With all the cutbacks, right-sizing and outplacement occurring in today’s corporate world, career change is very difficult. Many blindlessly list their resumes on Monster or Career Builder hoping for a quick interview and job offer. However, my best advice, provided during career training sessions in my role as a career coach, is to seek out budding career fields with a dearth of highly qualified candidates. One such field is SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and SEM (Search Engine Marketing). Though distinct, they cross over into one exploding industry that provides vast opportunities for those transitioning from other downtrodden professions. I recently interviewed several champions within this growing field to discover: a) what skills are needed for success? b) what fields one could easily transition from without any prior experience? And c) what are the future career prospects?First, I wanted to discover what skills are necessary to be a success in the field. Matt Van Wagner President of http://www.findmefaster.com, Jill Whalen, President of http://www.highrankings.com, Christine Churchill, President of http://www.keyrelevance.com and Shari Thurow, Marketing Director at http://www.grantasticdesigns.com all suggested a unique combination of right and left brain talents. “For search engine friendly design you need both (technical and artistic skills),” stated Ms. Thurow.On the qualitative and right brain side, “pay special attention to writing because there is so little good writing on the web”, says Detlev Johnson VP Search Services of http://www.positiontech.com. Tony Wright VP, Client Services of http://www.kineticresults.com agreed, “There is a lot of writing in search work.” Michael Murray, VP Search Engine Marketing at http://www.fathomseo.com suggested, “An appreciation of words and how search engines respond to those words.” Mr. Van Wagner added, “Intellectual curiosity would be the best teacher.” Rand Fishkin CEO of http://www.seomoz.org credits a very strong obsession with the web for his success. Finally, Cameron Olthuis, Director of Marketing and Design at http://www.acsseo.com noted, “A lot of creativity to come up with content pieces that people will link to.”
On the quantitative and left brain side, “understanding how the (search) engines interact and understanding how the different technologies affect SEO,” offered John Carcutt, Director of Natural Search at http://www.morevisibility.com. “Anything to do with web design or computers,” remarked Mr. Wright. “If someone is experienced in competitive analysis on any level that will certainly help,” said Chris Boggs, Search Strategist at http://www.avenuea-razorfish.com. “The search engines are working off relevancy algorithms and in order to figure out where you need to go, you need to really pay attention to the way the numbers work. Everything is very algorithmic,” observed Mr. Van Wagner. Finally, John Rodkin, VP and GM Digital Advertising Solutions of http://www.webtrends.com asserted, “You need to have a strong analytical foundation. You really have to understand the metrics and some statistical understanding is important.”Next, I wanted to uncover any fields where someone, with no exposure to either SEO or SEM, could easily transition from. “If you understand web development and coding, you would have the aptitude to figure out how the (search engine) robots work and how search engines work in general,” says Mr. Johnson. “Something close with an element of marketing because this is still about advertising. So marketing, public relations, journalism, advertising,” suggested Mr. Murray. “People with good research skills,” commented Ms. Whalen. “That’s what’s so wonderful about it, there’s a lot of opportunity there because there are different areas you can move into. If you are good at writing, there is a big demand for copywriters to write content for the site or write pay-for-click ads,” says Ms. Churchill. “A lot of people jump from journalism because a lot of the techniques that you use to write a story in a newspaper are similar to optimizing a web site,” remarked Matt Bailey, President of http://www.sitelogicmarketing.com. Finally, Mr. Rodkin noted, “Any field where you use math (would be easy to transition from).”Next, I wanted to learn if there were any classes, seminars or books that could facilitate quickly transitioning from another field. Most thought the field was moving too quickly for any text book to be relevant. However, Mr. Van Wagner did offer several foundation books: a) Shari Thurow’s “Search Engine Visibility” as a good primer b) “Web Analytics Demystified” by Eric T. Peterson, to instruct on how to collect and consider data and c) SPC (Statistical Process Control) books because of the importance of numbers and statistics in the field. The Search Engine Strategies Conference and Expo, which travels the globe spotlighting cutting-edge techniques, was strongly recommended by all. Mr. Boggs also suggested blogs such as http://mattcutts.com/blog/, http://www.seroundtable.com, http://www.seomoz.org/blog.php, http://www.stuntdubl.com, http://www.toprankblog.com.Mr. Olthuis agreed and added [http://www.rohitbhargava.typepad.com/webblog] and http://www.pronetadvertising.com. Mr. Van Wagner recommended newsletters such as http://www.sitepronews.com, http://www.searchengineguide.com, http://www.entireweb.com and http://www.highrankings.com. Both Christine Churchill and Matt Bailey agreed and strongly recommending Jill Whalen’s High Ranking Seminars. “When you want to get into the nitty gritty of optimization, Jill’s seminars and newsletters really keep to the basics of what it is all about,” says Bailey. Mr. Rodkin mentioned that both Google and Yahoo have online training programs that will teach you the basics of SEM. Finally, http://www.searchengineland.com, http://www.searchenginewatch.com, http://www.webmasterworld.com and http://www.pubcon.com were also mentioned by most of the experts.
Lastly, I wanted to discover the future career prospects. “Fantastic,” declared Ms. Thurow. Most agreed including Mr. Boggs who added, “People who are in other industries are more likely to be hired now because there are not a lot of experienced people out there so (SEO and SEM firms) have to modify other backgrounds.” Mr. Othuis noted, “Social media marketing is just starting to come into its own. It is going have a lot of opportunities for a long time.” Rand Fishkin offered a little different prospective, “Ten years from now things will probably be significantly different. I don’t believe that long term we can expect that search engines will always operate the way they do today.”In summary, with the transition to search engines as the new Yellow Pages, more and more businesses are using the internet to advertise and find information. As a result, opportunities in SEO and SEM are phenomenal. With a lack of qualified candidates, many with traditional backgrounds in marketing, journalism and web design can easily transition into this hot field with some minor preparation.