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SEO Certifications: Are They Really Worth It?

Joshua Hardwick
Head of Content @ Ahrefs (or, in plain English, I'm the guy responsible for ensuring that every blog post we publish is EPIC).
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    If you want to learn SEO, you can piece everything together from blog posts and videos or take an SEO course. But what about an SEO certification?

    After spending hours researching SEO certifications and taking three of them (see my three certificates), my opinion is this:

    Most SEO certifications aren’t worth it.

    I’ll explain why in this article. But first, let’s cover the basics…

    SEO certifications are awarded to those who complete an SEO course and demonstrate their knowledge by completing a test or quiz.

    It’s the last part that differentiates an SEO certification from an SEO course.

    For something to qualify as an SEO certification:

    • There must be a quiz/test that you can pass or fail.
    • Upon passing the quiz/test, the course provider must present you with proof of your achievement—usually in the form of a certificate or badge.

    Here’s what that might look like:

    Kind of.

    Google offers a free ‘Fundamentals of Digital Marketing’ certification through the Google Digital Garage. It includes 26 modules, ~14 hours of material, and covers many aspects of digital marketing—with three of them solely dedicated to SEO. It’s accredited by the Interactive Advertising Bureau Europe and The Open University.

    Google also offers the SEO Fundamentals’ certification in the Digital Garage. It’s free, has ~2.5 hours of material, covers the four main facets of SEO (on-page, off-page, keyword research, technical), and was created by the University of California, Davis.

    If you’re looking to learn Google Analytics, there’s also the Google Analytics Certification. Read this to learn more about how to pass the Individual Qualification Exam and where to find your certificate.

    If you want an SEO certificate to add to your resume and LinkedIn to attract job offers, I have bad news for you: most employers don’t care about SEO certifications.

    How do we know?

    We asked 15 SEO hiring managers for the skills and requirements that they deem important when hiring an SEO specialist. 86% said that SEO certifications aren’t important, with the rest saying that they’re only somewhat important.

    Not one hiring manager said they were very important.

    But this isn’t the only reason why SEO certifications probably aren’t worth it for most people. Here are a few more:

    SEO certifications don’t guarantee a good SEO education

    Getting an SEO certificate doesn’t necessarily mean that you learned anything useful. It just means that you learned something. So don’t let the allure of a certificate cloud your judgment when learning SEO. If the syllabus doesn’t look helpful, don’t bother.

    SEO certifications only teach you theory, not practical skills

    If you want to become an SEO expert, my advice is to start a website as soon as possible after learning the basics of SEO. That’s because knowing the theory only gets you so far. Getting your hands dirty and trying to rank a website will teach you more than an SEO certification.

    SEO certifications take a lot of time

    Look at the length of Google’s Digital Marketing certification above: there are 14 hours of material. That’s not a negligible amount of time to spend on SEO certification. There’s an opportunity cost here as you could spend that time building and ranking a website. As I said above, that’s probably a better use of your time if you already know the basics of SEO.

    SEO certifications usually focus on the basics

    There are probably some SEO certifications that deep-dive into one area of SEO like keyword research or technical SEO, but the ones I came across were quite basic. That isn’t a bad thing if you’re new to SEO, but there are faster ways to learn the basics, such as our beginner’s guide to SEO or our short ‘SEO for beginners’ video course.

    SEO certifications are often just marketing ploys

    Passing an SEO certification gets you a certificate (and sometimes a badge, too). You can show this off on your resume, LinkedIn profile, website, wherever. That raises brand awareness for the creator of the SEO certification. I think this is why many of them are easy to pass. Passes lead to brand awareness.

    After researching countless SEO certifications and taking three of them, my opinion is that there is no ‘best SEO certification.’ I can’t recommend any of the ones I completed—at least not for the certification alone.

    If I were judging these ‘certifications’ for their course content, it would be a different story.

    Each of the ‘certifications’ I took had well-produced videos, explained concepts well, and shared accurate SEO knowledge overall. Google’s SEO Fundamentals certification had annoying background music and looked a bit dated, but that’s a minor point.

    It was the exam and certification aspect that let all of these courses down, in my opinion.

    For starters, if you failed the exam, you could retake it shortly after (between 0 and 12 hours) your initial attempt. That might sound like a positive if you want to pass, but all it does is diminish the value of the certification. If things were this way for college exams, the job market would soon become saturated with graduates and degrees would lose much of their value.

    But that fact was nothing compared to the exams themselves…

    Here’s just one of the questions on one of the exams:

    If you’re new to SEO, the issue here is that all links are ‘beneficial’ to a site’s authority. That doesn’t mean all types of links will help you to rank higher in Google, but that’s unrelated to site authority.

    Here’s another question from a different exam:

    This isn’t really a true or false question, as Google recommends that you use hyphens rather than underscores in URLs.

    Here’s another question, this time from Google’s SEO Fundamentals certification:

    You can see that I got the answer wrong. I’m guessing that the correct answer is “optimizing site keywords,” but I genuinely have no idea what that means. It sounds like something you’d see on Warrior Forum in 2009.

    In short, the certification aspect felt like an afterthought for each of the certifications I completed. It felt like someone created the course, then tasked someone far less knowledgeable to watch the course and create an exam.

    Does that mean this is the case for all SEO certifications?

    Probably not. There are plenty of other SEO certifications, so it may be that paid certifications are of higher quality.

    Here are a few paid SEO certifications that came up during my research:

    To be clear, I didn’t take any of these certifications. They’re simply the ones I found that are actually SEO certifications (not courses) and were created by reputable companies/people.

    If you’re wondering why I didn’t include other popular resources (e.g., Brian Dean’s ‘SEO That Works’) commonly found on lists of ‘SEO certifications,’ it’s because they aren’t certifications. They’re courses. There’s no exam or certificate.

    Our SEO course for beginners is the same. It doesn’t have an exam or certificate at the end, but it’s a great place to start if you’re new to SEO:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xsVTqzratPs

    Final thoughts

    Most SEO hiring managers see certifications as unimportant when hiring SEO specialists, and I agree. I wouldn’t look for SEO certifications on resumes if I were hiring because I know that many of them are passable through a mix of trial and error and common sense.

    So here’s my advice:

    If you want to grow your SEO knowledge, find a good SEO course (here’s our free one) and then execute what you learn.

    If you want to get a job, do the same thing because results speak louder than an ‘SEO certification.’

    Got questions? Disagree with my opinion? Let’s discuss on Twitter.

    • Linking websites 75
    • Tweets 41
    Data from Content Explorer