How to become an SEO expert, according to the HubSpot SEO team

Braden Becker’s path to becoming an SEO specialist at HubSpot is a bit unconventional. He studied writing and rhetoric in college, which helped him get his first job as an editor for a B2B magazine. During his career, Braden moved to content marketing, where he worked as an editor for a SaaS company and then as a content manager for the world’s largest environmental services company.

You’d think someone like Braden would climb the creative career ladder in content marketing. But today he actually spends more time in Ahrefs than he does in Google Docs. As a historic optimization lead on the HubSpot blog team, Braden’s primary responsibility is to identify blog posts that are experiencing lower organic traffic and optimize them so that search engines rank higher on Google. He’s even sharpened his SEO chops to the point where he helped develop the SEO strategy for all HubSpot blogs.

Qualities of an SEO Expert

As a writer and editor, SEO has been on the sidelines of Braden’s work for most of his career – as it was a subject he had a tight grip on but not necessarily a great deal of expertise in.

Today, however, the focus is on SEO.

Braden and other SEO and historical optimization specialists at HubSpot – Aja Frost, Victor Pan, and Amanda Sellers – provided advice on what it takes to become an SEO expert and what avenues to take to get there.

How do I become an SEO professional?

  1. Develop your skills.
  2. Take a course and get certified.
  3. Understand how search engines crawl and index content.
  4. Gain an overview of what search engines value.
  5. Understand SEO strategies and tactics and why they are important.
  6. Explore the field.
  7. Find a method / tool that works for you.
  8. Familiarize yourself with data.
  9. Test your SEO knowledge regularly.
  10. Expand your network.

Some SEO specialists do not begin with the intention of devoting their careers to SEO. Some start completely by accident. Let’s take a look at how HubSpot experts started theirs, and what you can do to get yours started.

1. Develop your skills.

“Ideally, getting a job in SEO requires two things: content creation skills and analytical skills. Most SEO pros these days have one and develop the other, ”says Braden.

SEO experts are skilled writers with creative instincts. It is helpful for SEO professionals to have a strong literary background, as creativity is required to optimize content so that both Google and the audience understand it. In fact, Becker found that his writing background made it easier for him to enter the SEO industry.

“My background in writing and editing helped me get my foot in the door, but a willingness to focus on the structure, mechanics, and intent behind my writing secured my role as a SEO specialist for HubSpot in my opinion . “

Braden’s story of moving from a creative content marketing career to an analytical one isn’t as rare as you might think. Before Aja Frost became a senior SEO strategist at HubSpot, she was the editor of the HubSpot sales blog.

“I taught myself how to do keyword research and competitive analysis as an editor for HubSpot’s sales blog,” says Aja. We got all of these views from search. So I started looking for sales-related keywords that we could rank for to drive organic traffic. “

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How do you develop your skills to be SEO ready? Here’s what Aja had to say about her strategy to improve her SEO skills.

“To refine my SEO expertise, I read constantly. I’m very interested in technical SEO so I look for blog posts, white papers, and research on website architecture and navigation, website speed, and everything that goes with that, including structured data, ”she says. “SEO by the Sea, Sistrix, and Blind Five Year Old, along with (unsurprisingly) the Google Webmaster Blog, are great SEO technical resources. I’m a member of some SEO subreddits (/ seo and / bigseo are the most active). And I follow a lot of SEOs on Twitter – they keep dropping random facts or insights. “

As Braden pointed out, many SEOs start with one skill and develop another. Whether you have an analytical mind and want to start a blog to practice writing, or a seasoned writer looking to train your technical mind, a balance between the two will help you with your SEO career.

2. Take a course and get certified.

Earning a certification ensures that you have the necessary knowledge in a specific area to successfully practice on your own. It also gives you credibility when you network on professional websites like LinkedIn. On initial SEO research, Aja found courses to take to get a certification in SEO, which opened more doors. “I read a lot of blog posts and ended up getting my Google Analytics certification.”

When choosing a course, you will find out which one will give you the skills you need for your SEO career. For example, if you find that a particular course does not go into depth on topics that you need help with, this is likely not the course for you.

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3. Understand how search engines crawl and index content.

The main goal of SEO is to increase search engine visibility so that search engine users can find your content. While content should always be created for these potential website visitors, it won’t get to your content if search engines don’t know what to do with it.

According to Moz, search engines have three main functions:

  1. Crawl – Find and understand content.
  2. index – Save and organize the content.
  3. rank – Deliver the best content for relevant queries.

The goal of increasing visibility is strongly related to the third item on this list. Although rank is important, it follows points 1 and 2.

According to Amanda Sellers, “Becoming an SEO professional means understanding these features and optimizing content to serve users … while respecting crawling and indexing best practices.”

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4. Get an idea of ​​what search engines value.

While the inner workings of each search engine will be different, keep in mind that each search engine has one goal in mind: Always get the best results for every query.

There are many factors that can contribute to what makes a particular result the “best”, but for the most part, it comes down to three things:

  • relevance to the seeker’s intention
  • authority The website is based on popularity signals
  • trust and the search engine confidence that the website can provide a real and valuable answer
  • Positive experience for the user how they consume the content

“The better you understand these big ideas, the better you can understand role ranks and SEO tactics. In that context, you can more effectively implement SEO initiatives and diagnose problems as they arise,” says Amanda.

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5. Understand SEO strategies and tactics and why they are important.

“Once a search engine can crawl and index a website, it uses ranking factors and signals to measure relevance, authority, trust, and experience. These then guide the strategies SEOs can use to improve their content,” added Amanda.

These strategies and disciplines will help you understand SEO tactics:

  • Technical SEO – This refers to the practice of optimizing the technical aspects of a website for search engines. This may include correcting the sitemap and linking to errors found during audits on technical websites. (Indexability and thinning)
  • Keyword research – By analyzing keyword data, you will get a better idea of ​​what your target audience is trying to discover. This information can then influence your strategy when creating content that is discoverable from this data. (Relevance and search intent)
  • On-page SEO – Content that provides valuable information to the searcher while going beyond what’s already out there is more likely to be ranked. In addition, the search engine can use the on-page SEO best practices to determine how relevant the content is to the query. (Relevance and search intent)
  • Link building – Search engines use a number of factors to determine the popularity of a website. One of them is the number and quality of the external links pointing to their content, also known as backlinks. (Authority and trust)
  • Other ranking factors – Factors such as mobile usability, page speed, etc. are important for search engines as they deliver the best possible results. (Experience)

“Understanding the basics of each one is important to determine whether you want to be an SEO generalist or an SEO specialist in any of these disciplines, and they can make your efforts more effective too.”

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6. Explore the field.

In addition to doing your initial research on SEO, it is important to stay abreast of the latest changes in the industry so you don’t use outdated optimization techniques that Google doesn’t understand.

For example, when Aja noticed that traffic on the sales blog was flat, starting SEO research helped her figure out why: she was not delivering audiences to search for.

Aja doing research on SEO led her to find ways to improve the blog’s performance.

Search engine optimization is constantly changing. So it is important that you keep updating your knowledge on this subject.

To build his basic SEO knowledge, Victor Pan, head of technical SEO at HubSpot, names reading as one of the best habits he has become familiar with.

“I’ve been a voracious reader of all the publicly available information about SEO. I had an RSS feed of search-related blogs and news sites that I looked through for an hour every day, ”he says. “The mere contact with ideas makes it easier to tackle unknown problems in search engine optimization when you can use other people’s experiences or framework conditions.”

7. Find a method / tool that works for you.

Similar to finding resources that work for you and your skills, finding an SEO routine or tool that will become your foundation is imperative. For keyword research, SEOs like to refer to their personal arsenal of tools.

In addition to HubSpot’s SEO tools, some HubSpot SEO experts also use tools like SEMrush for additional research.

You don’t have to use every single tool available to carry out your SEO tasks. All you need to do is make sure that the tools will help you achieve your goals and allow you to get an accurate exercise on the subject.

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If you don’t know where or how to start finding tools, here are eight. Remember, there is no need to commit to eight, just those who do your job. Use whatever keeps your research round, accurate, and easy to understand.

“My reading made me experiment with SEMrush, AnswerThePublic, Google Analytics, the Google Search Console and of course HubSpot’s own SEO tools. I read a ton of blog posts and ended up getting my Google Analytics certification. “

8. Familiarize yourself with data.

Once you start diving into your SEO tools, you will find that there is a ton of data out there. Without this data, you cannot measure the performance of your initiatives and know exactly where and how you can improve.

Some (but definitely not all) key SEO metrics include:

  • positioning – How close to the top your page will appear on the SERPs.
  • Impressions – How many times has your page been seen on the SERPs?
  • Clicks – How often was your page clicked by the SERPs.
  • CTR – The percentage of impressions that resulted in a click.
  • Organic meetings – The number of times the page was viewed in a browser.

Amanda: “Because each of these measures a different aspect of search behavior, they can provide valuable insights that can advance your strategy. In addition, it’s important to drill down and filter so that your data becomes more complete.” History.”

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9. Test your SEO skills regularly.

When you put theory into practice, you will get the hands-on knowledge and experience you need to step up as SEO. This way, SEO is like a sport. You can read all about hitting a baseball or throwing a soccer ball, but if you never practice you will never reach your full potential.

Reading the latest news and research is a huge benefit in staying ahead of any industry. But as an SEO, reading is not enough if something is constantly changing. To get the hands-on experience that will really take your SEO skills to the next level, you need to constantly test the assumptions of the industry and your new ideas.

“I test a lot of things to refine my SEO expertise. Should your brand be included in your title tags? Is it still worth using internal anchor text in 2020 to shift rankings? What if you buy fake social “signals” – do you see an increase in organic traffic? “Says Victor.

“Failed experiments taught me as much as successful ones, and it made me a much safer SEO if I made improvements to the content. Just because a change led to an improvement in one case does not mean that a change in another place also leads to an improvement – which is why we only have to test and record causality via the correlation. “

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10. Expand your network.

Becoming an SEO expert also means expanding your network of SEO colleagues. There are SEO groups on LinkedIn that you can join, subreddits mentioned by Aja like SEO, and conferences that you can attend. By expanding your circle of SEO experts, you expand your knowledge and credibility in this area.

If you get enough of an expert, you can also speak at industry conferences. For example, Braden and Victor hosted a session at INBOUND – their presentation, “How You Grow Better (Your Organic Traffic)” introduced SEO changes, how to adapt to them, and how to use some basic SEO methods to optimize content .

Take a look at the resources available to begin building your network. If you have a LinkedIn account, you can make these industry connections. You can also watch YouTube videos for quick SEO tips and share with fellow learners in the comments for tips from colleagues.

Based on the stories and tips from these HubSpot experts, being an SEO professional doesn’t mean you have to start and finish your career in SEO. It’s entirely possible to switch from a role to an SEO role and develop your expertise from there – you just have to be willing to learn and adapt.

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in March 2020 and has been updated for completeness.

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