I’ve always learnt quicker using analogy, picturing new concepts against familiar ones based on previous experience. So with this in mind, and based on a thirty year career in the events industry this is my attempt to explain Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and website optimisation against the backdrop of organising an exhibition stand at a trade show.
Whilst working at The Brighton Centre, I’ve seen exhibitors turn up at show with fabulous stands which twinkle and shine. Amazing graphics and multi-coloured carpet tiles; sound effects; scantily clan women pacing around clutching brochures; over enthusiastic sales men and women intimidating the casual passer-by.
I’ve also seen stands which look like they were designed on the back of a packet of fags. Tired graphics; sales staff working hard on reaching the next level of Candy Crush on their phones; chipped and scruffy furniture; last year’s brochures with a sticky label slapped over the date.
So think about your stand (website) from the visitors (users) perspective and you will understand some basic SEO and website optimisation concepts.
With the demand for Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) skills on the rise and the average UK salary paying £32.5k a year, it’s no wonder more and more people want a career in the SEO industry. The question is however, how do you get a job in SEO?
If you type the phrase “how to start a career in SEO” (and that’s including inverted commas!) in to Google’s web search, you are presented with over 2,500 pages of content in the search engine results page (SERP). With so many websites giving their own advice on which is the best way to begin a career in SEO, it’s hard to focus on what you really should be doing. This post covers the definitive steps you should be taking in order to maximise your employability in the SEO industry.
1. Start reading… Learn the basics
At first glance learning SEO seems like a near impossible task. With so much reading material available through the internet and with certain web sites charging for this privilege, it’s difficult to be sure of which material is worthwhile reading.
One thing is for sure though, you don’t have to pay to learn the basics. There is a wealth of free information out there in the form of e-books, blogs, videos, and web sites that are worth paying attention to. Google’s SEO Beginners Guide is the perfect place to start as it is written by the people who’s search engine you will be mostly optimising for. It’s a no-brainer really. Another great place to start reading up on the basics (and the more advanced) is the highly reputable and popular SEOmoz. With over 18,000 likes on Facebook and over 100,000 followers on Twitter you get the impression that they know what they are talking about. SEOmoz provide a comprehensive Beginners Guide to SEO that is easy to read and digest for people new to SEO. Both guide’s are available for download and best of all they are free!.
2. Get Advanced… Familiarise yourself with HTML code
Arguably this should be an ongoing step, and form part of your basic learnings but with the advent of WordPress and other WYSIWYG editing platforms, knowledge of HTML is no longer a pre-requisite. There will definitely come a time though when you will need to edit HTML code directly so it’s important (and often a required item on a job description) to know your way around.
3. Start Practising
The numerous ebooks, blog posts and learning materials you have accumulated in steps 1 and 2 may leave you a little overwhelmed. They say practice makes perfect, so now would be a great time to piece together your understanding of SEO by getting your hands dirty and putting it into practice. You could either build a site, and experiment with the different SEO tactics you have learned to date, to attempt to get it to the top of the SERPs or create a personal blog in a platform like WordPress and start practising from a content creation angle. If you’ve got friends in business who have a web site, offer them some free SEO advice. Small businesses and charities that are on a tight budget will be more open to listening to some free advice and may even let you have a go at optimising their website… for free of course.
Tip: For some real-world work experience, check out the Analysis Exchange. They offer a great opportunity for people to develop their web analytics skills, a sure-fire way to boost your CV.
4. Keep Listening
Search engine algorithms are constantly evolving and there are always opinions and new techniques worth listening to. If your “beginners handbooks” are gathering dust, swap them with some more advanced reading materials, found on sites such as Search Engine Land and SEOBook to stay abreast of the latest insights and to generally stay sharp. Moreover, it is advisable to visit Google’s Webmaster Guidelines as these are updated quite regularly whenever they make tweaks to their algorithm.
Tip: Keep an eye on Matt Cutts’ Blog – he regularly hosts Q & A sessions on new Google algorithm changes.
5. Just dive in
Get involved with discussions; which include answering questions on Q & A forums and being involved with relevant groups/threads on forums and commenting with your own opinions on other blog posts. Don’t just comment “great post”, elaborate, give your opinions and ask further questions. SEOmoz, SEObook, and Matt Cutts blogs are definitely ones you should consider bookmarking. Quora is a question and answer website, where anyone can ask a question and anyone can answer. Many industry professionals are actively involved so you never know, the likes of Rand Fishkin could be answering your questions! The Warrior Forum is a highly popular marketing forum where you can find people talking about anything from programming to mobile marketing and just about anything in between.
6. Attend a course
So far all of your knowledge has come from the sources available on the internet which is great, I mean it hasn’t cost you a penny. However, you can’t exactly put this down on a CV can you? Although there isn’t actually an official SEO certification available, and probably won’t be for the foreseeable future, there are SEO courses out there. But which one should you choose? Well a lot of these courses are aimed at businesses rather than individuals starting up on their own and the majority of the courses only run for one day.
From personal experience, Salford University’s Search and Social Media Marketing Course is a must for anyone starting out in the SEO world either as an individual or as an established company. Not only do you get free refreshments and sandwiches, you get 1st class lecturing from the head of Salford Business school, guest speakers from the marketing industry, and official US based global leader SEMPO training course material. This course is sure to give you the knowledge to stand out from the crowd.
Tip: For an “at a glance” comparison of the courses available in SEO & Inbound Marketing bookmark this great post from the David Naylor blog.
7. Engage in Social Media
Chances are you are quite active on Facebook already, but for more professional social media activity, recommendations include Twitter, LinkedIn and more recently Google Plus. Google Plus has amassed around 40 million users and the majority of these are “first movers” that are heavily involved in the tech industry. This has led to a very active core of users posting regular digital marketing blogs and updates. All of these social media tools will provide you with great sources of SEO information.
TIP: Many SEO jobs will require social media optimisation (SMO) as part of the job role, so it makes sense to be actively involved and have an understanding of how they work so you can show off your knowledge in an interview.
8. Speak to Industry Professionals
Contact industry professionals and ask them for their advice. Ask them how they started out, they may reveal something that you could use to propel your career.
Mark Johnson, a Digital Insight Consultant at Latitude kindly took the time out to offer some industry advice for this post… “If you plan on building a website, before you do make sure you have a strategy and a clear goal of what you set out to achieve. Don’t rush in and always do your market research”. He also adds a bit of technical advice by saying, “Make sure your website is hosted in the right place (UK clients = UK IP address) and is URL friendly”. A great tip that should be applied to step 3 in this post .
Tip: A great place to meet industry professional in person is via the Manchester SEO (meetup). This meetup provides a fantastic opportunity to talk to like minded people who can offer you advice and point you in the right direction.
9. Apply for jobs
Now with all the SEO knowledge, tools and self generated experience you have developed it’s time start applying for jobs. Finding that perfect first job isn’t that easy. In fact your first job might not specifically be in SEO. For example, the requirements to become a PPC executive aren’t quite as demanding becoming an SEO executive. However, by being a PPC executive you can build up the experience and develop certain skills such as keyword research, analytics, & reporting that are required to be an SEO executive.
Tip: Now for when you get selected for an interview check out this blog post for an idea of what questions to expect.
10. Don’t just stop there….
Always look for ways to continually develop yourself no matter what level of knowledge and skills you have. It’s a competitive field out there so you must continually grow and stay fresh. You can achieve this by constantly engaging in the steps covered in this post, over and over again. You could even concentrate on one area such as the increasingly important link building and become an expert in that area.
In a recent SEOMoz Whiteboard Friday session, the topic was exactly what we’re discussing here – so for a visual representation of some of the topics covered, and to give this post one final element of depth you can view that below!
Each one of these steps could actually warrant their own detailed post but this is a summary of the key steps an SEO newbie should take. Sure, there are more which is the beauty of the SEO industry. The learning possibilities are almost endless. However, by following these 10 steps anyone’s arsenal will be well equipped with vital SEO weapons that employers look for and will ask about in an interview.
It would be interesting to know what you think about the steps covered in this post. If you are already in the SEO field, what first steps did you take and did any of these steps apply to you? Please feel free to comment below.
‘SEO for All’ will explain why web pages – all online material, in fact – should be optimised to make them findable and that – much like web accessibility – this optimisation will not be too great a burden. Online material that has been optimised for findability has a great deal in common with accessible material: it tends to feature tightly focused content built on well-structured foundations. Findable and accessible sites tend to feature appropriate and focused architecture, supported by logical navigation and rich links. Findability works for the standardista and for the consumer.
‘SEO for All’ then, not just all webbies, all designers or all developers. Why ‘the missing link’, though? What’s missing?
The Missing Link: Me!
Or what I learned from Salford Business School’s course in Search & Social Media Marketing
What was missing was a personal awareness of the reality of SEO. I’m writing this at the back end of a 10 week, 4 hours a pop, ‘study when you’re bushed and the kids have gone to bed’ course in Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and Social Media Marketing run by Salford Business School just down the road from Manchester City Centre. From the general to the particular. Background and details. Beginner to professional. Well, not really. No one gets to be professional in anything after a mere 40 hours.
Principles, Real Professionals & Sandwiches
What you do get though, is a thorough grounding in the principles behind SEO and SMM (the course is acronymed as SSMM – Search and Social Media Marketing), the detailed techniques used in increasing findability and encouraging buzz and exposure to the various tools of the trade. You also get exposure to the real professionals, in the form of a weekly guest lecture by some of the most influential commercial SEO/SSMM organisations in Manchester. The likes of Latitude, MEC Manchester, PushOn and MediaVest. You also get access to SEMPO (international search engine marketing professional organisation) material and certification; the course fee includes 3 separate SEMPO Institute courses and awards. And sandwiches.
So what’s changed? Well, other than the stunning insight that the vast majority of SEO techniques – and practitioners – are absolutely ethical, the last 10 weeks have shown me that optimising web material so that it is easily findable (or, as appropriate, rises to the top of a search engine results page, or SERP as they are known in the trade) involves processes that, quite simply, complement the whole gamut of web standards.
Why SEO Matters or Here Come the Numbers
Earlier in the year Royal Pingdom reported that in 2009 there were 234 million websites, of which 47 million had been created in that year.
Almost a MILLION new blog posts today. Clearly it’s not the material that’s not there. Sure, the numbers are at best a rough guide. A blog post can be a single line. There’s no quality control. And no one reads it.
Ah…no one reads it.
Does that matter? Well, yes, it does if what you’ve got to say is relevant, reasoned, reasonable and just plain right! Without going down philosophical back-alleys, common sense tells me that most of us write for an audience. Most of us work for organisations that seek to promote themselves. This is not simply a matter of persuasion; in many (most?) cases, our organisations have an audience that are actually looking for the material we publish.
Let’s be clear about this: ‘our stuff’ is better than ‘their stuff’ (if you dont’ feel that, do it again) and we owe it to the public to make sure that when they want information, they get it from us! When statistics show that almost three-quarters of searchers click on a result from the first page of results, you’d better make sure that’s where your stuff sits.