A career in SEO (search engine optimisation) is a good choice for you if you possess creative flair and good analytical, technical and marketing skills

As an SEO specialist you will identify strategies, techniques and tactics to increase the number of visitors to a website and obtain a high-ranking placement in the search results page of search engines.

Those working in SEO may also be known as online marketers or digital account executives. This type of work may be referred to as content marketing or conversion rate optimisation work.

Responsibilities

As an SEO specialist, you'll carry out some or all of the following:

  • program in HTML, CSS and JavaScript to ensure the site is accessible and easy to follow and for increased interaction with visitors - this may involve working on video and PDFs;
  • 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;
  • community building - to drive targeted and loyal traffic to a website;
  • 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.

Salary

  • Starting salaries for SEO specialists are normally in the range of £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 £35,000.
  • 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

Working hours are normally 9am to 5pm. You may need to work occasional evenings and weekends, for example, if you are 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 some home working 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. Although there is a lot of competition in the traditional SEO market, the sector is booming and it is predicted that SEO experts will always be in demand.
  • You will need to be flexible as you may be working on a range of areas from programming to writing original content for webpages. However, you will often find that you have a lot of control over how you manage your work load. It will be necessary to invest time and effort into link-building strategies and to ensuring that you keep up to date by reading SEO and internet marketing blogs.
  • 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.
  • Travel may be required especially in freelance and agency roles where visits to clients are an essential part of the job.
  • A professional dress code can be expected on client sites. However, there may be a more relaxed approach in SMEs and digital marketing agencies.

Qualifications

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 the:

Other training providers offer short certified courses and these include:

Skills

You will 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;
  • an understanding of, or experience of, HTML coding, and preferably Javascript and PHP (PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor);
  • proficiency in Microsoft Office and an excellent knowledge of Excel;
  • some experience and knowledge of webhosting.

Work experience

Though highly competitive, 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. If you would 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 are helping to improve an organisation's website is good experience.

To develop your digital skills, consider setting up your own website or blog, which as well as showing your commitment, interest and initiative, will give you something to discuss at interviews. You can find advice on how to get into SEO work, including information about various digital marketing career paths, at Digital Marketing Career Zone.

Keep up to date with industry news, jobs, recruitment and networking events by following digital marketing companies on Twitter and reading their blogs. Relevant professional organisations can help, for example the IDM and the IPA have blogs which cover key topics and developments in digital marketing.

Employers

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 will 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 getin2marketing: 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:

Professional development

Once in the role of SEO specialist you will 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 pay-per-click 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 Direct and Digital Marketing.

For a full list of available qualifications see the IDM Professional Marketing 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 is possible to take a range of short courses to help with this. The CIM, IDM and IPA offer courses on digital marketing topics such as:

  • affiliate marketing;
  • social and digital metrics and analytics;
  • pay-per-click (PPC);
  • search engine optimization (SEO).

These are designed to fill any gaps in your knowledge and to update you on new developments in digital marketing tools and platforms.

Other training courses specifically covering SEO training from beginner level to advanced include those offered by:

Career prospects

As an SEO specialist, various career paths are open to you. You will generally start your SEO career 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 will have overall responsibility for managing accounts, strategy and digital marketing campaigns. You will 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 CIM: Chartered Marketer Status.