How to get a job in SEO: Career tips from industry insiders14 Feb, 2020 Read Time: 4 Minutes
SEO as an industry is highly varied, without an easily defined career path. Whether you’re set on a career in Search Engine Optimization, or considering it as an option, nothing beats getting advice from those already working in the industry. We spoke to our experts across the global SEO team at Jellyfish, and here they reveal how to kickstart your SEO career – and some top tips to help you along the way.
1. Go against the norm
That’s the advice of SEO Manager Charlie Byard, who undertook a Digital Marketing apprenticeship after college instead of going to University, like most of his friends did. “I knew I liked writing and loved content and tech, but didn’t want to commit to a three-year degree. Knowing how difficult my brother and his friends had found it to get a job after they graduated, I decided I was going to do something different.”
As his apprenticeship progressed, Charlie was keen to get as much experience as possible. “I feel the best way to learn is by doing, so I implemented the tactics I was learning about on my own blog, using trial and error to figure things out as I went.”
Charlie believes running his own side projects ultimately helped him land his job in SEO. “I think employers look at it really positively. My advice would be to just start your own website, brand and social media pages and go for it.”
2. Be honest about your lack of experience
SEO Executive Erin MacRae got into SEO “completely accidentally”. As she explains, “I did a Fine Art degree and had no idea what I wanted to do. I bumped into an old friend who told me her employer was looking for graduates who wanted to learn about digital marketing, so I applied.”
While this role gave her a great basic understanding of different areas, she knew she still had a lot to learn about SEO. “I was really honest at my interview (for the role I’m in now) – I explained that I didn’t know everything but I was really interested in learning more about SEO. I’ve been here seven months now.”
Erin's advice for others looking to take their first step into SEO? “Don’t be put off about your lack of experience. Look for graduate or entry jobs and show you’re someone they can help shape and grow.”
3. Start with the technical, not the theory
“You might not fully understand SEO yet, but if you enjoy getting to grips with all things technical, you’re already on the right track.” That’s according to SEO Strategist Andrea Swan, who studied Software Development at college, before gaining a degree in Systems Management.
It was Andrea’s technical savvy that naturally lead her into SEO. “I was building websites freelance and in my own time, and realised I was missing something – how were we going to get these websites found? Once I worked out how to make websites visible to search engines, it just went from there.”
Her advice? “Learn how to do basic coding first – it helped me a lot – and become familiar with blogs like Ahrefs and SEMrush. It’s also worth following people who’ve been in the industry a while on Twitter and LinkedIn, and network – there are loads of SEO meet-ups out there.”
4. Act like an entrepreneur
Head of SEO Jon Verrall learned from a young age how to make the most of the opportunities that came his way. “I was doing a Computer Science course at college and while I was studying, I’d help out at my mum’s friend’s agency. One day she asked me if I knew anything about SEO – I didn’t but I researched all the fundamentals and put together a training course about it to present to some of her clients – I was 16 years old!”
Jon was able to use this new found knowledge in another project he’d started. “I’d found out about drop shipping – a method of retail where you take an order, send it onto a wholesaler who stocks the product and take a cut of the sale. I stumbled upon an opportunity around remote control cars, set up a little ecommerce site and just started optimising it.”
Although Jon’s background is in web development, he believes there are many different skills required to be a great SEO – from content to UX.“No one person is going to be able to teach you all the specialisms you need – that’s why you need to engage in the SEO community and ask questions. So many people in the industry are willing to help.”
5. Use your existing skills in new ways
This is how Associate SEO Director and German-born Marco got into the industry. “I was first exposed to the web in college, where I helped maintain the marketing club’s website. I went on to intern at a company where we built a system to help agents find and use certain features on the internal sales platform. I didn’t realise it at the time, but this work shared many similarities with SEO.”
After graduation, Marco moved to the US to pursue what he thought would be a career in Sports Marketing or Events Management. “I soon realised there were lots of people who wanted to do the same thing, so I had to pivot back to my language skills. A discovered a local digital marketing agency was looking for a native German speaker, and the rest is history.”
As well as his language skills, Marco credits his successful move into SEO to the “broad exposure” he gained early in his career. “It helps you build up your soft or transferable skills, which I think are more important than whether or not you know how to do keyword research. That can be taught.”
6. Think like a robot
Head of Earned Media Nick Fettiplace started out designing and building websites, but quickly became more interested in how they were being found. As he explains, “I was fascinated by how Google saw the sites I was creating, what signals it was getting. I was like a kid playing a puzzle, trying to ‘think like a robot’ to understand what the algorithm wanted to see. I’d test something, see what worked and what didn’t, then pull it all apart and try to do it again – better and faster. That’s what hooked me on SEO – it was like one giant piece of gamification.”
And the prize for winning? “The results were big. They made my business grow and helped the start-ups I was working with scale and mature, too. That was the ultimate reward.”
Nick’s advice for anyone who wants to get into the industry is to embrace this “hacky approach” to problem solving, then look at the data to be clear as to what’s working and what isn’t. “In SEO we have to test, experiment and think outside the box. Every day you’re problem-solving and figuring out new challenges, so you need to be stimulated by this and really love what you’re doing.”
7. Change direction
It’s never too late to get into SEO. As Content Manager Bronwen Bowley explains, “I started out in very traditional, corporate marketing and PR roles, but soon realised that the industry was becoming much more digital focused. So, I restudied and one of the areas I learned about was search engine optimization. After that, I took a leap of faith and joined a digital marketing agency.”
Former Graphic Designer Pete Richards has a similar story. “I was working on a contract and there was someone who was doing the task of promoting the site – that was the first time I’d heard of SEO.
Pete’s entrance into the industry came a few years later and was by his own admission, “purely by accident!” As he explains, “I’d been going through a lean period with contracted work and was about to give up when I got a call about a basic level SEO job from someone who’d seen my CV online. That was my big break – I’m now a Senior SEO Manager.”
Unsure about changing direction? Bronwen recommends speaking to someone who’s already in the industry you’re considering. “Shadow them or ask if they’ll mentor you.” Pete agrees that getting the right advice is crucial. “It’s difficult when you start out as there’s a lot of noise. Find trusted sources and disregard the rest.”
8. Embrace the negative
Despite gaining a Marketing degree, SEO Manager Matt Bailey struggled to find a job. “I graduated in the heart of the recession in the US and there were very few jobs, so I took a position in sales instead.” While it wasn’t what he’d planned to do, Matt believes this experience ultimately lead him to the career he now loves.
“I was selling ads in a phone book and a lot of the clients didn’t have a strong grasp of digital, so I started recommending and helping implement website builds, which helped me understand what it meant to get a website to rank.”
Matt was able to evolve his role to incorporate his new-found knowledge and interest. “I reached out to my boss and asked if I could look into this SEO thing a bit more as we didn’t have a strong strategy on it, and she said yes.”
His advice for anyone in a similar position? “It’s all about figuring out what you’re good at and how you can use it to get where you want to be.”
9. Always keep learning
Like many people in SEO, Training Director Chris Hutty started off by learning the basics for himself. "One of the great things about SEO is that it's a very generous industry and people are always happy to share knowledge. Whether you're into technical SEO, content creation, design or PR, there's a plethora of freely available information out there on the web to help you learn and hone your skills. SEO isn't a certified industry so most people start their career path through self-learning and on-the-job experience"
If you're looking to learn Chris suggests starting by understanding what Google is trying to achieve with its search engine. "Start with Google's Webmaster Guidelines and Search Evaluator guides. Then there are sites such as Search Engine Journal and Moz which are great sources of information."
And, of course, as Chris adds "if you're looking for a more formal learning experience, you can always check out our range of SEO Training Courses."