Posted by Tom_C
So it’s a new year (doesn’t 2010 feel like the future?!) and it’s a new you. As Pete blogged last week plenty of new year’s resolutions are being set. For many this may involve getting a better or job or getting paid more money. This post is for you. Hopefully by the time you’ve read this post you’ll have some ideas to turbocharge your career.
First, I present you with a brief personal history. There was some interest in reading this on twitter so hopefully it’s useful to you.
How I Became Head of Search at Distilled
I started out a few years ago stuck in a pretty mundane job working as a project manager. Actually, I wasn’t even a project manager I was a project assistant. My alternative job title may as well have been project manager’s tea-boy. It was reasonably well paid but mentally about as stimulating as being punched in the eye.
About this time Will & Duncan were just setting up the company that would eventually become Distilled and obviously Will was raving to me about this thing called the internet. Believing this to be the future, I decided to get a job working for the internet.
At this time, I didn’t really have any internet skills except hanging out in forums and playing poker online. Thankfully that seemed to be enough for me to get a job as a Digital Account Executive at a digital agency. This role involved doing account management for both web build projects but also SEO and PPC projects. Although I wasn’t actually doing any SEO, speaking to clients every day about their SEO and PPC campaigns quickly got me interested in what SEO was and how one did it. As I’m sure a lot of you can relate to, once bitten by the SEO bug there was no turning back. I started reading SEOmoz and other blogs and, if I’m honest, got a little bit obsessed.
This was a good thing for the company I was working for however as I started actively becoming involved in running the SEO projects for some quite big name clients. This was fun but ultimately I was still doing a fair amount of account management and my aim was to concentrate on doing SEO so I started looking around. By this time Distilled had taken shape, Will and Duncan had hired their first employee and had even got themselves some nice offices so it was (with hindsight) quite a natural time for them to start think about offering SEO. I jumped ship from my old agency and came to work for Distilled. Tally ho!
Now, technically, at this point I became Head of Search for Distilled, but with only 4 employees and a handful of small clients this wasn’t really too much to brag about. Still, I was able to immerse myself in SEO which was what I wanted and I was enjoying myself.
There was still much to learn at this stage – and although my job title hasn’t changed over the years my job role has changed quite dramatically and I feel like I’ve actually had several different jobs at Distilled as my role has evolved.
As Distilled grew up we hired Rob and Lucy to be SEOs alongside myself. Along with a little bit of hands-on work from Will and Duncan we functioned well as a close-knit team and we all managed our own SEO projects within Distilled, working together but as a pretty flat team. At this point, my
role as "Head of SEO" didn’t involve doing anything much different from Rob and Lucy. That said, the whole company was growing and we started to get on board bigger clients and do more consulting rather than just hands-on SEO for small businesses. This naturally involved more formal reporting, delivering client-side training sessions and putting together high-level reports that our clients could take to their board to influence decisions regarding their online strategy. Good times. Around this time I started to attend a few industry conferences and shortly after I started speaking at industry conferences.
So already my role has changed from managing small-time SEO projects to doing consulting for large companies. Recently, my role has changed again within Distilled – we’ve hired some more staff for our SEO team and I’ve started spending more time on managing a team as well as doing hands-on SEO and consulting.
Anyway, that’s my (far too long) personal story. Hopefully it’s helpful to get a glimpse at how to make the progression within this industry. Although I’ve been lucky that Distilled has provided a new role for me at every step of my career I could easily have taken those 3 separate roles within different companies.
10 Tips To Boost Your SEO Career
And now, without further ado, I present my 10 tips for professional development within the SEO industry. Note that I’m assuming you’re already working in SEO at some level. If you’re not, then I suggest you read Danny’s posts on learning SEO.
While you’re reading through this list you might want to motivate yourself by reminding yourself what you can earn at different job levels within the SEO indsutry.
1) Get Qualified
Although I’m not a huge fan of qualifications generally and certainly in the SEO industry they’re few and far between, but nevertheless – getting either GAIQ or Adwords qualified will look good on a CV and give you some valuable skills. Not to mention they’re pretty easy and cheap so totally learnable in your spare time!
2) Learn Some Secondary Skills
SEO, or more broadly internet marketing, covers such a wide range of topics, skills and industries that it never hurts to have more strings to your bow than just linkbuilding. Try teaching yourself some PHP or CSS. I recently learned a few CSS bits and pieces and they come in handy for styling blog posts (Rob gives a good intro to learning CSS for styling blog posts here).
A side project is a great way of polishing up all your secondary skills, in fact a side project looks great on a CV too as Judith demonstrates here: if your SEO is not moonlighting, fire them.
3) Craft a Kick-Ass CV
When thinking about applying for a job it’s crucial to create an astounding CV, but SEO doesn’t offer too many transferable skills does it? Think again. Instead of putting things like "linkbuilding" on your CV, take a look at Rand’s post on skills that have served him well. All those skills would stand out on a CV. Also worth taking a look at is Rand’s whiteboard friday on how to get an SEO job.
4) Do Some Agency Time
If you’re working in-house then that’s great and I’m in no way trying to suggest that SEOs who work at agencies are better at SEO. But, it has to be said that working agency side you get to work on many more industries than you would otherwise. You can work on news websites, ecommerce websites, lead gen websites and a whole lot more! Getting experience working on a broad range of sites can really help make sure you’re up to speed on all the different niches of SEO – whether it’s local, image search, video search or product search.
On the flip-side, if you’re working agency side then consider working in-house for a bit. You’ll get experience in reporting to a board as well as having to experience first-hand the challenges of getting buy-in from other departments. All useful experience.
5) Immerse Yourself in Excel
I’ve raved about Excel a lot in the past so I won’t do so again here. That said, there are two crucial skills that will help you get a better job and Excel can help both of them. They are reporting and data analysis. Reporting is essential whether you’re working at an agency and need to report to clients or are working in-house and need to report to a board or your boss. Data analysis is essential to ensure that your report is always positive (I’m only half joking here…!).
In summary, if you don’t know how to put graphs and charts into your reports then you won’t get very far, as this chart shows:
6) Present At A Conference
Presenting at conferences is good for so many different reasons. Networking, making friends, having fun, experience in public speaking etc etc. I really love speaking at conferences and you should too. Having it on your CV can really make you look like an expert. And actually speaking is easy – just watch out for the speaker submission forms at SES, SMX, Adtech and all the rest of the conferences and come up with an appealing pitch.
If that’s too daunting, then consider speaking at a smaller conference. I spoke at the first ThinkVisibility in the UK last year and it was only small but lots of fun. This year I’m speaking again and it’s going to be a fair size bigger! How did I get to speak? Simple, I saw Dom twitter about wanting speakers for his conference and sent him a DM. If you apply yourself it’s that simple.
Once you’ve been accepted to speak you’ll want to take a look at these presentation skills for SEO.
7) Make Friends (aka Networking)
Networking used to be something I hated doing. The idea of making small talk with others in your industry filled me with dread. Then I realised what an awesome bunch of people the SEO industry is and decided that actually it was fun to hang around them, swap emails, twitter etc etc and before I knew it I was networking. So get involved in the local SEO scene wherever you are. In London, that means getting yourself down to LondonSEO. By networking you’ll get to know who’s hiring, and more importantly whether they’re worth working for!
If you want to network slightly more officially then check out LinkedIn – you’ll be able to see upcoming job opportunities as well as raising your personal profile. Which brings me neatly to:
Build A Personal Brand
Building a personal brand is essential to getting a decent job, especially in the SEO industry. This xkcd sums it perfectly. There’s some great blog posts on this topic:
- WBF – building a personal brand
- The Layman’s Personal Branding Platform
- SEO Tips for Building Your Personal Brand
- The Ever-Snarky Rebecca Kelly’s Personal Branding + Networking = Job
In summary, get twittering and blogging with a username that’s recognisable and consistent.
9) Get Some Management Experience
Here’s where you might want to take your career to the next level. If you’re looking at trying to transition from an SEO consultant to someone who manages a team you’ll need to get some management experience. If there’s no opportunity for managing a team where you are right now then a great way to get a bit of experience is to get an intern. It’s an easy sell to your boss since you don’t need to pay them and it can look great on your CV.
For anyone who’s looking to try and up their game as an SEO manager then these two posts from Rich Baxter are essential reading:
10) Add More ROI To Every Project You Work On
As the internet grows and as the industry evolves we’re all moving towards becoming "online marketers" rather than just "SEO"s. Many of the skills that we know and love from SEO are applicable to other areas that can bring a client ROI. Two classic examples are email marketing and conversion rate optimisation. Get proficient at both of these and you’ll make yourself an all-round expert and hard to turn down for any kind of online marketing position. Here’s a few primers:
- Learning a little about email marketing
- WBF email marketing and SEO
- Google Website Optimizer 101 (the best page on CRO I know)
In conclusion I just thought I’d mention two things. Firstly, I’m not looking for a job so please hold the recruitment calls – I love working at Distilled and am extremely grateful to Will and Duncan for giving me the opportunity to make it through several iterations of "head of search", here’s to the next iteration! Secondly, everyone’s different but I strongly believe that it’s not all about the money. If you’re applying for a new job then please please try and work for a fun company and make sure that you’ll enjoy it. Your own enjoyment is far more important than just the $$/££ you’ll get paid. Seriously.