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The Many Hats of an SEO

Posted by mitch causey

November 3, 2011 at 11:06 AM

Search Engine Optimization as an industry seems to be the least understood area of marketing today.I can’t tell you how many times I have to explain what I do to my family and friends, while they stare at me with an expression of “What on earth is he talking about?”

Along with misunderstanding often comes an under appreciation of SEO services. This is, at times, frustrating for SEOs because we pour our hearts and souls into our clients’ sites, but at the end of the day, all of our work is wrapped up into a single number – a single ranking position.

This post is meant to explain a little more about what goes on behind the scenes of that ranking position and what kind of skills are needed in a successful SEO department.

Many hats of SEO

The Different Hats of an SEO

An SEO has to wear many hats. Fortunately for us here at Slingshot SEO, we have teams of people to share in these numerous responsibilities, which make our process and success much more efficient. Each of these personas is separated out, but the majority of successful SEOs must learn to wear each of these hats multiple times each day.

The Researcher / The Scientist / The Statistician

SEOs have to continually conduct research to see what other people have done before them. We must understand what has worked and what hasn’t – and understand the reasons why.

This is why sites like SEOmoz and Search Engine Land are so popular and important to our industry. Without them, we would have to take much more time out of each day to test and retest theories. That being said, a successful SEO will conduct his own research and track the success of his experiments – much like a modern day alchemist.

The Strategist / The Futurist

Being able to “skate to where the puck is” requires skill, but the most successful SEOs understand the necessity to "skate where the puck is going". This is where having years of experience in this industry is a must to truly understand the ebbs and flows of search engine algorithms. Creating the strategy for an SEO campaign is like setting the foundation of a house. Misstep here and you will have problems throughout the journey; take a winning stride and be successful in the long-term.

The Writer

Content is truly king on the Internet. Google's recent Panda algorithm updates have made it more important than ever before to create original, relevant content in order to engage your readers and achieve top rankings.

But it's not just Google. All search engines reward effort. In general, the more effort you put into a site (especially writing effort), the more you will get out of it in terms of search engine rankings.

The Coder

To read code and understand how it works, you need to know at least the basics of how to write code. I suggest at least knowing HTML, CSS and JavaScript. Knowing code will allow you to do more than you would think. It will allow you to decipher errors in a site’s code, automate remedial tasks and create scalable solutions to sizable problems.

The Efficiency Expert

Understanding that there are only 24 hours in a day is still difficult for me. Figuring out ways to turn a 3-4 hour job into 3-4 minutes is a lifesaver. Using tools like Google Docs and scripting languages, you can often find ways of making that happen.

The Marketer / The Socialite / The Linker

Getting the buzz out about a site is the most difficult part of SEO. This is where things like links and social mentions come into play. Figuring out how to procure conversations that will spin off in their own direction without your incessant moderation is a skill that very few people have, but it's absolutely invaluable for SEO.

The Analytics Guy

Tracking results of both experiments and actual SEO effort is 100% necessary. An SEO with a strong understanding of analytics programs will beat out the competition time after time, especially when it comes to maintaining rankings for the most appropriate keywords. A successful SEO will understand the importance of benchmarking, tracking, measuring success and driving decisions with objective data.

The Mediator

You need to be able to explain the work of SEO to your client or to the management above you. This entire document is a testimony of the importance of this hat. Every SEO that is worth his paycheck will be able to not only explain, but prove the value of his services with objective data. Often, if the site/business will allow, the SEO will be able to tie his efforts directly to the company’s bottom line.

The Perfect Combination

Figuring out how to become all of these things and balance each of these hats based upon importance and impact is the most important trait a successful SEO can strive to achieve.

If you are an SEO, sort through the list and find where you are struggling so that you can improve. If you have an SEO as a direct report or if you are paying for SEO services, reading through the list might help you to understand a little bit better how to manage and approach your SEO.

Hopefully, this post sheds a little more light into the daily life of an SEO. What do you think? Was it what you thought? More? Less? Disagree? Have anything to add? Let us know in the comments below.

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