Nothing’s worse than applying for a job or an internship as a young person and being told “We’re looking for someone with experience.” It’s been a long time since I was in that situation, but I remember it clearly, walking away from each instance thinking to myself “I’m TRYING to get experience.” Thinking back on those times I wish I would have marketed myself differently, better researched the skills I would need to succeed in that position and steered the conversation towards those skills I could clearly demonstrate as opposed to the experience I lacked.
SEO is an interesting field to be in as an employer. Unlike many businesses, colleges aren’t factories cranking out potential employees with a solid understanding of the industry and tangible skills like it does for a field like accounting. So what makes a good employee? Over the years I’ve interviewed interns and potential employees that had all kinds of various levels of skills and/or experience and from the ones who have done the best in our corner of the SEO universe, these are the SEO skills that I feel are the most valuable…even if they had little to no experience in the field.
A demonstrated passion for learning. You just can’t be good at this business if you’re not excited to learn new things. I can’t point out how important this point is, as what you do is constantly shifting because Google’s constantly changing the playing field. For example, years ago you could be pretty successful at SEO with minimal web development knowledge. Today, technical elements of a website have become a more prominent in Google’s algorithm, so you need to know how to assess those items and at least recommend what can be done to improve them. Above and beyond that, you’re likely to work with a wide variety of clients, so you’ll need to constantly be learning about new clients and new industries. If you’re not excited to learn and able to learn the constant tidal wave of information that will inevitably come at you, SEO is not for you.
Above average communication skills. I don’t care how smart you are, if you can’t bullshit with strangers in person and over the web to a decent degree then you’re going to fail at outreach and you have no chance of selling your services. Granted, not every SEO is going to have to do sales, but you’re likely going to have to interact with all of the following types of people at some point, and making them like you and being able to influence their decisions will be critical to your success:
- Web developers
- Clients/Prospective clients
- Link prospects
- Co-workers or partners who are teaming up on projects
Perseverence. Some of the things you’ll do as an SEO are impossibly boring. Weeding through massive lists of link prospects or writing 400 meta descriptions for laboratory testing equipment isn’t the sort of thing that any kid grew up wanting to do, but it’s a reality of the job and it’s important to the end product that you put out. Some of our best workers have the ability to just pop on their headphones and get in a zone and power through some of these less-than-exciting tasks with an amazing level of efficiency.
Ability to roll with the punches. One of the toughest parts about SEO is that you only have so much control over what you do. The search engines can change the rules at their whim, clients often won’t want to (or have the ability to) implement on recommendations you have for them. It can be frustrating, but you can’t let it get the best of you.
Creativity. The best SEOs are constantly pushing for new and better ways to do things. If you think you’re going to develop a system that you can replicate for every single client that walks through the door and you’ll be able to ride that out forever…or a year…or even a few months is just naive. Better, faster, more efficient processes and strategies always need to be popping up in the office or your clients, and your business as an extension are going to get left in the dust.
That’s my view of the most important SEO skills, if there are any that I’ve missed please share your thoughts in the comments.