Search engine optimization (SEO) is a hot career choice right now because the science is crucial to most organization’s business. The right keywords can bring mean optimal exposure for your website, which can mean the difference between the success or failure of a digital marketing campaign.
The practice of SEO involves using special tools and strategies to get your products or services to rank as high as possible among potential customers’ organic search results. These strategies involve the use of search algorithms, link building, and sophisticated tracking analytics. Tools such as SpyFu and Moz Pro can help with SEO. In fact, if you’re an interested newcomer to this space, marketing analytics firm Moz offers a “Beginner’s Guide to SEO.”
“The ability to report on key metrics is fundamental and very important to almost every job in digital marketing today,” said Cyrus Shepard, an SEO Strategist working with Moz. “Coming in with an understanding of your analytics, what keywords and pages are performing, and who is visiting your website and how they got there, those are key things that SEO can teach you.”
SEO can be a fascinating job for someone interested in e-commerce and analytics. If you’re interested in jumping into this burgeoning and well paid field, there are several courses on leading e-learning platforms that provide both beginners and experienced e-commerce professionals with the latest SEO skills.
By selecting from courses available via services like LinkedIn Learning or Udemy, you’re not only opting for a generally much lower cost per course than a more traditional higher learning path, you’re also gaining the flexibility to build your own curriculum. That means you learn only the skills you feel are most necessary to your new career goals. To help, Shepherd recommends five online learning programs to develop the skills you’ll need to get a job in SEO.
Introduction to SEO
The University of California, Davis (UC Davis) offers a well-regarded certificate program in SEO on the online learning platform Coursera. This program provides a helpful primer in SEO basics. Google also provides a detailed “Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Starter Guide.”
“The first thing people want to understand is how search engines work, the idea that they crawl the entire web,” Shepard said. “It’s important to understand how, when someone types something into a search box, [search engines] look through their entire corpus of billions of documents and return the most relevant results based on content and links,” Shepard said. “So, getting a basic understanding of those search engine fundamentals is where you want to start.”
The courses in the UC Davis certification program include “Introduction to Search Engine Optimization,” “Search Engine Optimization Fundamentals,” “Optimizing a Website for Search,” “Advanced Content and Social Tactics to Optimize SEO,” and “Advanced Search Engine Optimization Strategies.” The certificate program also includes a final project called the “Website Optimization Client Report Project.” In this project, the student presents an SEO strategy to a client.
Rebekah May is among the instructors who teach the UC Davis SEO classes on Coursera. She’s also the SEO Manager at Fishbrain in Stockholm, Sweden. The company offers an online tool that collects data for people that fish. May said that an understanding of SEO tactics can help you develop a more strategic and “agile” way of thinking.
“It’s really important to have a basic understanding of Google’s algorithms and how that works so you’re not just working off a checklist somebody’s given you,” May said. “Because Google changes [its algorithms] so frequently, it’s really important to understand the why and the how of Google algorithms to be able to develop a strategy that’s successful.”
Shepard says the Coursera certificate program is a good fit for career-minded folks, and it’s ideal for professionals like journalists who want to optimize their content with SEO strategy. “It doesn’t deal too much with the tactical aspects of learning code,” Shepard said. “This is more about writing, optimizing content, and publishing stuff that people do every day.”
Research on the types of terms people enter in a search engine can provide key insights on how to develop content, build new marketing plans, and craft your email marketing blasts, which can also influence your SEO ranking. People should gain insights on how words rank like “cancer cures” versus “hospitals” and “institutes,” Shepard said.
“Keyword research can tell you exactly how difficult these words are to rank for and how relevant they are and what they can do for your business,” Shepard said.
He recommends the course on “SEO: Keyword Strategy” from LinkedIn Learning, which is taught by Matt Bailey, a digital marketing consultant and author of “Internet Marketing: An Hour a Day.” The course explains what keywords are, how to manage keyword data, and how to find something called “searcher intent.” It also teaches you how to use keyword management tools and measure your results.
“Specifically, understanding keyword research, understanding what people are looking for, like Google trends, and understanding what’s popular and what people are reading are all very important,” Shepard said.
May said that knowing the words that will attract more web traffic is key to a successful SEO strategy. You want to understand your audience and the terms they use to search.
“You don’t want jargon,” May said. “You want to know how the consumers who are looking for your product are talking. What are they doing to find you, and what language are you using to address those problems that they’re having so they can actually discover you.”
Shepard recommends at least one technical SEO class even for those just beginning their SEO journey. He said aspiring SEO professionals should take business coach Alex Genadinik’s class, “Perfect On-Page SEO In 1 Day That Users & Google Will Love” on the e-learning platform Udemy. “This resource could help users understand the basics of keyword targeting and on-page SEO,” Shepard said.
On-page SEO involves making sure that your webpage gets high click-through rates and stands out in Google search rankings. It also ensures that Google knows that a certain webpage is about a certain term. In comparison, off-site SEO involves link building and improving your website ranking.
“How do you make sure websites can crawl the content and make sure it’s about the keywords you think it is,” Shepard said. “On-page SEO is optimizing your images, using HTML, and title tags, and making sure you don’t have a lot of errors.”
Shepard also recommends the class “SEO Link Building in Depth” on LinkedIn Learning; it’s taught by “SEO for Dummies” author Peter Kent. Link building is a skill that is misunderstood and derided according to Shepard. It’s a marketing task that involves getting more visitors to a website by incorporating links in content.
Link building involves “getting your content in front of as many relevant eyeballs as possible and learning how to target people who want to link to you,” Shepard said. “We notice the bad link building; we don’t notice the good link building. Learning these skills is an advanced SEO technique that’s indistinguishable from good marketing.” Along with relevant content, links are an important factor to get content to rank highly in Google search results.
“You need some sort of popularity signal that Google can see that shows you deserve to rank, that you’re better than other resources,” Shepard said. “Without some idea of link building or marketing, you’re not going to succeed.”
Much of SEO science is analyzing your strategies to determine success. To help professionals learn the SEO analytics skills they need, Shepard recommends taking University of Virginia’s Marketing Analytics class on Coursera. This course focuses on analyzing data from search engine rankings.
The analysis of search engine ranking data helps marketers and publishers make decisions about what types of stories to cover and which marketing strategies work best. Google Analytics (GA) is a leader in this area and provides key business intelligence (BI).
“There’s almost no skill more valuable than being able to report on results,” Shepard said. “All of the SEO work doesn’t matter if you can’t convince your boss that you’re actually doing something; [you’ll have difficulty] if you can’t identify problems on your website and understand your audience and where they come from.”
A key part of analytics involves conversions, which involves tying your business goals into analytics, Shepard said. “The idea is, you want to be able to connect your actual business revenue to your content performance,” Shepard said. “You can do that through analytics.”
Shepard gave the example of someone who wants to sell solar tiles and who can measure how many people sign up for a webinar on solar tiles rather than collecting data on actual purchases of solar tiles. Some people make the mistake of just measuring the bottom line rather than measuring the traffic of content, he said.
“All of these can be goals in the conversion funnel you’re measuring or tracking,” Shepard said. “And you can measure the performance of these goals against the content to see how each piece of content is contributing to your bottom dollar. Sometimes links are an important metric that people ignore because they think it’s not selling what people want to sell.”
While you can measure in an hour how much profit your site has earned, it could take weeks to a month to analyze how SEO helped you earn a profit for the quarter, according to May. This is where tools such as GA come in to help you analyze the data on a deeper level. Analytics training, which is offered by most online learning services, including Coursera, LinkedIn, and Udemy, can provide the critical foundation skills you’ll need to help you get the role you’re looking for in SEO.
After you complete your online SEO courses, the best way to keep learning SEO is to practice it on the job once you get there. On-the-job training is the best way to further learn, noted Chris Rodgers, founder and CEO of Colorado SEO Pros.
“It is a science and an art that require years of learning, practicing, and constant education to truly know what you are doing and eventually become an expert,” Rodgers said.