What is an SEO specialist?
For the uninitiated, search engine optimisation (SEO) can be like black magic – inexplicable, otherworldly and a tad scary.
If these three letters have you reaching for your broomstick in order to beat a hasty retreat, hold up just a minute. There’s someone who can help – an SEO specialist. Never heard of them? These are the white knights behind every company website killing it in Google’s rankings, and they can help you too.
In this article we’ll answer the following questions:
- What is an SEO specialist?
- How can they improve your website?
- What are black hat SEO tactics?
- Is it possible to learn SEO quickly?
Wands at the ready. Here. We. Go.
What is an SEO specialist?
An SEO specialist is responsible for analysing a website and suggesting changes to improve how that site ranks in internet searches for relevant terms. You may also see this title shortened to simply ‘an SEO’.
- Quick definition of SEO: SEO aims to boost the amount, and the quality, of traffic to a website from organic search results.
We’ll look at some of the key features of a site that an SEO specialist would review in the next section, but first let’s explore the skills and attributes these individuals need to possess:
- Keyword research – Despite what you might hear, keywords are still hugely important for SEO strategies. Therefore, an SEO should be able to conduct thorough keyword research, and use the terms ‘naturally’ in your business’ content. Natural usage is the opposite of keyword stuffing – something we’ll cover in our black hat tactics section later on.
- Website analysis – Understanding the website elements that contribute to search engine ranking, and staying on top of best practices are essential to an SEO’s role.
- Search engine knowledge – Search engines are constantly evolving. SEOs must stay on top of the latest algorithmic updates to boost website performance and avoid ranking penalties.
- IT know-how – A solid grounding in CSS, HTML and other programming languages, as well as experience with tools such as MOZ Keyword Explorer and SEMrush is crucial to an efficient SEO workflow.
- An analytical mind – The ability to identify problems and implement effective solutions based on hard data is meat and drink to your SEO specialist.
- Strong communication skills – If online marketing and SEO are new avenues for your business, chances are your SEO specialist will need to be able to explain its importance to key stakeholders to get buy in at all levels.
What roles can SEO specialists take?
The above skills position SEO specialists perfectly for a number of roles within a business’ digital marketing team:
Content writing – In addition to crafting perfectly poised prose, SEO is a big part of modern content writing. Google’s Penguin update highlighted the importance of writing for humans instead of search engines, but understanding how to organically deploy keywords is a key SEO consideration for content writers.
Website developers – High numbers of backlinks to your website from other reputable online sources is an important ranking factor in search. They show Google that your site is considered to be a useful resource and help crawlers to find it. Website developers are also crucial for ensuring your pages are correctly tagged, another indicating factor for Google of a high quality site.
Strategists – There’s a strategist behind every successful digital marketing campaign. Understanding, and improving, the SEO performance of your site is a big part of what a strategist brings to the table, so expertise in search engine ranking is crucial to the role.
Search engine marketing (SEM) – In many ways SEO and SEM are opposite sides of the coin. However, keyword understanding as well as the organisational and analytical mindset that SEO specialists have position them well for running and reviewing paid digital ad campaigns.
How can an SEO specialist improve your website?
Now we get into the real sorcery. Here are some common tactics an SEO specialist will use to improve your site’s search ranking:
- Using tags: You need to remember that search engines speak their own language – and your website needs to too. HTML tags are key in helping crawlers identify different elements on a given page or blog post, and will be a high priority for your SEO specialist. Among the most important are:
- Title tag – This tells the search engine what each page is about. Your title tag absolutely must contain the keywords that page is targetting. On a search engine results page (SERP) this is where users click on to select a result. Tip – Limit your title to around 60 characters to avoid clipping.
- Meta tag – Directly beneath the title tag on a SERP comes your meta. This is a couple of sentences (ideally 130-160 characters) that acts as additional bait for would-be clickers.
- Header tags – Divvying your content up with prudent use of H1, H2 and even a cheeky H3 tag not only makes it easier on the eye, but also benefits SEO ranking. These headers are behind those bulleted snippets you see at the top of SERPS (#goals).
- Alt tags – Did you know that Google can’t read images? As we’ll see, the right pictures are important ranking factors – but without alt tags, search engines won’t have the foggiest idea what they show.
- Adopting keyword best practice: I could write a whole e-book on keywords (in fact, one of my colleagues did), but here are the most salient, SEO related points:
- Find the right ones: Your SEO specialist should know which tools to use in order to find keywords that receive good traffic.
- Think about placement: Try and get keywords into your title tags, subheads, opening paragraph, URLs and image alt tags.
- Be organic: Unnaturally cramming keywords into the above (or anywhere else for that matter) could see you penalised by Google Penguin. Let the keywords serve the content, rather than distract from it.
- Creating cornerstone content: Cornerstone content consists of posts or pages that comprehensively cover one topic. Its primary aim is to help you rank for specific keywords (Google loves takeaway-heavy articles). Your specialist can help you identify areas to target, and use purpose-built tools such as Market Muse to establish competitive word counts.
- Including rich media: Rich media includes elements like video, custom images, social media embeds, and polls and quizzes. As well as making your page more visually interesting, these features can help your ranking.Just remember to add the appropriate tags!
- Optimising links: Google attaches significant value to links – after all, they help its crawlers get around and establish connections between different pages and sites. Indeed, a study by NinjaOutreach showed how a tiered SEO linking campaign can boost traffic by 40 per cent. An SEO specialist will understand the different types of links, and how to use them effectively for SEO.
- Targeting features snippet – AHREFS found that, on SERPS where they appear, 8.6 per cent of clicks go to featured snippets. These SEO jackpots aren’t chosen at random – an SEO can help you tailor content towards capturing them.
- Getting local – Your SEO specialist can tweak your SEO to capture the local market, and this is no small fry.
- Getting to grips with voice search – By 2020, 30 per cent of internet browsing will be done without a screen, predicts Gartner. Voice search is already playing a role in this shift, so you need an SEO who can update your site for these latest trends.
What are blackhat SEO tactics?
If your SEO specialist suggests any of the following blackhat tactics, it’s time to book them a one-way ticket to Azkaban. Many of the following could see your site penalised by search engine rankings:
- Keyword stuffing – Until relatively recently, you could get away with unnaturally high frequencies of keyword use. However, now Google values quality of content over quantity of keywords. An example of keyword stuffing could be:
- Looking for nose warmers in Alice Springs? We sell nose warmers in Alice Springs, so get in touch with one of our experts in Alice Springs to buy a nose warmer today.
- Duplicating content – If you copy and paste content from another site, or within your own, you’re likely to fall foul of Google Panda. This algorithmic update seeks to weed out poor quality or duplicated content.
- Content automation – Compelling content is important in many aspects of digital marketing. However, if you’re tempted to get machines to do it for you – think again. Firstly, the stuff they produce will lack value, formatting and images. Secondly, Auntie Google doesn’t like automated content, and will penalise your site.
- Cloaking – This refers to showing one page to searchers, and another to search engines. This allows spam websites to rank for content that isn’t relevant to their content and mask the garbage they’re putting out.
- Link farms – The number of links to your site is a key ranking factor. For this reason, some bright sparks set up so-called link farms – websites that exist solely to supply links to sites that someone wants to rank highly. Unfortunately, link farms are easily identifiable for search engines, and should be avoided.
- Personal blog networks – Like link farms, personal blog networks aim to make it look like a website has lots of links. These are authoritative sites that form a network where each links to the target site, but not to each other.
- Paid links – Building links with authority sites is an important SEO tactic, but you need to play by the rules. Buying links, or exchanging them for goods, isn’t allowed under Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, and both the buyer and seller can be penalised if caught.
- Website redirects – Similar to cloaking, this involves sending crawlers to one page, and users to another. Only use redirects for their intended purposes – for example, when you’ve changed domain name and want users to find your new site.
- Spamming blog comment sections – In the past, Google and other search engines would count links from blog comments among their ranking factors. While this is no longer the case, you’ll still find plenty of people advertising their blog commenting services to boost your SEO performance. Ignore them.
How long does SEO take to work?
Precisely 49 minutes.
Okay, sadly that’s a lie – you can’t put a timeframe on how long it will take your SEO tree to start bearing tasty click-through fruit. This is because the results of your tactics depend not only on the skills of your SEO specialist, but also what your competition is doing.
It also matters what industry you’re in. For example, business selling laptops in Sydney are going to be up against tougher opposition than those flogging Wallabies rugby shirts in Auckland. More people targeting the same SERPS and keywords can mean it takes longer for you to see tangible results from your SEO campaign.
Can I learn SEO fast?
Given that 71.3 per cent of searches result in a page one organic (unpaid) click, according to Moz, SEO is something that businesses really can’t afford to ignore.
If you’re interested in learning SEO for yourself, there are a number of great resources out there to start improving your knowledge. These include
- Search Engine Journal.
- Search Engine Land.
- Marketing Land.
- Search Engine Watch.
The good news is that a lot of the basics of aren’t hard to understand, and you can start practicing immediately by implementing some best practices on your own site.
Learning through doing is definitely the trick when it comes to SEO.
71.3 per cent of Google searches result in a page one organic (unpaid) click.
However, much like FIFA, you can never complete SEO. And this is where business owners tend to fall down when trying to tackling this aspect of digital marketing alone,on a long term basis. It’s one thing to get your site optimised, but you then need to continually review and tweak in accordance with changes to what the search engines want to see.
Why outsource SEO to an agency?
For these reasons, many businesses outsource their SEO concerns to agencies. Here are some of the benefits they bring to the table:
- Expertise – From strategists to writers, digital agency personnel are well versed in the latest updates to search engine protocol. In addition to actioning change to your site themselves, they can also help you expand your own understanding of all things SEO.
- Access to tools – As well as an in-depth understanding of SEO, agency staff will have access to and experience using the tools needed to review and improve your site’s performance.
- Accountability – To prove their tactics are working, any agency worth its salt will provide a plethora of reports and walk you through the results. This means that even if you don’t fully grasp every detail of what they’re doing, you get full visibility over whether it’s achieving the desired results.
- Time-saving – Once you’ve found an agency you like working with, they can get on with SEO work in the background while you focus on the business itself.