My first job in digital marketing was as an SEO Specialist. I had zero previous SEO experience, so the startup that hired me took a risk when they offered me a job.
That was over five years ago. Since then, I’ve had quite a few friends and random people on the internet ask me how they can get started in SEO — sometimes just to learn the skill, but more often with the goal of becoming an SEO Specialist at an advertising agency or in-house for an ecommerce company.
Since you’re reading this, I’m going to assume you don’t have any connections in the industry to hook you up with a starter job (that is the best solution, but you already knew that, so I’ll save that part for the end).
Here is what I recommend if you’re starting from nothing.
1. Read Moz’s Beginner’s Guide to SEO.
This is about as newbie-friendly as it gets. I can still remember how, when I first started in SEO, everything I read about the subject seemed like it was written in another language. To be fair, Moz’s beginner’s guide is like that too, but it’s better than everything else.
You don’t have to understand everything during your first read-through. Read through it quickly to get the gist, then read through it again slowly to understand how the various subtopics work.
If you still don’t get it, that’s ok. I didn’t. Just keep going.
2. Get certified at HubSpot Academy.
HubSpot has some of the best free courses I’ve taken on organic digital marketing. They’re in video format too, so if you learn better that way, then some of the stuff you read in Moz’s beginner’s guide is likely to finally click here.
You’re welcome to get certified in all of their courses, but make a point to take their content marketing and inbound marketing courses. Those are the most applicable to SEO. Combined, they’re several hours long, so block out a Saturday or prepare to spend a couple hours every day throughout the workweek.
When you’re done, add these certifications to your resume. Don’t get cocky — they don’t mean that you know what you’re doing; they just prove you’re not a total idiot.
3. Learn basic HTML with Codecademy.
Yes, you need to learn how to code. HTML isn’t hard. Codecademy’s Introduction to HTML course is very newbie-friendly. Go through the course then add HTML as a skill on your resume.
4. Get certified in Google Analytics.
Google Analytics is a monster. It took years for me to learn, and I still learn new things when checking my own web analytics or for clients. It is the standard in digital marketing for website analytics software, so even if the company where you end up working uses something else, having a Google Analytics certificate looks good.
The Google Analytics exam isn’t hard, but you should go through their beginner and advanced courses to prepare. It’s a good idea — not only to do well and pass the test, but because there will be real situations where clients ask you simple analytics questions and you should know the answer.
Once you’re certified, slap that on your resume too.
5. Build and rank your own website.
It’s possible that you could skip this step and still get a job in SEO, but if other applicants have experience managing a website and you don’t, the agencies and companies you’re applying to will probably choose them over you.
The best way to learn SEO is by doing it. It’s hard to practice SEO without a website. So build one. Take everything you’ve learned from these resources and test it out. Include it on your resume as an example of your work.
Look on Meetup and Facebook for local tech events. Attend and explain how you’re trying to get into the industry.
Be prepared to work on the side for crappy pay to prove yourself. Digital marketing agencies are often open to giving you a job, but might not have enough work to support a full-time position. SEO is a fluid skill that supports alternative work arrangements.
Eventually, you’ll be able to work how you want, but it might not start that way, so accept what you can get and level up as soon as you’re able.