The 8 skills an SEO must possess

As we start the run into the holidays, and thus a new calendar year, folks start to take stock of things.  In terms of careers, we’re approaching the time when many start thinking of making a move.  Year-end reviews are looming over the next couple of months, bonuses hang in the balance and perceptions built to this point hang on the final numbers of successful holiday campaigns.

What’s an SEO to do…other than work like crazy towards their projected goals?

One thing they need to do is understand how their role has changed, and will continue to change in the coming years.  You might be lucky enough to have a role as an SEO right now, and remain focused in that one area, but that’s going to change.  For many it already has…or they never even made it far enough down the path to only focus on SEO.

If you want to ensure that you’re bringing value to your company’s efforts, and positioning yourself for upward mobility in that company, you need to either expand your skills or recapture lost skills.  To that end, in no order, let’ stake a look at skills the savvy SEO needs to be success in the world of search moving forward.


Sure, sure, we all get marketing.  We took the classes in school, or watched enough TV to catch the broad strokes of how marketing works.  To really understand it, however, requires a deeper understanding of the psychology of what motivates people to take an action.  Marketing gets to that very point.  It helps tell a story in such a way that the listener says, “Hey, I have that problem.  I need that solution.”

The question at this point is how are your marketing skills.  Can you tell a story at the right level to ensure your company gives you the support you need?  Is your SEO strategy broad-minded enough to include the basic tenants of marketing as part of its scope, or are you strictly focused on, <title> and <meta> tags?

Marketing is a basic skill SEOs will require moving forward.  I was once told, by my then Director of Marketing, that “Marketing is a support function.  We don’t make the product.  We support the product.”  SEO’s need to understand this fundamental fact.  What they do is a form of marketing.

Public Relations

Ah, the Art of the Spin.  PR.  This discipline is extremely important as it’s almost sole focus is around your brand.  Positioning the brand, protecting the brand and seeking out opportunities to support brand awareness.

Anyone versed in this arena already knows that PR generally sees everything going on in a company well before its made public.  That gives the organization time to assess competitor reactions and brand implications.  And the skills used in PR as crucial to an SEO.  When you combine PR & Marketing, you’re approaching the leading edge of relationship building.

Because PR is so tight to relationships, you can use these skills to help position your own work within your company.  If your goal is to drive more traffic, and you need support on an engineering project, and Engineering has a goal tied to driving revenue, you’re all set.  Show them how doing your work makes them the hero.  Build the relationship and use your influence.  Many SEOs don’t control the work, but must influence others to do the work for them.


If you’re an SEO who’s not tuned into focus, please step aside.  There’s a new generation of SEOs who understand the data social is capable of capturing, and they know how to interpret that data to influence their SEO work.

Social helps both businesses and the engines understand what’s important to searchers.  We can all understand engagement better through social data.  That data can help us all spot trends, etc.  Bottom line is if your SEO work remains focused only on the technical aspects of SEO, you’re missing part of the picture.


So many businesses still keep SEO and SEM (paid search) separate.  Why is anyone’s guess.  It only makes sense to at least ensure these two side share data.  Paid search knows intimately what converts.  That data is critical to helping SEO work focus on areas of value to the company, so why not share it?

As an SEO, you’ll fair better in the long run if you’ve had hands-on experience running larger (or even small) paid search campaigns.  The insights you’ll find in the data form paid search will open the eyes of most SEOs to where true value is.  Most SEOs think in terms of query volumes on a phrase.  Most SEMs think in terms of conversion & ROI. Assign dollar values to everything you do in your SEO program and flip your reports around based on what generates revenue.  You’ll see an entirely different view of your site.  And its a view most SEMs are more familiar with.


If you’ve never done usability testing, do some this year.  Find the budget and hire an expert to run the testing.  You will be amazed at the results.  Sometimes the results uncover more work than you can handle, but this is a good thing in terms of planning future work.
Usability testing can uncover small changes, that when made, lead to big shifts in major metrics like pages consumed, time on site and even conversions.

Conversion Optimization

This discipline is still pretty new, but essentially focuses on optimizing the sales funnel through a site.  For some sites this means a deep look at their shopping cart.  For others its applied to email sign up pathways.  If you engage in this work, be prepared to have your eyes opened just like usability testing can do.  CO can help your business get more money from the wallets already opened on your site.  The alternative is working much harder to get new wallets opened on your site.


Yeah, you’d better know this stuff, too.  One approach is to understand the broad strokes.  Another is to learn the very technical depths of everything impacting SEO.  In fact, your team should have both depths of knowledge on hand.  You’ll end up working with Engineering who will require précises direction that only a technical SEO can offer.  Management will want a broad view at a much higher level to remain supportive of the work & investments needed.

If you find yourself sitting in the bucket of SEO, and that’s your only skill, you’d better get cracking.  As more companies see SEO as a core marketing skill, your ability to grow your career by adding value to the company will be hurt without expanding your skills.

Technology Interpretation

Yes, this is an invented skill.  It does, however, put a name to the need to be able to adopt new technologies and predict their impact on your company’s online efforts.  Mobile, visual search, reviews, crowd-sourced opinions, voice recognition, cloud computing, apps and so on.  PCs, laptops, ultrabooks, netbooks, tablets, smart phones, NFC (near field communications) and whatever is next.

You’d better be able to look across these devices and services, understand who is using them and for what, and help formulate your company’s course of action for each path.

The key takeaway here is this: The SEO of yesterday is not the SEO of tomorrow.  I consistently hear from people across the industry seeking ways to grow their careers.  The answer is simple: grow your skills.