I often write about the various jobs, skills and talents that go into optimizing a website for search engines. As the owner of a firm that specializes in website marketing strategy and leader of an awesome team of talented people, I'm quite biased as to the need and value of having such a team working on all the aspects of marketing your website.

Yet, optimizing a site isn't terribly difficult. Anybody can be taught the basics, which many already know and are implementing on their websites right now. But SEO is more than basic implementation of strategies you've read about online or on Twitter. SEO is much bigger the sum of its parts.

There are hundreds of "parts" that can play a role in an effective optimization campaign. Google looks at more than 200 "signals" alone, each with varying degrees of value and necessity. Most people who start out doing SEO soon realize there is a lot to keep up with, and it's better passed on to more capable hands.

So, just who do these capable hands belong to? Well, that depends on who you talk to. Everybody believes there is a certain level of knowledge and know-how that pre-qualifies you as an SEO. Sometimes it's fun to see what certain bottom line "requirements" are. In light of that, I put together this list of things you absolutely, certainly, necessarily or quite possibly need to know in order to qualify as an SEO.

You're not an SEO unless...

...you know HTML code

HTML is pretty much as basic as basic SEO gets. But guess what, you really don't need to know every bit of HTML to SEO a site. Does it help? Absolutely! You do need a considerable amount of HTML knowledge, but don't let anyone tell you that if you can't code an entire site by hand, you're not an SEO.

...you monitor the search engine algorithms.

SEOs need to know what the search engines are doing, but how much "monitoring" is really required? Some SEOs have almost a religious dedication to documenting, analyzing and testing every detail of an algorithm and then doing it all again when Google makes a change. Others take a big picture approach, looking at long-term SEO strategies that are not affected by every algorithm whim. Just because you don't monitor algorithms as much as someone else doesn't mean you're not an SEO.

...you read search engine patents.

I admire those who can read search engine patents and makes sense of them. These individuals have their pulse on what is possibly coming to a search engine near you. But, only possibly. Not all patents actually result in something being incorporated into the algorithm. They help you keep an eye on a possible future, but not necessarily the destined future. Just because you don't read search engine patents doesn't mean you're not an SEO.

...you build links.

Every SEO should know how to build links, but some are far better at it than others. Link building is like sales. Some people just have the gift. Every SEO should understand both basic and advanced link-building concepts and their corresponding strategies, but just because you don't do actual link building doesn't mean you're not an SEO.

...you know analytics.

Analytics is the best way to prove the value of your SEO efforts. But analytics itself isn't SEO. It's simply the reporting method. If you want to know how well your SEO is really doing, you need to learn analytics or, better yet, employ someone who can in order to analyze your website traffic data. But if you can't, that doesn't mean you're not an SEO.

...you follow search engine guidelines.

The search engine guidelines are just that: guidelines. It's smart to be sure your SEO strategies don't violate any policies that might get your site dinged. On the other hand, some of the guidelines propagated by the search engines are entirely self-serving. Being good at SEO doesn't even require that you know the guidelines, so not knowing them doesn't mean you're not an SEO.

...you can initiate "black hat" SEO strategies.

In some industries, it's very difficult to get good results unless you invest in black hat SEO strategies. If you're not in those industries, then you don't need to worry about it. And not knowing how to implement these type of strategies certainly doesn't mean you're not an SEO.

...you're a copywriter.

Copywriting skills are a must... for copywriters, not necessarily SEOs. While SEOs work with copy and should be able to craft a decent sentence and fiddle around with keyword additions into the text, the SEO can pass the job of actual copywriting to a copywriter. Not having the gift of copywriting doesn't mean you're not an SEO.

...you are a conversion optimizer.

Conversion optimization is good for SEO and necessary for a strong marketing campaign, but this isn't, strictly speaking, SEO. I'd definitely want an SEO that understands usability and persuasion before letting them make changes to my site, but not understanding conversion optimization doesn't mean you're not an SEO.

You're not an SEO unless you read this conclusion

All of the factors above help make SEO valuable. But not having any one or two of them doesn't disqualify you from being an SEO any more than not knowing how to weld a pipe precludes you from being a plumber. Valuable, but not strictly necessary.

But make no mistake, these are important, and to the degree a person has knowledge, understanding and skills in these areas is a factor into how valuable they can be as an SEO. Any one of these, however, is not a defining factor. SEOs are often best judged on the results they get. If you don't get results, then you're not an SEO.

Follow at @StoneyD, and @PolePositionMkg.

August 17, 2011

Stoney deGeyter is the President of Pole Position Marketing, a leading search engine optimization and marketing firm helping businesses grow since 1998. Stoney is a frequent speaker at website marketing conferences and has published hundreds of helpful SEO, SEM and small business articles.

If you'd like Stoney deGeyter to speak at your conference, seminar, workshop or provide in-house training to your team, contact him via his site or by phone at 866-685-3374.

Stoney pioneered the concept of Destination Search Engine Marketing which is the driving philosophy of how Pole Position Marketing helps clients expand their online presence and grow their businesses. Stoney is Associate Editor at Search Engine Guide and has written several SEO and SEM e-books including E-Marketing Performance; The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!; Keyword Research and Selection, Destination Search Engine Marketing, and more.

Stoney has five wonderful children and spends his free time reviewing restaurants and other things to do in Canton, Ohio.


I read the article because of your article heading. It works :)

I totally agree with you Stoney. However, Big G is always tweaking their algorithm. They seem to place more emphasis on the "softer" aspect of the SEO such as social popularity. However, the basic is still a must.

Good content is still important. And without conversion, there is nothing to talk about in the first place.

Great points, always like the way your style comes through your writing. I did notice one thing...no movie references!!

Results are all that matters...everything else is just explanation.

Great post with a great hook. I mostly do soft SEO and social media marketing for my business, but it is good to know these tips. And because I am not being paid to do it for someone full-time, the 30,000 foot perspective long-term approach is certainly mine.

One thing I don't see much of is link building strategies with the high-end, high-authority link in mind. This has been our approach and we have been pretty successful in a modest sort of way. Do you know of any tuts on these sorts of strategies?

...hold on there. Results can also be misleading my friends. A house may look like it was built to stand, then you walk in, see it was put together with tape and glue, and it all falls down on you. My hyperbole simply attempts to point out that we have too many developers building sites out of 'paper maché.' I regularly peek at 'SEO'ed websites and am overwhelmed by how un-SEO-friendly their structure is.

My advice would be, sure, look at the results first, then look into what's causing them. Too many fraudulent practitioners are hiring people to link build and click away to create the illusion of increased page ranking and other things. I guess it is hard to fake conversions though. What do you think?


I think M-A raises a valid point. Just because it looks like great SEO, that doesn't always mean it is. Black hat SEO is designed to artificially inflate a site's rank, which means it looks like everything is working just fine. In reality, however, it's all just smoke and mirrors.

Great article.

I guess it all comes down to how great of a SEO learner you are and how good you are to adapt to algorithms changes and other factors that plays an important in the life of an SEO

Hi Stoney,

Great article, but I must disagree with 200 factors... I think there were talks about more than 5000 factors in Google algo, and in Quality Score in AdWords, there are more than 200 factors.


Great article. Thanks!

I'm curious though, why did you decide on the anchor text of "awesome team of talented people" for back linking to your site?

Sorry Chris about the lack of movie references. I can't be too predictable!

Chande, So you disagree that there are "more than 200 signals"? Or did you mean, you DO agree with that but think I should have placed that number a bit higher? ;-)

Mark, Why not? They are awesome people!

@Stoney....great listing and yup, got em all except the one about reading the patents...I go over to SEO by the sea and always read Bill's fine take on same....



I'm just wondering how many people reading this realized I was being tongue in cheek?

What about PHP? - apart from HTML i think basic knowledge of PHP is a must especially when dealing with CMS systems like Wordpress, Joomla, Drupal etc.

An SEO adapts to new changes i.e. SERP changes, market changes...

So i agree monitoring is a must!

the points mentioned by @stoneyd are really great and you can say eligibility criteria or must have qualities of an good SEO. @ricky has also raised some good points like Drupal, Wordpress and knowledge of PHP is a plus point. I dont have technical background so I feel sometime to understanding the Coding part of website.

Thanks for this post

Reminds me of... "you might be a redneck..." This should be turned into a funny skit and sent out to the seo world. It would no doubt become viral and bring in a ton of traffic and backlinks. Ahh, good 'ole fashion quality link bait works every time. :)

I applaud that you've added the HTML element because SEO's, in a lot of ways, need to be web developers from the ground up - I much rather put my trust into someone that knows how to build an SEO Friendly website by hand than someone that does so through reading a book.

I've never heard of reading search engine patents. I'm definitely not an SEO by comparing those "requirements." The best measurement is how well ranked your own sites are.

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