A search engine optimisation specialist (SEO) uses digital analytics and marketing skills to transform a company's online presence
As an SEO specialist you'll identify strategies, techniques and tactics to increase the number of visitors to a website and obtain a high-ranking placement in the results page of search engines. By generating more leads for the business you’ll open up new opportunities for driving growth and profit.
This type of work may be referred to as content marketing or conversion rate optimisation work and you may instead have the job title of online marketer or digital account executive.
As an SEO specialist, you'll need to:
- run pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns to increase revenue through sponsored online advertising
- write original content for webpages - tailored for the target audience
- make technical recommendations to developers
- constantly check search terms, rankings and analytics to monitor performance of client websites and make recommendations for improvement
- engage with other businesses (affiliates) over link-building opportunities, to bring in paid commission for driving customers to their websites
- employ user experience (UX) and conversion rate optimisation methods to turn visitors into more active users and to help improve website performance
- drive targeted and loyal traffic to a website by community building
- use social media to distribute content and encourage more external sites to link to your content - giving you more authority
- develop and integrate content marketing strategies
- monitor the algorithms set by the search engines to keep up to date with changes.
- Starting salaries for SEO specialists are normally around £18,000 for trainees, but can be as high as £28,000 at an agency.
- With more experience, executive and management roles can attract salaries of £25,000 to £36,000.
- Top in-house positions in London generally pay higher than agencies, with average salaries for head of department positions attracting around £47,000 and director-level positions an average of £130,000.
Experienced freelancers can command high levels of pay.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
Working hours are normally 9am to 5pm. You may need to work occasional evenings and weekends, if you're involved in analysing traffic for a large marketing campaign and there is a looming deadline.
Part-time work and job sharing is available in this line of work. Short-term contracts are mainly available through recruitment agencies. Flexible work patterns and working from home may be possible.
What to expect
- SEO work requires you to constantly review your skills and keep up to date with ever changing technological developments and trends. You can do this by reading SEO and internet marketing blogs and keeping abreast of changes in search engine algorithms - especially that of Google. You'll also need to invest time and effort into creating link-building strategies.
- You'll need to be flexible as it's likely your workload will be diverse, you could be programming one day and writing original content for webpages another. However, you'll often have a lot of control over how you manage your workload.
- There's a lot of competition in the traditional SEO market but the sector is booming and growing. It's predicted that SEO experts will always be in demand.
- You can expect to find SEO roles in large enterprises with marketing departments and these tend to be based in cities and towns throughout the UK. Digital marketing and media agencies also tend to be located in the major cities. Agencies which operate globally are likely to have opportunities to work abroad. Self-employment as a freelance SEO consultant is possible for experienced SEO specialists.
- You may be required to travel, especially in freelance and agency roles where visits to clients are an essential part of the job - smart dress may be expected for these visits.
This area of work is open to all graduates but a degree in a related area such as IT, business and technology or marketing may be particularly useful.
Entry into graduate-level SEO/marketing roles with an HND, or foundation degree is possible but you will need to have substantial, relevant experience and technical skill.
Postgraduate qualifications in digital marketing are offered by an increasing number of UK universities and although not essential, may be helpful for expanding your skills and knowledge, particularly if you have a non-related first degree. Search for postgraduate courses in digital marketing.
A range of qualifications in SEO and digital marketing are offered by:
Other training providers offer short certified courses, including:
You'll need to show:
- a genuine interest in SEO and/or digital marketing
- evidence of a strong personal online profile, e.g. a blog, website or connections and interactions on various social media platforms
- a commitment to keeping your technical skills and knowledge up to date
- an inquisitive mind which drives you to understand Google's algorithms and predict what changes might be coming
- a good understanding of search engines
- an ability to understand social media platforms and how to use them to distribute content, gain more links and build successful campaigns
- a good understanding of PR and how to get the right messages out there
- an understanding of how customers search, where they search and why they purchase something online
- a good understanding of the wider marketing context
- strong analytical skills for understanding ranking algorithms
- excellent communication skills to educate, inform, manipulate and mediate across a number of stakeholders in an organisation
- proficiency in Microsoft Office and an excellent knowledge of Excel
- some experience and knowledge of web hosting.
The best way to gain good experience in SEO is to undertake an undergraduate SEO/digital marketing placement or internship, with a large graduate recruiter. There's a lot of competition for places, so apply to as many as you can find.
If you'd like to get some work experience locally, try speculatively contacting digital marketing agencies, charities and the marketing departments of companies in your area. Any work experience where you're helping to improve an organisation's website is good experience. You could even set up your own website or blog to demonstrate your skills.
You can find information and advice about how to get into SEO work, including information about various digital marketing career paths from the Digital Marketing Career Zone. Relevant professional organisations can also help, as can following digital marketing companies on Twitter and reading their blogs.
Most companies and organisations with an online presence, especially those selling products and services, will require some level of help with their SEO. For this reason, SEO specialists are very much in demand, but you'll need to be creative in your job search.
Positions in SEO may be called SEO specialist, but they are also likely to be called:
- online marketing executive
- content marketing officer
- digital marketing executive
- media and design executive.
Large corporates will employ SEO specialists within their marketing departments. SMEs are also likely to employ SEO specialists but you'll probably have a wider marketing remit. Many SEO specialists choose to go freelance, or work in a small consultancy.
For entry into this type of work you could look at entering a digital marketing agency to get experience before moving on.
Look for job vacancies at:
Details of marketing work placements and graduate jobs are also available at CIM's getintomarketing: Work Placement Resource.
Specialist recruitment agencies such as these, advertise SEO vacancies, but you will need to prove that you have some knowledge and experience:
Once in the role of SEO specialist, you'll usually receive on-the-job training in the digital marketing tools used by the company. These vary but, for example, could include:
- Adobe Creative Suite for online banner design
- Google AdWords for PPC campaigns
- Google Analytics and Facebook Insights for web analytics reporting.
Many companies provide financial support to undertake professional qualifications such as those offered by the CIM. These include:
- CAM Level 4 Diploma in Digital Marketing
- Level 4 Certificate in Professional Marketing (Digital)
- Level 6 Diploma in Professional Marketing (Digital).
For more information see CIM Qualifications.
The IDM also has professional qualifications, including:
- Professional Diploma in Digital Marketing
- Professional Diploma in Data-Driven Marketing.
For a full list of available qualifications see the IDM Professional Qualifications.
The training offered in a smaller organisation is likely to be practical and intensive with more wide-ranging responsibilities early on. This may suit some graduates better than working for a larger company on a graduate training scheme.
Continuing professional development (CPD) is important in SEO work due to the fast-moving developments in emerging technologies. It's possible to take a range of short courses to help with this, such those offered by CIM, IDM, Emarketeers and JellyFish Training.
As an SEO specialist, you have various career paths open to you. You'll generally start in a junior role on an internship and then move to SEO executive. As your career progresses you may become an SEO manager or account manager, then head of SEO to head of digital. However, you could equally move from SEO executive to a copywriter role and move into a broader digital marketing route earlier on.
Progression to more experienced roles such as SEO manager could happen within two to five years if you work for a company which offers on-the-job training and encourages CPD. There is an increasing requirement to gain further qualifications to enter senior marketing roles.
If you reach digital account director level, you'll have overall responsibility for managing accounts, strategy and digital marketing campaigns. You'll take on additional responsibilities such as budgets and training and mentoring junior members of the team.
Once you have experience and can show that you meet the specified criteria, which includes a certain level of CPD, you can achieve chartered status with the CIM. This can help with career progression and further information is available at the CIM's CPD resource.