Who is and what does the SEO specialist do? The skills of an SEO expert

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Once niche and almost “esoteric,” certainly little understood, today Search Engine Optimization (SEO) has perhaps definitively gained its relevance in digital marketing as a fundamental pillar of the strategies of a brand that aspires to online visibility. With the evolution of search engine algorithms and the increase in online competition, the demand for qualified professionals in this field has also grown exponentially, and therefore the figure of the SEO specialist, the figure to whom we entrust the work of site optimization, the outcomes of which can push us toward a positive scenario or sink our hopes, has also evolved. Let us therefore try to understand who the SEO specialist is, what kind of skills and expertise he or she must possess and in what areas he or she can put his or her advice and experience at the service of a project.

Who is the SEO specialist

According to the most common and widespread meaning, the SEO is a specialist who is in charge of optimizing a site for search engines and therefore is the figure who concretely does SEO. In Italian, therefore, we have the distinction between the SEO professional and the SEO activity.

The ambiguity of the acronym is easier to understand when explicit, where a distinction is made between Search Engine Optimization (and thus the SEO activity in the broadest sense, search engine optimization) and Search Engine Optimizer (the one who applies the strategies, and thus the SEO who concretely plans and implements the interventions on the site).

Therefore, and more specifically, the SEO is the professional who should be entrusted with the strategy to be followed in order to improve the ranking of a site of any kind, from eCommerce to blogs, from thematic sites to online newspapers, or rather of its pages and keywords that are identified as the most useful for the client’s purposes, so as to obtain organic and not paid traffic.

Again on a general level, the SEO specialist should therefore possess a very specific set of skills that require a lot of detailed attention: for example, he or she should demonstrate a thorough understanding of how search engines work and how to exploit their dynamics to increase a website’s visibility in organic search results, but also the ability to analyze and plan effective SEO strategies, create a strategic editorial plan, optimize a site’s content and structure to make it more appealing in the eyes of Google and other search engines, and so on.

What does the SEO specialist do

Therefore, we have to get out of a limiting definition of the professional figure of the SEO, because today the work of the SEO specialist is much more complex and goes into so many aspects of the site, with a cross-cutting activity that ends up intertwining with that of webmasters, developers, copywriters and all the other figures working on the project, because multidisciplinary is SEO itself.

This means, consequently, that the SEO should also have specific skills on marketing and analytics, as well as techniques, and at the same time should also be able to understand and guide the work of others.

In this broader view, therefore, the SEO is a well-rounded consultant whose task is to analyze the site, highlight strengths and weaknesses including through a SWOT Analysis, discover errors and suggest how to correct them, identify the most effective SEO strategy, and optimize performance and ranking. He is therefore a professional who immerses himself in the complex world of search engines to improve a website’s position in organic results through varied activities that require a combination of analytical, technical and creative skills.

Fundamentally, however, the main goal of an SEO specialist is the same as that of any marketer: to create more sales for the company, to be able to attract more qualified visitors, which can translate into leads and, ultimately, into customers.

What skills must the SEO professional possess

A great ally for project growth or, on the contrary, a potential risk for traffic results: there seems to be no middle ground when it comes to SEO specialists, or even simply SEO professionals (or self-styled ones, as unfortunately there continue to be).

To avoid problems and mistakes in identifying a person to whom we should entrust the reins of our site, we should be able to select a successful SEO specialist, i.e., a professional who demonstrates multiple skills, among which skills such as:

  • Analytical skills

One of the basic essential skills for those who want to stand out in this context (or to be researched) is the ability to analyze: that is, an SEO specialist should be able to obtain data on “what,” “when,” “who,” and “where,” and to understand the “why” and “how” to questions that correlate with these aspects.

For example, if we think about a drop in organic traffic, the task of an SEO expert is to examine the case in detail and understand what factors and elements were responsible for the sudden drop, to trace the root causes of that particular problem, probing both the internal areas of the site and the market context to identify the best possible solution to overcome the setback.

  • Research skills

After analysis, the second skill to possess is research skills. Research is a word that comes back very often in SEO topics, and the most common form of research is that which relates with keyword analysis, which will provide the essential information to create the strategic foundation for campaigns. But research also means reading the latest news and updates on current world scenarios related to search engine technologies, keeping up with Google and keeping an eye on competitors.

  • Code and programming basics

It is (no longer) necessary to be a professional programmer or developer to emerge and succeed in the field of SEO, and nowadays basic SEO features are often integrated into CMS systems or one can rely on the support of artificial intelligence.

However, having knowledge (even basic knowledge) about codes, programming languages, and related technologies can be an added advantage, because it will, for example, help experts study the source code of the provided website, determine relevant key features, and unearth potential areas for improvement from a technical point of view as well.

  • Communication skills

Communication is key in the field of SEO, both in teamworking (talking proactively with team members to ensure that the right amount of work is being done and determining whether directives are being carried out) and in dealing with clients or project managers, who may not have a very technical and concrete idea of how things work in this topic. In addition, the SEO specialist may also be tasked with optimizing content to make it stand out, so having excellent communication skills can make all the difference in this area.

  • Speed of learning

Google never stops, and as a result, SEO is also never similar to itself for too long.To be successful in his or her field, the SEO professional must continue to update with curiosity and passion, because he or she cannot trivially keep repeating the same “recipe” for every site he or she is called upon to work on.

The different declinations and types of the job of SEO specialist

As we know, there are basically four major areas into which SEO is divided, which every good SEO specialist should keep in mind when developing an effective marketing strategy:

  • On-page SEO, which refers to every piece of content on the website we are working on, in order to optimize it to help search engines understand the topic of the pages and consider them as a valuable resource for users.
  • Off-page SEO, which refers to all the work that needs to be done “outside” the website we are operating on, and which aims to create a stronger relationship between this website and other websites through a variety of tactics that serve to demonstrate authority and trustworthiness in a given area to search engines as well.
  • Technical SEO, which refers to the elements of the website “apart” from the content, thus tapping into the sphere of technical performance (precisely). We talk about strategies to improve backend structure, interventions to improve website speed, tactics to optimize page crawling and indexing, and, more generally, to ensure usability and an optimal user experience.
  • Local SEO, which has now emerged as a separate branch that serves to improve a brand’s visibility in geolocated search results, and thus also requires specific “contextual” skills.

It thus seems clear that different specializations have spread over time, reflecting the various facets and skills required to effectively optimize a website, to the point that we can categorize a few main types of SEO specialist. Each “figure” has an important role within an overall SEO strategy and, often, a professional may cover multiple areas or evolve from one specialization to another over the course of his or her career; the choice to specialize in a particular aspect of SEO depends on personal inclinations, skills, and professional and job requirements, as well as, of course, the business context.

  • SEO Manager or Strategist. This professional figure has a broader and more strategic view of SEO. Typically, he or she coordinates the activities of other specialists, defines overall strategies, manages budgets, and ensures that business goals are aligned with SEO practices.
  • SEO Analyst. The SEO analyst focuses on interpreting data and monitoring a website’s performance; uses analytical tools to track traffic, conversions, and other important metrics; and provides insights and data-driven recommendations to improve SEO strategy.
  • Technical SEO Specialist. This type of specialist focuses on the technical aspects of optimizing a website; they work to ensure that the site is easily accessible and indexable by search engines, optimizing elements such as site structure, loading speed, mobile compatibility, security, and proper implementation of canonical tags and robots.txt directives.
  • Content SEO Specialist. This professional is primarily dedicated to content creation and optimization; his goal is to produce material that is not only SEO-friendly, but also engaging and useful to the user. He focuses on keyword research, SEO copywriting, content strategy, and content marketing.
  • Link Builder. Although link building is an activity that all SEO specialists should know and master, some specialize exclusively in this practice. The link builder focuses on acquiring quality backlinks from authoritative sites through techniques such as outreach, viral content creation or collaboration with influencers and other websites.
  • E-commerce SEO Specialist. Specializing in e-commerce website optimization, this professional focuses on specific strategies for online sales platforms, such as product page optimization, category management, and optimization for internal search.
  • Local SEO Specialist. This expert focuses on optimizing a business’s online presence at the local level; he or she focuses on specific strategies to improve visibility in local searches, managing Business Profile tabs on Google, optimizing for maps and location-based searches.
The toolbox: essential tools for SEO strategies

The SEO profession thus brings together technical, analytical, and creative skills, but most importantly, it relies on the knowledge and ability to use some essential tools to support strategies (and to monitor the effects of the work, no less).

Among the basic technical skills that are required to keep up in the dynamic world of SEO we can mention an understanding of basic web languages, and in particular HTML (to optimize elements such as title tags, meta descriptions, and the semantic structure of the page), CSS (to improve the usability and accessibility of the site, including visual aspects), and JavaScript, which is increasingly used to create dynamic and interactive websites, but which present specific challenges for SEO and indexing and therefore requires special care. Also useful is familiarity with the most popular CMSs (starting with WordPress) and their plugins. With these skills it is possible to work firsthand on the site or even simply check what webmasters and developers called to work are doing, intervening only when necessary.

But you also need a dash of creativity, because content management and creation is not just a matter of writing: it requires a deep understanding of the target audience and the ability to find ways to engage and inform through text or other elements, without sacrificing quality. At the same time, it takes oversight of the UX (User Experience) and UI (User Interface) design aspects, making it enjoyable for users to navigate and incentivizing them to interact with the site.

Finally, data analysis is a key component of SEO: in this sense, it is essential to use Google Analytics (or its alternatives) to obtain detailed insights into user behavior, sources of traffic, pages that perform best, and how users interact with the site. Also in the Big G house, then, the Google Search Console is an indispensable tool for monitoring site visibility in search results, with its many reports offering data on impressions and clicks, checks on the indexing status of pages or presence of technical problems that could affect site performance.

Extending the overview to “extra-Google” tools, we obviously cannot fail to mention SEOZoom and other SEO tools such as SEMrush, Ahrefs and so on, which become a bit of the right arm of every SEO Specialist: through these tools it is possible to study the site we are working on and the context in which it moves from various angles, in order to refine strategies, target interventions, monitor its effectiveness and achieve the business goals of the site and the brand.

Who is an SEO expert: specialist, analyst and consultant

In short, the day of an SEO specialist would definitely seem to be full of things to do!

To recap, a search engine optimization expert is ultimately tasked with improving the ranking of websites on major search engines through a variety of interventions and techniques, such as optimizing pages to produce relevant search results, managing a positive user experience, and increasing site traffic, lead volume, number of conversions, and, in the long run, brand awareness.

Tasks include the use of smart on-page tactics (effective keyword research, internal link management, clean URLs, etc.), “clean” management of backend aspects of the site (such as redirects, 404 errors, XML sitemap files and robots. txt), the ability to weave off-site relationships (for link building, but also through contracts with agencies and vendors), and then again the ability to monitor competitors, perform monitoring and reporting of implemented SEO strategies, and, in other cases, even overseeing (or otherwise being aware of) activities on social media and other digital channels, such as SEA.

What’s more: he or she is in charge of improving the mechanics, optimizing the site, delving into the market scenario, defining the target audience and finding out their interests, and checking sentiment on social networks-all with one goal in mind: to use resources and perform useful activities to improve a site’s results, bring it to the top of search engine SERPs, increase organic traffic, and increase sales and returns.

In this view, the SEO specialist can be an external freelance professional whom a company can hire as a consultant to solve certain SEO and search engine optimization problems-and who will be tasked with analyzing the site, identifying difficulties, and pointing out the strategies and interventions needed to resolve the critical situation. Generally, to avoid overloading a single person, it is preferable to rely on an SEO Agency for the enhancement of the project, a reality in which each aspect is entrusted to the more specific skills of a well-defined figure, taking advantage of teamwork.

How to become SEO specialists

It seems clear that SEO specialists have to study quite a bit in order to be truly competent and not improvise as professionals (as unfortunately happens frequently…): but how does one become an SEO? What weight do the various SEO courses or types of SEO certification that often abound online have?

In summary, becoming an SEO Specialist is a path that requires continuous commitment and an inexhaustible thirst for knowledge: it combines training, practice and constant updating, but it can lead to a rewarding career full of opportunities in the digital world. Indeed, according to some U.S. statistics, SEO is one of the areas of digital marketing where there is the greatest professional demand: according to Indeed.com, in particular, there are more than 10,300 SEO-related jobs available in the United States and 8,400 in the United Kingdom.

On the practical side, there is still no specific training path that can attest to possessing the necessary skills (partly because they are many and extremely differentiated, as seen), and so the test case for an SEO Specialist remains practical experience. That is, for sure it is possible to invest in oneself and acquire a theoretical background on the various aspects related to SEO, but it is also useful to work on personal projects, creating one’s own blog or site, to begin to get into daily practice through internships or entry-level positions, so as to verify the knowledge acquired and refine one’s skills.

SEO experts and Google: what the search engine says

The popularity of SEO (and SEOs) has also prompted Google to publish a guidance page – and a video on YouTube-to give advice to those who are considering including an SEO expert in their company and taking advantage of their skills to gain organic visibility.

According to the official documentation-which is called “Do I need an SEO expert?” as if to instill the opposite doubt (and indeed we also read that “those who run a small local business can probably do much of the work themselves”)-choosing an SEO specialist “is an important step that can potentially improve your site and save you time, but it can also carry the risk of damaging your site and your reputation.” For Google, in fact, there are potential benefits, but also “damage that an irresponsible SEO specialist can cause to your site.”

Among the tasks and “useful services for website owners” that SEO experts and other agencies and consultants can provide are, in Google’s list, “examination of site content or structure; technical advice on site development, e.g., hosting, redirects, error pages, use of JavaScript; content development; online campaign management for business development; keyword research; SEO training; and experience in specific geographies and markets.”

Precautions for not making the wrong choice

That the interest of Google’s guide is to warn site owners is even more glaring when reading the other sections, where it says, for example, that “SEO experts can provide valuable services to clients, but some dishonest people have brought the industry into disrepute by implementing overly aggressive marketing initiatives and attempting to manipulate search engine results incorrectly.”

However, these tips can be helpful in immediately recognizing “dangerous” situations and nipping in the bud the implementation of any tactics that violate spam rules, which as we know could result in a negative change in the site’s Google presence or even its removal from the index.

For example, Google calls for some sort of “proof of validation” of the proposed claims by an SEO expert, who should substantiate his or her claim by citing a reliable source, “such as a Search Console help page, a Google Search Central blog post, or a Google sanctioned forum response.”

Much more alarming (and extreme?) are the other three situations described by the paper. The first is the creation of “shadow” domains that send users to a site via deceptive redirects: defined as “one of the most common frauds,” in this scenario the shadow domains are often owned by the same SEO expert who claims to be working on behalf of a client; if the partnership deteriorates, the SEO might redirect the domain to a different site or even to a competitor’s site, with the result that the initial client would have paid for the development of a competing site owned entirely by the SEO expert.

Another “illicit ploy” is to place doorway pages containing many keywords in one place on the client’s site: the SEO expert guarantees that this will make the page more relevant for a greater number of searches, an aspect that is already “in itself false, since single pages are rarely relevant for a wide range of keywords.” However, the most insidious aspect is that such doorway pages also often contain hidden links to sites of other clients of the SEO expert, which “reduce the link popularity of the site, which is instead increased for the SEO and his other clients, including sites that might deal with offensive or illegal content.”

Finally, there is the possibility of getting caught up in link schemes, such as buying links from other sites to boost rankings: this is contrary to Google’s spam rules and can result in the application of a manual action to all or part of the site, negatively affecting the site’s ranking.

Google’s tips for assessing the trustworthiness of an SEO expert

The last part of Google’s guide on choosing an SEO presents a series of “tricks” and aspects to consider in order to quickly assess whether the professional we are evaluating actually possesses the skills needed to give visibility to our site or whether we risk relying on the wrong person.

  • Be wary of SEO companies, consultants or web agencies that send unsolicited emails. Incredibly, even Google receives spam emails promising “wonders”: the advice is to reserve for these unsolicited search engine-related emails the same skepticism we have toward emails advertising pills that can “make you burn fat overnight” or requests for help in transferring funds from deposed dictators.
  • No one can guarantee reaching the top position in Google results. If an SEO expert promises this achievement-perhaps boasting of having a “special relationship” with Google or advertising “priority inclusion” on Google-he is only lying.
  • Be wary of those who are reticent or do not clearly explain their intent. Ultimately, we are responsible for the actions of the companies we use, so it is crucial to always know what they are doing and how they intend to “improve” the site. If an SEO expert has FTP access to the server, he or she should be available to provide explanations of any changes made to the site, especially if something is unclear to us.
  • Never include a link to an SEO expert’s site. Best to stay away from SEO experts who apply strategies such as link schemes to increase visibility or propose submitting the site to thousands of search engines. Generally, Google reminds us, these are useless operations that do not affect ranking among the results of the major search engines, at least not in terms beneficial to our site.
  • Research the professional. Before choosing, it’s best to perform research on the SEO professional or agency, even by taking a simple trip to Google to read feedback and reviews.
  • Check investments. Google does not accept money for improving a site’s ranking in search results, but “several other search engines combine results based on cost-per-click with others based on cost-per-inclusion in normal Web search results.” The guide says that “some SEO experts promise better rankings in search engines, but actually refer to the advertising section and not the search results,” while others “even change bid amounts in real time to create the illusion that they can control other search engines and be able to win the space they choose.” This kind of fraud “does not work with Google, as our advertising is clearly indicated and separated from the search results,” so it is important to check with the SEO expert which fees he intends to charge for permanent inclusion and which for temporary advertising.
  • Don’t overlook other warning signs. Google also lists some warning signs that you may notice if we are dealing with a “scamming” SEO expert, urging us to trust our instincts when in doubt:
     – He owns shadow domains.
     – Places links to his other clients on doorway pages.
     – Offers to sell keywords in the address bar.
     – Does not distinguish between actual search results and ads displayed on search results pages.
     – Guarantees ranking in results, but only at long, incomprehensible phrases consisting of numerous keywords that you would get anyway.
     – Operates with multiple aliases or falsified WHOIS information.
     – Gets traffic from “fake” search engines, spyware or scumware.
     – Had domains that have been removed from Google’s index or is not listed in Google’s index.

The risks in choosing an SEO specialist

Relying on the wrong professional can lead to the completely opposite results than expected, and unfortunately, as we said, it happens frequently to run into self-styled professionals who boast unspecified skills and miraculous strategies that can bring any page to the first position on Google. For this reason, from Mountain View they have dedicated one of the Search for Beginners appointments on the Google Search Central YouTube channel precisely to finding and hiring an SEO specialist, with practical tips to avoid trouble and problems. Again, Google reiterates that hiring an SEO specialist “can potentially improve your site and save you time,” but there is also the risk “of damaging your site and your reputation if you hire someone who gives bad advice or suggests bad practices and shortcuts.”

Therefore, Google provides a number of general recommendations to keep in mind if we want to work with an SEO specialist or bring one in-house.

First, we need to “interview the potential SEO consultant” to assess their experience and understand their areas of expertise. A good SEO focuses not only on search engine rankings-i.e., where the site appears on Google-“but also on how they can help your company improve the way it appears,” such as implementing the former Google My Business tab.

How to identify a good SEO specialist

According to Googlers, a good SEO consultant should inquire and ask questions about the business he or she is working for, such as “what makes your business, content or services unique, and therefore valuable to customers? What does your typical customer look like? How do they find your site right now? How does your company make money, and how can Search help you? What other channels are you using? Do you advertise offline? What about on social media? Who are your competitors? What are they doing well online and, potentially, offline?”

If the expert does not seem interested in learning more about our company from a holistic point of view-that is, considering all components that contribute to or can affect performance, not just search engines-it would be preferable to consider looking for another candidate.

Characteristics of a capable consultant

It is difficult, if not impossible, to “properly optimize a site without knowing the company’s goals, its customers and other existing marketing efforts,” Mountain View explains.

Another category of specialist to be looked at with suspicion is those who offer “unrealistic guarantees of appearing first on Google”: no one can guarantee this result (we know this and Google confirms it for us once again) and “often those who try to do so use practices that violate Google Webmaster guidelines, such as creating unnatural links and doorway sites.

Such activities, which fall under black hat SEO, can lead to permanent removal of pages or the entire site from Google results if there are particularly serious violations.

The other steps in hiring a good SEO

The second step in hiring an SEO expert is to check references: Google recommends speaking “with previous clients to get confirmation that the professional provided helpful guidance and worked effectively with their teams.”

It is also important to make sure that the results achieved through his strategies “were lasting and not temporary,” because a good expert helps make SEO part of the overall operations of the online business. So, he should focus on long-term plans and on helping the overall growth of the brand.

The last step is to request a technical and Search performance testing SEO audit: when we have found a trusted candidate, we can show him a restricted view (not full or write-up access, cautions the video) to our Google Search Console or Analytics data.”

Before he can actually make changes to the site, it is best to field test him and give him a full audit, to get his opinion and especially a prioritized list of areas he thinks should be acted upon to improve SEO.

In the analysis, the SEO expert should prioritize problems and point out suggested improvements, based on data about our site (thus not general advice), well applicable to our online presence and without resorting to unnatural practices that may violate Google’s guidelines.

The best suggestions focus on techniques and strategies “that target a human audience and not a search engine,” says Google, and the audit should also estimate the overall investment and potential positive impact on the business.

Time to choose an SEO

After interviewing, checking references, and reading the technical audits provided, we should be ready to evaluate our potential SEO experts: a good consultant is one who gives “priority to ideas that will improve your business using as few resources as possible,” the YouTube video continues further.

It is possible that the expert will suggest improvements that may take longer at first, but will serve to build growth over the long term — not least because SEO is a business that pays off over time and for which patience is needed.

Ultimately, then, a good SEO specialist is “someone you can work with and experiment with, learn from and build a path forward for you and your business.”

Once we hire the profile that comes closest to these characteristics, we need to “work with them to establish goals, metrics, and how you will track results beforehand, so you know what you will achieve.”

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