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You Don’t Have to Code to Be Great at SEO

You can be a great at SEO without coding a single line. And that's fine. There’s room in SEO for many different types of people.

You Don’t Have to Code to Be Great at SEO

You don’t want me to code your website.

Anyone who has ever worked with me, all the way from first grade until now, will tell you that I’m good at some things, and awful at others.

Any task that requires exceptional detail will take me twice as long as most people to finish.

And when I finish a detailed task, I will be physically and mentally drained.

But I do have gifts.

I can see the big picture better than most.

I may not be the best at implementing the details of the project – but I’ve rarely found anyone as good at defining what needs to be done as I am.

I understand how and what the technology can do, even if actually making it do what is required can sometimes be a personal struggle.

Does that make me a bad SEO professional?

Python, JavaScript & Automation – Oh My!

There is a movement in the SEO community encouraging practitioners to upgrade their coding skills.

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SEO professionals are being encouraged to learn coding languages that can help them automate many of the tasks that are typically done manually.

In particular, search marketers are being encouraged to spend time learning Python and JavaScript, among other coding languages.

I wholeheartedly endorse this movement.

But I won’t be participating in it.

You see, I know that I’m never going to be a good programmer.

Learning the ins and outs of a particular programming language is going to be a waste of time for me.

What I will spend time learning about is what these programs can and cannot do.

For someone who is focused on the overall strategy of clients and an agency, it is important to understand the capabilities and limitations of our tools.

For example, I need to know that PANDAs is a data manipulation tool that works with Python.

I need to know that Python can help optimize images, but it can’t create persuasive language that will drive a customer to take a particular action.

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There Are Different Types of SEO

Many of my technically-minded SEO friends think that if you don’t have an HTML library sitting in the recesses of your head, you have no right to call your self a search engine marketer.

I disagree.

I’ve been coding in HTML for more than 25 years.

I still have to look up the proper syntax for almost every line of code I write.

But I can look at someone else’s HTML and spot most errors – specifically errors that will affect how the page is crawled by search engines.

Many of my technically minded friends try to automate every task – including tasks that should not be automated.

This can get them into trouble.

When you work to automate link building, you run into issues that could get you in hot water with Google.

Quality link building is about creativity and relationship building.

It’s not about scripts, hacks, or PBNs.

Putting a technically minded SEO in charge of building links is usually a mistake.

You end up with a ton of links that may get your site penalized or useless links that weren’t worth the code was written to obtain them.

SEO Unicorns Are Rare

An SEO unicorn is an individual that has all the skills needed to do every aspect of search engine optimization.

These skills include, but are not limited to:

  • Technical SEO: The ability to understand the complexities of what the search engines want in the code of a site
  • Coding: We talked about coding earlier. Increasingly, SEO pros are asked to create tools for automation as well as code specific aspects of the sites we work on.
  • Persuasive Writing: We all know that content is king, but great content is hard to write.
  • Data Analysis: The data you gather about your site is a roadmap on where you need to go next.
  • Business Savvy: SEO isn’t just about rankings. Rankings without sales are useless. Increasingly, SEO pros are asked to help businesses know how and what to sell.
  • Link Building: Link building is about creativity and relationships – but also understanding how links work in relation to the search engines
  • Conversion Rate Optimization: In search, we are asked to improve a site’s conversion rate on a regular basis.
  • Internal Politics: Whether you work on the agency side or in-house, SEO professionals must be able to navigate the internal politics of an organization in order to get things done. This may involve sorting through layers of bureaucracy or merely convincing a business owner to listen to you – but if you don’t get through the politics, your recommendations will never see the light of day.
  • Social Media Communications: A site’s social media presence is not a ranking factor – but if you want to win friends and influence people (to give you links) you need to be able to interact with others via social media.
  • Web Design: An SEO needs to be able to design a page that will convert with both users and search engines.
  • Media Buyer: SEO professionals are constantly asked to either buy media or understand the media that is being purchased to promote a site.
  • Trainer: Many SEO pros are asked to train others in their organization on the basics of SEO, or even more advanced tasks
  • IT Professional: If you haven’t been asked to help fix someone’s printer, chances are you will be asked soon.

As you can see, a lot of skills go into being an SEO professional.

And even if one does possess all of these skills, no one is a master of all of them.

Personally, I consider myself an SEO generalist.

That means that I have some skill in all of these items – but I’m not the master of any of them.

I know when to find someone else to help when the task is beyond my skill set.

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You Don’t Have to Code to Be a Great SEO

Bottom line: you can be a great SEO without coding a single line.

If you can code tools in Python while standing on your head and reciting W3C compliance statistics, that’s awesome.

But that doesn’t make you a better SEO than the person who can create a piece of content that goes viral and obtains thousands of quality links.

It takes many skill sets to achieve optimal results.

So if you aren’t a coder, don’t worry too much.

There’s room in SEO for many different types of people.

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Image Credits

Featured Image: Created by author, July 2020

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Tony Wright

CEO at WrightIMC

I am a 19-year veteran of the digital marketing world with previous experience in journalism, public relations and advertising. I've ... [Read full bio]

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