Truthfully, there isn’t really such a thing as an “SEO School”, so it can be difficult for online marketing professionals to know where they sit in the online marketing world. Years of experience alone is a poor indicator of a person’s ability in this industry. We thought we’d share how we, Top Draw, go about rating online marketing people in different knowledge verticals. While the guide below is Google-centric, it should help give you a more accurate idea of what your SEO knowledge and skill level is like.
Beginner: You’re half-convinced that SEO people just make these terms up: “alt text”, 301, “XML Sitemap”, WMT, GA, H1, DA, SERP.
Junior: You can perform basic keyword research for a site or for content ideas, modify titletags, audit a mediocre website and come up with a decent list of recommendations, perform basic monthly SEO reports, build a Google+ page, and you know who Matt Cutts is.
Intermediate: You’re better able to determine if any given site could gain ranking on a given phrase you’ve researched, you’ve had some decent link building wins and have some favorite techniques, you’ve got a few competitive ranking wins that you’re really proud of, you have a few favourite reports in Analytics where you get most of your initial client insights from, can rip around GA and Webmaster tools quickly and purposefully, and you have an opinion on how to estimate keyword data. Sometimes you do everything right, but the pages just don’t rank, you don’t know why, and you run out of ideas on what to do next. You’ve been to an SEO conference in the last year and you have a rough idea as to where the industry is going. You would have solid answers to these 10 questions. You know when to check for a “nofollow” on a link (and you know what that means).
Senior: You’ve got a sixth sense for knowing which content pieces are going to get results, you’ve got a favorite technique for working with large (1000+) keyword data sets, you make Schema recommendations that actually show up in the SERPs, you can quickly build process around proven new techniques, you have spoken at conferences or local meetups as the expert, and you have a few personal project websites that you use for SEO experiments or to earn side-income. You’ve got some experience with international SEO, and you can audit pretty much any website and come out with some great recommendations and specific implementation instructions. You may be using ranking indexes or more complex rank tracking tactics to better understand impact from SEO activities. When explaining SEO to people who aren’t as well versed, you’re easy to understand and don’t rely on baffling them with bullshit. Rather than using a set of fast and hard best practices, you understand the context and nuance around them and when activities are risky or safe.
Beginner: You might have made a campaign once, but it didn’t work that great. You might think AdWords sucks or that hardly anyone clicks on them, or it holds little value.
Junior: You run through a checklist when creating accounts to get the basic settings right. You can get a basic search campaign running. You understand keyword targeting types and when to use them, and you know terrible keywords when you see them.
Intermediate: You’re AdWords certified. You can setup an effective remarketing campaign using lists generated from either Analytics or AdWords, and you might have played with Video advertising. You know what CPA means, how to setup a conversion optimizer campaign, how to use most of the ad extensions, how to properly link a website with AdWords, can setup a merchant center account and shopping campaign, have an opinion on Google’s vs Bing’s customer support, know what an MCC is (and you use one). You can run a few reports to estimate how a client should alter their budgets. You can purposefully navigate through AdWords to get to the reports or views you like. You have a few campaign styles that you love using on new accounts.
Senior: You have a favorite technique for developing comprehensive negative keyword lists and a few campaigns in your account(s) are purely experimental to test different targets. You can craft campaigns designed to hit specific goals, from low CPA, high profit, best ROAS, revenue goals, awareness, etc. It can be difficult to follow you in the AdWords interface; you know it so well and navigate through so quickly. When you work over an Intermediate SEM’s account, there’s usually a drastic improvement and you can usually blow their minds with a few new campaign ideas or strategies that they never thought of. You’ve been in a Google AdWords beta program or two, can setup a video remarketing campaign in under 30 minutes, and would be completely comfortable taking on a project on a Pay-for-Performance model as long as you could do some research beforehand.
Beginner: You can login to Analytics, but don’t usually go past the first overview screen.
Junior: You can get to the right screen to answer “what’s our most popular page” in under 30 seconds, pull traffic numbers for a specific channel, pull mobile usage with a bit of fiddling, and can pull some general stats out.
Intermediate: You’re GAIQ certified, for starters. You’ve created a few dashboards to save time, you use time ranges to determine seasonality, you download page usage data to help with content architecture, can configure and tune email alerts, set up new accounts for brand new websites, and can perform account linking with AdWords/WMT/etc. You’re in Google Analytics 1-4 times per day, and you know how to recommend code changes for more enhanced tracking, and have some standard filters you implement. You might have played with attribution models but haven’t found a great use for them yet. You need quite a bit of time in an account before you can find actionable insights in their data.
Again, this isn’t a be all, end all guide, but it should give you a decent idea of where you stand if you can honestly assess yourself. Learning and applying SEO and all its related disciplines is a never ending pursuit of knowledge. The most important part is to stay humble and never settle in your techniques and ways – there’s almost always a more efficient and better way to improve upon your skillset and knowledge base. Thinking you know everything (whether it’s from a course you recently took, or using a technique/process that has been “working forever”) without accepting new ways to improve and do things is a surefire way to fail in the long run – so stay humble! The right attitude is key if you want to succeed, flourish, and ultimately stay relevant in this industry.
As an incredibly convenient segue, we’re still looking for a junior to intermediate level SEO to work with us!