Braden Becker’s journey to becoming an SEO specialist at HubSpot is a slightly unconventional one. In college, he studied Writing & Rhetoric, which helped him land his first job as a copy editor at a B2B trade publication. As he progressed through his career, Braden pivoted to content marketing, where he worked as an editor at a SaaS company and then as a content manager at the world’s largest environmental services firm.
You might think someone like Braden would continue to climb the creative career ladder in content marketing. But today he actually spends more time in SEMrush than he does in Google Docs. As the Historical Optimization Lead on HubSpot’s Blog Team, Braden’s main responsibility is to identify blog posts that are falling in organic traffic and optimize them for search engines to rank higher on Google. He’s even sharpened his SEO chops enough to co-create the SEO strategy for all of HubSpot’s blogs.
As a writer and editor for most of his career, SEO had always been in the periphery of Braden’s work — as it was a subject he had a solid grasp on but not necessarily a lot of expertise in. Today, though, SEO is his central focus. And he’s developed a reputation of being HubSpot’s own version of Rand Fishkin.
“Getting a job in SEO ideally requires two things: content creation skill and analytical skill. Most SEO professionals today have one of those and develop the other,” Becker says. “My background in writing and editing helped me get my foot in the door, but a willingness to focus on the structure, mechanics, and intent behind my writing is what I think secured my role as an SEO specialist for HubSpot.”
Braden’s story of pivoting from a creative career in content marketing to an analytical one isn’t as rare as you might think. Before Aja Frost became a Senior SEO Strategist at HubSpot, she was the Editor of HubSpot’s Sales Blog. And, similar to Braden, she credits her time spent in a more creative role as a crucial factor in transitioning to an analytical marketing role.
“I taught myself how to do keyword research and competitive analysis as an editor for HubSpot’s Sales Blog. The Sales Blog’s traffic had been flat for a year and a half — I noticed that the only posts that consistently generated views for us were getting all of those views from search. So I began looking for sales-related keywords we could rank for that would help boost organic traffic,” she says. “This led me to experiment with SEMrush, AnswerThePublic, Google Analytics, Google Search Console, and of course, HubSpot’s own SEO tools. I read a ton of blog posts and eventually got my Google Analytics certification.”
Braden and Aja have spent their entire careers in content marketing, so it makes sense that they could seamlessly transition from a role in content creation to SEO, especially since the two disciplines go hand-in-hand. But if you don’t have any experience working in the two departments or even in marketing, don’t fret. To build his fundamental knowledge of SEO, Victor Pan, the Head of Technical SEO at HubSpot, cites reading as one of the best habits he got into.
“I used to be a voracious reader on all publicly available information on SEO. I had an RSS feed of search-related blogs and news websites I would go through for a whole hour every day,” he says. “Mere exposure to ideas makes unknown problems in SEO easier to tackle when you have other people’s experiences or frameworks to build off from.”
For Victor, reading was one of the best ways to develop his SEO fundamentals. But even as an established SEO, the activity can still refine your expertise. According to Aja Frost, it’s how she hones her technical SEO skills.
“To refine my SEO expertise, I constantly read. I’m really interested in technical SEO so I look for blog posts, white papers, and research about site architecture and navigation, website speed and everything that goes into that, like structured data,” she says. “SEO by the Sea, Sistrix, and Blind Five Year Old are all great technical SEO resources, along with (unsurprisingly) the Google Webmaster Blog. I’m a member of a few SEO subreddits (/seo and /bigseo are the most active). And I follow a ton of SEOs on Twitter — they drop random factoids or insights all the time.”
To stay ahead of the curve in any industry, reading the latest news and research is hugely beneficial. But as an SEO, when everything is constantly changing, reading isn’t enough. To gain the practical experience that’ll truly take your SEO skills to the next level, you need to put theory into practice and constantly test industry assumptions and your new ideas.
“I test a lot of things to refine my SEO expertise. Should your brand be in your title tags? Are internal anchor text worthwhile to still do in 2019 to move rankings? What happens when you purchase fake social “signals” — do you see an increase in organic traffic?” says Victor Pan. “Failed experiments taught me just as much as successful ones, and it made me a much more confident SEO whenever I would make any improvements to content. What’s an improvement here could be worse off there — and that’s why we have to test and grasp causation over just correlation.”
Based on Braden’s, Aja’s, and Victor’s stories, becoming an SEO expert doesn’t mean you have to start and finish your career as an SEO. Pivoting from one role to an SEO role and developing your expertise from then on is entirely possible — you just need to be willing to learn and adapt.
How to Become an SEO Expert
To start developing your SEO expertise today, here’s a recap of the tips from HubSpot’s SEO team.
1. Read. SEO is always changing, so it’s crucial to keep updating your knowledge on the topic. Some of the best SEO resources recommended by Senior SEO Specialist, Aja Frost, are SEO by the Sea, Sistrix, Blind Five Year Old, Google’s Webmaster Blog, and the subreddits /seo and /bigseo.
2. Hone your creative and analytical skillsets. SEO is not only an analytical profession where you do ton of keyword research, competitive analysis, and run experiments, but it’s also a creative profession where you need to optimize your content for people just as much as Google’s search algorithm.
3. Test. Putting theory into practice arms you with the practical knowledge and experience needed to level up as an SEO. In this way, SEO is kind of like playing a sport. You can read all about hitting a baseball or throwing a football, but if you never practice, you’ll never reach your potential.