The SEO career kickstart guide : how to get a job in SEO

by on 16th October 2008

You might not have dreamt about getting a job at an SEO agency when you were a kid, but you can make it pretty cool if you really want to. Everyone I know in SEO loves SEO and their job, and if they’re not all that happy with who they’re working for, they won’t have any problems moving to another, better-paid role whenever they want.

Recruiting an experienced, reliable SEO analyst, manager or consultant is quite a challenge for an employer. Truth is, there’s still a huge gap in the jobs market for candidates with the right CV’s. If you’re a graduate looking to move into online marketing, you could do very well for yourself in SEO. Here’s my guide to getting a job in search engine optimisation and making a rockstar career for yourself.

Stage 1 – Pull together some basic skills

If you want to get an edge over the other applicants for your first role there are some skills that will put you leagues ahead of the others. Being able to look at a website and show an understanding of the basic SEO principles that underpin its success (or failure) is a great first step.

As an employer, I’ve found myself drawn to graduate CV’s with words like blog, HTML, CSS, SEO, WordPress, Analytics and so on. So, time to brush up on those skills! It’s all very well having the words on your CV but can you demonstrate how you have used them?

So, if you want to be more or less guaranteed to get the interview and sail it, here’s what you should do:

Start a blog in a platform like WordPress or create your own, basic website. As Danny at SEOmoz puts it:

“Before diving into SEO techniques it is important to know the basics of web development.”

I couldn’t agree more. For me, I would always go with a blog platform like WordPress, because you get the chance to tweak the site for SEO and write about something you care about at the same time. That said, it really doesn’t hurt to understand the basics of creating a page in HTML, using a CSS stylesheet and FTPing your work to a host site.

Ultimately, providing a blog or basic site url on your CV will look really good. If you’ve got friends in the business, and they happen to have a website, offer up some free SEO advice to them – many small companies are on a really tight budget and will be willing to learn with you. Just be clear and set their expectations properly.

One of the other good reasons to use WordPress is that it’s really easy to tweak using plugins. Here’s a guide to get you started and a list of the best WordPress hosts we recommend. One of the first things you should do is set up a Google Analytics account and go get Joost De Valk’s Analytics for WordPress plugin. Suddenly you’ve got a powerful, free analytics tool that is usable enough to easily teach you some of the basic metrics of website performance. This is important, if you can talk confidently about search engine traffic, bounce rates, keywords and define all of those metrics you see in the Google Analytics dashboard then you’ll be fine.

Stage 2 – Read up on basic SEO and start to apply it

You’ve got a lot of reading to do, but don’t let that put you off! There are a few really good websites that can give you a solid kick start into the industry. One of the places I really learnt about SEO was SEOmoz. The Beginner’s Guide To SEO is still one of the most definitive and complete guides to the fundamental principles of SEO. It’s not a static document either – it has been recently updated as techniques have developed. It’s best to read a few pages a day and try to implement each idea into your new website. For example, after you’ve read the URLs, Titles and Meta Data section in the guide you might want to refer to Yoast.com’s WordPress SEO guide and read up on how to apply optimised meta titles to your site. That WordPress guide is extremely useful stuff and working through both will practically give you an understanding of SEO and show you how to apply it. You might also want to try out Aaron Wall’s SEObook, who has a suite of free tools and lots of blog history to catch up on.

If you’re a quick study and you like to read, it might be time to start visiting a few of the better-recognised SEO industry websites. I recommend to all beginners that they should start keeping an eye out for the best bloggers and most authoritative sources of SEO news quite early on. It really helps in an interview if you can talk about SEO sites that you visit regularly and explain why you like them. Mentioning one good site is great but knowing a few is really good. If you’re using an email client that has an RSS reader or if you use Google Reader you should definitely consider adding RSS feeds from these sites below:

SearchEngineLand – Search Engine Land: Must Read News About Search Marketing & Search Engines.

SEOmoz – SEOmoz: Read SEOmoz, Rank Better. Great guides and a wealth of thousands of thought provoking blog posts.

SEObook – SEO Book.com is a leading SEO blog by Aaron Wall covering the search space. It offers marketing tips, search analysis, and whatever random rants come to mind.

Search Engine Roundtable – The pulse of the search marketing community.

Matt Cutts – Gadgets, Google, and SEO. Matt has been the head of Google’s webspam team for as long as I can remember. Excellent background reading spanning back a long time.

There are of course, many more recommended sites than this. Check out this post for a great list of bookmarks. If you’re feeling really brave then you could download the OPML file from Toprankblog’s Search Marketing Biglist – be prepared to delete a few though as they’re not all 100% relevant to pure SEO! If you want to download a thinned down version, you can download my OPML file here.

So you’ve read up on SEO and you have experience in applying it to your own website. What next? Links.

Stage 3 – Understand the fundamentals of linkbuilding

Some SEO’s feel that linkbuilding is the hardest part of their job. The best SEO’s I know founded their career in linkbuilding! Being able to discuss how to get links on the internet will really tick some boxes with your interviewer. Try reading this beginners guide to linkbuilding first and then check out the ideas below. You should examine each closely, and try to give a real life example of how you’d apply the technique in your interview:

– Genuinely original, link worthy content – add value for users, answer questions, demonstrate value ad original thinking and you’ll attract links.

– Link bait – hilarious quotes in images of cats looking inquisitive or just plain stupid? Sounds like link bait. For a proper run down of link baiting techniques, read this and this and this and this.

– Article websites – Articlesbase.com for example. Sadly, they’ve started to nofollow links.

– Directories – debatable value lately, especially as Google, have removed “directories” from their Webmaster guidelines but still, here’s a useful article on the top directories you should submit your blog to.

There are lots of other ways to attract links and there’s lots of really good content on the subject, try downloading “Link building notes of an SEO Kindergartner” from this article.

Stage 4 – Tools and resources for the job

I’ve just started to read through this incredibly detailed list of useful tools for SEO – The Internet Marketing Handbook. It’s an amazingly complete list and I get the feeling I’ll be referring back to it on a regular basis. It’s already added to my favourites!

Stage 5 – Start applying for jobs

Your next move is absolutely vital. Search for a recruitment agency who understand SEO and in this case, graduate recruitment. Agencies like The Graduate Recruitment Company in London or take a look at jobs boards like jobsinsearch.com. Obviously, not everyone reading this article will be looking for SEO jobs, in the London area but there are lots of recruiters all over the UK searching for junior candidates with the right skills and attitude, so remain confident!

Speak to every agency you find, and ask questions related to the training and support you’ll receive from each of the potential employers advertising for SEO roles. You should look out for progressive agencies who will look after your training and development and give you all the support you need to succeed. Ask questions about the conferences and training they will allow you to attend and the tools at your disposal to do your job. Listen out for SMX and SES as a yardstick measure of whether you’ll be sent to good events. Obviously, there are many more conferences across the world – so take a look at this conference calendar to get  an idea of what’s going on and where.

Stage 6 – the Interview

There are lots of websites with example SEO interview questions. Try not to worry, you’re applying for junior roles, remember! As long as you’ve soaked up the ideas above, you’ll nail an interview. That said, here’s a few example questions from me.

– Tell me about your blog. What features are optimised for search engines?

– Explain what factors might influence how a page ranks on a Google search page.

– Tell me how you would get more links to your website (I might ask for a specific example, say a car enthusiast or a recruitment company)

– What metrics might be important to a search engine marketer?

See! Pretty easy if you’ve read all of this. I hope my article has been useful and if you’re considering joining our community then I wish you all the best of luck. It’s a great industry and it can be a great deal of fun. Happy SEOing! ;-)


  1. Amazing! I did complete many of these steps to become a junior SEO at Base One Group. Great article.

  2. @Chelsea – thanks Chelsea! Let me know if you think there’s anything to add

  3. Great Article!

    Seeing how other people learn SEO provides me with great insight on ways to learn more about SEO. On the same note, it was helpful that you linked out to a variety of sources to show other perspectives.

    BTW love how you changed the background of the articlesbase no followed links. Made me stop and think because my nofollow highlighter extension was off. Well done!

  4. @Danny – Thanks for dropping by! Yeah you can either highlight nofollows with Joost’s greasemonkey script or use Chrome edit – for the life of me I can’t find the instructions for that! See you soon.

    @Tony If you’re good you can have a successful career doing anything you like!

  5. Great post. I’m glad I came across this one. Thanks for putting together all these links to useful resources. Richard, how do you think a non-grad (at least in a related field) would fare in the SEO world compared to say a business or marketing grad.

  6. @Wes – the great thing about SEO is that you don’t have to have a degree to do it! I’ve seen this point proved time and time again. If you have related experience, great because SEO is a skill you learn from an industry, others around you and your own experiments. There’s no such thing as a degree in SEO and even if there was, you can’t beat real experience. Good luck!

  7. I also remember the Whiteboard Friday post over at SEOMoz on “How To Get An SEO Job” – http://www.seomoz.org/blog/whiteboard-friday-how-to-get-an-seo-job It’s certainly worth adding to the list of resources.

  8. @Matt

    Thanks Matt, I’ve seen the video – can’t believe I left it out! I’ll add when I get a second.

  9. Gaz – i started in seo on £20k (i had done a few freelance sites by then and got a clothing retailer into google top 10 for competitive phrases) and a year later left and went to another employer and got 28k.

  10. Richard, this is a goldmine of SEO resources.

    Everything I know about SEO has been self-taught over the last 6 months. I’ve looked for trainee SEO jobs and applied for a few vacancies where experience has been stipulated and got nowhere.

    It seems really difficult to get your foot in the door.

  11. @Mark – Keep trying. You’re obviously headed in the right direction – I’d suggest two things.

    1) ask for feedback after your interviews. What areas could you improve in? Take everything they say boldly – some of the feedback might be hard to hear, but could really help you.

    2) Look in areas outside of Manchester for work. Have you considered applying for jobs further south?

    Hope that helps and good luck

  12. Richard, I really appreciate your very fast response.

    I’ve not even managed to get to the interview stage yet! I’m 49 and have been teaching myself SEO. It really started to pee me off that I was being knocked back all the time. My seomanchester.org.uk site was a bit of a challenge I set myself to see how well I could rank a new site against the SEO professionals in Manchester. Sour grapes I know but it’s helped!

    I’ll just keep learning and doing my own thing. I’m going to concentrate on building my own niche affiliate websites.

    I’ve subscribed to your feed and will be regularly checking on your site. I’m really glad I stumbled across it this evening.

  13. Mark,

    Can I suggest spending some time getting to grips with PPC also? Having both SEO and PPC skills is a real asset, and most of the SEO jobs out there right now kinda want this duality. Core SEO is still a must, but having some solid knowledge of PPC can really add that little bit extra. Plus all the skills you’ve picked up for SEO are applicable to some degree. It’s a natural extension and demonstrate a further passion for search engine marketing.


  14. Hi Nate, thanks for your advice.

    I have dabbled on a small scale with PPC without too much success. I suppose that as it appears to be a fast way to lose your shirt if you’re not careful that I’ve not given it much priority and stuck to SEO methods of generating organic traffic.

    Can you recommend any resources for learning PPC?

  15. There’s plenty of tips around on the net and many dedicated resources. To be honest most of us in this industry learn by speaking with peers and generally trying stuff out, the same way that you have with SEO. You might even benefit from taking some training in PPC with a reputable training program.

    Sign up and engage in forums and groups wherever you can. Post questions and ask for opinions. SEOers are a vain bunch, and like to demonstrate mastery. You can learn from this. Same for PPC. Attend conferences if possible and affordable. Lots of good info for the beginner is given away there. If you can’t attend, wait for the slew of blog posts that come out after an event.

  16. Thanks Nate.

  17. Hello Richard,
    First of all I congratulate you for this awesome article targeted for SEO newbies.I have very keen interest to learn SEO and would like to build up my career in SEO very soon. Please suggest me the main factors that must I follow to strengthen my SEO career. What are the job roles available in SEO industry ? What are the career options available after one completes the SEO training ? Which country provides better job opportunities in SEO sector ? How abt the salary outlook in SEO ?

    Thanks & Regards,
    Mit Saipen

  18. Excellent article Richard, especially as this is pretty much how I got started in SEO. F.A.O Mit & Mark – the key is to keep going, all the basic pointers are detailed as above but be careful over the fact that some websites, like some Media companies, can be out of date regarding SEO techniques so its best to search around (try job sites such as Total Jobs). Web Confs has a good SEO quiz to test you as you learn or you can run the risk of continually p@ssing in the tent.

  19. Nice post, very useful information on SEO and career in SEO. Thanks for sharing such information with all of us.

  20. Everyone who works in SEO will, at one point or another, have to work with a client. Some roles involve daily conversations, so one of the key things that we look for in a candidate is someone who can explain things clearly, be open and honest and who has an understanding of commercials. It doesn’t come naturally with a lot of SEO’ers so it’s one key skill that could help you stand out from the crowd when you get in to an interview.

  21. This is a great post to give people information on SEO. I’m glad you have includede SEOMoz becasue this is an excellent place to get info on SEO

  22. Good write-up and good post, its important for people to bear this sort of stuff in mind when conducting SEO-we are on the top of an SEO boom right now in the UK and the above mentioned will be extremely useful for any beginner and intermediate SEO in the game today.

  23. Very useful information and definitely still valid in 2010.

    Thanks for the information.

    • Backlinks are ?nother vital aspect ?f th?? process. These ar? nothing but incoming links from other websites t? b? ?f u?e in

      yours. It ?? a good option t? look at backlinks as the primary tool, however, link building i? al?? good enough.

  24. Well done. You have created a timeless post, this is a high quality resource for beginners in SEO. I agree on many points, especially understanding the basics and then practicing it – experience is the best way and will be a positive point to an employer.

    I wish I had found this a lot sooner, although I got lucky anyway! People shouldn’t be wary of taking a “lower end job” in an SEO agency, if you have the knowledge and passion you will quickly rise up.

  25. Excellent information and great links too – well researched.
    I moved into IT just over two years ago having switched from a career in a real hard-nosed, competitive sales industry. I managed to get two MS certifications and work in a support based role – I can’t stand it! I feel totally out of place amongst geeks who posses no social skills whatsoever.

    My hobby is writing and I’ve been published several times – I also have blogs and sites and I’m trying to learn SEO (this site will definately help). I spent over 10 years in a customer facing business where personality opened the door for you. Here’s my dilema: At 41 years of age, am I too old to look for work in SEO? Is it a young person’s business when starting out?

  26. Thanks for the tips. I’m just starting out as a self employed/freelance SEO so its good to know what employers are looking for incase it all goes pear shaped and I can’t find any work lol.

    The links you have posted are cool too, my girlfriend wanted to know what it was all about so I got her to learn basic SEO by reading Brad Callens SEO Made Easy, and Aaron Wall’s SEO Book.

  27. Wow, where to start. If we’re recommending books may I suggest The Art of SEO for another up to date SEO adventure? Terrific introduction that covers just about everything.

    I only started in this industry around a year and a bit ago and I think the steepest learning curve for me was overcoming my own arrogance. There is so much more to SEO than some would have you believe and I’ve been very fortunate to land in an agency that encourages a lot of training on all aspects of SEO. Finding a good agency is crucial – it’s amazing how quickly you can progress in this sector, even at a young age.

  28. Really informative and a very good post. Must Read for All Beginners. However the answers to your example questions would have been nice! :)

  29. Great Resources for anybody looking to get into SEO. I worked for an internet marketing company and learned the so called art of SEO. So much so that I started my own company as the one I was working for went into administration. Since those days I have built a great client base and results to prove my worth. For those looking to get into the industry I would go it alone build your website and prove your worth. You can’t beat results to show your experience. Bookmarked!!

  30. Great article and you have inspired me to battle on until I make the transfer from some digital markeitng experience into SEO.



  31. nice list there, i think i need to add it to instapaper to read later. I have finally got the handle on seo, content curation, viral marketing, yet the irony is, its a sunny day amd im sitting at a computer thinking id like to be outside..hmm. Lets get mobile

  32. Thanks for this info, this will all come in very handy for me as I currently work in SEO and I am always looking to pick up more knowledge and info along the way.

  33. Wow. Thanks for writing this article. I’ve been looking for an article like this for quite sometime! Its been quite helpful.

  34. Great tips. You any advice on getting on when you’ve some experience? I often feel accused of getting set in my ways :( I’m not though, honest!

  35. great article. yes i think this advice will be very good for trainee seo.

  36. Do you have to be a uni graduate to get a job in seo? I have been free lancing but would like to join a firm and get a professional career in seo?

  37. Too much Information at a place. Old article but still worth reading.
    Excellent work done by you guys

  38. Would a 28 year old looking to change careers be able to follow this to get a job in the SEO field?

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