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How to Become an SEO Expert
One of the more in-demand and better-paying freelance jobs out there right now is the SEO expert. SEO, which stands for “Search Engine Optimization,” is a major focus for business owners right now, as they look to grow their online influence and e-commerce sales through better placements in the major search engines – especially Google, Bing, and Yahoo. But SEO isn’t just something you can pick up in a day, and most companies don’t always have enough staff to stay on top of all the new updates and what’s required to master SEO.
With trends changing weekly, it’s important for most companies to have a dedicated professional available to keep up with all the updates and be willing to implement changes on a site level (as well as a marketing level). The job of an SEO expert is to keep companies competitive through search – no matter what the landscape or tech requirements.
What does this mean for you? If you have SEO skills, understand basic marketing principles, and are willing to work hard and continuously learn, you may have what it takes to earn $45,000 a year or more as a freelance SEO expert. (See the complete breakdown of what an SEO expert can make here.) Read on to see how to expand your expertise to get started in this fast-growing field.
There are so many sites out there claiming to teach people how to do SEO properly, but not all of them are reputable, updated, or even correct. In fact, there are as many experts out there teaching people how to skirt Google’s rules for SEO (resulting in low rankings and penalties for their clients) as there are people with the right advice. If in doubt, look to a trustworthy course network for online teachings you can access from sound experts. Some of these courses may be free, but expect to pay a modest amount for the better ones. (You can probably also find much of the info out there for free, but digging through everything takes up precious time.)
Here are some ideas for learning:
- Coursera offers courses from schools like UC Davis, but since it’s a college offering, it may not be as updated.
- Moz has an amazing free Beginner’s Guide to SEO, which can be read in a weekend.
- Neil Patel breaks down the basics of SEO in this article. Follow each link for a complete explanation of each skill.
Regardless of where you begin, most experts agree that becoming an SEO expert requires you to be proficient in one or all of these SEO components:
- Keyword Research
- Competitive Analysis
- Link Building
- Site Analysis
Even if you can’t master all four expertise niches in a weekend, you can certainly get a good feel for at least one and start there. Many begin with keyword analysis since there are many tools out there that can automate some of the work for you and get a better feel for the practice.
Here are some more tools you can access for learning and implementing SEO tactics for each skillset:
- Google Keyword Planner (free)
- Moz Pro (paid, but helps with almost all SEO needs)
- WebTextTool (paid)
- Jaaxy (paid)
- Long Tail Pro (paid)
- Yoast (for WordPress and other platforms, paid. also offers training modules)
There are many other tools on the market. Be sure to read reviews (not just those who get affiliate revenue for each purchase) and see about a free trial before committing to anything. Since you are a single freelancer – and not an agency – avoid products or services geared toward large businesses with many experts on a team. These are usually priced out of a single freelancer’s budget.
Since you’re starting from scratch with your SEO business, it can be hard to develop a record of good SEO examples to share with potential clients. That’s where practice comes in handy. By creating your own niche site, based on a keyword (or set of keywords), and optimizing it using proven SEO tactics, you are both refining your skills AND creating a strong piece for your portfolio.
Since SEO strategies come and go, it’s also a wonderful way to test and try new tactics in real-time. If Google says they will reward sites with a certain meta or site markup, for example, you can implement these recommendations on your test site, see how (or even if) they help, and use your results as a real-life learning incubator. If proven successful, you know have an example to show prospects!
By creating more than one site, you have the benefit of doing some A/B testing on new SEO strategies. Consider creating a few for the best result.
3. Get Clients
While you may not feel completely ready to take on clients at this point, you don’t have to do all kinds of SEO work initially. Remember that you only have to be one step ahead of the person hiring you for SEO. You should start with clients who have very basic SEO needs at first. Someone who needs straight-forward keyword research, for example, or who might need help optimizing blog posts or a landing page, is a good prospect for someone just starting out. (In other words, leave the $30,000 whole-site SEO projects for when you’re more advanced in your skills.)
You should already have a website and social media accounts for your SEO business, as well as listing the new enterprise on your LinkedIn profile. Be sure to tell those in your circles that you are taking on new SEO clients, and even offer a discount for the first few months you are in business – at least until you build clientele. If you already work in another freelance field (writing or web design, for example), you might offer a few select SEO services on to existing contracts for a small fee.
If nothing else, there are plenty of SEO type projects to cut your teeth on through marketplace sites like UpWork and Freelancer.com. It’s also possible to find paid internships and entry-level SEO positions through traditional job boards and remote work listing sites. While they may not offer exactly what you’ve been hoping to make, it’s important to start somewhere, and many companies are willing to take a risk on a less-established SEO expert in exchange for slightly lower fees. Finally, many of the job listings for a freelance marketing consultant will include various SEO tasks, so use some of the same job search tips for this niche for your new SEO business.
Finally, there’s one really fantastic advantage that SEO experts have over other business owners. Since you live and breathe SEO, you can make sure that your own site for your business shows up high in search! You should be able to advertise with an eye on the same skills that you will be offering your new clients. As you learn skills, you can adapt your site – and your marketing skills – to become more visible to prospects and clients.
Outlook for SEO
While there was a rumor that SEO is dead, that worry seems to have passed. Most everyone agrees that it will probably never go away completely, but instead will evolve and change very much in the next ten years. In fact, SEO experts may be in more demand than ever, as changes in Facebook algorithms have made it more difficult for businesses to get their messages out on free social media platforms. Making sure that a brand’s message resonates across all platforms – including search – will be a top priority for brand managers. The right freelance SEO experts can make a major difference in acquiring customers and keeping them longer.
Have you always wanted a career in SEO? What’s holding you back from this exciting and engaging job category?