Qualities of a Good SEO

By Bryson Meunier, Natural Search Champion

Many of my colleagues here have given some great advice about SEM Education, including how to break into digital advertising and how to be a rockstar optimizer. I want to step back a bit and talk about the kind of personality traits that I find in the really excellent SEOs I’ve met or trained. There’s a stereotype of the SEO being the quiet master of a black, and highly technical art which I think is not only largely inaccurate, but kind of insulting to those of us who attempt to do our jobs well. It seems to me that the best SEOs are communicative, creative, geeky and confident. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but only a few observations. If you have others, by all means feel free to add them to the comments. Hopefully this list, as brief as it is, can help people hiring SEOs identify qualities beyond what is or is not listed on the resume, and help those beginning in the world of SEO become the best that they can be.

This is probably number one on my list. SEOs often act as translators to many different groups of people, and without the ability to communicate well, SEO simply doesn’t happen. An SEO should be able to communicate high-level concepts to CMOs, project details to marketing managers and technical minutiae to the hardcore geeks who make it all work, all in the same breath. Before you learn SEO, learn proper verbal and written communication. If I had a nickel for every SEO I know who was an English major, I would have a lot of nickels.


SEOs also have the stereotype of being a highly technical group. While I think an SEO needs to understand technology in order to make quality recommendations, the really good SEOs are skilled at thinking outside the box in order to solve a problem. There are a set of rules that need to be followed, but an SEO who requires a rulebook rather than writing their own rules is not the kind of SEO you need on your team.

This does not necessarily mean technically-minded. Though that clearly helps, what I mean by geeky is the person’s affinity for digging into areas that most might think of as arcane. Indie rock geeks, butterfly collectors, rock climbers, conspiracy theorists, Elvis fans, Obama supporters, vegetarians: really anyone who researches a topic online and spends half of their lives discussing it with others has a good idea of what it takes to be an SEO. Think of comic book guy from the Simpsons. Now put glasses on him, cut his ponytail, give him glasses and bariatric surgery and you have Matt Cutts. OK, that’s a bit of a stretch, but you get the idea. If you prefer being outside to being in front of a computer discussing proper redirects and the benefits of social media optimization with strangers, then SEO probably isn’t for you.

The best SEOs that I’ve known have a quiet confidence that comes in part from experience, but in part from knowing themselves and what they’re capable of. Don’t confuse confidence with cockiness and hire a snake oil salesman, however. The best SEOs know intuitively that they will probably know the answer to a question, or can find it quickly if they don’t know. They’re also not afraid of failure, but look at it as a confidence builder. Real confidence comes from spending years in the profession. Nonetheless, a beginner SEO can work three times as hard to compensate. Either way, confidence goes a long way in this business.

Experienced SEOs are ideal, but give me someone who is communicative, creative, geeky and confident and the rest will likely follow.


Dave McAnally said...

Great list, but I see you forgot the all important "Devastatingly Handsome" quality of any good SEO :-)

If I ranked these, I'd put the communication one at the top nowadays (although that could change from day to day). The degree to which people understand what you're asking them to do seems to directly affect their willingness to do it.

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