I Analyzed 52 SEO Specialist Job Listings. Here’s What They Do and How You Can Become One

SEO specialists are responsible for improving a website’s visibility in organic search results. But what exactly do they do? What skills and qualifications do they need? And how can you become one?

To find out, I looked through 52 SEO specialist job listings on Indeed and SEOJobs.

Sidenote.

I only focused on job descriptions that asked for “SEO specialist.” That means no “SEO content specialist,” “technical SEO specialist,” and the like. (Though job listings for Senior SEO specialists were included.)

The most common responsibilities I found are:

Keyword research (90.4%)
SEO performance monitoring and analysis (75%)
On-page and content optimization (69.2%)
Reporting (67.3%)
Technical SEO (61.6%)
Collaborating with other teams (61.5%)
Staying up-to-date with SEO trends and Google updates (61.5%)
Develop an SEO strategy (55.8%)
Link building (53.9%)

Sidenote.

Given that it would have been impossible to check each listing for hundreds of potential responsibilities, I got ChatGPT to help. I gave it ten job posts from the list and asked it to identify the most common responsibilities. I then went through all 52 listings and checked how common each responsibility was.

It seems like SEO specialists are expected to do everything. Some listings even expect SEOs to run conversion optimization, and there were even listings where SEOs were in charge of PPC.

A lot to ask for, in my opinion, since there are people who actually specialize in each facet of SEO.

That being said, it could also be the case that most of these job listings are in-house. According to my colleague Despina, who has been an SEO specialist herself, it’s more common for an in-house SEO specialist to be an all-rounder since they’re often either the only person doing SEO or part of a very small team where versatility is rewarded.

Despina reminds us:

The way I see it, being an SEO specialist isn’t about what you do. It’s about the results you’re accountable for, i.e., growing organic visibility and, ideally, organic revenue. Today, you might plan technical, content, and link-building tasks to help you get there. Tomorrow, it might be brand building, UX, or even CRO tasks.

Here are the common skills I saw:

Experience with SEO tools like Google Search Console and Ahrefs (75%)
Communication skills (61.5%)
Knowledge of SEO best practices, SEO trends, and how Google works (57.7%)
Analytical skills (48%)

Sidenote.

I also enlisted ChatGPT’s help to answer this question, using the same methodology as before.

Interesting note

Of those who asked for experience with SEO tools, 38% asked for experience with Ahrefs. So if you want to be prepared for the SEO specialist role, you’ll need to get familiar with our toolset.

There’s no better way to do this than to actually play with the tool, so I highly recommend signing up for a free Ahrefs Webmaster Tools account and, later on, one of our paid plans. If you want to dive even deeper into our toolset, I also recommend taking our free certification course.

Again, this corroborates Despina’s experience. Here’s what she said:

It’s a mix of soft and hard skills that most employers tend to look for in my experience. These soft skills are increasingly valuable: communication, initiative, the ability to learn and adapt quickly, time and project management, and the ability to handle and make sense of lots of data. For hard skills: ability to put a strategy together and the ability to recommend SEO actions.

One thing I found interesting was that there were two job listings that specifically requested experience with AI tools.

Although it was only a teeny tiny sample (for now), I see it as a sign. AI skills—specifically related to using AI for SEO—will become more important in the future.

Good news: You likely don’t need one since 61.5% of the job listings did not ask for a college degree.

For the rest, they typically ask for a bachelor’s in SEO (does that exist?), marketing, business, or something related. This jives with what Despina has seen, too.

Even so, I don’t think you have to disqualify yourself from a particular listing just because you don’t have a degree. After all, Despina has a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Sociology and Education. No doubt it’s a degree, but it’s as far as you can imagine from being related to SEO.

You’d be better off worrying about how to gain actual SEO experience.

What about SEO certifications? Disregard. They’re not important at all. Only three job listings asked for them.

Both agencies and companies hire SEO specialists.

However, according to our sample, there is currently more demand for in-house SEO specialists (63.5%) than at agencies (36.5%).

One reason might be that the term “SEO specialist” is used interchangeably with “SEO consultant” or “SEO expert” in the agency world, at least according to my colleague Chris Haines, who has ten years of SEO agency experience.

He also noted that agency roles are typically more hierarchical and have this common progression (in UK agencies):

As you can see, there’s no “SEO specialist” role in a standard agency career ladder.

The most common annual salary range we saw was $50,000 – $54,999. This was followed by $45,000 – $49,999 and then $40,000 – $44,999.

This is in line with Despina’s experience, who said a junior SEO specialist makes around AU$60,000 – $70,000 (~US$40,000 – $46,000). It also corresponds to our SEO salary survey, where the median salary was $49,211.

The one outlier number (>$100,000) was a senior in-house SEO specialist role at a tech company. They required a minimum of five years of SEO experience.

Among the job listings I looked at, barely any were entry-level. Most of them required at least a year or more of SEO experience.

This creates a catch-22: You need work to get experience, but you can’t get experience without work.

How, then, can you become an SEO specialist? I turned to Despina and Chris for answers.

1. Learn the basics of SEO

You don’t need to be an expert to get an internship (or even a job), but you do need to know a bit about SEO. So, kickstart your education by learning the basics of SEO.

There are so many free SEO courses these days, so you won’t even have to worry about your wallet. I recommend starting with our free SEO course for beginners, which covers everything you need to know, from keyword research to technical SEO. If you prefer reading, then you can read our free beginner’s guide to SEO.

That should give you a good grounding of the important SEO fundamentals and principles.

2. Build your own website

There’s no better way to gain immediate practical experience than by building your own website.

In the end, SEO is a practical skill. There’s no amount of reading and watching that will prepare you for reality than actually doing the thing.

Building a website and optimizing it for search will teach you how to navigate content management systems like WordPress, gain experience with SEO tools (you can always start with free ones), and practice each aspect of SEO. All important things you need to know in your future as an SEO specialist.

3. Get an internship at an SEO agency

Despite most job listings being for in-house positions, both Despina and Chris recommend that you get an internship at an agency.

Why? Three reasons:

Agencies typically have a coaching process for interns. That’s a great way to be trained from scratch in everything SEO.
Agencies allow you to be exposed to a variety of SEO experiences across different clients, whereas you’ll be more “specialized” in an in-house role.
There is a chance you’ll be the only SEO person in an in-house role, especially if you’re working for a small business or startup. You’ll still have to figure out everything yourself without any mentor’s guidance. I had this experience myself in my first job—I joined a startup as a marketing intern, and I was the only marketer.

To find internship opportunities, go to LinkedIn or Indeed and search for “SEO intern” or “SEO graduate.”

You can set up alerts for these positions so you’ll be notified of new ones in your inbox.

Work hard, gain experience, and you may find yourself converted into a full-time role. Or use the work experience to apply for future jobs as an SEO specialist.

What happens next after you’ve successfully become an SEO specialist? It depends on your goals and how you see your career panning out.

Nevertheless, I asked Despina and Chris, and these are the common progressions most SEO specialists take:

Become an SEO lead

You can aim to get promoted within the agency or become an SEO lead/head of SEO in an organization with larger SEO teams.

In a sense, this is the most straightforward, as you’re simply climbing the SEO career ladder.

If this is the path you’re interested in, the good news is that Chris himself was an SEO lead in an SEO agency. He wrote an article sharing ten tips that advanced his career and helped him become an SEO lead. I highly recommend reading it to learn what made a difference in his career.

Become an SEO consultant

Being a consultant will likely earn you more money and give you more control over your time. But it’s not for everyone. As Despina says:

Consulting takes more entrepreneurial skills than working for someone else. You’ll need to sell yourself or focus on building your personal brand.

You’ll have to get used to putting yourself out there, selling, facing rejection, handling all sorts of administrative work (e.g., accounting, taxes, etc.), and more. If knowing this doesn’t faze you, then it could be a path you consider.

Read the guide below to learn how Nick LeRoy transitioned from an SEO employee to a full-time SEO consultant.

Start your own agency

If you have entrepreneurial ideals or dream of being your own boss, this could be a potential progression.

However, I’ll quote Despina again here:

This is not an immediate next step. You progress into this after consulting for a while, and you get so busy that you need to hire more people.

You also have to know that starting an agency likely means no longer doing SEO. Plenty of agency owners I’ve talked to spend most of their time managing people, handling admin, and selling. If your love is SEO and not running a business, then reconsider this path.

One final note: No matter how many inspiring stories you’ve read, know that being an entrepreneur is no easy task. Every story you’ve read is a victim of survivorship bias, and the world is littered with agencies that did not work out. However, if hearing this makes your passion burn brighter, then hey, this could be for you.

Final thoughts

Whether you’re an SEO specialist, SEO consultant, or run your own agency, three things are true:

SEO changes fast — Stay updated with what’s happening with Google, its competitors, and the industry itself. Follow smart SEOs on X and LinkedIn, participate in SEO communities, and attend SEO conferences.
Never stop learning — You can always improve your SEO skills or soft skills like managing a team, being an effective leader, and more.
Always be networking — Humans are ultimately social creatures. We want to work with people whom we trust and can vouch for. Making friends in the industry can alert you to the latest SEO tactics, find valuable people to hire and partner with, commiserate when things aren’t going well, and celebrate when things are.

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