home on your computer.

Continue working on your own website and working with friends and family members. The goal is to build up enough experience and confidence that you can start chasing bigger SEO gigs to test your skills on, since nothing’s more impressive than coming into a job interview with dozens of SEO projects already under your belt. You’ll be somewhat of a freelance SEO consultant during this phase–a great experience to have when going in to interview for a salaried job. Not to mention it’s a great way to make some extra cash!

Imagine blowing the interviewer away with concrete examples of challenges you’ve faced with clients in the past and how you’ve overcome them. Wouldn’t that be impressive? Or you might even end up enjoying freelancing so much that you decide to stick to it and stay in business for yourself, another very lucrative option for SEO experts.

But remember–whether you’re working on your own website or someone else’s, all your success will mean nothing if you don’t track your results meticulously. Use an analytics service, keep track of stats like clickthrough rates, and use A/B testing to stay on top of your SEO strategy. Do well enough and you might even have some impressive numbers to put on your resume after a few months of experience under your belt.

  1. Optimize Your Course Schedule

As demand for SEO experts continue to skyrocket, there’s no doubt that universities and colleges will soon follow suit by offering more specialized SEO courses. But what sort of classes should you be taking in the meantime?

Marketing, business, and communications classes are your best bet. These courses–especially marketing–will give you the foundation you need to succeed in your SEO career. And if you want to get the most from your coursework here at UConn, our Digital Marketing & Analytics minor program could be the perfect fit for you.

But what if you have room in your schedule for electives or another minor? Should you load up on “fluff” classes just to take up space in your schedule? Not so fast–elective and minor courses are the perfect way to discover your niche within the SEO field.

Think about what career path you’d like to pursue with your SEO knowledge–will you be an expert on SEO writing? Or will you specialize in building SEO-friendly websites?

Consider what your niche might be and use these ideas to guide your decisions when building your class schedule. Check out classes in business writing, copywriting, web design, and graphic design and consider incorporating one of these skills into your signature area of expertise.

Specializing in a particular SEO-related field could be what makes you stand out from all the rest during a job interview. Be a specialist–not a generalist–and watch your SEO career soar. Taking the classes now that will help you specialize later on is the best way to optimize your course schedule while you’re still in school.

  1. Get Involved

John Doherty, SEO consultant at distilled.net, says it all:

Make  friends. You’ll be much more successful in SEO if you can admit that you don’t know everything and have smart friends to lean on when you are out of your element. We all have our own weaknesses, so admitting it and seeking to learn is foremost.

If you want to succeed in SEO, get social. Get involved. Most importantly, get excited about learning and sharing your ideas with people who have the same interests you do.

Go to conferences, events, and meet ups and soak up all you can from those more experienced than you. Connect and ask for help. Offer to buy an expert a coffee in exchange for some SEO wisdom.

Whether you’re connecting with a potential mentor or someone who’s in the same phase of their career as you, make an effort to form genuine connections with those in your field. You never know–it could help you land your next job.

Now Go Forth and Conquer

And there you have it–our 5 best pieces of advice for building a successful SEO career.

If it sounds like a lot of work, that’s because it is. It won’t always be easy, and the growing SEO industry means you’ll have to work a bit harder to differentiate yourself as a specialist.

But don’t fret. Do you remember the great news we mentioned above? Here it is again–because if you take any piece of advice from this article, it should be this:

Your success is entirely up to you.

Now go forth and optimize.

By Tim Dugan
Tim Dugan SEO Specialist