Want to go deeper in your specialization, open new doors and enhance your value as an SEO professional? Check out 10 skills that could help.
Many of us get to a stage in our careers as SEO professionals where we feel a little bit stagnant.
We’ve been optimizing sites for a while and feel pretty confident that we can do it well.. but there’s that nagging thought there’s more we could be doing.
That there is another layer of expertise that would make us more efficient, employable, and confident.
In this article, you’ll find 10 skills that can level up your SEO competency.
These aren’t necessarily essential skills for all SEO experts (you’ll find those here).
But developing these advanced SEO skills could help you go deeper within your specialism, become a more well-rounded marketer, and bump you into a new salary or freelance rate, too.
1. Intent Analysis
Intent analysis is the decoding of a user’s intention behind the keyword they enter into a search engine.
When someone types [pizza restaurant] into a search engine, what is the end result they are hoping for?
Do they want to know what pizza restaurants are nearby?
Are they in the market to open a pizza restaurant?
Are they looking for a job in a pizza restaurant?
Developing your understanding of the psychology behind what searchers want is a critical skill for those wishing to go further in their SEO competency.
This will help you both satisfy a user’s need when they land on a page and also increase your page’s likelihood of being ranked in their search.
It can’t just stop there, however.
You must also understand what the search engines perceive users to want from the content they are searching for.
For instance, from my location in the U.K., if I search for [pizza restaurants] in Google from my desktop device, I get a mixture of results.
I get the option to click through to search on other websites:
This is followed by the Map Pack and then a mix of review and editorial sites and restaurants’ websites.
If I am trying to rank a website all about the history of pizza restaurants in my country, I might struggle.
Google has identified the user intent as being either navigation – wanting to go to a local restaurant – or comparative, as in wanting to compare options in the local area.
Although SEO experts do not need to be fully-fledged developers, having an understanding of code can help you to identify issues with rendering, indexation, and crawlability.
There are times when knowing the basics of how code is created, or being able to read code that already exists, can help your SEO.
It can aid your communication with the developers who may need to change it.
It can assist you in pinpointing incremental improvements to your site’s performance.
Learning to code is not a prerequisite for SEO, but it is arguable that knowing the fundamentals of these three commonly used languages is going to set you up well for your career.
Understanding the syntax of code, how it is formed, and being able to see how elements relate to each other can also help you get better at writing and debugging schema.
Learning Python and SQL can also help you to streamline your SEO processes by enabling you to automate labor-intensive activities such as mapping URL redirects and keyword research.
3. Understanding Server Management
No SEO professional should really be the one responsible for ensuring that a server can handle a load of visitors to a site.
However, understanding the basics of how servers can impact the crawlability, load speed and reliability of a website can propel your technical SEO understanding forwards.
The use of CDNs instead of static servers can aid in speeding up content loading, but without understanding the limitations of fixed location servers it will be difficult for you to argue the need for a CDN.
A better understanding of how web hosting can affect a user’s experience of your site and also Google’s ability to access it is necessary for strong technical SEO foundations.
You need to understand how aspects like uptime and location can impact your site’s performance in the search engines.
This is only the beginning of how knowledge of servers can aid your SEO efforts.
Better knowledge of server codes beyond the standard 404 and 301 can help you to communicate to those in charge of your servers where there are critical issues.
Know what a 502 error is?
Encountered a 504 status code before?
If not, this might be a quick and easy area for you to brush up your knowledge.
A 5XX status usually means there is something wrong with the server that is preventing the processing of a request from the client.
A simple way to find out what status codes mean is to look at httpstatuses.com.
From here, you can identify whether it is an issue with the client or the server and find a fix accordingly.
4. Content Writing
Understanding the process of content writing is an important element of advanced SEO.
You may not be a great wordsmith yourself.
However, in order for you to better brief in copywriting for your colleagues who are, you need to understand what goes into a good piece of writing.
It isn’t enough to know that copy needs to be compelling and have sufficient relevancy to search terms used to discover it.
Get familiar with the process your copywriters go through in researching, writing, and editing their work.
This will help you to better ideate your own requests for copy.
Editing is another good skill to develop when working with content.
In many organizations, it is the job of the SEO specialist to take content created by others and optimize it further for the search engines.
In practice, this sadly can often result in well-written copy being butchered.
Adding keywords into the first couple of paragraphs to make them more keyword-rich might help you a bit with your rankings, but it could destroy your conversion and brand loyalty.
Learn how to take well-written copy and enhance it, not ruin it.
You may also benefit from having a conversation or two with your SEO copywriters and asking them for details of their process.
Better understanding how they go about copywriting could improve your abilities.
It could also streamline your processes when working together.
Being able to expertly communicate your progress, results, and reasoning behind your SEO work is crucial to being successful in the industry.
As an SEO expert, you are always juggling the needs and expectations of stakeholders, whether you’re working in-house, agency-side or freelance.
You will find gaining buy-in and budgets considerably easier if you know how to demonstrate the impact of the work you do.
Reporting isn’t just a case of adding labels to a graph or even noting down the cause of increases and decreases.
Truly good SEO reports allow readers to understand the context of the results, draw conclusions and make business decisions from them.
SEO professionals need to get really good at helping stakeholders understand the priorities and limitations of the work they recommend (as well as mistakes to avoid when reporting).
They also need to help their interested parties recognize how the work will benefit them via data visualizations and their objectives in the long run.
All of this can be achieved through well-constructed, clear, and truthful reports.
6. SEO Forecasting
Similar to the need to be good at explaining past results, experienced SEOs need to develop the ability to calculate likely outcomes.
SEO forecasting is a complicated science.
There are a lot of external factors that are hard to isolate and predict.
A change in competition, the market, or political situations could all cause well-thought-out estimations to go awry.
We should not be putting pressure on ourselves to accurately predict the exact volume of traffic, or visibility, our work might gain.
However, being able to put reasonable estimates and likely ranges into our recommendations can make the budget-holders a lot more reassured by the work we are proposing.
It isn’t enough to shrug our shoulders and cross our fingers when asked about outcomes.
We’re often requesting a lot of time, money and resources go into the activity were recommending.
SEO forecasting is a skill that will not only set you apart when looking for new roles or opportunities, it will also significantly improve the quality and reliability of your work.
7. Log File Analysis
Log file analysis is the process of understanding the records of who or what has accessed your website.
They can tell you when people have visited a page as well as what device they were using to do so.
They can also tell you when bots access your website.
This is particularly helpful in understanding Googlebot and other search engine crawlers’ behavior on your site.
By analyzing log files you can better understand what pages search engine bots can or can’t access.
You can identify where there may be spider traps on your site or the frequency at which certain sections of your site are being crawled.
Log files can appear daunting if you have not spent much time around them.
Thankfully there are some great tools available that make analyzing them a lot simpler than just wading through the naked log files.
Understanding what to do with the information once you have it is the real skill. If you know that a certain area of your site is rarely crawled by Google that should inform your technical SEO next steps.
It should raise questions about your internal linking structure.
Getting familiar with log files is a great first step but to improve your skills make sure you are analyzing the files and drawing actionable conclusions from them.
8. Website Migrations
Getting good at planning and executing website migrations is not easy. It really does take experience.
Many SEO professionals who have worked exclusively brand-side may find they simply have not had the opportunity to carry out that many website migrations.
If you face a particularly complicated one, such as multiple websites merging, it can be very daunting.
Chances are if you have spent any length of time in an SEO agency, you will have migrated a website or two.
It may have been a smooth process but more likely there were unforeseen complications that made the processing time and resource consuming.
There are not really just one or two skills involved in website migrations.
They are usually a complicated mix of stakeholder management, communication, planning, processes-driving, technical understanding, and knowing when to say no.
But the skills you develop during website migrations will help you enormously with the rest of your SEO career.
Participate in one if you get the chance.
It can give you a great (albeit high-pressured) opportunity to see multiple moving SEO parts in play at once.
9. Optimizing For Other Search Engines
If you truly want to advance your SEO skills, you might want to look further afield than Google.
We can often fall into the trap of thinking only about the traditional search engines when discussing SEO skills.
If we limit our training and experience to just these then we could be missing out on a much larger opportunity.
Traditional International Websites
Many search engines work on similar principles, but with their own specific nuances.
Traditional search engines more prevalent outside of your home region may be unfamiliar to you.
There are some great resources available to get you started in understanding the differences between them and the search engines you’re more familiar with optimizing for.
Nothing beats practice, however.
If you want to refine your knowledge and understanding of unfamiliar search engines then you need to try to rank a site in them and see what works and what doesn’t.
For search engines like YouTube, the mechanics may be more familiar to you.
You will, however, still need to learn more about the algorithms in play to ensure you are carrying out the right activity to optimize your video content for the platform.
Other Non-traditional Search Engines
Don’t just stop at YouTube if you’re really wanting to advance your SEO skill set.
Take a look at some other search engines, like Pinterest and TripAdvisor.
These sites may not fit into your current remit as an SEO expert.
They are however still search engines that you can influence the success of your content in.
10. International SEO
One of the most complicated projects an SEO might be involved in usually includes international elements.
It’s a complicated task because there are a lot of factors at play.
To optimize your website for international audiences you will need to employ technical SEO, digital PR, and on-page optimization skills.
There will be a range of questions you’ll need to ask yourself when you are considering expanding a website to international audiences.
These will include questions around the structure of the site – separate sites, sub-folders, or sub-directories?
Do you want to translate or localize the content? Do you want to target geography at the site or page level?
There are a lot of strategies and technical knowledge required to get international SEO right.
You may also need specific language skills or local knowledge resources.
Google has helpfully created an introduction to managing a multi-region website. It is a good place to start to identify the sorts of questions you should be asking.
You can also use it as a jumping-off point for further training or research.
This can help deepen your knowledge of the subject and sharpen your skills.
These are just a few of the skills you can develop to become a more pragmatic SEO professional.
Even if you don’t want to learn all of them, it helps to have an understanding of what they all are.
Even more so, how they can help round out your skill-set as an SEO expert.