A few weeks ago, my good friend Simon Owens introduced me via email to noted Power Digger Neal Rodriguez. As it turned out, Neal was interested in a career in SEO, and I was more than happy to weigh in with the following advice.

Don’t just be an SEO specialist; be an online marketer.

SEO is a somewhat ambiguous term in the industry, but it’s being regarded more and more as a combination of skills that are independent from SEM (Search Engine Marketing). I’ve got a similar mix of skills that span both categories, and I’ve found the term “online marketer” serves me much better.

Demonstrate past successes with hard numbers.

An important thing to remember is that the focus of any online marketer should always be the bottom line… For example, you achieved page one rankings for ImperialJets.com on competitive terms. That’s all well and good, but how much additional business/revenue did that produce? Remember, we live in a world where black hat SEO companies run rampant and give the industry a bad name by focusing on rankings. It’s often not enough to prove that you’re good at SEO, but that SEO is a valuable marketing tactic. ROI (Return On Investment) should be your bread and butter.

Promote your portfolio.

Whatever your professional skills, in the web industry, it’s becoming more and more useful to have a online portfolio of some kind. It serves the dual purpose of showing off your expertise and demonstrating your ability to create and promote a website on your own. Once you’ve got one, polish it until it shines, then link to it…

Develop a solid understanding of both on- and off-site optimization.

You’re obviously interested in SEO, and your viral marketing and social networking skills are definitely impressive. However, what do you know about on-site optimization? How much do you know about things like keyword research, copywriting, visibility analysis, site architecture, XML sitemaps, link building, etc.? The best results are often achieved by those with both on-site and off-site optimization ability, so if these aren’t things you know much about, they’re skills worth shoring up to further your career potential.

Develop your expertise with web programming.

…do you have any web design or development expertise? (…) In the SEO company where I got my start in the industry, there were about eight analysts who did the heavy lifting in terms of actual optimization (as opposed to copywriters and client managers). All eight of us were also experienced web developers. Granted, many of us got our start as developers and segued into SEO later, but development skills are nonetheless very valuable to the practice.

(Update 11/7/2008: A recent poll on Search Engine Roundtable confirms that programming is second only to marketing as the degree of choice for SEO professionals.)

Broaden your skill set.

Over the years, I have found that my greatest career advances came as the result of a broad skill set. In most jobs, I pull multiple duty as a copywriter, web developer, PPC manager, blogger, and SEO specialist. If you’re serious about a career in online marketing, I’d strongly recommend developing your expertise in related skill sets. Seek out breadth and embrace opportunities to learn something new. It’s worked very well for me.

Pay attention to offline opportunities.

Strangely, during my last few job searches, I managed to land a job out of the newspaper rather than online listings, so I strongly recommend that traditional listing services play a role in your job search. Also, and I know this may sound like the student instructing the professor, but networking does wonders. I have a planned job change in the next few weeks, all thanks to a friendly connection. Given that you found me through Simon, you’re obviously already doing this, so keep up the good work.

Know the demographic of your prospective employer.

…any business can benefit from online marketing, but I find only mid- to large-size businesses have the resources and interest to have their own in-house specialist. Smaller companies have a tendency to outsource such a specialized role.

A Note about Neal Rodriguez

I haven’t known Neal very long, but my advice to prospective employers is this: Power Diggers don’t come along ever day, so don’t wait; he won’t be on the market long. The fact that he wrote a guest post for Marketing Pilgrim should give you a hint that he knows what he’s doing. If you’re interested, you can email him at notifyneal at gmail.com.

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