SEO has become an essential channel in the digital marketing mix for brands and organizations, and it’s constantly evolving.
Trying to stay ahead of the curve can get overwhelming, especially for those just learning SEO or adding another channel or discipline to their role.
Don’t worry, though. Once you’re up to speed, the cycle of continuous learning is one of the things many love most about SEO.
Here, you’ll learn about 15 areas of SEO knowledge that will benefit you greatly throughout your career.
1. Understand How Search Engines Work
For anyone starting a career in SEO or getting deeper into it as part of a broader marketing role, this is your starting point.
Spend time getting to know the search engines, what their goals are, who has what portion of search engine market share, what various products they offer, and how they display organic search results.
Knowing the history of how the search engine results pages (SERPs) have changed provides good context as to why they feature the content they do now.
For example, when Google isn’t clear on intent, it will show a variety of features in the results. When it thinks there’s a very specific intent, it will show a narrower set of content types.
We’re a long way from ten blue links and ad content. But at the same time, we’re in the same place we’ve always been in making sure our content is relevant for the searcher.
2. Audience Research
What used to just be “keyword research” has evolved.
While we still perform keyword research, it’s shortsighted to do it in the absence of personas, consideration of the customer journey, or topical focus.
Being able to understand your audience – their demographics and psychographics – and knowing what content will resonate with them all the way through to their ultimate goal (e.g., engagement, sale, lead) is key.
Whether you work for a single brand or a wide range of clients, you must master your understanding of your business goals and work backward to understand your target audiences and how to move them from search query to end goal.
3. Competitor Research
Understanding the competitive landscape is important at most phases of SEO.
Just abiding by “best practices” and looking inward at your website will lead to mixed and likely underwhelming results.
Profiling high-ranking and top websites and brands that are currently capturing a share of the audiences you seek is an important skill and ability to master.
This includes on-page and external factors for competitor sites as a whole, as well as on a page-by-page basis for more granular topics and queries.
4. Web Analytics
SEO professionals are naturally expected to be able to analyze the performance of their efforts.
It is necessary to:
- Understand the impact of your strategy and efforts.
- Report on your efforts to the stakeholders to whom you’re accountable.
Proficiency with Google Analytics is a must.
There are so many additional customizations and aspects that aren’t default or out of the box that SEO pros should take advantage of and master.
A couple of examples:
- Attribution models to see more of the customer journey.
- Assisted conversions reporting.
Use all of the analytics data you can to gain a complete picture that’s tied to searcher intent and different personas. This will help you fully know the impact of SEO on the business.
Being able to serve as the point person for your own website with web developers or IT teams is important for ensuring the proper implementation of tracking scripts and pixels.
This is why knowledge about analytics, heatmaps, Google Tag Manager, and other tracking mechanisms is a must.
While a lot of tracking implementations and updates are straightforward, the occasional need to troubleshoot and work with others is an underrated skill. Developers and IT professionals aren’t always well versed in implementation and ensuring proper tracking in tools more commonly used by marketers.
6. Technical SEO
This can be intimidating to more creative and content-minded people. There are many hats that SEO professionals wear, and some incredibly successful SEO pros who aren’t adept at the technical side of it.
Even if you aren’t going to be the one getting into the code, digging into server settings, or configuring plug-ins on a website, you must have a fundamental knowledge of the technical factors that impact SEO.
Things like page experience, page load times, automation, dynamic tagging, and indexing and crawling (more on that in a moment), fit into one of the important categories of SEO.
Sure, you can have the best content in the world, and the most authoritative links pointing to your site in your industry. That may overcome some minor technical deficiencies. However, they will likely remain obstacles at some level or catch up with you down the road.
Invest time in learning about the technical factors and have a plan for implementation now and into the future.
7. Indexing & Crawling
It’s still important to understand indexing and how it works.
In the old days, it took Google much longer to crawl content and then go live with it in search results. With the speed of crawl to search results, it is taken for granted as it isn’t in and of itself a ranking factor.
It’s still important that you fully understand how indexing works. That base knowledge leads to strategic or troubleshooting actions on our own websites.
Plus, international sites and variations have an extra level of complexity.
It is much easier to do SEO without extensive background knowledge of HTML now with open source content management systems and tools that will show us or scrape tags for us.
A base-level mastery of HTML is still relevant, however. You’ll need it when you have to troubleshoot issues caused by a CMS or code that isn’t semantically solid for SEO.
9. Local Search
Roles and responsibilities can vary depending on organizational structure for where the responsibility lies for local listings and local search optimization.
Local search is complex enough that SEJ has an entire guide to Local SEO, outlining various aspects to master.
SEO pros should understand:
- The full local search ecosystem.
- Ranking factors.
- Importance of Name, Address, and Phone (NAP) data.
- How the claiming and management process works.
10. On-Page Factors
Thankfully, most SEO professionals no longer disproportionally focus on single on-page elements.
While the focus has shifted to content and context, there’s still a place for on-page factors and ensuring that tags are unique and present on each page. Make sure content at least addresses the full breadth of the topic, even if it isn’t hyper-focused on the frequency and density of specific words.
Having a solid grasp on the on-page factors, how they work together to help build context, and what is fact versus fiction on their true impact on rankings is key.
11. Link Building
While we all want to develop content that naturally attracts links and never worry about link building, you still need to understand how linking impacts rankings.
A commonly misunderstood aspect is quantity versus quality and how too much or too little focus on links and authority can hold back optimization efforts.
A full grasp of link quality, strategies for attracting and gaining relevant and high-quality links, and how to implement them into the overall optimization strategy are a few things that must be mastered.
Get Link Building for SEO: A Complete Guide to learn more.
Expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness make up the acronym for Google’s E-A-T. These factors aren’t ranking signals, but are important to learn and understand.
It is a concept that Google has talked about many times in their documentation, going back to 2014.
I often talk about the need to develop relevancy through content and authority status through links and external factors.
However, E-A-T goes a step deeper as it gets more into context and meaning. With the continuous cycles of Google algorithm updates, having a strong working knowledge of E-A-T and the ability to use it as a filter if performance ever dips after a core update is important.
13. Process Development
It’s hard to address all aspects of SEO at one time.
Being able to create a cohesive strategy, prioritize activities, and work through implementing in phases is essential to success.
Without a process for accomplishing one-time and recurring tasks, even the best and brightest among us will end up chasing rather than proactively leading the effort.
Creating a standard, repeatable process is important as well for being able to articulate with stakeholders where we are and where we’re going over the long-term nature of SEO campaigns and efforts.
This may seem like a given, but being able to have a process as noted above comes with the balance of adaptability.
Much like agile methodologies, we have to be able to pivot based on:
- Changing priorities for stakeholders.
- Changes in the competitive landscape.
- Shifts in our target audiences.
- Updates made by the search engines themselves.
While adaptability is more of an aptitude than a skill, it is still important to find a way to master methods for how to pivot and change. You must be able to recognize when something needs to be updated in your strategy, approach, tactics, or goals.
Even when things are running smoothly, rankings and traffic can drop. The ability to jump in and troubleshoot and audit at a moment’s notice is really important.
Diagnosing site changes, search engine algorithm updates, or market shifts to isolate variables and update quickly often has a bottom-line impact on the business.
15. International SEO
International SEO considerations are something that many SEO pros ignore if they don’t have any sites or focuses outside of their home country.
If there’s a chance you’ll ever have an international focus for your site or clients, you should master at least the basics of:
- Top level domains.
- Hreflang tags.
- How languages and countries differ for international versions of the search engines.
The wide range of factors that impact successful SEO campaigns align well with the areas 15 areas outlined for mastering SEO.
And once you’re up to speed, you can be very successful — but you’re not done learning. Don’t get comfortable and fall out of date!
As you learn and master aspects of SEO, remember to start with understanding how search engines work. That will provide a great framework and perspective.
Key in on learning what can be measured, how it applies to your role and your work in SEO, and then jump deep into the specific aspects like technical, on-page, and off-page optimization knowledge.
Find your trusted sources and methods of learning, whether that’s in-person training, online courses, podcasts, articles, or other media to help fill in any gaps and work through the areas that you need to master.
More SEO Resources:
- Top 8 Skills Every Great SEO Professional Needs to Succeed
- The 11 Most Important Parts of SEO You Need to Get Right
- Your Guide to Google E-A-T & SEO