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How to Learn SEO and Find Your First SEO Job

John Doherty —  August 19, 2011
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*Post updated January 2012, originally published August 2011*

“I’m an SEO beginner and I want my first job.”

Is this you? Are you looking to find your first SEO job, but don’t know where to start? The SEO and online marketing industries are growing rapidly, with an incredible increase in the amount of jobs posted online:

We all need to know where to start when trying to learn a new skill, though, so allow me to give my thoughts from a couple of years of perspective.

Print and Read The Beginner’s Guide to SEO

SEOmoz (a website you must become familiar with if you are going to work in SEO) put out an incredible resource called The Beginner’s Guide to SEO. This guide, broken into multiple chapters, covers everything from the technical bits of websites to linkbuilding and how search engines work.

I have been carrying my copy around in my backpack for over a year and consult it often. Print it, dog-ear it, use it up, and then print it again. Trust me.

Build Your Own Website

Nothing has helped me learn SEO more than practicing it, which should come as no surprise. I built this website, in fact, to teach myself better how to launch and adhere to SEO best practices as I continue to write on and develop it. I learned how to buy domain names, direct them, implement meta tags and URL formats, and customize Analytics installs all through building this site. Developing your own site will also let you better learn HTML and CSS, and you can do some cool things with other coding languages if you desire (JavaScript, Python, etc).

Once you’ve built your first site, build another. Every time you launch a new website, you learn new skills or refresh old skills. Reminders such as the importance and work required to build an email list, optimize a site technically, implement OpenGraph tags, and more will constantly serve you well whether working inhouse or agency side. I recently relaunched SingleGeared.com, a side product, because I wanted to both make a site responsive and rebrand it, two things I had never done before. And I learned many important lessons along the way.

I highly recommend using WordPress, because it is relatively easy and quick to set up. The mass amount of available free plugins and enables you to customize your look and content on your site. The plugin I recommend most is Yoast’s WordPress SEO, because it is light and powerful. It fits all my onsite SEO needs.

Read Everything You Can

Subscribe to RSS feeds in your Google Reader or RSS reader of choice. Here are the sites I recommend to everyone:

SEOmoz
YOUmoz (SEOmoz’s User Generated blog)
Distilled
SEER Interactive (in Philly)
Ross Hudgens
Conversation Marketing (to learn about good content)
Google Webmaster Blog
Hugo Guzman’s blog
Jason Acidre’s blog

One of the best things I ever did was start using Flipboard to aggregate content from people that I trust. I followed the steps in this post and adjusted them for my content aggregation needs.

Get on Twitter, Get Involved

After building a site, getting some readers, reading a lot of blogs, and maybe doing some SEO on your mom’s puppy site, you need to get involved on Twitter. Many great conversations happen on Twitter, and that is also where you will hear about SEO jobs at great companies.

The trick to Twitter is that there is no trick. The SEO world is tight-knit and helpful, so you have to be friendly and helpful as well. If you can’t produce, you’ll move along pretty quick.

Get a Twitter name that is professional (no “MikeLovesBeer” handles here, except in rare cases) and start following some people. Engage them in conversation, ask good questions. Eventually you’ll gain some followers of your own.

One word of advice: don’t be afraid to be a bit personal, but build your online name first. I will sometimes tweet pictures now of dinner, or a beautiful sunset, but only do so now that people on Twitter know me, and I have met a lot of them in person now.

Go to Conferences

Conferences are THE place to learn incredible information, meet a lot of cool people in the industry, and yes, hear about job opportunities! I don’t care if you have to stow away on a cargo ship across the Atlantic; go to a conference. I found out about Distilled opening our NYC office when I went to the conference in London. My friend Curtis in the UK found a job there as well. Be nice, be personable, know your stuff, and don’t be afraid to approach the “big names”, because they are all great people and will help you to no end. Trust me.

I wrote a case study of increasing my Twitter following through conferences here.

Be Available for Work

People who do good work can always find work. There are endless amounts of freelance SEO jobs available for people who are willing to take the work on on the side. You don’t have to be an expert yet, but if you’re insatiably curious you will increasingly get better and provide more and more value for clients.

The key here is to be transparent. Let people know that you’re young and still learning, but that you’ll work hard. Because you’re less experienced, charge a lower hourly rate than high-paid experts would and get experience.

Also, build permission to do a case study, even an anonymized one, into your contracts. This way, you can show future clients what you are capable of doing, even if you can only tell the online vertical.

Best of luck to you!

Good luck. SEO/inbound marketing is a great field to be involved in, since the community is always excited by people who are excited and trying to add value. Engage, make friends, and have a ball.

Feel free to reach out if you have questions as well. One of my joys in life is helping others succeed.

John Doherty

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I'm the new (as of October 2013) Online Marketing Manager of Hotpads.com, soon to be based in San Francisco. Previous to Hotpads I worked at Distilled for 2 years as an online marketing consultant. In my spare time I shoot lifestyle photography, explore new and interesting food in New York, ski, rock climb, and update my Twitter and Google+ accounts.

15 responses to How to Learn SEO and Find Your First SEO Job

  1. Nice post. I’ve been meaning to ask you for a while – Does Distilled do summer internships?

    • We do in the UK. Thus far we have not yet in the States, but I’m sure it’s something we’d be open to.

      DM me on Twitter (@me if I don’t follow you yet) and we’ll get in touch.

  2. Whoa thanks for recommending my blog!

    This is definitely one of the coolest birthday gifts I received this year!

    As for my experience, I had to learn everything through constant reading and most importantly, applying the things that I’ve read/learned. I believe that the fastest way to really learn how things work in this industry is through application.

  3. There’s a space instead of a “.” in the Distilled blog link (www%20distilled.net/blog).

    Thanks for the resources.

  4. Hey John,

    Thanks for this post! I’m doing your 3rd point now “Read Everything You Can”, I need to have an extra hard disk space in my brain’s memory.

    Regards,
    Louie Sison DotCom – Affiliate blogger

    • Atta boy, Louie! I’ve realized that as I get further along in my SEO career, I read less and less, but those for 6-9 months of devouring everything sure has paid off!

  5. Great tips thanks

  6. oldie but goodie, Happy New YEar

  7. thank you very much for the information, I really need this information. may god bless you.

  8. Thanks for this, I never even considered an internship

  9. Moustafa Ahmed March 9, 2013 at 9:19 am

    Really good way for me i started practices as well as i can do
    Thanks very much :D :D

  10. Great post John,
    You have explained all the points while learning SEO, this will really help newbies understanding SEO in much better and in very short time. Thanks for sharing it with us.
    Keep it up and let such things share with us.
    Cheers to you…

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