There are at least four distinct types of SEO practitioners I have identified over the past decade.
It is likely that most people will be a blend of different types, because everyone’s experiences are unique.
For a search optimization program to be successful it must also be specific and clear. Each project should be treated like a special snowflake. If you are aware of where your institution’s resources and strengths are, you’ll know which type of practitioner to work with.
For example, you have a technical product in the b2b space. You’re working with a full front end web development team, but they are all mostly working on making the product and therefore loathe website change requests.
The technical SEO is probably your best bet fit, because they’ll work efficiently with a developer to quickly enact code changes. Some technical SEOs even know which tools to run on a CMS for sweet results.
Data / Analysts
Understanding large sets of data and knowing how to parse them is an art, but it calls for an analytical mindset. The analytics SEO is a former data scientist, quant, statistician, scientist, analyst or someone who is very advanced with their analysis and knowledge of tools. These SEOs operate most from the head, not the creative realm (which they find annoying).
They are the person who owns the task of correlating data, building dashboards and ensuring reports are trusted. Sometimes a PPC person can become a data-focused SEO as well, meaning they are a hybrid. The most important function to this type of SEO is that the past is learned from and the future is measured.
Technical SEOs are typically former web developers, web designers or software engineers who get into the field after gaining the desire to be involved in what’s on the page, not just what’s behind it.
The technical SEO will always start with what I like to call the block and tackle elements; W3C compliance, data capture and all the key technical elements that could be causing issues with site growth.
Also expect some on-page SEO too, UI and UX discussion falls within their realm. The limit to working with this type of SEO is that development resources are often the most expensive to a marketing department. The technical SEO will require more than administrative access to WordPress to thrive and enact meaningful changes.
Content & Communications
Content SEOs tend to be less technically driven, their focus is almost all on-page. They have a heavy target goal of gaining website traffic via social generation and gaining links at the core of their programs.
This type of SEO is often your content bartender, constantly experimenting with the finest in artisanal small batch traffic sources. The content SEO tends to come from previous careers as writers, branding experts, corporate communications, public relations or social media managers.
Content SEOs are hooked on finding new sources of traffic for their sites, they pursue link building programs and new platforms aggressively. They also tend to be fun at parties…
General / Novice
I have inherited a great deal of projects from these types of SEOs. They tend to be someone who tries their hand at some SEO plugins in WordPress and experiences
success because they have a willingness to learn. These types of SEOs are less experienced so they tend to have the one-size-fits-all approach, initially picked up from things like cheesy all-in-one SEO tools.
Then they learn. We all started out as a novice at one point, if you encounter one – be encouraging! If your budget only allows for one person to run marketing, the novice will generally work the hardest and cover the most ground.
Recognize and accept the fact their learning curve is going to be there and build some learning into the job so they can fly.
For companies: In-house SEO or not?
Regardless of the type of SEO needed, many companies struggle with whether or not to hire an in-house SEO or go with an outsourced SEO agency or consultant. My bias is significant as an agency operator, but agency SEOs have the power to stay up to date on trends in a way the in-house ones do not.
House SEOs sometimes have the ability to see large amounts of data sets if they are in publishing or e-commerce properties (or with PPC to also manage).
The difference giving agency SEOs an edge is that they have the ability to view independent amounts of data across different industries. If the agency has some commonalities between client industry or geography this can lead to unique insights.
Viewing multiple sets of industry data with similar themes like ‘business to business’ plus ‘technology industry’ allows for insights into parallel universes, such as potential upcoming algorithm dips and bumps.
One compelling reason to hire in-house for SEO is if the institution is largely dependent on SEO as a primary means of income. In this case it’s smart to keep the resources, history and knowledge in-house.
Ideally if resources are sufficient having both in-house and agency search marketers collaborating together. Differing perspectives can benefit an SEO program, because more ideas mean more experiments to run.
For SEO Experts: Which one are you?
People often teach themselves SEO out in the field, because most start their careers as something else, first.
In my case I started as a web developer and migrated into SEO through my love of analytics. Lastly, there are only a few places that offer formal SEO training like O’Reilly, Moz.com, SearchEngineJournal.com or Udemy.com. It’s more common to “go rogue” as they say.
Now that you have seen the 4 types of SEO practitioners tell us, in the comments box below, which type fits you best?