October 29, 2014

What makes a Junior, Intermediate, or Senior SEO?


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. You can somewhat accurately describe what your job entails, and the impact your actions have on clients.

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 some favourite 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 Google Search Console 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). Perhaps most importantly, at this stage you are beginning to see beyond the blind application of SEO best practices, and you understand how it all comes together—you’re able to fairly comfortably explain the benefits of the work you to do to clients.

Senior: You’ve got a sixth sense for knowing which content pieces are going to get results, you’ve got a favourite 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 an 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.  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. You’re also able able to figure out why some pages just don’t rank and troubleshoot a way to fix these issues.

When explaining SEO to people who aren’t as well versed, you’re able to speak to all levels and don’t rely on baffling them with bullshit. Most importantly, you’re able to tie in client business goals with SEO initiatives and relate to them how SEO will contribute to their bottom line.


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.

Senior: You use API access to collate data in ways that are too complicated to do within GA, you know the correct time to use a custom segment vs report vs dashboard vs just drilling down to a view, you’ve got a few views with crazy filters and advanced replace functions, you’ve got some killer remarketing lists, you may have used Data Import or content grouping or custom channel grouping to get more insight, after about 5 minutes with a new account you’re able to ask insightful probing questions about the site, you know off the top of your head how to setup a multi-subdomain Analytics account and how to guide developers on implementing complex architectures, you can explain how Analytics uses cookies and sessions easily, and you’ve used Google Tag Manager or another tag manager app. You’ve used Attribution Models to answer some really tough questions and help guide marketing strategy. You’re pretty good at guiding clients down a path to get them to results-based marketing along with measurement plans, implementation, etc. SEM guys/gals love you, because the goals you set up are extremely solid and very well tied to business results.


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.

We’re always looking for motivated talent and hard workers—if you fit the bill, contact us! 

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