What is an SEO specialist? Definition and responsibilities

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 13 April 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

There are around 5.6 billion search queries made on the internet every day. These queries provide millions of competing results. This has made search engine optimisation vital for visibility within a broad range of results. In this article, we explore what search engine optimisation is, explain what an SEO specialist does and their responsibilities.

What is an SEO specialist?

The primary role of an SEO specialist is to apply SEO techniques that can help a website rank higher in search engine results. Typically, this requires optimisation of a website for certain keywords relevant to the business, including them within the content on the site. Likewise, off-site SEO techniques, such as link building, help a website rank higher.

The end goal of an SEO specialist is improving a site's ranking to increase visibility and traffic, which can ultimately lead to more sales, downloads or views. While many industries regularly employ SEO experts, they're largely found in marketing firms, agencies or working as freelance professionals.

Related: How to become an SEO expert

What is search engine optimisation?

Search engine optimisation, typically abbreviated to SEO, is the concept of improving your website to make it more visible in search engine result pages (SERPs). SEO specialists do this by implementing techniques that search engine algorithms favour, prioritising a website or webpage. An SEO expert can help a website rank higher in search engine results by using a successful SEO strategy, leading to more visitors. The marketing industry commonly uses search engine optimisation to help businesses find more traffic or sell more products.

Related: What is a web crawler? (Plus definition and importance)

What are the different types of SEO specialists?

The term 'SEO specialist' is broad and can cover several disciplines, including:

Link builder

Backlinking has become increasingly important as search engines become more advanced. A website ranks higher by having more links from trusted sources. An SEO expert that focuses on link building works to create backlinks between their home site and other related, trustworthy websites. This role requires good people skills and a technical understanding of SEO.

SEO researcher

Search engine best practices constantly change and can be difficult to fully understand. Because the general public does not have full disclosure of search engine algorithms, a web researcher can help understand the impact that trends and updates have on a website. SEO experts in this role evaluate and optimise best practices used by link builders, developers and content writers.

Content writer

While this role requires less technical expertise than other SEO specialist roles, it's vital for helping websites reach higher rankings. The quality of a website's content is crucial for its ranking, being both informative and engaging. Most of the content produced in this role features keywords used organically and delivered in the format of web page copy, blog posts or articles.

Related: Content writer skills and how to develop them

Technical SEO

Technical SEO is the most knowledge-intensive role that a specialist can undertake. It requires a deep understanding of search engine algorithms, website coding and data analysis. This role typically requires someone with technical knowledge who understands programming and how search engines interact with websites.

Content marketer

Content marketing is a relatively new practice that helps businesses implement search engine optimisation while raising brand awareness. The role of a content marketer is to plan and distribute work created by a content writer to relevant websites or publications, creating a link back to the work. This position requires strategy-building skills and good communication with external partners.

What does an SEO specialist do?

While the daily tasks of an SEO specialist differ depending on the business, industry or specialisation, several primary responsibilities cover each channel. These include:

Search analysis

SEO specialists evaluate performance regularly to determine the next steps or potential resources needed to draw in more traffic. This requires an understanding of trend analysis and pattern recognition. This search analysis may involve the keywords the website uses, the layout of the site and the sort of demographics the site attracts.

Knowledge development

SEO is highly dependent on the behaviour of search engines. Because of this, the best practices for SEO vary frequently. A single large update from a search engine provider can be grounds for an SEO expert to rethink their strategy, so keeping up to date with these developments is essential.

Content generation

SEO specialists typically understand how to create content, or at least how to build a successful content strategy. Content is the cornerstone of any successful SEO strategy and content generation is a skill that affects multiple disciplines. This may include written content, images and video.

Keyword optimisation

Understanding and optimising keywords is an important way of ranking higher in search results. Most SEO specialists understand the tools and methodology around optimising for relevant keywords. They pass this information on to a content writer or web developer that implements the keyword optimisations into a website.

Related: Differences between broad match vs phrase match keywords

Website evaluation

A key skill for SEO specialists is being able to quickly identify the strengths and weaknesses of a website in terms of search engine optimisation. This usually happens before a rebuild or redesign, supported by an analysis of the content, layout, backlinks and overall site health. This allows them to plan changes that help build higher rankings.

Related: A quick guide on how to edit a website in 4 easy steps

Coding or programming

While this isn't mandatory, it's beneficial for SEO specialists to be proficient in CSS, HTML or JavaScript. These languages are all involved in more advanced SEO techniques and can help you stand out in a competitive market. Many programming languages have online courses that can help you enter the field.

Related: A guide to programming language popularity (With definition)

How to become an SEO specialist

If you're considering applying for an SEO specialist job, there are several specific requirements that employers look for. They include:

1. A related degree or online certification

While there's no national body or industry standard for SEO education, relatable degrees in fields, such as marketing, IT or business strategy, can help show an employer some transferable skills. It's also recommended that prospective SEO specialists consider completing an online SEO certification. Several top companies in the sector can help provide a fundamental understanding of the concept.

2. Experience in digital marketing

Employers often look for several years of digital marketing experience when choosing a potential SEO specialist. Many digital marketing positions can provide on-the-job training in SEO and other marketing and IT disciplines also utilise certain SEO techniques. Remember, an impressive list of work experience can be just as good as a formal degree.

Related: Seven popular digital marketing job titles (with salaries)

3. SEO concepts research

One of the best ways to become an SEO specialist is to build a routine of learning about the concept. Search engine optimisation is a fast-moving field of work that updates constantly, changing best practices. If you show a consistent understanding of the fundamentals and a willingness to stay on top of trends, you can build this into your application.

4. Practical SEO skills

Learning the practical side of SEO is a common way for SEO specialists to find entry-level jobs. Many SEO experts start in the industry by writing content or learning a programming language. Once you have practical SEO, it's much easier to learn the technical side, the impact SEO has and the skills needed to succeed in more specialist roles.

5. People management skills

SEO is a field that requires multiple stakeholders to make it work. SEO specialists work with web developers, management, content writers, designers, PR teams and social media experts to build a cohesive SEO strategy. This requires excellent communication and an understanding of how each channel can help drive rankings in the right direction. Freelance SEO professionals often work with clients that may not understand SEO concepts. This requires explaining advanced concepts simply and effectively to multiple stakeholders across a project.

Related: Guide to people management: skills for success

What other skills does an SEO specialist need?

While it's important to understand fundamental concepts as an SEO expert, other related skills help build success in the wider field. These include:

  • an interest in digital marketing and the evolution of SEO

  • a commitment to learning new technical skills and knowledge sharing

  • experience in working with social media platforms and how they can direct traffic

  • an understanding of the digital space, including how search engines and websites interact

  • a good understanding of the wider marketing context and the importance of engagement

  • strong analytical and reporting skills

  • experience in presenting information back to a (potentially) less skilled audience

  • coding experience in HTML, JavaScript or CSS

  • a background in content creation, journalism or blog writing

  • proficiency in data visualisation and long-term trend analysis

  • knowledge of web hosting

  • an understanding of PR and how to distribute a brand message


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