The fact of the matter is that you can’t be replaced. The years of search and algorithmic knowledge (the science), the nuances of search you’ve accumulated (the art), can’t simply fit into neat little box.
As more and more of us move into different positions, with different responsibilities, we’re being tasked with bringing in new team members to fill the gaps we’re leaving. And, let’s face it, a good SEO is hard to come by these days. The ranks of SEOs are being filled by folks that fall into three camps:
- Fresh out of college and looking for their first gig
- Working in another sect of Digital Marketing and interested in SEO
- Transitioning professions all together (i.e. Biochemist who hates being a Biochemist)
No one I know has a degree in Search Engine Optimization from an accredited university. Meaning all of us migrated to this profession too, which also means that every one of us struggled for the knowledge, the knowhow, and the connections that made us as successful as we are today.
It’s a pretty big task to gift that to someone, and even harder to find a way to transfer all of those things in a succinct, orderly way.
I’ve had the distinct pleasure of training new SEOs for a few years now. It’s incredibly rewarding to see connections be made, to see big picture elements get stitched together, and watch newbies blossom. However, for as many successes as I have had training new SEOs, make no mistake I’ve had my share of failures too.
The aim here is not to present what I believe to be the “definitive” material or methodology to train a new SEO, but simply present a successful path that has worked for me after years of refinement.
Assessment: Starting at the Start
When I first started training SEOs, I made assumptions that they has a basic knowledge of algorithms, search engines, and foundation of basic SEO. Well, you know what they say: “it makes an ass of you and me.”
I would lead off with SEO theory that was too complex, waste a few weeks, and realize that I had to start with the foundational basics. Every time that I thought I was leading off with “the basics”, I found that it was still too heavy. That’s when I got smart. That’s when I created an assessment.
It’s such a simple solution, you’d wonder why I didn’t do this after the first few failures? It’s a good question with a dumb answer: if I need to create another me to fill in the gaps, then they had to be exactly where I was at, “high speed, low drag”.
Big learning curves, fast ramp-up times. I know. It sounds ridiculous (and looking back on it now, it was) but I was rapid prototyping.
Now I have an assessment to let me know exactly where our new SEO is coming in at. Questions range from very simple things like, “what is a page title tag” to intermediate questions about “the difference between 301 redirects and 302 redirects and when you would use them”.
I leave the advanced questions to conversations, namely because it’s better to have a dialogue about complex theory and the angles. I also hold a walk-through of the assessment to give our new SEO the opportunity to voice-over their answers and add more context.
The walk-through has the dual purpose of giving them the correct answers, but also learning how to talk about/explain SEO (an invaluable skill when dealing with clients).
Reading and Training Materials
Based on the SEO Assessment, I have a good footing of where their knowledge and skill level is at, and supply reading and training materials.
Over the years I’ve written plenty of training materials, but nearly enough to cover everything a new SEO needs to know about. As such, I’ve also gathered plenty of materials from great sources that I trust to give the straight story.
[Shameless Plug Here] I hand out the SEO Training Dojo Study Hall materials, particularly the Beginners section. It helps provide a thorough overview of SEO in general.
I also have the old SEOMoz Advanced SEO Training DVD (only the last disc is advanced) to help supplement for visual learners. Because I have read and watched all these materials, I’ll provide little pop-quizzes on the material just to make sure it’s sinking in. I spend about week on this phase of the training.
Real-World Training Exercises
Being able to regurgitate everything from memory is nice, but real-world SEO is definitely a unique experience from what’s on paper.
I’ve come up with specific tests help hone specific skills like researching keywords, writing page title tags and meta-descriptions, crafting internal anchor text, technical SEO, and learning how to canonicalize duplicate content through a variety of techniques.
I hunt down live, mediocre sites from several verticals (don’t worry there are plenty of them out there) and craft the exercise. After each exercise, we walk through it with voice-over. In this way they’ll see what they’ve done right and wrong, and get to see how I might have approached the problem.
And, a helpful tip is to impose “deadlines” or time limits on each exercise. In this way, it helps the new SEO adjust to the pressures of the workplace and budgets. I usually spend a week to a week and half on this training.
Of course, there has to be one! In preparation for my final evaluation, I find a smaller site that has a whole lot wrong with it (and, yes, it takes some time to find one if you don’t have one in mind).
The objective is to perform client-level SEO on this site. In essence, I hand over the URL with instructions about what the client ask is and how long they have to do it. GO. Again, we’ll walk through it and have a voice-over.
The Next Phase
After two to three weeks of intensive training, you should have a new SEO who’s capable enough to do light tasks. They definitely won’t be able to fly on their own and probably shouldn’t be handling any clients on their own, but I suppose that all comes down to necessity of the organization.
You can’t replace or duplicate yourself, but you can certainly help that process along with solid training.