Top 8 Skills Required for Every Great SEO Professional to Succeed

Despite the fact that it has been around for a few decades, SEO is still not taught at many institutions or acknowledged in most marketing curriculums (at least according to all the interns I interview.)

SEO experts come from a range of backgrounds. Others are programmers, some are entrepreneurs, some are conventional marketers, some are journalists, and some were even rappers in the past.

Throughout my career, I spend a significant amount of time interviewing individuals for available SEO positions.

There is no universal list of SEO talents that everyone need, but there are a few things I look for in every applicant based on their experience level and position.

Simply said, I’m seeking for someone with a background I can build on (programming, marketing, content, etc.) and a data-driven, results-oriented mind approach.

That should be obvious if you read the interviewing article above.

Anyway, let’s go into the top SEO talents for success.

This isn’t a full list, and I’m sure there are plenty of individuals who have excelled without these qualities – but what’s the point of a list if there’s no controversy?

Here are the top eight qualities I look for in an SEO candidate.

Critical Thinking

This is difficult to quantify, but SEO professionals must have an analytical mind capable of distinguishing between correlation and causation.

I’m looking for an SEO that can analyse data and grasp the “3 What’s”:

  • What occurred.
  • Why “what happened” occurred.
  • What should we do about it?

There are several methods to gauge this, but I avoid asking students to figure out the quickest route to cross a bridge with a shared flashlight or the traditional lightbulb issue.

Instead, I’ll use hypothetical interview questions to better grasp how they think.

“Assume you and the customer differ on what we should do,” one example interview question says. “Can you walk me through your meeting with them and your approach?”

“Account recently sent a client’s new website,” for example. They want to know whether we can assist them with their SEO. What are the first few things that come to mind?”

Ask them about the most difficult challenge they addressed, how they recognised it, how they solved it, and how they judged success.

There are no correct or incorrect answers to these questions, but they do assist me understand a candidate’s cognitive process and problem-solving approach.

I want to see that they comprehend the topic from many perspectives and make decisions based on evidence and reasoning.

Communication and Writing Skills

An SEO specialist who can do their own keyword research and write content using it is much more beneficial.

But we’re not only talking about publishing articles like this one or giving talks at conferences.

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I’m looking for an SEO that can persuade internal teams and clients to do the correct thing, which comes from presenting at meetings and producing decks, case studies, POVs, and so on. All of them include communication and writing abilities.

SEO requires not just confidence, but also the ability to simplify complicated ideas and thoughts into concepts that non-SEO professionals can comprehend and use to make judgments.

Technical and programming abilities

I’m sure there will be some discussion over this. I’m also certain that there are a slew of SEO experts working hard right now that have no programming experience.

The fact is that they might be doing an even better job if they had any programming skills.

We give advice concerning page performance, rendering, lazy loading, server side redirection, microdata tagging, and fundamental HTML tags as SEO pros.

All of these talks will go more smoothly if you can communicate with the developer and provide insights rather than demands.

Understanding where the developer is coming from when they push back is tremendously useful at settling disputes.

Estimating the degree of work vs. SEO effect is also important.

I’m not suggesting SEO professionals should be able to code, but they should grasp the coding implications of the modifications they want and what that means for the developers, as well as frequent errors and objections and how to overcome them.

It is not sufficient for an SEO specialist to copy a Google page speed analysis and give it to the developers. You must understand what those changes are, what they entail for the site, and how much work is required to implement them.

Technical expertise also allows you to make your life simpler, whether it’s building a short Python script to add hreflang to your XML sitemap or a rapid scraper to collect data.

As search engines include more machine learning and natural language processing (NLP), there are a plethora of fun things an SEO professional can perform with our existing data sets and some Python NLP packages.

Today’s SEO programmers are doing incredible things with data and code to obtain an edge on insights and winning work.

One of the most illuminating talks I’ve ever had was over drinks with a buddy about how we’d construct a search engine using solely what SEO professionals felt were ranking variables.

We went into great detail about how to crawl for certain signals, index them, and utilise them in ranking – and it was apparent which ones couldn’t reasonably work and which others couldn’t really be done at the query or site level.

Our past schooling in information retrieval and programming skills helped us comprehend what was and wasn’t achievable. This is a priceless advantage.

I still see multiple SEO practitioners on a regular basis making statements about how algorithms function that any computer scientist would know are just impossible to design.

Social abilities

Over the course of my career, I’ve established so many wonderful connections and learned so much just by attending conferences and networking with other SEO experts — even electronically.

To do so, you must not be a creep and must be able to get along socially with people.

Some of the most interesting talks take place in conference corridors, events, and meet-and-greets. Some of these gatherings include alcohol.

If you choose to attend these activities, you must maintain control.

We’ve all heard tales about that one individual who was improper. Don’t be like that. Many brilliant SEO professionals have harmed their jobs by misbehaving in bars or on social media.

Reminder: never attempt to find a date at a conference event or in a hotel bar.

It is an excellent forum for discussing SEO philosophy and strategies.

Because of the casual and private atmosphere, without live blogging and tweeting, SEO pros may discuss ideas and methods that they would not reveal publicly.

Most folks attending an SEO event aren’t interested in debating politics or hearing about that one unique issue that only pertains to your site and takes 10 minutes to explain (unless you’re paying for the food/drinks).

They will, however, be interested in hearing about fresh and interesting things you’ve seen or done.

Is it necessary to be a public-facing SEO who attends conferences or events in order to be good? No. But if you want to do that (or are required to attend these activities), you can’t be a jerk about it.

Analytical Capabilities

If SEO specialists can get into Adobe or Google Analytics and retrieve their own data, they can save a lot of time.

Proper SEO strategy also requires a fundamental grasp of company KPIs.

I provide my staff the option to get Adobe and Google Analytics certified because even if they aren’t pulling the data, knowing it helps – but also because we end up pulling the data most of the time.

You’re probably losing out on some insights if you can’t extract and segment data.

Data Knowledge

This section was originally titled “excel skills,” and it remains so today, but it extends beyond that.

Obtaining the data is not sufficient. Sometimes you have to play with it a little to acquire the information you need.

I’ve encountered a number of SEO professionals that can’t even do the most basic operations in Excel.

Vlookups, Concatenates, and IF statements (among literally 473 more functions – there are 476 built-in Excel functions) should be in any SEO professional’s toolbox.

Throughout my work, I’ve produced several Excel templates to aid in the resolution of ordinary difficulties.

Excel is invaluable when it comes to converting a Screaming Frog crawl into an XML sitemap, measuring algorithm changes and their impact with GA/Adobe data, creating custom CTR by position curves, or quickly bucketing keywords from the search console into brand/non-brand or product groups.

However, just using Excel is no longer sufficient.

A true SEO specialist will be able to design dashboards in data studio, leverage multiple APIs to retrieve additional data (search console, Google NLP, lighthouse, adwords, other tools, etc), and understand databases well enough to do amazing things with that data.

It’s also worth noting R, Python, and Tableau.

Math is also included in this area! I’m still seeing a lot of shoddy correlation studies and statistical analyses that don’t convey what the author believes they say.

A rudimentary grasp of statistical ideas may assist an SEO establish not just what to measure, but also “how” to measure it.

Looking at clicks month after month during a pandemic may give a different narrative than looking at CTRs during the same time when demand fluctuates due to external circumstances.

Motivation, drive, and adaptability

The thing I like and dislike about working in SEO is that it doesn’t stop at 5 p.m.

Marketing isn’t one of those occupations that you can quit at the end of the day. It sticks with you in your mind.

To be genuinely successful at SEO these days, you must have an internal desire that compels you to continue learning.

There’s always something new to learn, whether it’s a new programming language, a new framework (WordPress, React, Angular, etc), a new search engine standard like Schema, or comprehending machine learning.

Candidates that have their own side project websites or who design their own tools to tackle their challenges are at the top of my recruiting list.

For example, you might use the webmaster tools API to automate data extraction and report creation. I just employed that individual.

SEO necessitates adaptation and a thick skin. Our market evolves, and we occasionally have to tell customers that directory submissions, PageRank sculpting, link disavows, and other things we formerly suggested are no longer the best option.

I’m looking for a candidate that is prepared to leave their ego at the door and confess when they’re incorrect. We’ve all made mistakes, and that’s okay. It does not diminish our status as a guru or expert. That is just how science works.

It’s about prioritising the client’s objectives above SEO income potential. (I warned you in the tweets before this piece that I was going to create an argument.)

A Good Sense of Humor

In the SEO sector, we deal with a lot of ups and downs – and frequently at a rapid speed.

It’s crucial to take a step back and realise that we’re not saving lives here; we’re simply promoting.

As demanding as the work might be, the majority of it can be put off until tomorrow. A good sense of humour may make our employment much more pleasurable and productive.

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