What is an SEO Specialist?

Editor’s Note:

A lot has changed in the years since this post originally went up. For a more recent definition, check our our updated post here: What is a Modern SEO Specialist?


Original post:

When I’m asked what I do for a living, I debate in my head how to answer the question. Should I say ‘SEO’ and wait for a confused look?

Perhaps I should share my wife’s answer: “He organizes the Internet to get high rankings on Google.” Should my answer be brief or should I spend time educating them about the awesomeness of SEO?

Many professionals probably find it challenging to explain to someone in a different field exactly what they do. My wife, a nurse, comes home and tries to share stories and challenges from her day. I feel like she’s speaking a foreign language. In the SEO industry, communication and clarity are important. Hopefully, I can clearly answer the question, “what is an SEO Specialist?”

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) helps people find what they’re searching for when using search engines like Google and Bing. Keywords are significant words or phrases used when performing a search, which direct you to the search results. Search results appear in a certain order for a reason. Keywords are competitive and SEO is used to help sites rank high on the list of results. Take the word SEO. When searched, this page appears.


SEO.com ranks third in the search. And there are reasons the company shows up at number three. In terms of Google, many factors contribute to making a site rank at the top.

Optimizing your website for search engines involves being aware of these factors and implementing them correctly to draw more attention to a site. For those wanting a more detailed explanation, here are a few of the key players in SEO:

A more in-depth explanation of SEO is available at the beginning guide to understanding SEO.

Some may hope this post continues, but I’m afraid by continuing I’ll create more questions than answers. It’s a fine line between sharing just enough information and trying to drink from a fire hose.

I’m interested in how you explain SEO to others.


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  1. Matthew Briggs says

    Great post Ty. I tell people we help clients rank higher on Google for certain key words. The only problem is the next question they ask is always, “Well how do you do that?” Maybe I’ll start referring them to you.

  2. Russell Jensen says

    I face the same question every day. My answer varies depending on my audience. For instance, if I am speaking to an employee of another technology company I tell them I am an SEO Content Manager for a couple domains. The employee of that tech company probably already knows what SEO, content and domains mean.

    On the other hand if I am speaking to a member of the opposite sex,whom I may have interest in, I am an editor at an advertising company. The acronym “SEO” would mean nothing to her. The member of the opposite sex, I assume, associates a person in advertising with popular movie stars like Matthew Mcconaughey in How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days.

    So it’s all about your audience. And in SEO you must write to please your audience, not just the SERPS.

  3. gesher says

    I’ve been using the exact same line for years. After I say I’m an SEO and get a blank stare, I just say: “I optimize websites so they rank higher in Google.” Sometimes people ask me intelligent questions about my work, and sometimes they just smile and nod (“SPAMMER!!!!!”) but they always have some basic understanding of what SEO is after that.

  4. William says

    It is hard to explain to people how you try to assign logic to something like search engines that purposely try to hide how they do things. It is sort of like a weatherman:) In all seriousness, it is hard to do SEO and get results. The people that can get results are skilled.

  5. Adrien says

    The Term SEO is clearly in need of a face lift.

    At one point (pre-2007) people ran to become loan officers & mortgage brokers because of the money that could be made and the ability it gave them to better their families. Years later we know the truth – they worked in field that was mostly liers, cheaters, and full of “the sales person” who never does anything other than sell.

    Today everybody is jumping on the SEO bandwagon and the term is on verge of falling down the same drain. The more I look around at SEO companies the more i see “the sales person”, trying to sell me the DIY How-to guide for Thousands of $s or trying to use quotes such as “first page of…” blah blah blah. I have even seen pitchmen at seminars trying to sell mom&pop companies the dream of big dollars and new clients by moving them into the social media universe, and what did these companies do? they started them a Facebook account, a twitter page, or maybe even tinkered with their keywords on their websites..is that worth $5,000 – $10,000+!?!??! of course not, especially when they dont really understand the tools they have, or know how to properly use them.

    The other side is, there are real people in the SEO business that know what they are doing, and are worth the big money to turn companies websites and even businesses around to gain new customers and more profits. It used to be when someone told me they were in the SEO business i would think “i want to compare notes and pick this person’s brain”, but now if someone says that to me i think “is this person for real…”

  6. Ty Kilgore says


    Thanks for your comment. I agree with you about making sure that you hire a SEO business that knows what they’re doing. It’s important to know what to look for and what are warning signs. David Scoville wrote a post about SEO idiots (or experts) to avoid that gives signs to look for.

  7. Marketing Agency NJ says

    I too receive this question a lot and find it difficult to answer. I like how you explained an overview of how the internet works. I try to give a very similar overview but find the people I’m speaking too have the “I wish i didn’t ask him what he does for a living” look on his face.

  8. Ty says

    I have been providing advanced SEO consultation to clients for 14 years and I have noticed a big change in the industry over that time. About 10 years ago, my company was one of the only Sacramento SEO companies. Today my clients get several calls each week from SEO wannabes that read an article on SEO and now think they are experts.

    So here is my special message for the SEO consultant working out of his garage: Do not use the title “SEO Expert” until you have proven that you are knowledgeable and can be trusted. If you can’t do this, you are just another sales guy with a cheap suit and bad cologne.

    Experienced SEO Consultant

  9. Mark says

    I just keep it simple and say I’m in IT and work with websites. Usually they will just say oh ok cool, if they ask more then i will elaborate lol

  10. David Ewing says

    Ty, awesome article! I’ve had this same struggle over and over about how to approach explaining what I do. You’re right about the “confused look when you say SEO” . I played around for a few months with saying I help online businesses make more money …which usually led to “how do you do that?” …Then I’d go into explain SEO…Usually about 30-45 seconds longer until the famous glazed eyes

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