Emerging field: SEO
It's the most obvious statement of the century to say that the Internet has changed the dynamic of everything under the sun.
There are the obvious things it has changed, such as communication with long-lost friends, and the not-so-obvious things, such as how much a company's recognition and credibility can be affected by its website rankings on search engines. The latter has sprouted the career field of search engine optimization (SEO). And it's on the rise.
According to a 2012 study by the popular SEO technology company Conductor, there's been a 112 percent increase year-over-year in profiles listing SEO titles and skills on LinkedIn. And yet, it's still not dumb to ask: Just what the heck do these people do and how do you enter the field?
What SEO professionals do
If you've ever done a Google search in your life, you've experienced SEO.
On search engines, you type in keywords, click on the search icon and receive several pages worth of responses. You most likely don't immediately browse to the bottom to click on page 10 of the results. You scroll down through the first page, probably finding what you want pretty quickly, or you click the second page or do a new search. SEO professionals work to make sure websites pop up high on certain keyword searches.
One SEO job is an SEO writer. About.com freelance writing guide Allena Tapia defines SEO writing as writing that is "focused on grabbing the attention of the search engines using specific, targeted words or phrases…in specific ways." Companies sometimes hire SEO writers to write blogs or website content, in hopes to raise their websites higher on search engine rankings. For example, if the company is a Dutch bakery in Austin and they want to pop up high in Google searches, then they may hire an SEO writer to fill their website with the keywords "Dutch bakery in Austin."
But, as Tapia writes, it's not just the words you use on the site that raise your site up in search engines. Other factors, such as links to your website and authority, can come into play.
So a company may go beyond merely hiring an SEO writer and hire an SEO analyst or strategist. This person creates entire SEO campaigns, attempting to optimize a website fully for search engines. This could entail breaking into the website code, doing keyword research and working directly with clients.
Because SEO is still a relatively new field, it's wise to consistently read up on its evolution if you wish to join it.
Breaking into the field
Since SEO only came onto the scene in the last couple of decades, it's no surprise that you don't commonly see SEO job postings listing a degree in SEO as a requirement. Some job postings ask for marketing, business or public relations degrees, while others may require something entirely different. Unlike lawyers and doctors, there's no direct, set-in-stone path to becoming an SEO professional.
But you should have the skills of someone who could do well in SEO, which you may be able to pick up in college. For example, going to school for English or journalism may improve your writing skills, which in turn could make you a candidate for an SEO writing job. Or a marketing degree may improve your marketing skills, perhaps bettering your ability to formulate SEO campaigns.
As SEO specialist Rick DeJarnette wrote in an article on Internet Marketing Ninjas, "Ask a hundred SEOs about how they got their start and you'll likely get 99 stories." But this also doesn't mean it's pure luck. According to DeJarnette, SEO professionals often have existing job skills in writing, marketing, advertising or web design. He advises those interested in the field to just start doing it.
"Learn about SEO from the reputable information publicly available," he wrote. "Find (or create) a site to which you can contribute, note its current ranking for key queries, and then optimize the site and retest the rankings."
No one really knows the future of SEO. While one Forbes writer thinks it will fade away soon ("Death of SEO" is in his article's title), another writer for Search Engine Watch thinks it will continue to thrive. Whatever the case, the field seems to be doing well now and could be a viable career choice for the right person.