The Technical SEO Skillset

In this section, we asked all respondents across in-house, agency and freelance roles for their thoughts on the required skillset of a technical SEO.

What’s the hardest part of your job?

When it comes to the hardest part of a technical SEOs job, the most popular answer was getting recommendations implemented which 30% of respondents said was hard for them.

What the experts think…

Not getting your recommendations implemented is indeed one of SEO's biggest challenges and frustrations. In many cases, this has nothing to do with the SEO's persuasion skills. A lot of businesses have "bigger fish to fry" like improving their shipping experience, customer services and handle customer complaints. In small-medium businesses, it's sometimes the same devs that would be working on SEO.

Interesting that it's a fairly close call between "getting recommendations implemented", and "learning the skills".

I do worry that many SEOs are feeling a considerable amount of pressure to: LEARN ALL THE THINGS; and how necessary that really is in reality.

I feel like there's a lot of talk in the industry about which skills an SEO has to have, which from my perspective are largely nonsense, and only serve to make people feel bad about themselves.

As an SEO the skills you might or might not need are necessarily specific to your situation and specialisation. Pay no attention to the babbling masses; focus on learning the things you are most interested in, and you feel will be most likely to help you do the job you do right now; and/or whatever job you think you might want to do in the future.

Again interesting from a persuasion perspective - getting buy-in from Senior Management is easier than getting something implemented?

So is the "influence breakdown" happening after being greenlit, but before engineering prioritization? If so, how can we fix that?

SEO is one of the jobs where continuous learning and development is a must - yet, there are still SEOs out there that can't get the resources they need to level-up.

I believe this is not due to a lack of training budgets or access to information but due to a lack of understanding that training and learning has to be part of the job role itself.

There is more free information about SEO out there than all of us combined can read but not everyone has the luxury of spending a few hours every week working on learning new things as part of their working day.

As an industry - what can we do about this? Would love to do a think-tank on this!

Fully agree. Even if a dev team IS SEO-savvy, resource can be so difficult to get hold of/prove is needed (the dev resource rather than buy in).

It is frustrating to see that this is still a reality for the SEO industry.

I can say that one thing experience has taught me is that focussing on what we can change within the limits or our roles can truly make a difference. SEO can often be seen as yet another item on the to-do list for teams that are already under-resourced. One thing that can help is proactively helping with building efficiencies.

For example: can you propose additional automated testing to the QA pipeline to speed up recurring SEO checks? Can you look at your product team's roadmap and see which projects your existing tasks can live under? Is there a big project requiring all hands on deck from engineering this year you can piggyback off? Be an agent for efficiency especially in-house, it will save you a lot of time.

If resources are your blocker, prioritise work that can live where resources are already allocated. With that in mind, be cautious when vocalising your need for resources when they're already sparse as it might leave you with so little (for example you might be offered an engineer's help for a few days only) that your work will end up half baked and won't deliver, which won't help with buy-in in the future.

I didn't expect "learning the skills required" to come in second place. This highlights a learning gap and that more support is required for tech SEOs in the industry.

Please rate the following in terms of how important you think they are for a technical SEO to fully understand:

Here, we asked respondents to rate how important certain skills were for a technical SEO to fully understand. Overall, the highest rated skills were data analysis, content strategy and reading/understanding HTML and CSS.

What the experts think…

I'm surprised that being able to analyse JS didn't come higher in here or the next question. As we move towards a more JS oriented web (95.2% of websites now use JS in one way or another, according to W3Techs), being able to at least identify where JS is causing problems and direct people to solutions in fixing them (doesn't have to be detailed/developer level, just that ("is an issue and here's a guide on how to fix that and why you should do it") is so important, and will be even more so as more SEOs work on JS sites.

Happy to see that a bit over half of the respondents considers that having commercial awareness is essential. It's easy to get lost in the technical aspect of the job but, ultimately, SEO needs to be able to integrate with the rest of the business and help improve conversions. Comercial awareness can help put technical fixes into financial context and get these fixes better prioritised.

Data analysis is by far the most important here and rightly so, being able to look into performance data gives us the feedback that our changes have had an impact (or not).

I'm surprised by how high log file analysis, machine learning, SQL/BigQuery and regex scored in this poll. I've worked at medium to large companies that didn't have centralised logs or access to SQL/BigQuery or even analysts to help with machine learning and, as much as this would have been preferable to have, we've achieved results regardless.

Regex in particular is a frustration that many SEOs share, and it's also good to have skill in my opinion, you can always get help from developers and there are plenty of resources out there.

The jury's out on whether or not it's important for a technical SEO to be able to understand link building, which is interesting. I would say the idea of the t-shaped marketer applies here, or the t-shaped SEO in this case. I believe it is critical for SEOs to know enough about all areas of the job, but if somebody then decides to specialise in technical SEO, it is perhaps not essential for them to know the ins and outs of link acquisition, and vice versa.

Of late, the SEO group has become very enthusiastic to learn the Python programming language to scale up their SEO skills. While I don’t doubt the advantages it has for large volume data, enterprise websites, I am equally skeptical about its benefit for the whole SEO community. Many of the things (meta data pull, SERP scraping, broken URL finding) that the Python programs archives for SEO, can be achieved with the existing SEO tools itself. Glad to note the set of individuals who had taken up this survey not seeing Python as magic bullet.

Good to see data analysis and even content strategy be valued highly as a core skill to have for tech SEOs.

What I would have expected to be much higher is commercial awareness, especially as 'getting recommendations implemented' seems to be the main blocker for most respondents.

In my experience having strong commercial awareness and including business-relevant KPIs (conversions, revenue) in performance reports will support getting senior-level buy-in and essentially help get requirements and recommendations implemented.

I was heartened to see commercial awareness rated highly here. In order to make appropriate technical recommendations, we need to understand the broader, commercial goals of an organisation.

As for the rest, are there any I consider "essential"? Hell no :)

What's essential really depends on the type of work you're doing - there's no such thing as a typical technical SEO, or indeed, a typical technical SEO project. Depending on the context, a bunch of those things listed might be useful to have a working understanding of, or even a deep understanding of, but I don't believe it's possible to create a sensible list of things which are "essential" for every SEO to know.

I'm surprised by how low SQL/BigQuery skills are, give it a few years and this is going to be one of the most important skills for tech SEOs. I also expected "Log File Analysis" and "Regex" to have a higher Essential weight.

What do you think are the top three skills that a technical SEO should have right now?

Finally, we wanted to get more specific and ask what the top three skills for a technical SEO to know should be. Scoring highest was data analysis with 71% of respondents saying that this was in their top three skills.

What the experts think…

As I mentioned before, I don't think it's possible to create a sensible list of skills that all technical SEOs ought to have, because there's no such thing as a typical technical SEO, or indeed, a typical technical SEO project.

As such, I'm a little worried that some technical SEOs may read this list and think that the top ranked skills are the things that they either need to have, or ought to focus on. From my perspective, that's almost certainly not the case.

That said, I do think that these results are directionally interesting.

The top two on the list aren't a surprise; but "Content Strategy" being ranked so highly is. I think perhaps it speaks in part to the ways in which search algorithms have evolved over time, and perhaps, in turn, also to the ways in which the industry is evolving. Is content strategy a more important skill because we're less siloed than we once were, and instead, are working more closely with other functions across organisations? Possibly :)

I was also a little surprised that commercial awareness wasn't ranked more highly, because, as I mentioned before, I believe that technical SEOs need to have an understanding of the commercial goals of an organisation in order to make appropriate recommendations.

If you forced my hand and made me rank these things, that's the first box I'd tick :)

Also surprising that there's more of an expectation for technical SEOs to have content strategy skills over reading JavaScript.