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10 Advanced SEO Skills To Level Up Your Career

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10 Advanced SEO Skills To Level Up Your Career


Many of us get to a stage in our careers as SEO professionals where we feel a little bit stagnant.

We’ve been optimizing sites for a while and feel pretty confident that we can do it well.. but there’s that nagging thought there’s more we could be doing.

That there is another layer of expertise that would make us more efficient, employable, and confident.

In this article, you’ll find 10 skills that can level up your SEO competency.

These aren’t necessarily essential skills for all SEO experts (you’ll find those here).

But developing these advanced SEO skills could help you go deeper within your specialism, become a more well-rounded marketer, and bump you into a new salary or freelance rate, too.

1. Intent Analysis

Intent analysis is the decoding of a user’s intention behind the keyword they enter into a search engine.

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When someone types [pizza restaurant] into a search engine, what is the end result they are hoping for?

Do they want to know what pizza restaurants are nearby?

Are they in the market to open a pizza restaurant?

Are they looking for a job in a pizza restaurant?

Developing your understanding of the psychology behind what searchers want is a critical skill for those wishing to go further in their SEO competency.

This will help you both satisfy a user’s need when they land on a page and also increase your page’s likelihood of being ranked in their search.

It can’t just stop there, however.

You must also understand what the search engines perceive users to want from the content they are searching for.

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For instance, from my location in the U.K., if I search for [pizza restaurants] in Google from my desktop device, I get a mixture of results.

I get the option to click through to search on other websites:

Screenshot from search for [pizza restaurants], Google, January 2022

This is followed by the Map Pack and then a mix of review and editorial sites and restaurants’ websites.

If I am trying to rank a website all about the history of pizza restaurants in my country, I might struggle.

Google has identified the user intent as being either navigation – wanting to go to a local restaurant – or comparative, as in wanting to compare options in the local area.

Resources To Learn More

2. Coding

There is no question that understanding HTML, CSS, and JavaScript can help you to ensure your websites are set up in a bot-friendly manner.

Although SEO experts do not need to be fully-fledged developers, having an understanding of code can help you to identify issues with rendering, indexation, and crawlability.

There are times when knowing the basics of how code is created, or being able to read code that already exists, can help your SEO.

It can aid your communication with the developers who may need to change it.

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It can assist you in pinpointing incremental improvements to your site’s performance.

Learning to code is not a prerequisite for SEO, but it is arguable that knowing the fundamentals of these three commonly used languages is going to set you up well for your career.

Understanding the syntax of code, how it is formed, and being able to see how elements relate to each other can also help you get better at writing and debugging schema.

Learning Python and SQL can also help you to streamline your SEO processes by enabling you to automate labor-intensive activities such as mapping URL redirects and keyword research.

Resources To Learn More

3. Understanding Server Management

No SEO professional should really be the one responsible for ensuring that a server can handle a load of visitors to a site.

However, understanding the basics of how servers can impact the crawlability, load speed and reliability of a website can propel your technical SEO understanding forwards.

The use of CDNs instead of static servers can aid in speeding up content loading, but without understanding the limitations of fixed location servers it will be difficult for you to argue the need for a CDN.

A better understanding of how web hosting can affect a user’s experience of your site and also Google’s ability to access it is necessary for strong technical SEO foundations.

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You need to understand how aspects like uptime and location can impact your site’s performance in the search engines.

This is only the beginning of how knowledge of servers can aid your SEO efforts.

Better knowledge of server codes beyond the standard 404 and 301 can help you to communicate to those in charge of your servers where there are critical issues.

Know what a 502 error is?

Encountered a 504 status code before?

If not, this might be a quick and easy area for you to brush up your knowledge.

A 5XX status usually means there is something wrong with the server that is preventing the processing of a request from the client.

A simple way to find out what status codes mean is to look at httpstatuses.com.

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From here, you can identify whether it is an issue with the client or the server and find a fix accordingly.

Resources To Learn More

4. Content Writing

Understanding the process of content writing is an important element of advanced SEO.

You may not be a great wordsmith yourself.

However, in order for you to better brief in copywriting for your colleagues who are, you need to understand what goes into a good piece of writing.

It isn’t enough to know that copy needs to be compelling and have sufficient relevancy to search terms used to discover it.

Get familiar with the process your copywriters go through in researching, writing, and editing their work.

This will help you to better ideate your own requests for copy.

Editing

Editing is another good skill to develop when working with content.

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In many organizations, it is the job of the SEO specialist to take content created by others and optimize it further for the search engines.

In practice, this sadly can often result in well-written copy being butchered.

Adding keywords into the first couple of paragraphs to make them more keyword-rich might help you a bit with your rankings, but it could destroy your conversion and brand loyalty.

Learn how to take well-written copy and enhance it, not ruin it.

You may also benefit from having a conversation or two with your SEO copywriters and asking them for details of their process.

Better understanding how they go about copywriting could improve your abilities.

It could also streamline your processes when working together.

Resources To Learn More

5. Reporting

Being able to expertly communicate your progress, results, and reasoning behind your SEO work is crucial to being successful in the industry.

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As an SEO expert, you are always juggling the needs and expectations of stakeholders, whether you’re working in-house, agency-side or freelance.

You will find gaining buy-in and budgets considerably easier if you know how to demonstrate the impact of the work you do.

Reporting isn’t just a case of adding labels to a graph or even noting down the cause of increases and decreases.

Truly good SEO reports allow readers to understand the context of the results, draw conclusions and make business decisions from them.

SEO professionals need to get really good at helping stakeholders understand the priorities and limitations of the work they recommend (as well as mistakes to avoid when reporting).

They also need to help their interested parties recognize how the work will benefit them via data visualizations and their objectives in the long run.

All of this can be achieved through well-constructed, clear, and truthful reports.

Resources To Learn More

6. SEO Forecasting

Similar to the need to be good at explaining past results, experienced SEOs need to develop the ability to calculate likely outcomes.

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SEO forecasting is a complicated science.

There are a lot of external factors that are hard to isolate and predict.

A change in competition, the market, or political situations could all cause well-thought-out estimations to go awry.

We should not be putting pressure on ourselves to accurately predict the exact volume of traffic, or visibility, our work might gain.

However, being able to put reasonable estimates and likely ranges into our recommendations can make the budget-holders a lot more reassured by the work we are proposing.

It isn’t enough to shrug our shoulders and cross our fingers when asked about outcomes.

We’re often requesting a lot of time, money and resources go into the activity were recommending.

SEO forecasting is a skill that will not only set you apart when looking for new roles or opportunities, it will also significantly improve the quality and reliability of your work.

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Resources To Learn More

7. Log File Analysis

Log file analysis is the process of understanding the records of who or what has accessed your website.

They can tell you when people have visited a page as well as what device they were using to do so.

They can also tell you when bots access your website.

This is particularly helpful in understanding Googlebot and other search engine crawlers’ behavior on your site.

By analyzing log files you can better understand what pages search engine bots can or can’t access.

You can identify where there may be spider traps on your site or the frequency at which certain sections of your site are being crawled.

Log files can appear daunting if you have not spent much time around them.

Thankfully there are some great tools available that make analyzing them a lot simpler than just wading through the naked log files.

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Understanding what to do with the information once you have it is the real skill. If you know that a certain area of your site is rarely crawled by Google that should inform your technical SEO next steps.

It should raise questions about your internal linking structure.

Getting familiar with log files is a great first step but to improve your skills make sure you are analyzing the files and drawing actionable conclusions from them.

Resources To Learn More

8. Website Migrations

Getting good at planning and executing website migrations is not easy. It really does take experience.

Many SEO professionals who have worked exclusively brand-side may find they simply have not had the opportunity to carry out that many website migrations.

If you face a particularly complicated one, such as multiple websites merging, it can be very daunting.

Chances are if you have spent any length of time in an SEO agency, you will have migrated a website or two.

It may have been a smooth process but more likely there were unforeseen complications that made the processing time and resource consuming.

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There are not really just one or two skills involved in website migrations.

They are usually a complicated mix of stakeholder management, communication, planning, processes-driving, technical understanding, and knowing when to say no.

But the skills you develop during website migrations will help you enormously with the rest of your SEO career.

Participate in one if you get the chance.

It can give you a great (albeit high-pressured) opportunity to see multiple moving SEO parts in play at once.

Resources to learn more:

9. Optimizing For Other Search Engines

If you truly want to advance your SEO skills, you might want to look further afield than Google.

We can often fall into the trap of thinking only about the traditional search engines when discussing SEO skills.

If we limit our training and experience to just these then we could be missing out on a much larger opportunity.

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Traditional International Websites

Many search engines work on similar principles, but with their own specific nuances.

Traditional search engines more prevalent outside of your home region may be unfamiliar to you.

There are some great resources available to get you started in understanding the differences between them and the search engines you’re more familiar with optimizing for.

Nothing beats practice, however.

If you want to refine your knowledge and understanding of unfamiliar search engines then you need to try to rank a site in them and see what works and what doesn’t.

YouTube

For search engines like YouTube, the mechanics may be more familiar to you.

You will, however, still need to learn more about the algorithms in play to ensure you are carrying out the right activity to optimize your video content for the platform.

Other Non-traditional Search Engines

Don’t just stop at YouTube if you’re really wanting to advance your SEO skill set.

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Take a look at some other search engines, like Pinterest and TripAdvisor.

These sites may not fit into your current remit as an SEO expert.

They are however still search engines that you can influence the success of your content in.

Resources to learn more:

10. International SEO

One of the most complicated projects an SEO might be involved in usually includes international elements.

It’s a complicated task because there are a lot of factors at play.

To optimize your website for international audiences you will need to employ technical SEO, digital PR, and on-page optimization skills.

There will be a range of questions you’ll need to ask yourself when you are considering expanding a website to international audiences.

These will include questions around the structure of the site – separate sites, sub-folders, or sub-directories?

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Do you want to translate or localize the content? Do you want to target geography at the site or page level?

There are a lot of strategies and technical knowledge required to get international SEO right.

You may also need specific language skills or local knowledge resources.

Google has helpfully created an introduction to managing a multi-region website. It is a good place to start to identify the sorts of questions you should be asking.

You can also use it as a jumping-off point for further training or research.

This can help deepen your knowledge of the subject and sharpen your skills.

Resources to learn more:

Conclusion

These are just a few of the skills you can develop to become a more pragmatic SEO professional.

Even if you don’t want to learn all of them, it helps to have an understanding of what they all are.

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Even more so, how they can help round out your skill-set as an SEO expert.

More resources:


Featured Image: Alexander Supertramp/Shutterstock

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Is RankBrain A Ranking Factor In Google Search?

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Is RankBrain A Ranking Factor In Google Search?

Google’s understanding of human language is made possible by several breakthrough technologies in artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Launched in 2015, RankBrain was the first of said breakthroughs. It allowed Google to return results for queries with no previous record of searches.

RankBrain’s functionality has evolved since its initial introduction. It now allows Google’s algorithms to do something that humans do instinctively: relate words to real-world concepts.

In the days before RankBrain, Google interpreted words literally. It didn’t understand synonyms or figurative meanings.

That limited both the quality and quantity of search results Google could provide.

The ability to interpret what humans mean when they write queries in natural language marked a significant milestone for Google Search.

RankBrain does more than understand language; if you need a hint at its other function, it’s in the name: Rank.

In this article, we’ll investigate the claims around RankBrain as a ranking factor, providing clarity on what RankBrain is and how it impacts search results.

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The Claim: RankBrain As A Ranking Factor

RankBrain is a technology that seems to impact how Google returns search results.

Due to its association with search, many people consider RankBrain a ranking factor.

Without knowing what “RankBrain” means, people new to SEO may assume it refers to a technology Google uses to rank search results.

That assumption isn’t far off, but not every component of Google’s search algorithm is a ranking factor in and of itself.

The following section goes over what Google designed RankBrain to do and how it assists with answering queries.

The Evidence: Is RankBrain A Ranking Factor?

RankBrain is an artificial intelligence (AI) system introduced in 2015 to help Google return results for queries without previous search data.

That changed sometime between the spring of 2015 and 2016. Google announced an update to RankBrain, which integrated AI into all queries.

Wired revealed this information in an article that notes Google isn’t clear on how RankBrain improves all queries, but it does affect rankings.

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From Wired:

“Google is characteristically fuzzy on exactly how it improves search (something to do with the long tail? Better interpretation of ambiguous requests?) but [Google engineer Jeff Dean] says that RankBrain is ‘involved in every query,’ and affects the actual rankings ‘probably not in every query but in a lot of queries.’”

What differentiates RankBrain from other Google algorithms is its ability to learn how to answer more ambiguous queries.

As Google’s Gary Illyes explains, the algorithm makes educated guesses at what a user would likely click on for a never-before-seen query.

“RankBrain is a PR-sexy machine learning ranking component that uses historical search data to predict what would a user most likely click on for a previously unseen query.”

RankBrain allows Google to solve problems it used to run into with traditional algorithms.

Contrary to popular theories about how RankBrain works, it does not use data gathered from users’ interactions with a webpage.

RankBrain relies more on data gathered from users’ interactions with search results.

Illyes provides further clarity:

“It is a really cool piece of engineering that saved our butts countless times whenever traditional algos were like, e.g. “oh look a “not” in the query string! let’s ignore the hell out of it!”, but it’s generally just relying on (sometimes) months old data about what happened on the results page itself, not on the landing page.”

In short – RankBrain is a machine learning system that allows Google’s search algorithm to deliver more relevant results.

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RankBrain accomplishes this through an improved understanding of ambiguous queries and long-tail keywords.

RankBrain uses data gathered from users’ interactions with search results to predict which pages will likely get clicked on for a brand new search query.

Practical Example From Google’s Vice President of Search

In addition to returning results for ambiguous and never-before-seen queries, RankBrain is capable of connecting words to concepts.

Pandu Nayak, Google’s Vice President of Search, explains how this works with an example of a query that contains the phrase “food chain.”

“Food chain” can refer to organisms in an ecosystem (literal meaning), or it can refer to a hierarchy of people (figurative meaning).

As Nayak states, RankBrain helps Google determine the intended meaning of words based on how a searcher uses them in a query:

“For example, if you search for ‘what’s the title of the consumer at the highest level of a food chain,’ our systems learn from seeing those words on various pages that the concept of a food chain may have to do with animals, and not human consumers.

By understanding and matching these words to their related concepts, RankBrain understands that you’re looking for what’s commonly referred to as an “apex predator.”

Thanks to this understanding, Nayak confirms, RankBrain can decide the best order for top search results by ranking them according to relevance.

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Our Verdict: RankBrain Is A Confirmed Ranking Factor

Google has confirmed that RankBrain is used to rank search results and is involved in all queries.

In 2016, Andrey Lipattsev, a Google Search Quality Senior Strategist, said RankBrain was one of the three most important ranking signals (along with content and links).

RankBrain continues to play an essential role in search results today.

RankBrain differs from traditional ranking factors in that there’s not an obvious way to actively optimize for it.

How do you optimize for ambiguous keywords or queries that no one’s ever entered into Google?

The only option is to provide Google with as much information about a page as possible, which site owners should do anyway if they create holistic content for users.

Illyes was asked this question once and replied with a similar sentiment:

“you optimize your content for users and thus for RankBrain. that hasn’t changed”

Search Engine Journal VIP Contributor Dave Davies provides more advanced tips for communicating information to Google regarding different entities on a page in A Complete Guide To The Google RankBrain Algorithm.

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Featured Image: Paulo Bobita/Search Engine Journal

Ranking Factors: Fact Or Fiction? Let’s Bust Some Myths! [Ebook]

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