7 Skills You Need to Become a
Professional SEO Specialist

See also: Strategic Thinking Skills

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is an art. It’s the art of being there at the top of the Google result page organically. To be a specialist in SEO, like any other art form, having the right set of skills is essential. In simple terms, SEO is the development and optimization of content in a way so that it can appear on top of the search engine result page (SERP) for a specific keyword.

According to research by Net Marketshare, around 70% of the queries asked by people using mobile/desktop are through the Google search engine. And the percentage is the same for people who click on the top five results on the SERP. This means that if your content does not appear in the top five results, you’ll lose a significant amount of traffic. The inability of content to appear on the first page shows that it is not optimized correctly, and so it requires a skilled SEO specialist to ensure that the content appears at the top.

SEO Specialist vector illustration.

Who Is an SEO Specialist?

The job of an SEO specialist is to help your site pages and content rank higher on the SERP by analyzing and reviewing your website. Thus, it’s also part of their job to look into content development with strategically chosen keywords so that the traffic on the site can be increased. It sounds a lot easier than it actually is.

These specialists have to run various tests to analyze the design, layout, added files, keyword enriched content, and much more. It’s only after all the boxes are ticked that your content will beat the competition and rank higher. SEO specialists use website auditing tools to analyze the structure of the website and keyword rank tracked to find the best group of keywords relevant for your website.

The tools that SEO specialists use makes their life easy, as it is impossible to analyze the effectiveness of the website’s technical component without them. There are several technical SEO components that you should keep an eye on like sitemaps, crawl errors, duplicate/multiple URLs, minifying CSS and JavaScript files, image optimization, mobile optimization, etc. Tools like Google Analytics offer valuable data that you can use for monitoring SEO performance. However, using different tools for different SEO purposes can become tiring in the end. With tools like SE Ranking you get all these features in one place allowing you to easily perform site audits, competitor analysis, monitor website ranking, keyword suggestion and grouping, backlink monitoring, automated professional reporting, and much more.

SE Ranking website screenshot

Some of the responsibilities of an SEO specialist are:

  • Analysis of client’s website and check for the scope of improvement 
  • Keyword research and clusterization
  • Preparing comprehensive strategy reports for clients
  • Managing SEO content
  • Analyzing competitor strategies and keywords that they are ranking.

Top 7 Skills to Be an SEO Specialist

Now we know what SEO is, what it does, and what the responsibilities of an SEO specialist are, let’s jump into the skills that employers look for in an SEO expert. Though the skill set required to be a specialist is quite broad, there’s still a baseline that contributes to their digital mastery. Here are seven skills that you need to keep your eye on.

#1 Critical Thinking

It is important to understand that every website is different, and so are their ranking factors. This means the strategy that worked for one client does not mean that it’ll work for everyone. Because of this, it becomes essential for an SEO specialist to find potential issues on the websites they work on. There are many ways to do it, one of which is to figure out the mistakes that competing websites are making so that you don’t repeat the same mistakes.

If we break down the process of ranking higher with SEO, it’s only about having the ability to out-optimize other websites that are already ranking at the top. An SEO specialist has to be a critical thinker too as it allows them to examine the campaign, compare them with others, and find out the best possible solution to counter the issues.

#2 Prioritization

In running a successful SEO campaign, prioritization skills have a notable role to play. This is why it becomes essential for specialists to know about the steps that should be taken first and the ones that can be left for later. They need to understand the significance of every step and every change they make.

For example, when we talk about one of the most difficult and time-consuming aspects of an SEO process, it is link building. But at the same time, it is also one of the major factors that determine the ranking of a site. A backlink acts as a recommendation. It is a link to your site from a respected website in a relevant industry. Because the difficulty level of link building is higher, the specialist prioritizes it and gives it more time. On the other hand, simple content tweaks do not demand too much time or attention, so they should not be prioritized.

If time is an issue, try developing your time management skills.

#3 Research

Research is an essential skill that an SEO expert must master as it is something they are supposed to do repeatedly. In any SEO campaign, the research starts with basic keyword analysis. This keyword research provides a solid and insightful foundation based on which the experts can lay out strategic plans. But the research required for a successful SEO campaign is far more than that. Specialists have to do research about the client’s company, competitors, technology, changing algorithms, and much more. The more efficient and faster you are with your research, the better your SEO campaign can be.

#4 Analysis

One of the tasks that SEO experts have to do on a regular basis is to measure the success of an SEO campaign. They do it with the help of analytics, and it won’t be an exaggeration to say those analytics are the backbone of an SEO process. If SEO specialists do not have strong analysis skills, they are more likely to fail in determining the success or failure of the strategy at the right time.

It is essential for SEO experts to have the ability to understand and interpret the data they receive from the various tools that they use for their SEO campaigns. As we discussed above, there are various tools that can help you in making the analysis easier, but it still requires experts to have ample knowledge. They must have this skill because it allows them to know how to take the insights from the tools they use and apply them to improve the performance of a website.

#5 Basic Coding

SEO specialists do not have to be professional coders to devise successful strategies. A CMS, these days, comes with SEO functionality which means you can make the SEO-related changes in the website by following the guides and tutorials offered by the CMS.

However, if you are a little familiar with the coding aspect and know how it works, things will be easier for you. It will allow you to peek into the source code of the targeted website and will allow you to pick relevant features for your campaign. You’ll be able to make necessary changes without breaking the site.

#6 Decision Making and Flexibility

SEO is an ever evolving environment, and you can’t always wait to discuss the developments in the meeting and then take a further step. An SEO specialist has to make decisions on the go. Moreover, SEO is not a very consistent process. What’s consistent is Google making changes in their algorithm, which means that with every algorithm change, there’s a chance that the SEO strategy might become ineffective. This is why it is essential for SEO specialists to have decision-making skills that will allow them to make the necessary changes instantly.

Furthermore, if any SEO strategy fails to work the way the expert wanted it to, they should be flexible enough to switch strategies without disturbing the momentum of the whole project.

#7 Tenacity and Humility

Tenacity is not really a skill, but it’s something that you need to have to succeed not only as an SEO expert but as a professional too. SEO is not easy - your assumptions will be proven wrong, your efforts sometimes won’t generate the right result, and there will be times when you’ll face criticism from your clients. Tenacity gives you the ability to look over those moments, keep going, and find solutions to problems related to your work.

Humility, on the other hand, makes you put your ego aside and allows you to learn more. You can’t know everything there is to know about SEO, it changes in no time, new things are added, old ones become irrelevant. For an SEO specialist, it is essential to know when they have made a mistake. They should accept it and start focusing on correcting those mistakes.

Final Words

These are the skills that you should have if you wish to become an SEO specialist. If you don’t have these skills, or you feel that you need to improve some of these, do not panic. There’s always time to improve yourself to excel in the career path of your choice.

The skills mentioned here are foundational. They’ll help you in planning campaigns, keyword research, analyzing the website, making the right decision for the campaign, and much more. The more you work on these skills, the better results you’ll deliver to your clients.

About the Author

Saket Aggarwal is an engineer turned B2B SaaS content strategist and technical writer who helps companies streamline their product marketing efforts, create manuals/SOPs, build demand generation, and increase leads.