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5 Best SEO Certifications in 2023

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5 Best SEO Certifications in 2023

Since university degrees in SEO are rare, certifications are a popular way to prove your knowledge or expertise in SEO. However, the problem is that such certifications can be provided by anyone.

So if you want to take an SEO certification, you want to make sure you’re completing those where:

  • The course material is comprehensive, accurate, and actually teaches you the basics of SEO.
  • They’re well regarded in the industry.

To find courses that fit the bill, we polled our 200K+ newsletter subscribers on the best SEO certifications they would recommend.

Here are the five that our subscribers gave the most votes:

1. Ahrefs Certification Course

Ahrefs Certification Course

Duration: 7 hours 4 minutes
Price: Free with an Ahrefs Webmaster Tools account
Instructor(s): Sam Oh
Level: All levels

This is our own certification course that teaches how Ahrefs’ tools and data work. It’s split into modules representing each of our tools.

The modules breakdown in the course

Our certification course is currently in beta. So you won’t be able to take an exam and acquire a certificate (for now). Don’t worry, though; we plan to add the certificate in the near future.

2. Google SEO Fundamentals by UC Davis

Google SEO Fundamentals by UC Davis

Duration: 29 hours
Price: Free
Instructor(s): Rebekah May
Level: Beginner SEOs

Created by the University of California, Davis, and powered by Coursera, this course teaches the fundamentals of SEO. There are four modules in this course and four assessments to complete. Once you’ve passed, you can earn a career certificate that you can add to your LinkedIn profile, resume, or CV. For example, here’s one given to my colleague, Joshua Hardwick:

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Google SEO Fundamentals certificate

While the course is well regarded and prestigious, it comes at a huge time cost of 29 hours. You could build and potentially rank a website in that amount of time. It might be better to consider the other certifications on this list.

Many SEOs used to mistakenly claim that they were “Google certified” after completing this course. This was likely because Google used to recommend it, even as late as July 2023:

Google used to recommend the certification by UC Davis

However, Google has since redirected this page somewhere else and, as a result, stopped recommending this course. 

3. SEO Certification Course by HubSpot

SEO Certification Course by HubSpot

Duration: 3 hours 51 minutes
Price: Free
Instructor(s): Rachel Sheldon, Matthew Howells-Barby
Level: Beginner SEOs

This SEO certification course is part of HubSpot, a SaaS company known for inbound marketing (the founders even wrote a book about it). 

With six lessons and 26 videos, the course runs at close to four hours. There are also five quizzes to complete, after which you can gain a certificate. For example, my colleague, Joshua, took this certification and obtained this certificate:

SEO certification from HubSpot

The course is free, but you’ll have to sign up for a HubSpot Academy account.

4. All-Around SEO Training by Yoast

All-Around SEO Training by Yoast

Duration: 3 hours
Price: $99/year
Instructor(s): Joost de Valk
Level: Beginner and intermediate SEOs

This is the first paid SEO certification on this list. It costs $99 per year, and you get a certificate, badge, and access to the course for one year. (You can share this on LinkedIn, your resume, CV, etc.). You also get access to all other Yoast academy courses and Yoast’s premium plugin.

Considering that Yoast is probably the most used SEO plugin, this may actually sound like a steal.

If you’re unsure about dropping that amount of money on an SEO course, Yoast also offers a free sample lesson for you to try:

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5. SEO Foundations on LinkedIn

SEO Foundations on LinkedIn

Duration: 1 hour 32 minutes
Price: ~$40
Instructor(s): David Booth
Level: Beginner SEOs

Part of LinkedIn Learning, this course has five modules and five chapter quizzes to assess your knowledge. Passing the course means acquiring a LinkedIn Learning Certificate of Completion, which you can easily add to your LinkedIn profile.

Shareable certification from LinkedIn Learning

Unfortunately, this is a paid course—but it’s relatively affordable. You can even start a one-month free trial on LinkedIn Learning and complete the course within that period. 

Are SEO certifications worth it?

Let’s be straight: 

Most SEO certifications aren’t worth it.

Here are a few reasons why.

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1. Most employers don’t care about SEO certifications

We asked 15 SEO hiring managers for the skills and requirements that they deem important when hiring an SEO specialist. In all, 86% said that SEO certifications aren’t important, with the rest saying that they’re only somewhat important.

86% of hiring managers say that SEO certifications aren't important when hiring an SEO specialist

Not one hiring manager said they were very important. 

So if you want an SEO certification to add to your resume and LinkedIn to attract job offers, I have bad news.

2. SEO certifications don’t guarantee a good SEO education

Getting an SEO certificate doesn’t necessarily mean that you learned anything useful. It just means that you learned something

So don’t let the allure of a certificate cloud your judgment when learning SEO. If the syllabus doesn’t look helpful, don’t bother.

3. SEO certifications only teach you theory, not practical skills

Knowing the theory only gets you so far. 

If you want to become an SEO expert, our advice is to start a website as soon as possible after learning the basics of SEO. Getting your hands dirty and trying to rank a website will teach you more than an SEO certification.

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4. SEO certifications take a lot of time

There are 13 hours of material in Google’s SEO Fundamentals certification

Number of hours of material in Google’s SEO Fundamentals certification

That’s not a negligible amount of time. You could spend that time building and ranking a website. And it’s probably a better use of your time if you already know the basics of SEO.

5. SEO certifications often have bad questions

Look at this question from an SEO exam:

A question from an SEO certification

Google actually recommends you use hyphens rather than underscores in URLs. So it’s not a true or false question.

Here’s another question, this time from Google’s SEO Fundamentals certification:

A question from Google’s SEO Fundamentals certification

You can see we got the answer wrong. If we must guess, the correct answer is likely “optimizing site keywords.” But that’s a terrible answer—it sounds like something you’d see in 2009, not now.

If you are a hiring manager and see such questions in the quiz, will you trust the certification? And by extension, will you trust the knowledge of the person with such certifications? 

Probably not.

6. SEO certifications are too easy to pass

For most certifications, if you failed the exam, you could retake it shortly after your initial attempt (between 0 and 12 hours).

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This sounds great if you’re a “test taker.” But since most questions are multiple-choice, it’s only a matter of time before you pass the exam via trial and error or Googling. 

This diminishes the value of your certification. Imagine if it was this easy for college exams. The job market would soon become saturated with graduates, and degrees would lose much of their value.

7. SEO certifications are often just marketing ploys

Passing an SEO certification gets you a certificate (and sometimes a badge too). You can show this off on your resume, LinkedIn profile, or website. That raises brand awareness for the creator of the SEO certification. 

This is probably why many of them are easy to pass. Passes lead to brand awareness.

Here are some commonly asked questions about SEO certifications.

What is an SEO certification?

An SEO certification is awarded to a person who passes an assessment after completing an SEO course. 

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The proof of achievement, either in the form of a certificate or badge, is what differentiates an SEO certification from an SEO course. 

Is there a Google SEO certification?

Kind of.

Google offers a free “Fundamentals of Digital Marketing” certification through the Google Digital Garage. It includes 26 modules, ~14 hours of material, and covers many aspects of digital marketing—with three of them solely dedicated to SEO. It’s accredited by the Interactive Advertising Bureau Europe and The Open University.

If you’re looking to learn Google Analytics, there’s also the Google Analytics Certification.

Should you pay for an SEO certification?

Judge the course by its material, not by the certification. If the course contains material you didn’t know before or can likely teach you new skills, then it’s worth paying for.

Final thoughts

Most SEO hiring managers see certifications as unimportant when hiring SEO specialists. We agree.

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So here’s our advice:

If you want to grow your SEO knowledge, find a good SEO course (here’s our free one) and then execute what you learn.

If you want to get a job, do the same thing because results speak louder than an “SEO certification.”

Any questions or comments? Let me know on Twitter (X) or Threads.



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10 Paid Search & PPC Planning Best Practices

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10 Paid Search & PPC Planning Best Practices

Whether you are new to paid media or reevaluating your efforts, it’s critical to review your performance and best practices for your overall PPC marketing program, accounts, and campaigns.

Revisiting your paid media plan is an opportunity to ensure your strategy aligns with your current goals.

Reviewing best practices for pay-per-click is also a great way to keep up with trends and improve performance with newly released ad technologies.

As you review, you’ll find new strategies and features to incorporate into your paid search program, too.

Here are 10 PPC best practices to help you adjust and plan for the months ahead.

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1. Goals

When planning, it is best practice to define goals for the overall marketing program, ad platforms, and at the campaign level.

Defining primary and secondary goals guides the entire PPC program. For example, your primary conversion may be to generate leads from your ads.

You’ll also want to look at secondary goals, such as brand awareness that is higher in the sales funnel and can drive interest to ultimately get the sales lead-in.

2. Budget Review & Optimization

Some advertisers get stuck in a rut and forget to review and reevaluate the distribution of their paid media budgets.

To best utilize budgets, consider the following:

  • Reconcile your planned vs. spend for each account or campaign on a regular basis. Depending on the budget size, monthly, quarterly, or semiannually will work as long as you can hit budget numbers.
  • Determine if there are any campaigns that should be eliminated at this time to free up the budget for other campaigns.
  • Is there additional traffic available to capture and grow results for successful campaigns? The ad platforms often include a tool that will provide an estimated daily budget with clicks and costs. This is just an estimate to show more click potential if you are interested.
  • If other paid media channels perform mediocrely, does it make sense to shift those budgets to another?
  • For the overall paid search and paid social budget, can your company invest more in the positive campaign results?

3. Consider New Ad Platforms

If you can shift or increase your budgets, why not test out a new ad platform? Knowing your audience and where they spend time online will help inform your decision when choosing ad platforms.

Go beyond your comfort zone in Google, Microsoft, and Meta Ads.

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Here are a few other advertising platforms to consider testing:

  • LinkedIn: Most appropriate for professional and business targeting. LinkedIn audiences can also be reached through Microsoft Ads.
  • TikTok: Younger Gen Z audience (16 to 24), video.
  • Pinterest: Products, services, and consumer goods with a female-focused target.
  • Snapchat: Younger demographic (13 to 35), video ads, app installs, filters, lenses.

Need more detailed information and even more ideas? Read more about the 5 Best Google Ads Alternatives.

4. Top Topics in Google Ads & Microsoft Ads

Recently, trends in search and social ad platforms have presented opportunities to connect with prospects more precisely, creatively, and effectively.

Don’t overlook newer targeting and campaign types you may not have tried yet.

  • Video: Incorporating video into your PPC accounts takes some planning for the goals, ad creative, targeting, and ad types. There is a lot of opportunity here as you can simply include video in responsive display ads or get in-depth in YouTube targeting.
  • Performance Max: This automated campaign type serves across all of Google’s ad inventory. Microsoft Ads recently released PMAX so you can plan for consistency in campaign types across platforms. Do you want to allocate budget to PMax campaigns? Learn more about how PMax compares to search.
  • Automation: While AI can’t replace human strategy and creativity, it can help manage your campaigns more easily. During planning, identify which elements you want to automate, such as automatically created assets and/or how to successfully guide the AI in the Performance Max campaigns.

While exploring new features, check out some hidden PPC features you probably don’t know about.

5. Revisit Keywords

The role of keywords has evolved over the past several years with match types being less precise and loosening up to consider searcher intent.

For example, [exact match] keywords previously would literally match with the exact keyword search query. Now, ads can be triggered by search queries with the same meaning or intent.

A great planning exercise is to lay out keyword groups and evaluate if they are still accurately representing your brand and product/service.

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Review search term queries triggering ads to discover trends and behavior you may not have considered. It’s possible this has impacted performance and conversions over time.

Critical to your strategy:

  • Review the current keyword rules and determine if this may impact your account in terms of close variants or shifts in traffic volume.
  • Brush up on how keywords work in each platform because the differences really matter!
  • Review search term reports more frequently for irrelevant keywords that may pop up from match type changes. Incorporate these into match type changes or negative keywords lists as appropriate.

6. Revisit Your Audiences

Review the audiences you selected in the past, especially given so many campaign types that are intent-driven.

Automated features that expand your audience could be helpful, but keep an eye out for performance metrics and behavior on-site post-click.

Remember, an audience is simply a list of users who are grouped together by interests or behavior online.

Therefore, there are unlimited ways to mix and match those audiences and target per the sales funnel.

Here are a few opportunities to explore and test:

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  • LinkedIn user targeting: Besides LinkedIn, this can be found exclusively in Microsoft Ads.
  • Detailed Demographics: Marital status, parental status, home ownership, education, household income.
  • In-market and custom intent: Searches and online behavior signaling buying cues.
  • Remarketing: Advertisers website visitors, interactions with ads, and video/ YouTube.

Note: This varies per the campaign type and seems to be updated frequently, so make this a regular check-point in your campaign management for all platforms.

7. Organize Data Sources

You will likely be running campaigns on different platforms with combinations of search, display, video, etc.

Looking back at your goals, what is the important data, and which platforms will you use to review and report? Can you get the majority of data in one analytics platform to compare and share?

Millions of companies use Google Analytics, which is a good option for centralized viewing of advertising performance, website behavior, and conversions.

8. Reevaluate How You Report

Have you been using the same performance report for years?

It’s time to reevaluate your essential PPC key metrics and replace or add that data to your reports.

There are two great resources to kick off this exercise:

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Your objectives in reevaluating the reporting are:

  • Are we still using this data? Is it still relevant?
  • Is the data we are viewing actionable?
  • What new metrics should we consider adding we haven’t thought about?
  • How often do we need to see this data?
  • Do the stakeholders receiving the report understand what they are looking at (aka data visualization)?

Adding new data should be purposeful, actionable, and helpful in making decisions for the marketing plan. It’s also helpful to decide what type of data is good to see as “deep dives” as needed.

9. Consider Using Scripts

The current ad platforms have plenty of AI recommendations and automated rules, and there is no shortage of third-party tools that can help with optimizations.

Scripts is another method for advertisers with large accounts or some scripting skills to automate report generation and repetitive tasks in their Google Ads accounts.

Navigating the world of scripts can seem overwhelming, but a good place to start is a post here on Search Engine Journal that provides use cases and resources to get started with scripts.

Luckily, you don’t need a Ph.D. in computer science — there are plenty of resources online with free or templated scripts.

10. Seek Collaboration

Another effective planning tactic is to seek out friendly resources and second opinions.

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Much of the skill and science of PPC management is unique to the individual or agency, so there is no shortage of ideas to share between you.

You can visit the Paid Search Association, a resource for paid ad managers worldwide, to make new connections and find industry events.

Preparing For Paid Media Success

Strategies should be based on clear and measurable business goals. Then, you can evaluate the current status of your campaigns based on those new targets.

Your paid media strategy should also be built with an eye for both past performance and future opportunities. Look backward and reevaluate your existing assumptions and systems while investigating new platforms, topics, audiences, and technologies.

Also, stay current with trends and keep learning. Check out ebooks, social media experts, and industry publications for resources and motivational tips.

More resources: 

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Google Limits News Links In California Over Proposed ‘Link Tax’ Law

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A brown cardboard price tag with a twine string and a black dollar sign symbol, influenced by the Link Tax Law, set against a dark gray background.

Google announced that it plans to reduce access to California news websites for a portion of users in the state.

The decision comes as Google prepares for the potential passage of the California Journalism Preservation Act (CJPA), a bill requiring online platforms like Google to pay news publishers for linking to their content.

What Is The California Journalism Preservation Act?

The CJPA, introduced in the California State Legislature, aims to support local journalism by creating what Google refers to as a “link tax.”

If passed, the Act would force companies like Google to pay media outlets when sending readers to news articles.

However, Google believes this approach needs to be revised and could harm rather than help the news industry.

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Jaffer Zaidi, Google’s VP of Global News Partnerships, stated in a blog post:

“It would favor media conglomerates and hedge funds—who’ve been lobbying for this bill—and could use funds from CJPA to continue to buy up local California newspapers, strip them of journalists, and create more ghost papers that operate with a skeleton crew to produce only low-cost, and often low-quality, content.”

Google’s Response

To assess the potential impact of the CJPA on its services, Google is running a test with a percentage of California users.

During this test, Google will remove links to California news websites that the proposed legislation could cover.

Zaidi states:

“To prepare for possible CJPA implications, we are beginning a short-term test for a small percentage of California users. The testing process involves removing links to California news websites, potentially covered by CJPA, to measure the impact of the legislation on our product experience.”

Google Claims Only 2% of Search Queries Are News-Related

Zaidi highlighted peoples’ changing news consumption habits and its effect on Google search queries (emphasis mine):

“It’s well known that people are getting news from sources like short-form videos, topical newsletters, social media, and curated podcasts, and many are avoiding the news entirely. In line with those trends, just 2% of queries on Google Search are news-related.”

Despite the low percentage of news queries, Google wants to continue helping news publishers gain visibility on its platforms.

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However, the “CJPA as currently constructed would end these investments,” Zaidi says.

A Call For A Different Approach

In its current form, Google maintains that the CJPA undermines news in California and could leave all parties worse off.

The company urges lawmakers to consider alternative approaches supporting the news industry without harming smaller local outlets.

Google argues that, over the past two decades, it’s done plenty to help news publishers innovate:

“We’ve rolled out Google News Showcase, which operates in 26 countries, including the U.S., and has more than 2,500 participating publications. Through the Google News Initiative we’ve partnered with more than 7,000 news publishers around the world, including 200 news organizations and 6,000 journalists in California alone.”

Zaidi suggested that a healthy news industry in California requires support from the state government and a broad base of private companies.

As the legislative process continues, Google is willing to cooperate with California publishers and lawmakers to explore alternative paths that would allow it to continue linking to news.

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The Best of Ahrefs’ Digest: March 2024

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The Best of Ahrefs’ Digest: March 2024

Every week, we share hot SEO news, interesting reads, and new posts in our newsletter, Ahrefs’ Digest.

If you’re not one of our 280,000 subscribers, you’ve missed out on some great reads!

Here’s a quick summary of my personal favorites from the last month:

Best of March 2024

How 16 Companies are Dominating the World’s Google Search Results

Author: Glen Allsopp

tl;dr

Glen’s research reveals that just 16 companies representing 588 brands get 3.5 billion (yes, billion!) monthly clicks from Google.

My takeaway

Glen pointed out some really actionable ideas in this report, such as the fact that many of the brands dominating search are adding mini-author bios.

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Example of mini-author bios on The VergeExample of mini-author bios on The Verge

This idea makes so much sense in terms of both UX and E-E-A-T. I’ve already pitched it to the team and we’re going to implement it on our blog.

How Google is Killing Independent Sites Like Ours

Authors: Gisele Navarro, Danny Ashton

tl;dr

Big publications have gotten into the affiliate game, publishing “best of” lists about everything under the sun. And despite often not testing products thoroughly, they’re dominating Google rankings. The result, Gisele and Danny argue, is that genuine review sites suffer and Google is fast losing content diversity.

My takeaway

I have a lot of sympathy for independent sites. Some of them are trying their best, but unfortunately, they’re lumped in with thousands of others who are more than happy to spam.

Estimated search traffic to Danny and Gisele's site fell off a cliff after Google's March updatesEstimated search traffic to Danny and Gisele's site fell off a cliff after Google's March updates
Estimated search traffic to Danny and Gisele’s site fell off a cliff after Google’s March updates 🙁 

I know it’s hard to hear, but the truth is Google benefits more from having big sites in the SERPs than from having diversity. That’s because results from big brands are likely what users actually want. By and large, people would rather shop at Walmart or ALDI than at a local store or farmer’s market.

That said, I agree with most people that Forbes (with its dubious contributor model contributing to scams and poor journalism) should not be rewarded so handsomely.

The Discussion Forums Dominating 10,000 Product Review Search Results

Author: Glen Allsopp

Tl;dr

Glen analyzed 10,000 “product review” keywords and found that:

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My takeaway

After Google’s heavy promotion of Reddit from last year’s Core Update, to no one’s surprise, unscrupulous SEOs and marketers have already started spamming Reddit. And as you may know, Reddit’s moderation is done by volunteers, and obviously, they can’t keep up.

I’m not sure how this second-order effect completely escaped the smart minds at Google, but from the outside, it feels like Google has capitulated to some extent.

John Mueller seemingly having too much faith in Reddit...John Mueller seemingly having too much faith in Reddit...

I’m not one to make predictions and I have no idea what will happen next, but I agree with Glen: Google’s results are the worst I’ve seen them. We can only hope Google sorts itself out.

Who Sends Traffic on the Web and How Much? New Research from Datos & SparkToro

Author: Rand Fishkin

tl;dr

63.41% of all U.S. web traffic referrals from the top 170 sites are initiated on Google.com.

Data from SparktoroData from Sparktoro

My takeaway

Despite all of our complaints, Google is still the main platform to acquire traffic from. That’s why we all want Google to sort itself out and do well.

But it would also be a mistake to look at this post and think Google is the only channel you should drive traffic from. As Rand’s later blog post clarifies, “be careful not to ascribe attribution or credit to Google when other investments drove the real value.”

I think many affiliate marketers learned this lesson well from the past few Core Updates: Relying on one single channel to drive all of your traffic is not a good idea. You should be using other platforms to build brand awareness, interest, and demand.

Want more?

Each week, our team handpicks the best SEO and marketing content from around the web for our newsletter. Sign up to get them directly in your inbox.

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