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Keeping Your Skills Sharp in an Ever-Changing Marketing Landscape

sharpen your seo skillsIn SEO, like in many fields in the digital marketing industry, you never really arrive at success. You have to keep improving, sharpening, and strengthening your skill set. So how do you do that? Once you’ve leveled up from beginner to intermediate to advanced SEO expert, what then? I’ve been doing SEO and digital marketing since 2010, and so I’d like to share some tips about how I keep my skills fresh.

Work with Smart People

By far the most helpful thing for me has been actually talking with and listening to others who know more than you about SEO or subjects related to your field. After spending several years in an in-house environment where I was pretty much the only marketing-minded person, I was able to grow exponentially faster when I switched to an agency setting, where I was surrounded with like-minded marketing folks. Do what you can to surround yourself who can challenge you, help you stay up to date on the latest industry news, and help you when you have questions.

Have an Attitude of Learning

Before delving into some of the more practical tips, I’d like to lay the foundation with the type of personality you need in order to keep your SEO skills sharp. You should have an attitude of lifelong learning, always pushing yourself to learn more in order to be able to contribute more. You should be willing to learn a new program or become the expert with a certain tool, even if no one else wants to do it. You should be willing to ask questions and have others help you when you get stuck. Set aside a night each week to work on your education, even if you’re not enrolled in school.

Take Online Learning Courses

Now on to the practical stuff. Over the years, I’ve signed up for several online courses that have helped me in my day-to-day work. I never really took an “SEO class;” these are all ancillary skills. Classes that have helped me out include: Microsoft Excel, HTML5 & CSS3, JavaScript and Python. I’ve taken courses through my local community college’s Continuing Education Program, Codeacademy, and Lynda.com, which is free through the Seattle Public Library.

Take Certificate Programs

Take learning one step further and choose an accredited university for a certificate program. Coursera has some great certificates, but I chose to go with the UW’s Graduate Certificate in Advanced Interactive Marketing in 2010. This was an in-person course, and it was tremendously helpful for jump-starting my career in marketing.

Then there’s certificates such as those through Google Analytics, Google AdWords, Bing Ads, Adobe Analytics, Microsoft, etc. These can be helpful for establishing yourself as a competent specialist.

Take Extracurricular Classes

Besides courses that help you directly with your career path, courses that have no direct correlation to your area of expertise can also be beneficial. I’ve made it a habit to enroll in some type of course or another, whether a self-defense class, Spanish classes, or art classes. If nothing else, these types of classes are fun and provide a respite from work. They also exercise the brain in a different way and help you get into the rhythm of being a lifelong learner.

Read Books

I read books consistently, both for work and for fun. Check out my list of recommended marketing & SEO books here. Some books, such as Alibaba’s World, are not directly related to my area of expertise (its not a book about SEO at all) but it is helpful because it revealed to me how business in China differs from business in the west. That’s helpful to my career as I try to learn more about global business. So think outside the box and look for books that may be directionally related to your area of expertise.

Listen to Podcasts

Back in 2013-2014, I listed to the Digital Analytics PowerHour podcast and learned about Tag Management and lots of useful things, even though I never planned on going into analytics. But analytics is a huge part of doing SEO well, so I wanted to dig more into it, and listening to these guys talk about the industry was really helpful.

ShopTalk Show – This is another great podcast that has helped me understand lingo of front end developers.

Follow Interesting Profiles on Social Media

I think the important thing with social media is to go for quality over quantity. Focus on following only the most important, most influential people and companies. Over time, narrow in on the best ones and weed out the extraneous. This will make sure you don’t miss out on important news and don’t get fatigued by all the blather. Twitter Chats are a good way to stay connected and have a conversation with the SEO community. The ones I like most are:

Read Blogs

Again, quality over quantity. I follow several of the Google news feeds, Webcertain’s blogs and videos, McKinsey’s Global reports, Bill Slawaski’s blog that dissects Google patents, and a few others.

Go to Meetups

I occasionally attend the PyLadies meetups in Seattle because it is encouraging to hang out and learn from other ladies who are learning to code in Python or who already know Python. Depending on what skills you know or are trying to learn, a meetup can be a great way to collaborate.

Listen to Webinars

Listening in on webinars can be great for leveling up your skills too. When I wanted to start learning more about Splunk, or wrap my head around the bells and whistles that come with Conductor Searchlight and Adobe Analytics, I started signing up for their various webinars.

Go to Conferences

I used to be a doubter about conferences, but now I’m a believer. It can make economic sense to attend even the pricey conferences, especially when they are subsidized or covered by your work, or can be written off as a business expense. Conferences such as Splunk Live!, SMXAdvanced, and MozCon can be great for technical SEOs, Make sure to read the line-ups beforehand and confirm that the types of lectures will be helpful to you.

Give Back

Another important way I’ve found that helps me sharpen my skills is by giving back to the community. Through mentorship of aspiring SEOs, giving webinars and contributing to guest posts, doing pro bono work, and giving guest lectures, I’ve grown through each process. Teaching, at least for me, helps me to focus and streamline my thoughts in an efficient way.

Try a New Type of Client

Lastly, in my freelance work, I am usually open to clients of all types. I get to do SEO, content strategy, and more – but I get to apply it to a myriad of industries and work with varied people and teams. This has always kept the work interesting.

How about you? How do you stick with the mantra of “Always Be Learnin”? Feel free to share your tips in the comments below.