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 optimise a website to increase traffic and engagement. After an initial assessment of current SEO performance, you'll create a content strategy, with the aim of providing a positive user experience and appropriate content, to satisfy user queries. The overall purpose being to generate more leads, gain clients and achieve more profit growth for your client or employer.

Adhering to best practices and working to search engines' evolving algorithms, you'll use a variety of SEO tools and techniques, such as in-depth keyword research and analysis, to improve search engine rankings and drive visitors to clients' websites.

Through regular monitoring and review of website performance, you'll determine which SEO activities are working most effectively. You may report this to your client and will use it to tailor marketing practices and inform future strategies.

You could also be known as an SEO analyst, digital marketer, digital marketing executive, content specialist, social media manager, digital marketing specialist, digital marketing manager.

Types of SEO specialist

You could specialise in specific areas of SEO, such as:

  • technical
  • on-page
  • off-page
  • e-commerce
  • content
  • mobile
  • social media e.g. YouTube
  • voice search
  • enterprise
  • healthcare
  • legal
  • financial.


As an SEO specialist, you'll need to:

  • have an understanding of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript
  • understand a company's online presence and current marketing performance
  • create and implement a content strategy that will maximise brand visibility, by increasing organic and paid search traffic to a website and encouraging users to engage and take positive action
  • carry out keyword research and analysis to identify valuable search terms and trends relating to your client or employer's business
  • employ, monitor and maintain keyword strategies (based on keyword research findings) to ensure optimal content ranking
  • collaborate with any social and content colleagues/teams over content optimisation - drawing on user intent research to inform content strategies and to develop appropriate content
  • carry out a range of SEO activities to improve a website's performance, in accordance with the content strategy - using tools and optimisation methods, such as Google Analytics, web analytics, strategic marketing, and search engine marketing (SEM), to improve organic search traffic and through paid advertising and utilising both organic and paid marketing methods
  • conduct competitor analysis and monitor competitors' SEO strategies to identify ways to improve your clients' position in the marketplace
  • continually monitor and refine SEO performance strategies
  • look at KPIs (key performance indicators) such as organic traffic, search engine results page (SERP) rankings, brand vs non-brand keyword clicks and SEO leads - and present findings in a clear and relatable way
  • conduct technical and on-page audits, checking for necessary URL structure changes, fixing broken links, correcting heading hierarchies, adding missing metadata, etc.
  • write original content for webpages - tailored for the target audience
  • provide SEO advice and support to clients, signposting or actioning as necessary
  • employ user experience (UX) and conversion rate optimisation methods to turn visitors into more active users and to help improve website performance
  • develop and integrate content marketing strategies
  • monitor search engine algorithms to keep up to date with changes.


  • Starting salaries for SEO specialists range from £22,000 to £32,000 for junior SEO roles at an agency.
  • Experienced SEO specialists and SEO leads with technical or conversion rate optimisation expertise, can earn between £35,000 to £45,000.
  • Those in SEO manager, senior SEO manager or head of SEO roles generally earn between £50,000 to £80,000.

Freelance day rates usually range from £100 to £250 per day, according to experience.

Employee benefits can include hybrid and remote working, gym membership, pension, health insurance.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Working hours are usually 9am to 5pm. You may need to work occasional evenings and weekends if you're involved in analysing traffic for a large marketing campaign.

Part-time work is possible. Short-term contracts from six months are also available, typically through recruitment agencies. Hybrid working is common, with some roles being fully remote. Working as a self-employed freelance SEO consultant is possible for experienced SEO specialists.

What to expect

  • SEO forms a crucial part of online marketing and skilled specialists are in high demand. The work is mentally stimulating due to the constant changing nature of advancing technologies, trends and algorithms and you need to keep up to date to stay current in the role.
  • SEO work is quite creative, with content creation, link-building, strategic thinking and problem solving, and it can be rewarding seeing your efforts translate into website traffic and client business growth.
  • The role of an SEO is valued due to its ability to bring good return on investment (ROI). You can expect to find SEO roles in large companies and media agencies with marketing departments, but they do exist in smaller enterprises too.
  • Travel is usually limited to client meetings or industry events, depending on the role. You may be required to travel, especially in freelance and agency roles where visits to clients are an essential part of the job.
  • The SEO industry is actively working to improve diversity and inclusion and initiatives exist to encourage women, minorities, and other underrepresented groups into SEO roles. Women in Tech SEO for example offer resources and support.


A degree is not essential as technical expertise and knowledge of SEO is more important. Being able to evidence work is experience is also very useful.

However, this area of work is open to all graduates, and a degree in computer science/IT, marketing, communications, psychology, business and technology or data analytics may be particularly useful. The Chartered Institute of Marketing provides details of accredited degree programmes.

Entry into SEO/marketing roles with an HND or foundation degree is also possible, but you'll need at least two to-three years of relevant experience and technical skills. Some companies do prefer candidates with relevant, formal qualifications in digital marketing, optimisation, data analytics, web development or similar fields.

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 degree apprenticeship is also possible and are available in the following areas:

Although not essential, industry-recognised certifications like Google Analytics Individual Qualification (IQ), Google Digital Garage SEO Fundamentals course, Moz SEO Essentials Certification and SEMrush SEO Toolkit Certification can demonstrate your knowledge and commitment to the field.

SEO courses and bootcamps (online and offline) for intensive training in SEO fundamentals and tools, can be taken with Udemy, Future Learn, and General Assembly. You can also search for a digital marketing skills bootcamp in the UK.

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
  • an ongoing commitment to keeping your technical skills and knowledge up to date
  • an inquisitive mind which drives you to understand Google's evolving algorithms and predict what changes might be coming
  • a good understanding of search engines and ranking factors
  • 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
  • an ability to work collaboratively on team projects or campaigns
  • a positive attitude and resilience to maintain good working relationships with clients 
  • some experience and knowledge of web hosting.

Work experience

One of the best ways to gain good experience in SEO is to undertake an undergraduate SEO/digital marketing placement or internship, with a large graduate recruiter. Consider applying for digital marketing internships with agencies, SEO consultancies, or large companies with in-house SEO teams. 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. Consider work-shadowing opportunities to learn what SEO specialists do. Any work experience where you're helping to improve an organisation's website is good experience.

You can get involved in student society websites or social media channels, you can even start your own blog, social media channel or website which can help you develop and demonstrate your SEO technical skills and knowledge.

You can find information and advice about how to get into SEO work, including information about various digital marketing career paths from relevant professional organisations and digital marketing companies.

Find out more about the different kinds of work experience and internships that are available.


Digital marketing agencies are major employers of SEO specialists, as are online retail stores, which rely heavily on SEO success. SEO specialists are also in demand for start-up and local businesses who want to grow their brand presence online.

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.

When searching for jobs, remember that employers may use different job titles for this role, including SEO marketing executive, SEO analyst, content marketing executive, digital marketing executive, social media manager and search engine marketing (SEM) specialist.

Many companies across various industries, such as finance, retail, and technology, have in-house marketing teams with dedicated SEO specialists. Small to medium size enterprises (SME’s) are also likely to employ SEO specialists, but you may have a wider marketing remit.

Working freelance or for a small consultancy are popular options.

Look for job vacancies at:

Details of marketing work placements and graduate jobs are also available at CIM's GetintoMarketing resource.

Specialist recruitment agencies such as these, advertise SEO vacancies, but you’ll usually need to prove that you have some knowledge and experience:

Professional development

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:

  • Google Ads Search
  • Google Marketing Platform certifications
  • Google Ad Manager certifications
  • Google Analytics and Meta Business Suite for web analytics reporting.

Many companies provide financial support to undertake professional qualifications such as those offered by the CIM. These include:

  • Level 3 Foundation Certificate in Professional Digital Marketing
  • Level 4 Certificate in Professional Digital Marketing
  • Level 6 Diploma in Professional Digital Marketing.

You may be exempt from some of the course if you have studied the relevant programme at one of the CIM’s Accredited Degree universities.

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.

Career prospects

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 or content marketing manager role and move into a broader digital marketing route earlier on.

Some professionals work independently as freelance SEO consultants, SEO trainers/speakers and SEO journalists/bloggers. While possible, it's less common for SEO specialists to switch to entirely different fields due to the specialized nature of their skills. However, some might transition to related areas like web development or data analysis.

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.

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