What skills does an SEO need?

SEO has many different facets and consequently requires a very varied skillset. Many people teach themselves SEO skills out in the field; coming at it from either a marketing or web development angle. But what skills does an SEO actually need?

At its very basic level, search engine optimisation consists of three areas: structure, content and links.

  • The site needs to be structured correctly with all the correct technical elements in place.
  • The correct keywords need to be selected, content is then built around these keywords and kept fresh and up to date.
  • Finally, internal and external links are built up and point to the relevant content.
You can think of these three areas as the head (technical), the heart (content) and the community (links).

All functions are necessary and SEO won't be effective without them all working closely together.

Any successful search engine optimisation program contains the right combination of these three elements and understanding this helps us to think about what skills an SEO needs.

Technical skills

Without the correct technical items in place, the site won't be set up correctly. This is best done by someone from a computing background, such as a web developer or software engineer.

The technical SEO will ensure that the stuff behind the scenes gets taken care of. Things like w3c compliance, site speed, server configuration and data capture all fall within their area of expertise. On page SEO such as user interface design may also fall under their remit too.

Not having technical SEO skills either in-house or at your disposal can be limiting. You'll be reliant on WordPress and its associated plugins to take care of all the technical elements for you.

Content creation and curation

Some SEO experts focus completely on content. They are less technically driven as their focus is almost all onsite.

Content SEOs tend to come from a background in writing or communications.

They focus on generating content around focused keywords and then making that content available across a number of different distribution channels including but not limited to social media. The content they generate can be written content, video or image based.

Link building

A specialised breed of SEOs concentrate solely on building backlinks. This is generally done by creating private blog networks and/or by utilising web 2.0 blogs and websites.

These websites are then used to direct traffic to their own target sites or those of their customers. Whilst sometimes seen as "black hat", this can be done in an ethical way which doesn't incur Google penalties.

These types of SEOs are generally self taught. They may also be affiliates who are used to burn and churn SEO tactics; using their SEO skills and whatever methods necessary to bring in traffic to a partner site to earn revenue.

Analytical skills

Another big part of SEO is data analysis. Large amounts of data need to be gathered and examined to understand trends and build reports.

Having an analytical mind is important in this data focused area of SEO. It's all about learning from the past and measuring the future.

Many different hats to wear

As you can see, the modern SEO has to be skilled in many different areas including but not limited to marketing, systems administration, software development, copywriting, sales and data analysis.

SEOs also need to stay up to date with current trends, legislation and updates from the search engines themselves.


Although seemingly quite broad, there are many areas to specialise in.

A search engine optimisation practitioner can specialise in e-commerce, app store optimisation, voice search and in a particular vertical market such as law.

An SEO can be employed in house where they will specialise in one particular product or service, or they can work for an agency where they can see large amounts of data across many industries.

People skills not just SEO skills

As well as the aforementioned hard skills, all SEOs will need to interface with other people too.

Because of the wide ranging nature of the role, this could be with sales teams, HR, analysts, directors, marketing departments, software developers and content writers.

Communication at all levels

Being able to communicate at both business and technical levels is a key skill of a search engine optimisation practitioner, especially if you're operating on your own.

Having to switch from a detailed analysis of w3c standards to an explanation of the business benefits of SEO in a single conversation can be quite tricky and is something that comes from experience.

At first glance, an SEO Specialist may not seem a particularly hard job however when you start looking at the role in detail, you begin to understand the inherent complexities and range of skills involved.

SEO Consultant

This article was written by Gaz Hall, a UK based SEO Consultant on 4th December 2019.

Gaz has 20 years experience working on SEO projects large and small, locally and globally across a range of sectors.

If you need any SEO advice or would like him to look at your next project then get in touch to arrange a free consultation.