What Is An SEO Specialist And What Do They Do?

SEO specialists are in high demand. Look at popular job sites and you’ll see for yourself. On ZipRecruiter, there are nearly 24,000 SEO specialist jobs, Indeed has almost 2,100 of these jobs, and LinkedIn has more than 2,000 in the US itself.

So why is this career so sought-after? 

There’s no denying how important an SEO specialist is for a business’s digital marketing strategy. 

These specialists master SEO and are experts in search engine optimization. They help boost a website’s visibility so more people can learn about the company brand and move through the sales funnel.

It’s a ka-ching situation for the business owner. 

In this career guide, you will learn what exactly an SEO specialist is. You will also learn what their duties and responsibilities are and how much they are paid.

And if you are looking to hire an SEO expert, we've also got an SEO specialist job description template you can use.

What you will learn

  • What an SEO specialist is and their daily responsibilities 
  • What does a specialist in SEO actually do and the skills one needs 
  • How much do these specialists earn 
  • When companies should hire an SEO specialist and the difference between an SEO specialist and an SEO consultant 

What is an SEO specialist?

An SEO specialist is responsible for optimizing websites to improve their organic rankings in search engine result pages. Their main goal is to increase the visibility of a website on search engines to drive more traffic and potential customers to the site.

An SEO specialist will often use various techniques to ensure that a website appears when users are searching for a specific topic or keyword. These can include on-page and technical SEO to link building campaigns.

Most SEO specialists form part of any of these teams:

  • Marketing
  • Paid ads
  • Content marketing
  • Growth and CRO (Conversion rate optimization)
  • SEO teams, of course
  • Editorial

What are the responsibilities of an SEO specialist?

SEO specialists are responsible for the overall SEO strategy of the website as well as specific activities such as keyword analysis, on-page and off-page optimization, link building, technical SEO implementation, content optimization and reporting.

Some responsibilities of an SEO specialist include:

SEO Strategy: SEO experts often work closely with content marketing teams to ensure that their content plan is SEO driven.

Keyword Research: SEO specialists identify and research key phrases and words that can improve their visibility in search engines.

On-Page Optimization: This involves optimizing various parts of your website that affect your search engine rankings. On-page optimization includes title tags, meta descriptions, headers, and content.

Technical SEO: This involves optimizing the backend structure and foundation of a website for search engine crawling and indexing including improving site speed and site architecture.

Link Building: They work to obtain high-quality inbound links to their client's website from other websites. 

Website Audits: They analyze the structure and content of websites and perform website audits to identify areas for optimization and enhancement.

SEO Reporting and Analytics: SEOs often use tools like Google Analytics and Google Search Console to track and analyze a website's performance to make informed decisions about what SEO tactics are working and what needs to be improved.

Local SEO: For businesses that operate in a specific geographic area, an SEO specialist's responsibility includes optimizing the website for local search results.

Search engines often update their algorithms, so it's important for SEO professionals to stay updated with the latest SEO trends and developments.

What does an SEO specialist do?

SEO specialists have many duties, but these differ depending on the industry and company you work with. Here are several common tasks that an SEO specialist does.

Develop SEO strategy

As an SEO specialist, your primary role is to shape the company's SEO strategy.

This involves crafting a plan that employs optimization techniques and content marketing strategies to enhance the company's online presence, increase its visibility in search engine rankings, and drive more organic traffic.

Understanding the business's goals is the first step in this process.

An SEO specialist will assess the current SEO performance of the company's website.

This involves evaluating various factors such as the domain history, content performance and technical details.

Defining key performance indicators (KPIs) like pages per session, leads and conversions and keyword rankings is also crucial to tracking the progress of a website's SEO strategy.

Keyword research and analysis

Keyword research and analysis are the backbone of many successful SEO campaigns.

By identifying the most relevant and frequently used keywords and phrases, SEOs optimize websites to rank higher in search engine results driving organic traffic.

They will also identify secondary keywords and variations that should be included within the content as well as in different places on the page.

Such as the page titles, meta descriptions and the web page's URL.

On-page optimization

An SEO specialist will also ensure that elements on the page are in compliance with search engine guidelines.

Some on-page optimization elements include the following:

  • Header tags
  • Meta data such as meta tags and meta descriptions
  • URLs
  • Internal links
  • Image optimization, including alt text
  • Site architecture
  • Site content
  • Structured markup
  • Mobile responsiveness
  • Page loading speed

Off-page SEO

The role of an SEO specialist also involves things that happen off the website to improve the company's ranking and online presence.

Some examples of off-page elements that SEO experts work on include:

  • Link building opportunities
  • Guest blogging
  • Industry partnerships
  • Online reputation management
  • Local SEO, such as adding the company to Google My Business and claiming listings on third-party review sites like Yelp, Trustpilot, and Trip Advisor

Link building

Link building is a critical aspect of an SEO specialist's role as it helps to improve a website's visibility and ranking on search engines.

Search engine optimizers employ various strategies for link building. Some ways they acquire links are by using the following:

  • Reclaiming unlinked mentions
  • Creating free tools
  • Using SEO infographics to get mentions and links
  • Using directories
  • Publishing link magnet content
  • Broken link building strategy

SEO personnel may also reach out to other websites directly, asking them to link to their content.

This is often done when the specialist has created a piece of content that complements or expands on something on the other website.

SEOs will also keep an eye on their competitors' backlinks, as these can provide opportunities for new link building strategies.

Measurement and reports

Measuring and reporting are crucial parts of an SEO specialist's job because they show how well SEO strategies work and help guide future decisions.

SEO experts use tools like Google Analytics, Google Search Console, and other SEO software to track and analyze a wide range of metrics.

Key performance indicators (KPIs) like organic traffic, bounce rate, conversion rate, page load time, and keyword rankings are monitored frequently and provide a clear picture of how well the website is performing in search engine rankings.

Once the data has been gathered, SEO experts create reports summarizing what they found.

Most of the time, these reports include an overview of the data, insights from the analysis, and suggestions for how to move forward.

The reports are shared with other team members and, often, with clients to demonstrate how well SEO is working for their website.

What skills are required to become an SEO specialist?

Search engine optimization experts need a unique set of skills to do well in a field that is always changing. For success in this field, one needs to be able to think and act in an analytical way, be flexible, and have good communication skills.

Must-have skills

Here are the most in-demand skills an SEO specialist should possess:

Analytical skills: An SEO specialist is required to establish SEO strategy and tie it in with content marketing and the business goals. An analytical mind can be useful because of the vast factors to be considered when planning SEO for a business.

Analytical thinking also enables SEO specialists to recognize patterns in search engine behaviour, assess data, and make informed decisions. You also need to be able to prioritize improvements that can benefit a site's progress.

SEO tools: Part of an SEO expert's job is using SEO software to measure, track, and analyze data. A readiness to learn and adapt to advancements is essential for using these tools.

Additionally, familiarity with common content management systems (CMS) is beneficial if content publishing and optimization fall under the job description.

Technical SEO: An SEO specialist is expected to have technical skills that can make it easier for search engines to find and understand the website. This includes getting rid of any duplicate content or broken links, improving the overall structure of the site and optimizing the crawl budget.

To do this well, you really need to understand how search engines work and what they're looking for when they decide how to rank websites.

You can also use tools like Screaming Frog that don't require you to be a technical whizz at SEO.

Research: A big part of being an SEO specialist is doing a lot of research, so you've got to be good at it. The role of an SEO specialist demands ongoing keyword research as well as learning about changes in search engine algorithms and keeping up with industry news.

It also helps being a quick learner when it comes to SEO.

Content writing: Not all SEO specialists need to possess content writing skills but it is still important to be able to distinguish good from mediocre content.

Adaptability: A successful SEO specialist knows that the SEO industry is ever-evolving. So you will need to be flexible to accommodate changes and new technologies in your strategy to keeps up with the times.

Communication skills: Effective communication skills are essential for collaborating with other digital marketing professionals and working with various clients.

It's also important to have good communication skills to clearly communicate your SEO plans to others.

Decision-making skills: While it's great to have all the SEO knowledge in the world and stay up to date on the latest Google algorithm updates and trends in the SEO industry, it's just as important to make decisions.

Project management skills: SEO specialists can be responsible for managing multiple projects simultaneously, so it's essential to be organized, prioritize tasks and meet project milestones on time.

Ability to see the big picture: SEO experts need to focus on the details of their SEO project, but they also need to see the bigger picture of the business goals.

Nice-to-have skills

Here are some additional skills an SEO specialist can benefit from:

CRO understanding: An SEO's role can include continuously testing website elements to boost leads and conversions. Conversion rate optimization (CRO) skills are a nice-to-have skill.

Actual copywriting skills: At times, an SEO specialist may have to use their SEO copywriting skills to create content for their blog. Possessing the skills of a copywriter can be helpful in such an event.

HTML, CSS, and JavaScript knowledge: Some SEO folks have HTML, CSS, and JavaScript knowledge so they can ensure the website is accessible, navigable, user-friendly, and optimized in other ways.

These experts are also sometimes familiar with different operating systems and hardware platforms, enabling them to make changes themselves.

This is an invaluable skill, especially if you work as an SEO consultant or with startups and other small companies that don't have huge budgets and a full in-house developer or marketing team.

UX understanding: An understanding of user experience (UX) can help search engine optimizers design user-friendly websites to improve engagement.

As an SEO specialist, you may need to investigate how users interact with your pages and employ strategies to improve the bounce rate, and conversions.

Industry relationships: If you are well-placed in the SEO industry, you'll likely know more people you can bounce ideas and discuss strategies with.

You'll also be better known, making you a more desirable hire.

And knowing others in the SEO industry means you can collaborate and learn from other professionals to better your SEO skills.

Paid search campaigns: It's a good idea to have some basic understanding of how pay-per-click (PPC) and search engine marketing (SEM) campaigns work. Although unlikely to fall under an SEO specialist's role, it can be useful to know how to identify keywords to target, and track conversions.

As your skills advance, you will find that you can use data from other marketing channels for experiments and insights.

Content marketing strategy: An SEO specialist's role may involve working with content writers, content strategists and SEO consultants.

They may be required to create, publish, and promote content in the form of infographics, charts, podcasts, video, email marketing and social media marketing material that fit in with the overall SEO strategy.

It can be an added advantage as an SEO specialist if you have an understanding of the content marketing landscape.

How much can you earn as an SEO specialist?

The average pay for an SEO specialist is $61,206 based on data from Indeed, Ziprecruiter, Glassdoor and Salary.com

On an hourly basis, U.S. SEO specialists earn more than specialists from developing countries, with the average pay at around $70 per hour.

Overall, an SEO specialist can expect to earn anywhere from $15 an hour to $300 per hour.

The salary for an SEO specialist can be influenced by your location, years of industry experience, the industry you work in, job location, and expertise.

As an indication of the wide range of pay in various countries, here are SEO specialist salaries per month across the world:

When should you hire an SEO specialist?

Hiring an SEO specialist can be especially beneficial if you are launching a new website, want to reach more organic visitors, or just don't have the time or expertise in-house for search engine optimization.

After all, 53% of marketers say that inbound marketing boosts their company's ROI.

Here are some specific situations when you should consider hiring an SEO specialist:

Driving organic growth

If your website isn't ranking well, an SEO specialist can help identify issues and implement strategies to improve your rankings and visibility in search engine results.

Driving results in a competitive niche

If you're in a competitive industry and are finding it hard to do business, hiring an SEO specialist can help you rank for competitive terms and stand out from the competition.

Lacking in-house expertise

SEO is complex and constantly changing. If you or your team don't have the necessary experience or expertise to stay on top of it, hiring an SEO specialist can be a smart move.

Launching a new website

When starting a new website, an SEO specialist can ensure it's built with best SEO practices from scratch.

Expanding Your Business

It's a good time to hire an SEO specialist when you're looking to expand your business, either into new markets or with new products. They can help you conduct market research and identify the right keywords and strategy to reach your new audience.

SEO specialist job description template

To help you save time when you need to hire an SEO expert, use or customize this SEO specialist job description template.

From there, you can easily and quickly post your job ad to job boards so you can boost sales, your website ranking, organic traffic and more.

SEO specialist versus SEO consultant

The main difference between an SEO specialist and an SEO consultant is that an SEO specialist typically works full-time for a business and is involved in daily operations of the business whereas an SEO consultant works simultaneously for various clients on a freelance or contract basis. 

When your business requires more advanced SEO knowledge and strategy than what an SEO specialist can offer, you may need to seek the services of an SEO consultant, especially one who may have domain expertise in your industry.

An SEO consultant typically doesn’t work full-time for a business, but rather on a per-hour basis.

SEO consultants are popular for startups and companies who can't afford an in-house SEO specialist or are hiring for a special project.

An SEO specialist will:

  • Work within the daily SEO requirements of the business 
  • Act as a full-time employee as part of the larger digital marketing team
  • Run several SEO tasks within the business

An SEO consultant will:

  • Dedicate limited hours per week or month
  • Have their own business that serves multiple clients on a contract basis
  • Handle complex projects like ranking a specific page or keyword cluster and analyze current SEO practices

Key takeaways

  • SEO specialists formulate SEO plans, perform keyword research, establish links and handle technical details aimed at optimizing a business's website for search engine visibility.
  • Most SEO folks' responsibilities depend on the company they work for, the industry they are in, and whether the company has an in-house digital marketing team or outsources their SEO needs to a consultant or agency.
  • In general, an SEO specialist is responsible for crafting and implementing the overall SEO strategy, or they can have specific duties related to keyword research, on and off-page optimizations, link building, and other SEO tasks.
  • Some SEO skills include technical SEO, analytical skills, SEO tool experience, content writing, and research.
  • On average, SEO specialists earn $61,206 per annum but their earnings depend on the company they work for, the industry, level of expertise, and location.
  • Companies should hire an SEO specialist when they need to drive organic growth, boost rankings in a competitive niche, or launch a new website. These professionals are also a must when you lack in-house SEO know-how.
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