6 Must-Have Technical SEO Skills an SEO Professional Should Have

SMS Text

Ask any number of kids what they want to be when they grow up, and at least one will point out an obvious answer: astronaut. Actually, it’s pretty likely at some point most kids wanted to be astronauts. And yet we don’t see many roaming around. Why? Because becoming one is notoriously difficult.

First, you need a degree in engineering, math, or science. It would also help your cause to have either a military background or to a piloting license. Add an avid interest in mountain climbing, scuba diving, or skiing while you’re at it. Then, make sure you can pass a rigorous set of physical and psychological exams. Oh, and be the best at something else other than all that previous stuff. Congratulations! You might get a chance to go to an interview. Maybe that’s one reason we don’t see that many astronauts.

But the idea of a generalist background extends to more than the exotic job of being an astronaut. Many other professions are similar. To attend law school in the US, you need to already have a bachelor’s degree. A significant number of film schools offer formal training for film directors, but only as a master’s degree.

Job specialization has been the default framework for the past few decades, but today you can also notice a subtle shift towards a combination of general and specialized knowledge. One such area of intersection seems to be the SEO field, where marketing meets programming. They don’t have to meet, of course, but their interaction is what really makes you an SEO professional.

So what is expected of you in order to be considered a true SEO “expert”?

1. An Analytical Mind

The most fundamental requirement is actually not a technical one. You can learn to code and be fairly good at it, and you can get used to all the tech talk, but at the end of the day it’s not about the syntax or about the libraries, it’s about being able to solve problems. Knowing what information is necessary and how to gather it, being able to understand it, map it in the context of a larger framework, noticing patterns, understanding long-term effects of particular decisions, having a knack for solving puzzles…the list goes on and on. These skills (some come naturally, but most can also be developed and nurtured) come into play at each and every step of the SEO process. Technical SEO skills will allow you to make ideas come to life; an analytical mind will help you come up with those ideas in the first place.

You don’t necessarily need to switch jobs or focus entirely on programming, or assume that there’s no such thing as a marketer anymore. In fact, original ideas are still your best asset in the online world. But while a creative mind can be a wonderful spring of ideas, what you’re really looking for is a sustainable system of irrigation.

And only analytical thinking skills can give you that. Focus on short-term gains and build your strategy around passing fads and you will find yourself working more than you should every time Google rolls out an update to one of its algorithms. Ignore the signals in the sea of information noise and you will miss out on tremendous opportunities to grow and thrive. Run away from mazes and puzzles and you will have a horrible time every time you have to debug or optimize your site architecture. The best way to excel at what you do is to like what you do.

6 Must-Have Technical SEO Skills an SEO Professional Should Have

Photo credit https://www.flickr.com/photos/mazz78/5554401004/sizes/z/

2. HTML Coding

Most articles about what tech skills SEO experts should have agree HTML coding is one of the very basic prerequisites. While this is by no means enough, it is pretty much indispensable to your job. SEO is a whole new beast nowadays, not just about keywords or linking. But in a deeper sense, it hasn’t changed much, as it has always been about the same thing: building sought after web sites.

And the best sites, more often than not, are built in a certain way: they are accessible, they are easy to follow, and they are well-organized. In order to efficiently deliver content to your audience, you need to know how to create and manage said content in a way that is in tune with the environment it resides in.

Perhaps nowhere in the modern media landscape is Marshall McLuhan’s famous phrase truer than on the World Wide Web: “The medium is the message.”

Of course, nowadays there are quite a few HTML editors, and a handful of them have a graphic user interface so what you see is what you get (Adobe Dreamweaver being probably the most recognized, with some other big names such as Google and Microsoft providing their own versions, along with a myriad of others). This type of software makes website building extremely user-friendly, to the point where anyone with minimal PC knowledge can produce site. But we’re not talking about your high school class Internet project here and you’re not in the business of creating web sites.

You’re in the business of creating marketable web sites, and for that you actually have to know the code and understand the syntax when you see it.

3. Web Hosting Experience

Choosing a quality web hosting provider is an important factor building a high-ranking website. Beyond that, though, there are other factors to consider. Web hosting choices must consider downtime, which refers to the amount of time your website is inaccessible due to problems with the hosting server. If one of Google’s spiders tries to visit your site and it’s down, it will record it as such and move on.

There’s no such thing as 100% uptime, but you want to get as close to that as possible. It is your responsibility to monitor your site’s downtime/uptime and make changes when you notice significant drops in percentages.

The second important element is speed. While Google’s algorithms take into account a staggering number of factors (over 200 by some accounts), the loading speed of your website is likely one of them. Of course, the loading speed itself depends on many things (configuration and coding for instance), but significant drops in speed might just be the fault of your hosting server.

6 Must-Have Technical SEO Skills an SEO Professional Should Have

Photo Credit https://www.flickr.com/photos/laserstars/908946494/

Additionally, you should be familiar with other, simple things related to web hosting: uploading files, modifying content, changing settings, configuring accessibility, etc. This doesn’t mean you should fully assume web site maintenance duties. But there will be times when you’ll need to make changes quickly to fix an urgent matter. If your site gets penalized and receives a lower rating as a consequence, it might be something that you could fix by simply modifying or deleting content or files. Why rely on someone else for things that you can do on your own?

4. Excel Know-How

There’s a lot of data to be analyzed once you start treating SEO as a long-term strategic endeavor. And there are a lot of useful tools out there to help you make sense of the information you gather, but at a minimum you should be familiar with Microsoft Excel. In fact, you should be more than familiar with it: you should know it at least at a medium level. You don’t necessarily have to get to the level of using VBA macros, but knowing a little bit about search functions pivot tables, lookup functions, logical functions (if, and, or), and graphic objects will take you a long way.

You probably associate Excel with accounting, creating budgets and project plans, managing databases or tracking expenses/finance, but there’s more than meets the eye when it comes to this tool and learning how to use it will pay off.

When it comes to the SEO-related business, you can use Excel to sort, filter and group data to find specific information, look up specific information in large data streams, graph or chart data to identify trends and exceptions, manipulate text (format, collate), compare data strings and so on. All of these can come in handy when analyzing data.

5. Programming (PHP, JavaScript etc.) (Optional but Great Skill)

All of the technical skills mentioned so far are pretty much indispensable for an effective SEO. If, however, you want to go above and beyond, you should definitely start looking into programming languages such as PHP or JavaScript. PHP has improved a lot since it was first introduced and is now a staple in creating dynamic websites. It can be integrated in HTML code and can help you access a wide range of databases, authenticate users to restrict access to certain parts of the site, encrypt data, auto-generate files and so much more.

Most importantly, perhaps, is that it allows you to serve different content to users based on their browser, IP address, date and time,  and numerous other characteristics. These are tools that help make your site more creative, more useful and more accessible.

JavaScript helps you increase interaction with your visitors even more. Advertising, cookies, security: these are all closely related to the use of JavaScript. Furthermore, this language allows you to add behavior to your web site, so it is capable of responding to actions by your visitors without needing to load a new web page every time the visitor makes a request. A site accessible on multiple platforms with a pleasant navigation experience makes users more likely to click on your website and return to it, and in the end that is what you’re really interested in, regardless of your ranking.

6 Must-Have Technical SEO Skills an SEO Professional Should Have

Photo credit https://www.flickr.com/photos/dullhunk/3215402826/

6. Server Side Configuration (Optional but Great Skill)

Server-side refers to the server that runs the site. So a visitor’s request doesn’t get executed on their computer, but on the computer they requested the page from. The main advantage in using server-side scripts is the ability to highly customize the response based on the user’s requirements, access rights, or queries into data stores. You can use server-side scripts to enable automatic redirects from certain pages, or optimize MySQL so your database information can be accessed easily and quickly.

Server side configuration is really helpful in the diagnosis of different problems (like Google bot crawling), gives you a better understanding of your site’s security, helps you track the broken pages, and even fix “log in” problems your user might encounter.


There’s a lot you can do in terms of SEO without getting too technical. But there’s so much more you can do with some technical knowledge. If you have a car, is indispensable to know how to drive but a really good driver  knows all  the intricacies of his vehicle. You need to understand and even know how to write a bit of code. Get familiar with the engine (or, in your case, the server), the transmission (programming languages) and even the small nuts and bolts that keep it all together. In the long run, it will pay off. You will get more mileage, better speed, and you will attract more visits.

Embrace the technical side: it is what will allow you to get truly creative.

What other SEO skills you think we should add to the list?


Featured image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/silvery/4409868088/lightbox/

Razvan Gavrilas
Razvan is the Founder and Chief Architect of cognitiveSEO, an SEO Toolset focused on in-depth analysis of ranking signals. His passion for search engine marketing led him to create his own SEO Toolset, trying to solve the issues that he is facing in the search engine optimization field.
Razvan Gavrilas
Get the latest news from Search Engine Journal!
We value your privacy! See our policy here.
  • DP

    Great way to set oneself apart fro the button-pushing, link builder model.

  • Herman Gentry

    Sorry, but an analytical mind is not a “skill.” Hate to be the cognitive psychologist here, but either your experiences & background shape your mind to be analytical or they don’t. That process starts at a young age and not something you can just turn on as an adult.

    • http://cognitiveSEO.com Razvan Gavrilas

      citing from Richards J. Heuer : “Thinking analytically is a skill like carpentry or driving a car. It can be taught, it can be learned, and it can improve with practice. But like many other skills, such as riding a bike, it is not learned by sitting in a classroom and being told how to do it. Analysts learn by doing.”

      I do think that this can be “educated”.

  • http://omnicoreagency.com/ Salman Aslam

    Graphic design skills are important too as they can increase the perceived quality of the content and website. Check out Canva Blog (http://blog.canva.com/) They pop up the minimalistic design with quality images.

    • http://cognitiveSEO.com Razvan Gavrilas

      sure they are. graphic design skills are a must. slipped my mind when writing the article but I focused more on more technical skills.

  • http://digitalvani.com/ Arun Kumar

    SEO has evolved in leaps and bounds. The old schools methods are no me relevant. Truly SEO is a whole new beast and to tame it you need to be an all-rounder.

    Recently, I have started learning web designing and PHP, which has helped me immensely to understand the advance setting and no I am able fix the technical website issues myself.

  • http://twitter.com/Ammon_Johns Ammon Johns

    So, according to this, there’s no need for any level of creativity at all?

    Good luck in *any* discipline of marketing without creativity.

  • http://www.thomasfrenkiel.nl Thomas

    You didn’t read well. Razvan wrote about technical skills an SEO should have. He didn’t write a ‘ complete profile of SEO specialists ‘ or something like that.

    Great blog post. There are big advantages to knowing the technical side of websites.
    in addition : The field of SEO right now is very broad. This means that you can be a specialist in technical SEO, content marketing, linkbuilding or even keyword research.

    • http://cognitiveSEO.com Razvan Gavrilas

      indeed. this was about technical skills. tks for the appreciation Thomas. SEO is becoming more and more a mix of technical, creativity and marketing. (to put it very simple)

  • http://andymarchant.com Andy

    This is a great article, I’ve been working in this industry for 5 years now so far I have got by without knowing explicitly how to code. However I feel I know enough of the fundamentals to be able to describe to people a lot more proficient than me exactly what needs to be done.

    I see it more as a parallel with architects, as in they will know what materials to use and what the end product should look like, but the actual process of building is left to people with the know how.

    • http://cognitiveSEO.com Razvan Gavrilas

      surely it can be done as a team. but if you know that stuff it is much easier to know what to do and what to ask. yes it works without having those skills. but having them might make the difference.

  • http://gravatar.com/michelkant Michel

    6 must have skills and you name 2 optional? What went wrong? Other than that, nice post 🙂

    • http://cognitiveSEO.com Razvan Gavrilas

      maybe the naming was not ideal :). but the skills are must haves in order to make a difference. my 2c.

  • http://www.digikraf.com Megha

    Nice article. I so much agree to the skills laid out. All the above needs to be polished time to time.

  • http://twitter.com/studiumcirclus James Allen

    Specifically learning query languages (like XPath) is very useful for technical SEOs. Learning to mould ones mind to the faceted architecture which contains the information you need can only be a benefit.

    Learning query languages helps technical SEOs to develop their own tools (initially) from the comfort of known software packages such as office, before expanding into more flexible web languages.

    I’d advocate at least mentioning query languages specifically 🙂

    • http://cognitiveSEO.com Razvan Gavrilas

      totally agree on XPath 😉 allows you to understand the structure of the HTML document better.

  • http://gracecore.com wayne cowan

    One key fact i believe you are missing is being able to take all that technical jargon and apply top level communication skills so that ANYONE can understand process and outcome. Nowadays being able to communicate with the right people makes a world of difference when everyone understand the bottomline

  • http://gravatar.com/infovile Dan

    Great post Razvan. Now, if only you can get the stakeholders “bought in” to this model of SEO, we are all in for a win! Well, those of us with all 6 🙂

    • http://cognitiveSEO.com Razvan Gavrilas

      🙂 explain the benefits and not the process.

  • http://wowwebpresence.com Samrat Pal

    I agree! A combination of these 6 skills will make a great SEO professional. But most of the SEO guys i came across in freelancing marketplace are only able to do spammy social bookmark and directory submission. In addition, their English skills are good.

  • http://www.thegadgetprice.com/ Avinash Kumar

    Great article. I have all of these but lacks somewhere in coding part. Will try my best to improve it. 🙂

  • http://www.inspire2rise.com Aditya Nath Jha

    I am a practising SEO ( atleast I believe so ) and I found that this post actually didn’t tell how to build those skills. Ok I know what I should know, but which are the best places to start?
    That’s my question!