If you meet someone in search engine marketing (SEM) or search engine optimization (SEO) and ask them about their background, I’m willing to bet that they were self taught or that they “fell” into the industry. The reality is that there is very little opportunity for higher educational opportunities for young people to learn search engine marketing. Why? We’ve put together a list of 3 reasons why SEO isn’t taught in school and why it shouldn’t be:
1. The Nature of The Beast
The beast in this case is Google, and it is a very fickle beast. It’s estimated that Google changes their search engine ranking algorithms around once a day on average. This means that over 365 times per year, the industry rules are changed. Google’s big updates (Panda and Penguin) create industry wide earthquakes over night! At this pace there is no way educational instructors could ever keep up a current standard for curricula.
2. A Creative Game
SEO is an complex industry, in that it is a business built on data and metrics, but a large portion of the actual work is creative. As the industry moves away from focusing on link quantity and moves towards link quality, it will be imperative that SEO’s are doing top notch creative work (like content writing, blog posting, and outreach, for example). There are very few standards to evaluate how different agencies get good links, which would make teaching SEO “best methods” very difficult, if not impossible. Each SEO has their own style, secrets, and methods, which can’t always be reproduced.
3. A Bunch Of Tools
SEO, as a new and changing industry, has a competitive marketplace for analytic tools, programs, and software, where no particular company has emerged as the industry go-to. With so many different software options, it would be very difficult for professors to choose which platform to teach. Who is to say that one program is better than another? In many ways, it all boils down to personal preference or a history of using one platform.
So how then can you learn SEO in college without taking a single SEO course?
1. Study Marketing – SEO is generally a small part of a large marketing strategy, so it can help greatly to learn the rest of the puzzle by studying traditional marketing. A focus on learning marketing for small business would be ideal, as your first clients and experiences in the industry will likely be for small companies that are looking to stretch a limited budget.
2. Study Statistics – If you can learn how to work well with big data, analytics, and reporting tools, then you’ll be primed for a healthy career in SEO. Basic statistics courses should teach you how to interact with large sets of data and how to read trends in the numbers. It is also imperative that you learn to use Microsoft Excel (or something similar) as it seems to be the industry standard for compiling data sets.
3. Study Journalism – Matt Cutts will be happy to have journalism students coming into the SEO world. Fresh content is key, after all. Study up on grammar so that you really understand how to be effective (not “affective”) with your words. One thing that can instantly kill your relationship with a client is typos and poorly written content. Another good skill to develop is creative writing, because as an SEO, your end goal is to drive leads to your client. One of the best ways achieve this goal is with persuasive content. Learn how to use your words to describe, persuade, and shape the attitudes of potential customers.
4. Study Business - A large portion of people in the SEO industry work in small businesses, which means it can be very useful to understand the how small businesses work. In 2011, SEOmoz (now MOZ) released a study that shows that the overwhelming majority of SEO agencies employ 1-5 employees. If you can come into a small agency with a good understanding of business structure and growth, you can quickly become a very valuable asset to the company.
5. Study Design – Good SEO involves web design, branding, logo design, and advertising, so developing a keen eye for design can be hugely beneficial. Spend some serious time learning the Adobe Creative Suite and getting comfortable with making creative decisions. It is a huge bonus if you can graduate with a portfolio of design work (even if it is just spec work) that you can show to future employers (and even future clients).
6. Read SEO Books – Teach yourself SEO like many of us have. Find and read every book possible and be hungry to learn — if you’re still interested in search engine marketing after a few thick books, then I’m sure you’ll fit in well with the rest of us geeks. As I’ve mentioned before, SEO is a quickly changing business. To succeed in the industry, you must be willing to keep up to date with the newest information that is published. There are plenty of great SEO books out there, so I won’t waste my breath, but a good place to start is here.
7. Follow Industry Leaders – Many of the best and brightest minds in the SEO industry have personal blogs and social media profiles full of incredibly useful information. Some of my personal favorite bloggers include Matt Cutts (if you don’t know who he is, then Google him), Gary Vaynerchuck (a beast in social media), and the fellas at MOZ (particularly the White Board Friday segment). You can also follow industry sites like this one to get a wide variety of opinions and ideas from various experts in the industry.
8. Attend Conferences – There are countless conference opportunities hosted by leading search companies (such as Distilled) that can be perfect opportunities for learning and networking. I can’t stress how important it is to get out of the office and hit the streets to network. After all, the handshake was the predecessor to the “friend request”.