SEO specialists must move beyond relying on traditional keywords based strategies for content creation and management, and instead create more engaging experiences for the business’s target audience.
As the demand for more valuable content grows, businesses are investing more resources into creating and distributing valuable content to its target audience. Given that organic growth offers the most lasting ROI, SEO experts are being pressed to offer a more holistic set of skills for managing the business’s online presence.
This requires gaining an appreciable level of skills on three areas of SEO: technical, on-page, and off-page.
#1 Technical SEO Skills
SEO has always been about one thing: building marketable websites, ones that will be sought after by both search engines and your target audience.
The best sites have three things in common:
- They are easily accessible,
- Easy to follow, and
It is true that at the end of every good experience is a powerful piece of content. But how that content is created and managed is what defines the end result of the whole bargain.
Basic Programming Skills
As an SEO, ranking the website is no longer an effective measure of your abilities. Your task is to deliver valuable results, like increasing revenue, qualified leads, and visibility, among others. To create a marketable and profitable website you need to know how the backend coding works, and be able to identify problems with the syntax.
As an SEO, you will be editing webpages on a regular basis. Having a firm understanding and grasp of the basics will allow you to make minor changes, or effectively delegate the job to the right person on the team.
You must start with the languages that are used to create the structure of the website and add customizations to it, namely, HTML and CSS.
We’re in an age where responsive websites get individually ranked in search. This makes it crucial that you learn the language of the web pages and effectively work with them.
Here are two resources for learning HTML and CSS on your own:
Finally, we have the backend programming for the website that allows you to publish and manage content. This is the arena for PHP, one of the most widely used languages on the web and thecore language for WordPress’s CMS.
You will come across it when you need to fix issues with plugins or themes and hence make your content more accessible and engaging. Decrease the downtime by learning everything there is to know about PHP through the following resources:
- PHP manual from the developers themselves
- Devzone’s easy to follow and comprehensive guide PHP 101: PHP For the Absolute Beginner
This might seem too much given that this is just the first section of this post, but remember you don’t have to be an expert at coding. You simply have to know how and where each of them is used.
Getting to this level takes a month or two at max even when you’re learning them in your spare time.
The Right Tools
Remember, as an SEO, tools are there to support your work. They’re not supposed to do the work for you. However, by arming yourself with the right tools, you can significantly streamline your process and achieve faster results. Here are the top tools for the core areas of your SEOs work:
- Research and Competition Analysis – prominent tools include Term Explorer, Moz’s keyword difficulty tool and SEMrush.
- Website tools – diagnose web pages and ensure effective results using GTmetrix. Combine it with Google’s own Page Speed Insights tool and, Pingdom.
- Reporting Tools – at the end of the day, you’ll be analyzing your work and communicating them through reports. Generate comprehensive reports using Moz Analytics and Raven Tools.
- Social media marketing – Bring your social media on a single dashboard with Hootsuite and sync (and automate) it with your content calendar using Buffer and Edgar.
- Outreach tools – Building relationship and reaching out to contributors and building links is crucial to the success of your off-page SEO. Use BuzzStream for managing email contacts, or Gmail plugins such as ProsperWorks, and Streak for outreach.
- Email marketing tools – You will have to automate your emails. Leverage MailChimp and Aweber, the two most trending and powerful tools.
With the most technical skills out of the way, let’s move towards the more comfortable sides of the SEO: on-page and off-page optimizations
#2 On-Page SEO Skills
The attention span of users has decreased significantly over the years, making it integral that you do not let your visitors drop off your site. This has two sides to it: how the search engine reads your website and how the user experiences your site.
Addressing the search engine side is normally dealt by checking, completing, and optimizing the title tags, alt tags, meta descriptions, headings, and the content. However, there is more to SEO than that, and as SEO agencies move towards becoming digital marketing agencies (with a focus on SEO), you need to have a more elaborate portfolio of skills.
An important aspect of on-page SEO is the ability to work with website’s usability and information architecture.
Usability means that every element of your website is placed (or removed) to ensure visitors are able to easily navigate your website, and have a clear idea of the next step they can take and are able to find information they are looking for. Good site usability is crucial to the experience a visitor has on your website.
This is where information architecture comes into play.
Information architecture is about how your content is organized and displayed on your website. This ranges from the decision of the navigation pane (number and organization of menus, and sub menus) to organizing the published content (through folder restructuring, labeling of various elements on your website, and internal link optimization, among others.)
In addition to structuring the website and its content for maximum engagement for users, structuring is also important from the perspective for the search engines. For instance, site cannibalization is known to dramatically affect rankings.
Currently, four forms of cannibalization are known: internal, international, sub-domain conflict, and semantic flux. Each of them requires a deep understanding of the website’s information architecture.
Here’s a brief explanation of each:
- Internal cannibalization – Although we hear that keywords are dying a slow death in SEO as Google’s algorithms become more semantically active, search engines rank pages according to “topic areas” and hence specific search terms. Hence, when more than one page is optimized for the same search term, they cannibalize each other’s search rankings and hence fail to rank consistently for the same term.
- International cannibalization – When your website’s international version conflicts with the primary website. Often, the international website uses the same content (blog, Infographics, videos, etc.) to rank for search terms, but confuses the search engine (which should it rank first?)
- Sub-domain conflict – When your parent website has pages that are split through sub-domains and do not have a canonical link identifying the original source of content. This especially happens for blogs (blog.sitename.com) and for product pages (different category pages displaying the same products e.g. color, price, features, etc.). As a result, rankings are directly affected.
- Semantic flux – What if the company is using separate websites but is offering the same services/products. Search engines are smart now. So, they can see the relationship between the two websites, especially when they’re also using the same backend platform for managing content. The lack of clear canonical pages, however, prevents search engines from ranking the pages consistently, and may even compromise the ranks.
This is where an good understanding of the information architecture will aid you in diagnosing the problem and correcting them.
#3 Off-Page SEO Skills
Off-page SEO is about building a strong customer base through social media.
This obviously requires skills that go beyond simply maintaining accounts for the platforms and finding ways to generate traffic.
It’s about increasing visibility of your content, boost shareability, engagement, and generating opportunities for link building.
The good old fashioned submission to directories, and credible high PR sites is still a great way for generating permanent links compared to the more temporary links acquired through social shares. However, you will be expected to go beyond this through creating social outreach programs (identifying and establishing connections with social influencers in your niche).
All of which, in the end, cycles back to creating and marketing epic content.
Because, at the end of all the effort is your content.
That’s what engages your target audience and makes them move further through your marketing funnel. This makes it essential that you are able to create a holistic strategy where content creation and distribution (through content and editorial calendars), and key performance metrics are identified are clearly identified.
As an SEO, you must be well versed in both the areas of the strategy.
You must act as the gatekeeper and support content ideas (only those that add value to search engines and users). This includes being able to identify content gaps by researching the competition and understanding the distribution strategies that will best come in handy.
In Conclusion – The Right Skill Set
In the end, as an SEO, you must become a self-sufficient manager for a brand’s online presence.