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Originally Published: November 2014
Updated: May 2020

This seems like a simple one with a straightforward answer. Many would describe an SEO specialist as someone who helps users find what they’re searching for when using search engines like Google and Bing.

However, that is merely the tip of the search engine optimization iceberg.

Let’s consider the following example:

A Google search for “cat” returns “www.cat.com” which belongs to the Cat (Caterpillar) construction equipment. It then shares information based on its web of knowledge to present the searcher with what is known as a knowledge graph. This is a list of questions pertaining to owning cats. The knowledge graph is then followed by a list of YouTube compilation videos of cats. If we refine our search to “cat animal,” the search results are more relevant. A searcher now sees a Wikipedia article ranking first, followed by a similar knowledge graph, plenty of YouTube videos, and information from National Geographic on domestic cats.

If I am the owner of a cat boutique, why isn’t my website showing up in the search engine results for “cat”? How will people find me? What can an SEO specialist do to help us be more visible online?

As SEO experts, it is our job to make your website (cat boutique or otherwise) show up at the top of the “right” search engine results. With that job comes learning the intent of searchers that may be looking for you online, and selecting keywords, and presenting your information in a way that is compelling enough for them to want to click and visit your website.

10+ years ago this job required much different SEO skills than it does now, and there is a whole new skillset that SEO specialists need to master these days.

A modern specialist must be able to:

  • Make a decision
  • Research like crazy
  • Prioritize
  • Problem solve
  • Write intriguing content
  • Know the audience
  • Learn

As we go through the basics of what an SEO specialist does, we’ll see how often these skills apply to a range of common tasks and strategies.

Improve URL Structure

URLs should be simple, descriptive, and easy to read. While they may not have a huge impact on rankings, a poor URL structure is bad for the user experience and decreases the clickthrough rate.

Opt for this:

https://www.thebestcatboutique.com/beds/fuzzy-bed

Not this:

https://www.thebestcatboutique.com/prd-527/

Required skill: Make a decision

Fairly often there are many possible correct answers for how to solve a problem. That fact is especially true when it comes to changing URL structure on a website, and SEO specialists need to be able to make a good decision quickly instead of agonizing over the dozen possibilities.

Optimize Title Tags

Optimize Title Tags - SEO.com

An example of a title tag for SEO.com

The title tag is incredibly helpful when it comes to the many ranking factors out there. It is the text that shows up larger and bold on the search engine results page (SERP). You should include your main keyword in the title (some would argue at the very beginning), have it flow naturally, and include your company name. Each title tag on your website needs to be unique and specific to what that page is about. Also, be consistent and structure every title tag the same way.

The title tag is also a small piece of the puzzle that opens the opportunity to entice searchers to click on your site.

Opt for this:

Cat Beds & Blankets for Your Feline Friend | The Best Cat Boutique

Not this:

Cat sleep Accessories – cat beds – cat Blankets – Cat boutique – thebestcatboutique

Required skill: Research like crazy & Know the audience

Keyword research is an SEO specialist’s bread and butter. It is by keywords that we know what to optimize and rank for in search engines. To properly optimize title tags we must first complete keyword research. It is not always glamorous or fast-paced, but specialists need to embrace the research rather than fear it.

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Optimize Heading Tags

Optimize Heading Tags - SEO.com

An example of an optimized H1 Heading Tag.

Heading tags are another major ranking factor for Google. Your headings indicate the main topic of the page, should include your main targeted keyword, and be unique to each page. They tell search engines what your content or page is all about.

Optimize your headings starting with H1, H2, and so forth. Each page should only have one H1, and it can vary from your title tag, but is still helpful to include the keyword you’re focusing on for that page.

Opt for this:

Cat Beds

Not this:

Beds

Required skill: Research like crazy & Prioritize

Similar to title tags, keyword research is also necessary for heading tags. However, now we are getting into the other side of things: prioritizing. In SEO, there can be many things that need to be fixed on a website and they all may seem to be a priority. As specialists, it is our job to prioritize tasks and knock them out one by one starting with most important to least important.

Include Meta Descriptions

Meta Description Example - SEO.com

An example of a meta description for SEO.com.

Meta descriptions don’t necessarily affect your rankings directly. They do, however, improve clickthrough rate, which can indirectly help your rankings, and should not be forgotten or ignored.

The meta description is what shows up underneath the title tag on the search engine results page. This is your primary opportunity to write directly for the user and entice them to click on your link instead of a competitor’s link.

Be descriptive yet brief (under 155-160 characters to not be truncated in results), although some would argue that a longer truncated meta description is still just as effective. Your goal here is to sell the click, not the product.

Opt for this:

Great selection of quality cat beds at great prices. From discount to designer, there’s a cat bed for your best friend! Shop today!

Not this:

Cat beds. New cat beds. Blue cat beds. Red cat beds. Big cat beds. Beds for big cats. Cat beds for sale.

Required skill: Write intriguing content

Meta descriptions are the commercial jingles of the SEO world. SEO specialists must be great writers technically and grammatically, but they also must write catchy and intriguing content. Who knew that 160 characters could be some of the most difficult to write?

Write Rich Content

Long gone are the days of article spinning and keyword stuffing. Keywords are important, but they should be sprinkled in content rather than stuffed. Now, they are generally considered a lower priority than compelling content that speaks to the searcher’s intent.

Content needs to be original, engaging, well-written, and authoritative. SEO is important, but you need to be writing for users and not for search engine rankings for the most effective and impactful SEO campaign.

Before writing, always ask yourself, “what is the purpose behind this article?” Do not create content just to create content. Have a purpose for everything that you create and publish on your website.

That purpose is what will drive your writing style and how you structure your content.

Opt for this:

  • Keyword sprinkled
  • Original content
  • Informative content
  • Authoritative content

Not this:

  • Keyword stuffed
  • Thin content
  • Unreliable content

Required skill: Write intriguing content

“Content is king”, so says the world of SEO. SEO specialists today know that search engines have been placing increasing value on quality content and that has only continued to increase over the last 5 years. You need to write for quality and write for search intent. While we’re feeling the pressure, we do know how to write intriguing content that brings traffic to your website.

Add Internal Links

When Google crawls your site, they look for internal links. If Google finds links to other pages in your website, they will go to those as well. However, if Google doesn’t find any links they will simply leave, much like a potential user.

Internal linking not only lets Google know which pages are most important, but it can also increase user time spent on your website.

Opt for this:

  • Natural sentence fragments as anchor text scattered through a page
  • Relevant, helpful links
  • Link to pages deep within the site

Not this:

  • Optimized anchor text
  • Too many links on one page
  • Linking strictly to top-level pages

Required skill: Problem-solving and Prioritizing

Internal links require a lot of problem solving and prioritizing to determine which pages will be linked from where. SEO specialists know the importance of internal links, but executing that isn’t always easy. It takes time, thought, and the ability to problem-solve to really find the best locations and the best approach to internal links in a natural way.

A Modern Approach

When it comes to the modern SEO specialist, our jobs are part problem solver and part magician, trying to pull a rabbit out of a hat (in an established and effective way) to make Google (and therefore our clients) happy.

At the end of the day, what we do is really quite simple: we make sure your website is visible online, and we do our best to get you at the top of the search engine results so you have more traffic on your website that can, in turn, generate leads, sales, and more interaction with your brand.

For your business, is there really anything more important than that?