Career Tips for SEOs and Content Marketers

By Andy Crestodina

12 industry veterans answer the top three Qs for job seekers

Looking for a job in search? Contemplating a career in content marketing? 

Before you make the jump, ask yourself a few quick questions.

  • Does this business align with my passion and interests?
  • Which skills and traits are most important for a beginner SEO?
  • Is there a future in this industry?
  • Will SEO ever die?

Ask a dozen SEOs these questions you’ll get a dozen different answers. That’s just what we did.

Here you can listen to what the industry veterans have to say to anyone considering a career in SEO. But before we jump in, I want to set this up by noting that there are all kinds of us and that search engine optimization really isn’t just one thing. There’s something for everyone.

  • If you love data but hate people, SEO is for you. 
  • If you hate data but love people, SEO is for you. 

There’s something for everyone in this business.

You can break SEO down into a few big roles, each leveraging different traits and skills of the marketer.

There are all kinds of jobs (from writing to link building to programming) for all kinds of personalities. So don’t start with too many preconceptions.

Now, on to the career advice from the experts, gathered from speakers at MozCon 2019.

Why do you love content and search?

Let’s start by connecting this to passion. Here’s what drives the most successful search pros. These are the prime motivators that took them from entry-level to advanced, driving them deeper into the SEO industry.

ross simmonds, digital marketing strategist, FOUNDATION MARKETING – 9 Years in content and seo

You’re truly actually helping people when you do it right. You’re creating content, you’re creating assets, you’re telling stories that solve a problem, that fulfill a need. If you can deliver that at scale, it means that you are helping thousands or millions of people do something they want to do. At the end of the day, you’re helping people become better versions of themselves and that’s important.

ruth burr reedy, vp of strategy at UPBUILD – 13 years in content and seo

What I love about content and search is that you’re giving people what they want. You can think about what people want and help them make decisions. You get such great insight into who your users are as people. I like the empathy factor of creating great content.

marie haynes, MARie HAYNES CONSULTING – 11 years in content and seo

What I love about search is the community. There are so many people that share their ideas all the time. And it’s never ending. The fact that we have an industry where we’re still learning everything. It’s just incredible. All of us have the opportunity to develop things, to learn things and to share that with other people.

casie gilette,  sr. director of digital marketing, KOMARKETING – 14 years in content and seo

You get to see the work that you do impact actual businesses. You build something and all of a sudden it’s in search results and it’s driving people to their site and they’re buying the product because of something you did, which is really cool. But it’s also a puzzle. I built this. Is it going to work? Can I tweak it to make it better? It’s really fun.

dr. pete, marketing scientist, MOZ – 15 years in content and seo

I love evergreen content. I love going back and looking at how something has performed for three or four years, tweaking that, digging back in, rewriting it. Understanding those pieces that have been performing day after day for three or four or six years, and getting back in and seeing what people value in them. That’s really exciting to me. Building these long term value propositions.

heather physioc, Group Connections Director, Discoverability at VMLY&R – 12 Years in Content and SEO

I love it because it’s different than the traditional advertising that we tend to do in the agency world. We’re used to doing this big, sexy, creative campaign work that pushes out into the world and we hope people like it. But with content and search, it’s the reverse. We’re flipping that thinking on its head.

We’ve got all this data to get inside people’s heads and understand how they think, what motivates them, what problems do they have. And our job as search and content professionals is to solve those problems for people.

emily triplett lentz, content strategy lead, HELP SCOUT – 14 years in content and seo

The most exciting part about it is that it’s never set-it-and-forget-it. There’s always going to be something to do. There’s always going to be more to learn. There’s always going to be something you have to change.

greg gifford, vp of search, WIKIMOTIVE – 15 years in content and seo

Content is search. You can’t have search without content. And it lets you share your expertise with your potential clients, which in turn, helps you show up better in search.

You have the ability to talk about your local area and share interesting and helpful things that establish you as a local expert. It helps other people and it makes you more money, so it’s awesome.

russ jones, principal search scientist, moz – 19 years in content and seo

At the end of the day, you can create something completely unique that no one else has created before. You can fulfill that kind of creative passion that you might have had as a child. It’s about creating something new.

britney muller, senior seo scientist, moz – 9 years in content and seo

Content is amazing because it’s really where you shape the messaging. It’s how you test content in search results. And it’s how you can really grow as a marketer.

What are the important skills for someone getting into marketing?

These are the main traits and mindsets that will set you up for success. You might be surprised at just how broad these recommendations are, beyond basic training and simple answers, like Google Analytics and social media.

These tips are rooted in marketing fundamentals and into general life skills. Themes include writing, empathy, curiosity, testing and basic technical skills.

paul shapiro, partner/Head of seo, catalyst – 14 years in content and seo

Think creatively about what you’re doing. This is a career that isn’t taught thoroughly in universities so it requires a yearning for knowledge and a lot of research. Also, more technical skill sets. You don’t have to be a computer scientist, but as the web gets more complex, it’s valuable to learn things like the basics of computer programming.

ruth burr reedy

You need to be able to write. Written communication isn’t a skill you can go without. Even if you’re not creating content, you’re still going to be emailing your clients and your coworkers. You have to be able to articulate and explain what you’re doing.

Second, you need to be able to understand web development and how websites are built, understand what happens when a search engine or a browser calls a website from a server. I recommend developing a working knowledge of HTML and CSS.

Being successful at SEO means learning about SEO in your own time, outside of the time at work. If you’re not an aggressive learner, if you’re not someone who enjoys learning and does it on your own for fun, you’re going to burn out in our industry.

emily Triplett lentz

Empathy. People are trying to sell to people. There’s a machine in the middle, but at the end of the day, we’re all trying to build relationships with the people on the other end.

heather physioc

It’s important to go in with an attitude of opportunism and saying yes to whatever comes your way. The more things you can get your hands on, the more knowledgeable you become.

marie haynes

The most important skill is the ability to learn and to test things. All of us should be constantly putting out ideas, putting out theories and testing things and not always relying on what other marketers say. But seeing what actually works for our own websites and our own clients.

greg gifford

Drive and commitment and a curiosity to learn. I don’t think that any of the other skills are anything that you innately have to have before you start being a marketer. If you’ve got the drive and the commitment to learning and you’re going to get work done, you can pick up all the other stuff on the way.

russ jones

Resourcefulness. The ability to come up with clever and unique solutions to problems at a cheaper price.

When something needs to be fixed in the house, like to put a screw or a nail back into a board. Do you go and find the hammer? Or do you grab the heaviest thing next to you? If you grab the heaviest thing next to you, you’re going to be a good SEO. Because you’re going to be able to improvise on the spot and respond to the algorithm a lot faster.

ross simmonds

Genuinely just having curiosity. Curiosity is the key skill that you kind of just have to have. A lot of people just graduate from school and they think their education has ended, but in marketing, because things are changing so rapidly, it’s increasingly important to be curious and to be looking for new trends and new insights around certain topics.

britney muller

Curiosity is key. And from there, it’s really about not being afraid to execute different things and to test.

Will SEO ever die?

And before you embark on tens of thousands of hours of learning and work, consider the future of search and content. Is this likely to last?

paul shapirO

Just the advent of artificial intelligence, they’re talking about a major career cataclysm occurring eventually. Will SEO in its current iteration die? Yes, but many things will die. A trait of SEO is that it’s gone through so many changes over the years. The practice of SEO is that it will evolve. It will become something different.

russ jones

The answer is obviously no. In the worst case scenario, even if Google gets perfect at predicting which sites are cheating and which sites aren’t, you could always buy the site above you. You could purchase whoever is outranking you and use that as a way to move up in the SERPs.

emily Triplett lentz

Maybe if there’s a catastrophic event. You know? Maybe if the world explodes. I don’t really like to think about it but as long as there’s the internet, and Google hasn’t overtaken us all and become our robot overlords, then yeah, they’ll be SEO.

heather physioc

Everything dies eventually. But SEO is here to stay for now. People are still searching and although our jobs are shifting a little bit, we are no longer just SEO professionals, we are discoverability professionals. We understand how and why people search for things and we make it possible for them to find them. That’ll be around for a while.

ross simmonds

Not in my lifetime, but in the next generation’s lifetime, when it’s no longer required to even use search to discover things. What I mean by this is super futuristic, but I’m telling you, in the future people can just think think of something, install it in your brain and you won’t really need search.

greg gifford

Search will never die. Don’t listen to all of the naysayers that say everything voice is going to destroy everything typed. I won’t happen. There is still tons of desktop search. It really depends on the kind of product or service you’re selling but it will never die. So that’s great job security for all of us.

marie haynes

No. As long as Google is using websites, or whoever. Even if someone overtakes Google, there is always going to be a need for us to market those websites and figure out how to get them in front of more people. Even if we moved away from websites, way in the future if something new comes out, there’s going to be a need for people to optimize for those as well.

dr. pete

In the purest sense, I don’t think so. People will always need to find things. We can’t filter through information without some sort of engine to do that. There will always be a way to find things and people will always want to be found. So if that’s our definition, then no.

britney muller

I don’t think SEO will ever die. I think it will evolve. As platform evolve, as things get incorporated, whether it be AR, VR, there will still be a need to search and discover things. It’s just going to continue to grow and evolve as a space.

casie gilette

No. It will never die. How people will search is changing. It’s different from when I started fifteen years ago to today. We talk a lot about voice. They say voice is taking over. But even if it does, we still have to figure out how to optimize for that. So there is still some form of search optimization.

ruth burr reedy

If you strike SEO down, it will become more powerful than you could possibly imagine. The internet isn’t going away and neither is selling things, so I’m not super worried about it.

It’s a good time to be in search

Without question, there is a ton of demand for these skills. The amount of data out there is exploding. And the demand to quickly find that data isn’t slowing down. Anyone who can help connect people with relevant information is well positioned in the modern economy.

Let’s give Marie the last word:

“It’s a fairly small community, considering how many millions of businesses out there that need our help. There aren’t that many of us to do that kind of work.”

In other words, it’s the candidates market and a growth field. Skilled SEOs are in short supply. It’s an excellent career choice and a very good time to be in search.

Huge thanks to Salvi Media for their help with the videos, to Casie for getting this idea going over breakfast and finally, to Moz for bringing all of these lovely people together.

There is more where this came from…

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