If you are in this business long enough, someone will come up and ask the question. To some of them, it is the most important question in their lives: "How do I break into SEO?" I honestly get this question several times a month.  And each person that asks me is ready for my answer. Some seem ready to take notes. They expect that I am going to rattle off some kind of canned answer that will unlock the secret to their future career. But I don't, because it isn't that easy.

Some people readily accept that it isn't that easy. If it were easy, they wouldn't need to ask.

In fact many folks ask a longer question. "How do I break into SEO, because I don't have..."

  • ...a technical background. This is one of the most common worries. People believe that they need to know how to program or at least code HTML or else they are doomed.
  • ...a marketing background. Yeah, people who actually have a technical background worry that they need something else.

The truth is that almost no one breaks into SEO with both a marketing and a technical background. So, no matter who you are, you probably don't have all the skills required to optimize for organic search.

But as SEO grows, you don't really need all those skills anymore. There are plenty of jobs out there for folks who are specialists. They don't know everything about SEO--they just know enough SEO, that when coupled with other skills make them employable.

That's why when people ask me the magic question, I always ask them a question back. What do you already know?

People are always struck by this question because they don't expect the magic formula to have anything to do with them. But it does:

  • If you have a background in direct marketing, you can learn search analytics.
  • If you came from PR, you can come up with social media ideas or write blog posts.
  • If you understand copy writing, you can do content optimization or paid search copy writing.
  • If you are a programmer, you can fix infrastructure problems.

You probably get the idea.

SEO is no longer some kind of monolithic profession. where you must know every part of it to get a job. If you have any skills that border on organic search marketing, adding SEO skills to that mix make you far more employable.  And that is always the right way to break into SEO, by building on what you already know.

Originally published in Biznology

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September 19, 2011

Mike is an expert in search marketing, search technology, social media, publishing, text analytics, and web metrics, who regularly makes speaking appearances.

Mike's previous appearances include Text Analytics World, Rutgers Business School, SEMRush webinar, ClickZ Live.

Mike also founded and writes for Biznology, is the co-author of Outside-In Marketing (with James Mathewson) and the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (now in its 3rd edition, and sole author of Do It Wrong Quickly, named by the Miami Herald as one of the 11 best business books of 2007.


I would argue that the most important thing a person looking to get into SEO could have is strong writing skills. You can learn how to properly optimize a site, the basics of website development and so forth, but being a good writer from the onset makes it much easier. Content form the basis of everything we do for SEO and if you struggle with writing it's going to be that much harder for you.

I totally agree with Nick Stamoulis' comment. Writing skills is one of the most important skills for an SEO wannabe because employers nowadays prefer for job seekers who are good in blog commenting.

I agree with nick strong background in writing is the number on tools in SEO, writing and technicla skill is a good pair

You can always hire technical. Marketing, Reading (websites like this one) and Writing. If you know how to help your clients gain customers, SEO will become easy as you understand the process. And to those who are starting, hang in there.

Some good tips, I think personally, just do it! Get a website up and running and start link building, etc and use that as a demonstration website.

I came from a marketing background and learned the technical side as required. SO I understood copywriting, etc but found that relying on technical people for help didn;t give me enough control. The basic technical stuff - HTML, CSS isn't that hard to learn and it gives you the ability to have full control over a project. You can then bring in experts for more advanced technical aspects.

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