How to Become an SEO Lead (10 Tips That Advanced My Career)


A few years ago, I was an SEO Lead managing enterprise clients’ SEO campaigns. It’s a senior role and takes a lot of work to get there. So how can you do it, too?

In this article, I’ll share ten tips to help you climb the next rung in the SEO career ladder.

Helping new hires in the SEO team is important if you want to become an SEO Lead. It gives you the experience to develop your leadership skills, and you can also share your knowledge and help others learn and grow.

It demonstrates you can explain things well, provide helpful feedback, and improve the team’s standard of work. It shows you care about the team’s success, which is essential for leaders. Bosses look for someone who can do their work well and help everyone improve.

Here are some practical examples of things I did early in my career to help mentor junior members of the team that you can try as well:

  • Hold “lunch and learn” sessions on topics related to SEO and share case studies of work you have done
  • Create process documents for the junior members of the team to show them how to complete specific tasks related to your work
  • Compile lists of your favorite tools and resources for junior members of the team
  • Create onboarding documents for interns joining the company

Wouldn’t it be great if you could look at every single SEO Lead’s resume? Well, you already can. You can infer ~70% of any SEO’s resume by spying on their LinkedIn and social media channels.

Type “SEO Lead” into LinkedIn and see what you get.

Searching for SEO Leads using Linkedin

Tip

Look for common career patterns of the SEOs you admire in the industry.

I used this method to understand how my favorite SEOs and people at my company navigated their way from a junior role to a senior role.

For example, when the Head of SEO at the time Kirsty Hulse, joined my team, I added her on LinkedIn and realized that if I wanted to follow in her footsteps, I’d need to start by getting the role of SEO Manager to stand any possible chance of leading SEO campaigns like she was.

The progression in my company was from SEO Executive to Senior SEO Executive (Junior roles in London, UK), but as an outsider coming into the company, Kirsty showed me that it was possible to jump straight to SEO Manager given the right circumstances.

Career example

Using Kirsty’s and other SEOs’ profiles, I decided that the next step in my career needed to be SEO Manager, and at some point, I needed to get some experience with a bigger media agency so I could work my way up to leading an SEO campaign with bigger brands.

Sadly, you can’t just rock up to a monthly meeting and start leading a big brand SEO campaign. You’ll need to prove yourself to your line manager first. So how can you do this?

Here’s what I’d suggest you do:

  • Create a strong track record with smaller companies.
  • Obsessively share your wins with your company, so that senior management will already know you can deliver.
  • At your performance review, tell your line manager that you want to work on bigger campaigns and take on more responsibility.

If there’s no hope of working with a big brand at your current job, you might need to consider looking for a new job where there is a recognizable brand. This was what I realized I needed to do if I wanted to get more experience.

Tip

Get recruiters on LinkedIn to give you the inside scoop on which brands or agencies are hiring. Ask them if you have any skill gaps on your resume that could prevent you from getting a job with these companies.

Being critical of your skill gaps can be hard to do. I found the best way to identify them early in my career was to ask other people—specifically recruiters. They had knowledge of the industry and were usually fairly honest as to what I needed to improve.

From this, I realized I lacked experience working with other teams—like PR, social, and development teams. As a junior SEO, your mind is focused 99% on doing SEO, but when you become more senior, your integration with other teams is important to your success.

For this reason, I’d suggest that aspiring SEO Leads should have a good working knowledge of how other teams outside of SEO operate. If you take the time to do this, it will pay dividends later in your career:

  • If there are other teams in your company, ask if you can do some onboarding training with them.
  • Get to know other team leads within your company and learn how they work.
  • Take training courses to learn the fundamentals of other disciplines that complement SEO, such as Python, SQL, or content creation.

Sometimes, employers use skill gaps to pay you less, so it’s crucial to get the skills you need early on…

Skills gap illustration
Source

Examples of other skill gaps I’ve noticed include:

Tip

If you think you have a lot of skill gaps, then you can brush up your skills with our SEO academy. Once you’ve completed that, you can fast-track your knowledge by taking a course like Tom Critchlow’s SEO MBA, or you can try to develop these skills through your job.

As a junior in any company, it can be hard to get your voice heard amongst the senior crowd. Ten years ago, I shared my wins with the team in a weekly group email in the office.

Here’s what you should be sharing:

  • Praise from 3rd parties, e.g. “the client said they are impressed with the work this month.”
  • Successful performance insights, e.g “following our SEO change, the client has seen X% more conversions this month.”
  • Examples of the work you led, e.g. if your leadership and decision-making led to good results, then you need to share it.

At Ahrefs I keep a “wins” document. It’s just a simple spreadsheet that lists feedback on the blog posts I’ve written, the links I’ve earned and what newsletters my post was included in. It’s useful to have a document like this so you have a record of your achievements.

Example of wins spreadsheet

Sidenote.

Junior SEOs sometimes talk about the things “we” achieved as a team rather than what they achieved at the interview stage. If you want the SEO Lead role, remember to talk about what you achieved. While there’s no “I” in team, you also need to advocate for yourself.

One of my first big wins as an SEO was getting a link from an outreach campaign on Buzzfeed. When I went to Brighton SEO later that year and saw Matthew Howells-Barby sharing how he got a Buzzfeed link, I realized that this was not something everyone had done.

So when I did manage to become an SEO Lead, and my team won a prize in Publicis Groupe for our SEO performance, I made sure everyone knew about the work we did. I even wrote a case study on the work for Publicis Groupe’s intranet.

Silver prize winning at publicis groupe

I’ve worked with some incredibly talented people, many of whom have helped me in my career.

I owe my big break to Tim Cripps, Laura Scott, and Kevin Mclaren. Without their support and encouragement, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Even before that, David Schulhof, Jodie Wheeler, and Carl Brooks let me mastermind some bonkers content campaigns that were lucky enough to succeed:

Digital Spy Coverage for emoji campaign
Some of the coverage I got for a stag and hen do client, back in the day.

I wasn’t even an SEO Lead at that point, but they gave me the reins and trusted me.

So, how can you find your tribe?

  • Speak to recruiters – they might hold the ticket to your next dream job. I spoke to many recruiters early in my career, but only two recruiters delivered for me—they were Natasha Woodford, and Amalia Gouta. Natasha helped me get a job that filled my skill gap, and Amalia helped me get my first SEO Lead role.
  • Go to events and SEO conferences, and talk to speakers to build connections outside of your company.
  • Use LinkedIn and other social media to interact with other companies or individuals that resonate with you.

Many senior SEO professionals spend most of their online lives on X and LinkedIn. If you’re not using them, you’re missing out on juicy opportunities.

Example of Linkedin recruiter message
Example of a recruiter message I got just after I joined Ahrefs.

Sharing your expertise on these platforms is one of the easiest ways to increase your chances of getting a senior SEO role. Because, believe it or not, sometimes a job offer can be just a DM away.

Here’s some specific ideas of what you can share:

I’ve recently started posting on LinkedIn and am impressed by the reach you can get by posting infrequently on these topics.

Here’s an example of one of my posts where I asked the community for help researching an article I was writing:

Linkedin post example

And here is the content performance across the last year from posting these updates.

Linkedin-Content-Performance

I’m clearly not a LinkedIn expert—far from it! But as you can see, with just a few months of posting, you can start to make these platforms work for you.

Godard Abel, co-founder of G2, talked on a podcast about conscious leadership. This struck a chord with me recently as I realized that I had practiced some of the principles of conscious leadership—unconsciously.

You can start practicing conscious leadership by asking yourself if your actions are above or below the line. Here are a few examples of above and below-the-line thinking:

Above and below the line thinking

If you want a senior SEO role, I’d suggest shifting your mindset to above-the-line thinking.

In the world of SEO, it’s easy to blame all your search engine woes on Google. We’ve all been there. But a lot of the time, simple changes to your website can make a huge difference—it just takes a bit of effort to find them and make the changes.

SEO is not an exact science. Some stakeholders naturally get nervous if they sense you aren’t sure about what you’re saying. If you don’t get their support early on then you fall at the first hurdle.

Business plan with no detail
Source

To become more persuasive, try incorporating Aristotle’s three persuasive techniques into your conversations.

  • Pathos: use logical reasoning, facts, and data to present water-tight arguments.
  • Ethos: establish your credibility and ethics through results.
  • Logos: make your reports tell a story.
Persuasive techniques

Then sprinkle in language that has a high level of modality:

Modality of language

Some people will be able to do this naturally without even realizing it, but for others, it can be an uphill struggle. It wasn’t easy for me, and I had to learn to adapt the way I talked to stakeholders early on.

The strongest way I found was to appeal to emotions and back up with data from a platform like Ahrefs. Highlight what competitors have done in terms of SEO and the results they’ve earned from doing it.

Sidenote.

You don’t have to follow this tip to the letter, but being aware of these concepts means you’ll start to present more confident and persuasive arguments for justifying your SEO strategies.

When I started in SEO, I had zero connections. Getting a job felt like an impossible challenge.

Once I’d got my first SEO Lead job, it felt stupidly easy to get another one—just through connections I’d made along the way in my SEO journey.

I once got stuck on a delayed train with a senior member of staff, and he told me he was really into Google Local Guides, and he was on a certain high level. He said it took him a few years to get there.

Local Guides is part of Google Maps that allows you submit reviews and other user generated content

When he showed me the app, I realized that you could easily game the levels by uploading lots of photos.

In a “hold my beer” moment, I mass downloaded a bunch of photos, uploaded them to Local Guides and equaled his Local Guide level on the train in about half an hour. He was seething.

Google Local Guides Screenshot Level 7

One of the photos I uploaded was a half-eaten Subway. It still amazes me that 50,974 people have seen this photo:

This wasn’t exactly SEO, but the ability to find this ‘hack’ so quickly impressed him, and we struck up a friendship.

The next month that person moved to another company, and then another few months later, he offered me an SEO Lead job.

Tip

Build connections with everyone you can—you never know who you might need to call on next.

Final thoughts

The road to becoming an SEO Lead seems straightforward enough when you start out, but it can quickly become long and winding.

But now armed with my tips, and a bucket load of determination, you should be able to navigate your way to an SEO Lead role much quicker than you think.

Lastly, if you want any more guidance, you can always ping me on LinkedIn. 🙂





Vous pouvez lire l’article original (en Anglais) sur https://ahrefs.com/blog/how-to-become-an-seo-lead/

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