How to Become an SEO Specialist

SEO is a niche, yet extremely important, element of digital marketing. It stands for Search Engine Optimization and it deals chiefly with helping users find clients’ websites organically, that is, without paid marketing efforts. An SEO specialist is someone responsible for designing and improving upon websites to help them reach as many organic users as possible. We’ve outlined 6 concrete steps you can take to kick off an SEO career. We’ll go into more detail on each of these but, as a preview of what’s to come, the steps are:

  1. Learn how Google search works.
  2. Understand website architecture.
  3. Find great sources to stay up-to-date with industry news.
  4. Know the KPIs.
  5. Try out the platforms.
  6. Talk to an SEO pro.


Job Description for an SEO Specialist

Many SEO specialists do client work, either as part of an ad agency or as a freelancer. They spend their days discussing web designs with web developers, performing SEO audits using a variety of industry tools, planning web content, and analyzing search engine data.

SEO specialists use KPIs to set goals and track improvement over time. One of the most important KPIs they track is Page Rank. This metric refers to the order in which a website shows up in search results. Most often the focus is on Google’s Page Rank, but other search engines like Bing rank pages as well.

SEO specialists need to have a good understanding of Google’s ranking algorithm to help them figure out how best to optimize sites to rank high in the results. They consider factors like the quality of the content, page loading speed, metadata, site structure, crawlability, and HTML tags.

In their day-to-day they will likely work closely with web developers and designers, content creators, and clients. Some SEO specialists may help launch websites from the ground up, while others may work on updating websites that are already live.

How to become an SEO Specialist

SEO vs SEM: What’s the difference?

In digital marketing, SEO and SEM are two sides of the same coin. SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization, while SEM stands for Search Engine Marketing. While SEO specialists focus on making a website perfectly optimized to be found organically by people using a search engine, SEM is focused on paid advertising on search engines. The search results that you see labeled as “Ad” are the ones created by SEM professionals.

Qualifications for an SEO Specialist

SEO Specialist qualifications include:

  • Attention to detail.
  • Data analytics.
  • Ability to keep up with industry trends.
  • Understanding of search engines and ranking algorithms.
  • Understanding of web development principles.


SEO Specialist Education Requirements

According to the Backlinko study that we referenced earlier, only 30% of SEO positions require a bachelor’s degree. Compared with other tech roles, this career is quite amenable to professionals without formal degrees. It is still important that you learn the technical aspects of the role – an online course or digital marketing bootcamp would be a good alternative path to take.


How Long does it Take to Become an SEO Specialist?

Once you’ve established a solid toolkit of SEO skills, it should not take long to find a job in SEO! Given the demand for professionals in this area and the relatively low threshold to entry, you are likely to find a job within a few months of beginning your job hunt. If you find that you are struggling, try adding new skills to your resume by taking skill-specific online courses. It’s also worth expanding your network of digital marketing professionals through LinkedIn or personal connections.

Steps to Become an SEO Specialist

  1. Learn how Google search works. You’ve probably entered thousands of searches into Google’s search engine over your lifetime – to satisfy curiosity, to find a product, to fact-check your friends. But have you ever thought about how Google decides which websites to serve in response to your query? It all comes down to a complex ranking algorithm that Google updates regularly. The algorithm uses variables about all websites in Google’s index to match the right sites to every query. Learning how this works is the number one step to take to get started in SEO. Google will never reveal the exact specifics of the algorithm but you can learn about it on a high-level from this post on Search Algorithms and Quality Detection.


  1. Understand website architecture. In order to optimize websites for search engines you need to know how websites work. Website architecture encompasses many sub-categories, each of which you should investigate further. Below are key terms for you to research in order to understand how websites work:
  • URL Structure
  • Site Navigation
  • Customer Journey
  • Internal Linking
  • Breadcrumbs
  • Canonical Tags
  • HTML Elements


  1. Find great sources to stay up-to-date with industry news. The search engine news media space is a lot bigger than you might expect. There’s a huge number of SEO professionals that are constantly analyzing search rankings and watching for new developments. They share insights on social media and formal news sites. A few resources to check out are:


  1. Know the KPIs. KPIs, or Key Performance Indicators, are the metrics that SEO specialists calculate and track to inform their work and to know whether their efforts are making an impact. Important KPIs to know for SEO are:
  • Page Rank
  • Users (Count)
  • Sessions (Count)
  • Clicks
  • Click-Through Rate
  • Search Volume
  • Impressions


  1. Try out the platforms. There are a number of digital platforms that SEO Specialists use to monitor KPIs and gather data. It’s worth poking around in these as a learning exercise since most of them are free to use. Google Analytics and Google Search Console are popular industry tools.


  1. Talk to an SEO pro. SEO can be an elusive topic. It encompasses so many variables and involves optimizing to an algorithm that is intentionally kept secret. Talking to someone who works on SEO will give you incomparable insight into what this career involves and how to achieve success. Try browsing your LinkedIn community for SEO specialists or SEO managers who might answer your questions over LinkedIn message or on a phone call. Most people are happy to talk about the industry and provide tips!

Explore schools offering SEO Specialist Bootcamps.

Job Outlook for an SEO Specialist

An SEO tool called Backlinko that many SEO specialists love recently completed a study on the state of the SEO job market. They found that openings for SEO specialists jumped during the covid-19 recession – with the number of available jobs increasing by more than 100%. The study found the most significant opportunity for SEO specialists in New York, San Francisco, Austin, Chicago, Atlanta, and Los Angeles. While these metro centers dominate in the raw number of SEO jobs available, another study by Search Engine Journal found that SEO jobs have been growing at the fastest rate in the Midwest.

As far as future outlook, SEO roles should remain important for years to come. The internet is a massive space and the number of websites on it is only growing. The more competition there is, the more SEO specialists are needed to help sites connect with new users organically. Additionally, search engines like Google are continually rolling out new functions like image searching, news results, and voice queries. Companies wishing to understand and capitalize upon these new developments will look to SEO specialists for guidance.


Best jobs for an SEO Specialist

SEO specialists can work freelance, as a member of a digital marketing agency, or as part of the digital team for a non-marketing organization. For instance, many online news outlets have an in-house SEO specialist that ensures that online articles are optimized for search.

Advanced SEO specialists may move on to be expert consultants, or they may manage a team of junior SEO specialists.

Salary Expectations for an SEO Specialist

The average salary for an SEO specialist in the United States is $47,707 per year. This varies according to location, level of experience, and the specific requirements of the role. For instance, SEO specialists that leverage programming or web development skills are able to earn a higher salary.

Below we’ve broken down the SEO career into specific roles to give you a sense of what kind of salary you might make at each level.

Job TitleAverage U.S. Salary
SEO Specialist$47,707
SEO Analyst$50,987
SEO Consultant$53,357
SEO Manager$72,661


If you’re ready to dive into learning SEO skills, browse our list of digital marketing bootcamps to find one that fits your needs. Not sure this is the role for you, browse our Careers page to learn about other career options in tech. And for the most recent industry updates and deeper dives take a look at our Resources section, where we cover topics from career planning to coding skills to tech innovation around the world!

Below we’ve compiled a list of bootcamps that are a good fit for aspiring SEO specialists. Browse the list and get ready to launch your career!

Browse bootcamps for SEO Specialists.

Explore some of the top schools offering SEO Specialist bootcamps and find the right fit for your needs and schedule.