General SEO

How To Become an SEO Expert in 4 Steps

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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    With 74.1% of SEOs charging clients upwards of $500 per month for their services, there’s a clear financial incentive to get good at SEO. But with no colleges offering degrees in the topic, it’s down to you to carve your own path in the industry.

    There are many ways to do this; some take longer than others.

    In this post, I’ll share how I’d go from zero to SEO pro if I had to do it all over again. 

    Understanding what search engine optimization really is and how it works is the first state of affairs. While you can do this by reading endless blog posts or watching YouTube videos, I wouldn’t recommend that approach for a few reasons:

    • It’s hard to know where to start
    • It’s hard to join the dots
    • It’s hard to know who to trust

    You can solve all of these problems by taking a structured course like our SEO course for beginners. It’s completely free (no signup required), consists of 14 short video lessons (2 hours total length), and covers:

    • What SEO is and why it’s important
    • How to do keyword research
    • How to optimize pages for keywords
    • How to build links (and why you need them)
    • Technical SEO best practices

    Here’s the first lesson to get you started:

    The first lesson in our SEO course for beginners
    Lesson 1: SEO Basics: What is SEO and Why is it Important? Watch now
    Sidenote.
    Our SEO course for beginners is also available in German, Spanish, Italian Russian, and Japanese.

    It doesn’t matter how many books you read about golf, you’re never going to win a tournament without picking up a set of clubs and practicing. It’s the same with SEO. The theory is important, but there’s no substitute for getting your hands dirty and trying to rank a site.

    If you don’t have a site already, you can get up and running fairly quickly with any major website platform. Some will set you back a few bucks, but they handle SEO basics out of the box. This saves you time sweating the small stuff.

    As for what kind of site you should create, I recommend a simple hobby blog. 

    Here’s a simple food blog I set up in <10 minutes: 

    A blog that I set up in just a few minutes. It's nothing special, but it does the job

    Once you’re set-up, you’re ready to start practicing and honing your SEO skills. Specifically, doing keyword research to find topics, writing and optimizing content about them, and (possibly) building a few backlinks.

    For example, according to Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer, the keyword “neopolitan pizza dough recipe” has a monthly traffic potential of 4.4K as well as a relatively low Keyword Difficulty (KD) score:

    Keyword metrics for "neopolitan pizza dough" via Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer

    Even better, there’s a weak website (DR 16) in the top three positions—so this should definitely be quite an easy topic to rank for.

    Page from a low-DR website ranking in the top 3. This indicates an easy-to-rank-for keyword

    Given that most of the top-ranking posts have at least a few backlinks, a page about this topic would also likely need at least a few backlinks to compete. Check out the resources below to learn how to build these.

    It’s unlikely that your hobby blog is going to pay the bills, so it’s time to use the work you’ve done so far to get a job in SEO. Here are a few benefits of doing this: 

    • Get paid to learn. This isn’t the case when you’re home alone reading blog posts and watching videos or working on your own site.
    • Get deeper hands-on experience. Agencies work with all kinds of businesses, which means you’ll get to build experience with all kinds of sites, from blogs to ecommerce. 
    • Build your reputation. Future clients or employers are more likely to take you seriously if you’ve worked for a reputable SEO agency. 

    To find job opportunities, start by signing up for SEO newsletters like SEO Jobs and SEOFOMO. Both of these send weekly emails and feature remote job opportunities: 

    SEO jobs in SEOFOMO newsletter

    You can also go the traditional route and search job sites for entry-level positions. The kinds of jobs you’re looking for will usually have “Junior” in their titles or at least mention that it’s a junior position in their description.

    Junior SEO job listing example

    Beyond that, you can search for SEO agencies in your local area and check their careers pages. 

    Even if there are no entry-level positions listed here, it’s still worth emailing and asking if there are any upcoming openings. Make sure to mention any SEO success you’ve had with your website and where you’re at in your journey so far.

    This might seem pushy, but many agencies actually encourage this—such as Rise at Seven:

    Call for alternative roles from Rise at Seven

    Here’s a quick email template to get you started:

    Subject: Junior SEO position?

    Hey folks,

    Do you have any upcoming openings for junior SEOs?

    I’ve been learning SEO for [number] months, but I’m looking to take my knowledge to the next level. So far, I’ve taken Ahrefs’ Beginner SEO course and started my own blog about [topic]—which I’ve had some success with. It’s only [number] months old but already ranks for [number] keywords and gets an estimated [number] monthly search visits according to Ahrefs.

    [Ahrefs screenshot]

    I checked your careers page and didn’t see any junior positions there, but I was hoping you might consider me for any upcoming positions? I’m super enthusiastic, hard-working, and eager to learn.

    Let me know.

    [Name]

    You can pull all the numbers and screenshots you need by creating a free Ahrefs Webmaster Tools account and verifying your website.

    SEO is a broad industry. It’s impossible to be an expert at every aspect of it, so you should niche down and hone your skills in the area that interests you the most. You should have a reasonable idea of what this is from working on your own site and in an agency.

    For example, link building was the area that interested me the most, so that’s where I focused on deepening my knowledge. As a result, I became what’s known as a “t-shaped SEO”—someone with broad skills across all things SEO but deep knowledge in one area.

    T-shaped SEO
    What a t-shaped SEO looks like

    Marie Haynes is another great example of a t-shaped SEO. She specializes in Google penalty recovery. She doesn’t build links or do on-page SEO. She audits websites with traffic drops and helps their owners recover.

    In terms of how to build your knowledge in your chosen area, here are a few ideas:

    Here are a few SEOs I’d recommend following and their (rough) specialties:

    Final thoughts

    K Anders Ericsson famously theorized that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master a new skill. Can it take less? Possibly. But the point is this: becoming an SEO expert is not an overnight process.

    I’d even argue that it’s a somewhat unattainable goal because no matter how much you know, there’s always more to learn. That’s part of the fun, though. SEO is a fast-moving industry that keeps you on your toes, but it’s a very rewarding one, too. 

    Here are a few stats to prove it:

    • 74.1% of SEOs charge clients upwards of $500 per month for their services (source)
    • $49,211 median annual salary (source)
    • ~$74k average salary for self-employed SEOs (source)

    Got questions? Ping me on Twitter X

    Article Performance
    • Organic traffic
      369

    The number of websites linking to this post.

    This post's estimated monthly organic search traffic.