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Headless SEO Explained + 6 Best Practices

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Headless SEO Explained + 6 Best Practices

Put simply, a headless content management system (CMS) separates a website’s content from its design and code.

It functions differently from a traditional CMS, like WordPress, and therefore requires different considerations for SEO as well. While general SEO best practices and rules remain the same, how you go about implementing them will differ in a headless setup.

This is a beginner-friendly guide covering everything you need to know about headless CMS SEO, including:

  • How headless SEO is different from regular SEO
  • The benefits of using a headless CMS
  • Headless SEO best practices

But first, let’s make sure we’re on the same page about the ins and outs of what a headless CMS is and how its differences may affect your SEO strategy.

In a traditional CMS, all your content, code, and design live in one place. While you can design a responsive layout for some devices, the content cannot be displayed separately from the website itself.

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Like a pizza, you can’t easily separate all the ingredients. It’s an all-or-nothing deal.

A headless CMS, however, separates your content, code, and design so you can create content once and distribute it across different channels and devices easily.

For example, a headless eCommerce site can pull its pricing and inventory from two different systems and then push these to the website or other applications independently of any other content.

Example of how a headless CMS worksExample of how a headless CMS works

A headless CMS allows your content distribution to be greater than the sum of its parts in a way that a traditional CMS never will be able to achieve.

For example, ​​when you build a webpage using a traditional CMS, you’ll often use a visual drag-and-drop editor that looks a bit like this:

Example of a visual drag-and-drop website builder interfaceExample of a visual drag-and-drop website builder interface

How you enter content and images here will closely represent what your website visitors see.

Now, let’s say you want to distribute the content you’ve added here through a different device or channel, like a VR headset or an electronic billboard.

With a traditional website CMS, you simply can’t do that. You would need to recreate your content and adapt it to the platform you’re delivering it on.

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But, with a headless CMS, you don’t have such a limitation. That’s because how you organize and arrange your content within the CMS is completely different. It looks a bit like this:

Example of a headless CMS' interfaceExample of a headless CMS' interface
Source: Stackbit

Instead of adding content and images based on how you want it to look, you simply enter the content as a collection of separate “ingredients.” These ingredients can then be dynamically distributed and designed to match the needs of each different channel and device.

Headless SEO is the practice of optimizing your headless CMS so that it meets search engine optimization best practices and gives your content the best chance of ranking for relevant keywords.

Since content can be distributed across other channels, beyond the website, headless SEO offers a more flexible approach towards optimizing content no matter where it’s viewed.

If the tagline for a headless CMS is “create content once, distribute it everywhere,” then the tagline for headless SEO would be “optimize everything, everywhere, all at once.”

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There are a few key differences between doing SEO for a headless CMS vs traditional SEO.

1. You’ll have greater control and flexibility

Have you ever wanted to customize some element of your technical SEO setup but found that a CMS wouldn’t let you? Yeah, it’s a common gripe and happens more frequently than SEO pros would like.

With headless SEO, you get to custom-design your CMS to be exactly how you want it to be.

It is (quite literally) a case of “ask and you shall receive.”

Any optimization that you can dream of, a headless CMS can achieve, but only if you ask your developer to create it and guide them on how you want it done.

The caveat with this is that you’ll be 100% responsible for everything to do with your SEO setup. You’ll need to think about things you may not normally have to worry about when using a traditional CMS, like:

  • Adding validation rules to prevent mistakes
  • Adding customized logic to canonicals
  • Architecting faceted navigation systems
  • Defining pagination preferences
  • And more

Tip

You can use Ahrefs’ Site Audit tool to get a list of over 170 technical SEO issues to educate your devs about so they don’t accidentally make mistakes with your headless SEO implementation.

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Ahrefs' Site Audit tool showcasing 170 potential technical SEO issuesAhrefs' Site Audit tool showcasing 170 potential technical SEO issues

Make sure to schedule automated audits so you can monitor these issues over time. If you’re unsure how to direct your developers to fix any of them, click the “?” next to each issue to see a description and some advice.

Example of Ahrefs' tips for resolving specific technical issues in Site AuditExample of Ahrefs' tips for resolving specific technical issues in Site Audit

2. You’ll need to optimize content, code & design separately

Perhaps the most difficult thing to adapt to with headless SEO is that you’ll need to optimize content, code, and design independently of each other.

  • Content Optimization: Mainly occurs through a process called “content modeling.” Content models break your content down into various file formats and blocks which can be optimized individually. More on this in a moment.
  • Technical Optimization: Technical SEO is implemented separately from on-page. Writers can upload content without bogging down page speed or other performance metrics. And, developers can deploy updates without halting publishing activities (unlike with some traditional CMS’).
  • Design Optimization: Instead of trying to squeeze technical and SEO requirements into your design process, you can focus 100% on designing optimal user experiences for each device and channel that your content will appear on.

There’s a lot more planning and architecting involved when it comes to headless SEO and you’ll need to work closely with developers to make sure your optimizations are implemented as you want them to be.

3. You need to create and optimize content models instead of pages

If you’re used to using a CMS like WordPress, then you’re also used to optimizing complete pages and posts for the most part.

But with a headless CMS, you’ll need to build and optimize content models instead of pages. What’s a content model you ask?

Content modeling structures and organizes your content in a way that APIs can then distribute to any kind of interface. Not only can you define the attributes each type of content will feature, but you can also create relationships between different types of content.

How a headless CMS' content model worksHow a headless CMS' content model works

Think of a content model as the recipe needed to instruct your code on where it should send various types of content.

Like any good recipe, a content model will gather the correct ingredients (your content blocks) and organize them in a way that will deliver a specific outcome (a complete piece of content adapted to the interface it’s displayed on).

Without a recipe, you end up with an “everything” pizza that combines all ingredients, always—even if it doesn’t make sense to include them. For instance, on WordPress, the mobile, tablet, and desktop views of a website are all different slices of the “everything” pizza, but on a headless CMS, they’re entirely different meals.

Traditional CMS vs headless CMS benefitsTraditional CMS vs headless CMS benefits

The great thing about content modeling for SEO is that you can create a field or attribute for absolutely anything you want.

For example, if you have a real estate business, then you’ll need to include property listings and information about your agents in your content model. And, you’ll need to consider all the attributes you’ll need for each of these types of content.

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Here’s an example of what that may look, like:

Example of a simple content model for real estate websitesExample of a simple content model for real estate websites

Things like the “property title” or the “agent’s name” are the attributes that fit each type of content best. You’ll need to think about all the attributes needed for every content type you add to your headless CMS.

Now, just because you have two different types of content, it doesn’t mean they can’t show on the same page. They can indeed.

Notice how the property listing includes a reference to the agent managing that property? This reference connects the two different content types to each other and allows every property listing to display information about the relevant agent.

When it comes to headless SEO, you’ll need to include a similar sort of reference for content types that require SEO metadata or particular types of schema markup, like so:

How to add SEO metadata to a headless CMS content modelHow to add SEO metadata to a headless CMS content model

Doing this allows your website to include all the relevant on-page optimizations you need. But then you can also choose not to load this metadata for platforms and channels where SEO is not a priority, like in a mobile app.

Here are the biggest ones:

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  • Publish content across channels more easily, reaching more people in the process
  • Lighter and more versatile website
  • Remove bottlenecks between dev and content teams

For example, at Ahrefs, we use a headless framework to show content about Google algorithm updates in two places: the organic traffic chart in Site Explorer

Example of Ahrefs' headless CMS showing Google algorithm updates within the app interfaceExample of Ahrefs' headless CMS showing Google algorithm updates within the app interface

… and our page listing Google algorithm updates (that anyone can view):

Example of Ahrefs' headless CMS displaying Google's algorithm update history on a webpageExample of Ahrefs' headless CMS displaying Google's algorithm update history on a webpage

Each time a new Google update is released, we simply add information about it in our headless CMS and it gets pushed to both locations. Even better, as there’s no need to involve developers, our content team can move fast and keep everything updated with ease.

But we’re not the only ones benefitting from a headless approach. My buddy Dion Lovrecich at Extra Strength (a marketing agency here in Australia) recently implemented it for a client and had this to say:

Deploying headless SEO took our client’s content process from an internal fiasco to big productivity wins.

Until we moved to headless, the engineering team would halt any front-end work when content was being updated. This is no longer required.

We’re also able to more easily adapt and update content (very important in the fast-moving legal landscape), segment SEO requirements for different types of content formats (like blogs, videos, and images), and publish relevant content faster—all thanks to headless approach.

Dion LovrecichDion Lovrecich

Despite the many benefits that headless systems offer, there are also some disadvantages to consider.

For example, these systems are more complex than traditional CMS solutions. They require a lot of resources to build and maintain. It’s also difficult for non-technical teams to get started with headless due to the integrative nature and the various APIs that may need to be connected.

Even with developer support, you’ll need a greater technical skill set so you can brief developers correctly and minimize mistakes in your headless SEO setup.

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These limitations make it challenging for smaller businesses and non-technical teams to successfully work in a headless environment. That being said, there are many emerging solutions that make headless sites easier to build and optimize and it’s likely we’ll see smaller organizations begin to adopt such technologies in the future.

Headless SEO best practices typically follow the same rules as any SEO strategy. You should still create valuable content that meets search intent, deliver optimal user experiences, and ensure search engines are crawling a lean, optimized website.

However, headless SEO also requires a greater degree of competency and knowledge when it comes to some technical and on-page SEO implementations which we’ve outlined for you below.

1. Brief your devs on technical SEO best practices

This may sound boring but you really can’t succeed with headless SEO unless your devs understand what they need to implement. And that comes down to how well you communicate with them.

For example, instead of instructing them to simply “add a sitemap,” get specific. “I need an XML sitemap that updates dynamically on a daily basis and only includes indexable, canonical URLs with a 200 status code.”

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Then, you can leverage Ahrefs’ Site Audit to keep track of how developers are implementing your requests. Set up a regular audit schedule so you can keep tabs on critical errors across a list of over 170 technical issues.

For example, here are all the ones for sitemaps that you can use to audit the implementation of the above instructions:

17 sitemap-related issues to account for when working in a headless CMS, from Ahrefs' Site Audit tool17 sitemap-related issues to account for when working in a headless CMS, from Ahrefs' Site Audit tool

2. Use keyword insights to create your content models

The best place to start content modeling is by doing keyword research. Not only can you uncover the dominant search intents your content will need to meet, you can also get really cool insights on attributes to include in your content models.

For example, let’s say you’re a real estate agent in New York. Using Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer, you see that there are a number of specific, medium- to long-tail keywords people search for:

Example of real estate keywords in Ahrefs' Keywords ExplorerExample of real estate keywords in Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer

From these, we can:

  • Infer search intent, like if people want to buy or rent.
  • Discover attributes people care most about, like the number of bedrooms or a lakefront location.
  • Map out suburbs with a lot of interest, like Rochester or Charlton.
  • Consider categories for different property types, like apartments or commercial properties.

With these insights, we can then create the following in our content model:

  • Categories based on a purchase or rental intent
  • Property listings with meaningful attributes included
  • Categories and tags based on location or property types
  • A dynamic map with filters for specific attributes

And this is just a starting point! The possibilities headless SEO provides are endlessly customizable and using keyword data will help you hone in on what matters most to your audience.

3. Map out your taxonomies like tags and categories

Taxonomies help name, describe, and classify your content so you can easily find it and so it appears dynamically in the right places.

When it comes to headless SEO, you will need to create a detailed plan so the right content shows up at the right time and is optimized correctly for the device or channel it’s being viewed on.

Tags and categories are common examples of taxonomy structures you can use to organize your content.

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For example, a real estate agent might create categories based on:

  • Location: e.g., New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco
  • Property types: e.g., Apartment, house, villa, multi-plex
  • Intent: To buy, to rent, to sell

Furthermore, you can create tags that align with the attributes of each property.

Instead of simply tagging a page or post, however, you’ll be tagging all content types in your headless CMS. This means you may need to consider taxonomies that won’t display on the front-end view layer.

For instance, you can categorize your content based on things like the type of file it is (image, video, text) or the device it’s best viewed on (mobile, desktop, VR headset).

4. Add separate fields for schema markup

Schema markup helps search engines better understand content. Many search engines use schema markup to enhance the interface and display content in a more visually rich manner.

Examples of Google SERP result with and without schema markup, respectivelyExamples of Google SERP result with and without schema markup, respectively

The great thing about headless SEO is that your content models can easily be converted into rich schema markup.

For example, if you create a content type for your real estate agents, you can align the attributes with those required for detailed person schema. Then, schema can be created programmatically and included everywhere those fields display (even if they’re not on your website).

Example of how a headless SEO content model can be marked up with schemaExample of how a headless SEO content model can be marked up with schema

You can also request that your devs create a field for inputting custom schema instead. This can be done for each URL or for each content component in your content mode, and you can set rules for delivering it in a single script on the front end.

5. Think about heading hierarchy and integrate it into your model

Heading hierarchy relates to the relationship between main headings and sub-headings in your content. There are SEO and accessibility best practices that are best for your content to abide by, but with a headless CMS, it can be difficult to track the heading hierarchy for each page.

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As a standard rule, only use one H1 tag and reserve it for the main title of the page. You can do this in the view layer of the website by denoting the field for the main title to be tagged as a H1 in the HTML code.

You can default to H2 or H3 headings for the remaining sub-headings. However, it is important your designers only allocate heading tags to content that is part of the main body.

1705956968 956 Headless SEO Explained 6 Best Practices1705956968 956 Headless SEO Explained 6 Best Practices

Designers can often add heading tags for things they want to look visually similar, even if those elements aren’t part of the main content, so make sure you instruct them not to get carried away!

6. Use references for internal links

When it comes to internal links in a headless SEO strategy, consider adding references instead of full URLs. A reference operates in the background of your CMS and connects content dynamically to each other.

If you change a URL down the track, every reference to it will update automatically on your live site. This can save your team hours of time that would otherwise be wasted finding and fixing broken links, all without them having to touch a single piece of code.

Final thoughts

There are some clear advantages to using a headless CMS for SEO. But, SEO is not the only factor to consider, and it’s often a decision outside of the SEO team’s control.

It’s worth pitching headless SEO to the decision-makers in your organization if:

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  • You need a more flexible approach to content deliverability.
  • You’d like total control over every on-page and technical SEO element.
  • You’d like to unlock omnichannel marketing capabilities.
  • You need a more scalable solution for content publishing.
  • You’d like to deliver better user experiences on your front-end.
  • You’d like to better segment content by locale or language.

Have any questions? Got a cool headless SEO use case to share? Reach out on LinkedIn and let me know.

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Google Confirms Links Are Not That Important

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Google confirms that links are not that important anymore

Google’s Gary Illyes confirmed at a recent search marketing conference that Google needs very few links, adding to the growing body of evidence that publishers need to focus on other factors. Gary tweeted confirmation that he indeed say those words.

Background Of Links For Ranking

Links were discovered in the late 1990’s to be a good signal for search engines to use for validating how authoritative a website is and then Google discovered soon after that anchor text could be used to provide semantic signals about what a webpage was about.

One of the most important research papers was Authoritative Sources in a Hyperlinked Environment by Jon M. Kleinberg, published around 1998 (link to research paper at the end of the article). The main discovery of this research paper is that there is too many web pages and there was no objective way to filter search results for quality in order to rank web pages for a subjective idea of relevance.

The author of the research paper discovered that links could be used as an objective filter for authoritativeness.

Kleinberg wrote:

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“To provide effective search methods under these conditions, one needs a way to filter, from among a huge collection of relevant pages, a small set of the most “authoritative” or ‘definitive’ ones.”

This is the most influential research paper on links because it kick-started more research on ways to use links beyond as an authority metric but as a subjective metric for relevance.

Objective is something factual. Subjective is something that’s closer to an opinion. The founders of Google discovered how to use the subjective opinions of the Internet as a relevance metric for what to rank in the search results.

What Larry Page and Sergey Brin discovered and shared in their research paper (The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine – link at end of this article) was that it was possible to harness the power of anchor text to determine the subjective opinion of relevance from actual humans. It was essentially crowdsourcing the opinions of millions of website expressed through the link structure between each webpage.

What Did Gary Illyes Say About Links In 2024?

At a recent search conference in Bulgaria, Google’s Gary Illyes made a comment about how Google doesn’t really need that many links and how Google has made links less important.

Patrick Stox tweeted about what he heard at the search conference:

” ‘We need very few links to rank pages… Over the years we’ve made links less important.’ @methode #serpconf2024″

Google’s Gary Illyes tweeted a confirmation of that statement:

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“I shouldn’t have said that… I definitely shouldn’t have said that”

Why Links Matter Less

The initial state of anchor text when Google first used links for ranking purposes was absolutely non-spammy, which is why it was so useful. Hyperlinks were primarily used as a way to send traffic from one website to another website.

But by 2004 or 2005 Google was using statistical analysis to detect manipulated links, then around 2004 “powered-by” links in website footers stopped passing anchor text value, and by 2006 links close to the words “advertising” stopped passing link value, links from directories stopped passing ranking value and by 2012 Google deployed a massive link algorithm called Penguin that destroyed the rankings of likely millions of websites, many of which were using guest posting.

The link signal eventually became so bad that Google decided in 2019 to selectively use nofollow links for ranking purposes. Google’s Gary Illyes confirmed that the change to nofollow was made because of the link signal.

Google Explicitly Confirms That Links Matter Less

In 2023 Google’s Gary Illyes shared at a PubCon Austin that links were not even in the top 3 of ranking factors. Then in March 2024, coinciding with the March 2024 Core Algorithm Update, Google updated their spam policies documentation to downplay the importance of links for ranking purposes.

Google March 2024 Core Update: 4 Changes To Link Signal

The documentation previously said:

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“Google uses links as an important factor in determining the relevancy of web pages.”

The update to the documentation that mentioned links was updated to remove the word important.

Links are not just listed as just another factor:

“Google uses links as a factor in determining the relevancy of web pages.”

At the beginning of April Google’s John Mueller advised that there are more useful SEO activities to engage on than links.

Mueller explained:

“There are more important things for websites nowadays, and over-focusing on links will often result in you wasting your time doing things that don’t make your website better overall”

Finally, Gary Illyes explicitly said that Google needs very few links to rank webpages and confirmed it.

Why Google Doesn’t Need Links

The reason why Google doesn’t need many links is likely because of the extent of AI and natural language undertanding that Google uses in their algorithms. Google must be highly confident in its algorithm to be able to explicitly say that they don’t need it.

Way back when Google implemented the nofollow into the algorithm there were many link builders who sold comment spam links who continued to lie that comment spam still worked. As someone who started link building at the very beginning of modern SEO (I was the moderator of the link building forum at the #1 SEO forum of that time), I can say with confidence that links have stopped playing much of a role in rankings beginning several years ago, which is why I stopped about five or six years ago.

Read the research papers

Authoritative Sources in a Hyperlinked Environment – Jon M. Kleinberg (PDF)

The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine

Featured Image by Shutterstock/RYO Alexandre

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How to Become an SEO Lead (10 Tips That Advanced My Career)

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How to Become an SEO Lead (10 Tips That Advanced My Career)

A few years ago, I was an SEO Lead managing enterprise clients’ SEO campaigns. It’s a senior role and takes a lot of work to get there. So how can you do it, too?

In this article, I’ll share ten tips to help you climb the next rung in the SEO career ladder.

Helping new hires in the SEO team is important if you want to become an SEO Lead. It gives you the experience to develop your leadership skills, and you can also share your knowledge and help others learn and grow.

It demonstrates you can explain things well, provide helpful feedback, and improve the team’s standard of work. It shows you care about the team’s success, which is essential for leaders. Bosses look for someone who can do their work well and help everyone improve.

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Here are some practical examples of things I did early in my career to help mentor junior members of the team that you can try as well:

  • Hold “lunch and learn” sessions on topics related to SEO and share case studies of work you have done
  • Create process documents for the junior members of the team to show them how to complete specific tasks related to your work
  • Compile lists of your favorite tools and resources for junior members of the team
  • Create onboarding documents for interns joining the company

Wouldn’t it be great if you could look at every single SEO Lead’s resume? Well, you already can. You can infer ~70% of any SEO’s resume by spying on their LinkedIn and social media channels.

Type “SEO Lead” into LinkedIn and see what you get.

Searching for SEO Leads using Linkedin

Tip

Look for common career patterns of the SEOs you admire in the industry.

I used this method to understand how my favorite SEOs and people at my company navigated their way from a junior role to a senior role.

For example, when the Head of SEO at the time Kirsty Hulse, joined my team, I added her on LinkedIn and realized that if I wanted to follow in her footsteps, I’d need to start by getting the role of SEO Manager to stand any possible chance of leading SEO campaigns like she was.

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The progression in my company was from SEO Executive to Senior SEO Executive (Junior roles in London, UK), but as an outsider coming into the company, Kirsty showed me that it was possible to jump straight to SEO Manager given the right circumstances.

Career exampleCareer example

Using Kirsty’s and other SEOs’ profiles, I decided that the next step in my career needed to be SEO Manager, and at some point, I needed to get some experience with a bigger media agency so I could work my way up to leading an SEO campaign with bigger brands.

Sadly, you can’t just rock up to a monthly meeting and start leading a big brand SEO campaign. You’ll need to prove yourself to your line manager first. So how can you do this?

Here’s what I’d suggest you do:

  • Create a strong track record with smaller companies.
  • Obsessively share your wins with your company, so that senior management will already know you can deliver.
  • At your performance review, tell your line manager that you want to work on bigger campaigns and take on more responsibility.

If there’s no hope of working with a big brand at your current job, you might need to consider looking for a new job where there is a recognizable brand. This was what I realized I needed to do if I wanted to get more experience.

Tip

Get recruiters on LinkedIn to give you the inside scoop on which brands or agencies are hiring. Ask them if you have any skill gaps on your resume that could prevent you from getting a job with these companies.

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Being critical of your skill gaps can be hard to do. I found the best way to identify them early in my career was to ask other people—specifically recruiters. They had knowledge of the industry and were usually fairly honest as to what I needed to improve.

From this, I realized I lacked experience working with other teams—like PR, social, and development teams. As a junior SEO, your mind is focused 99% on doing SEO, but when you become more senior, your integration with other teams is important to your success.

For this reason, I’d suggest that aspiring SEO Leads should have a good working knowledge of how other teams outside of SEO operate. If you take the time to do this, it will pay dividends later in your career:

  • If there are other teams in your company, ask if you can do some onboarding training with them.
  • Get to know other team leads within your company and learn how they work.
  • Take training courses to learn the fundamentals of other disciplines that complement SEO, such as Python, SQL, or content creation.

Sometimes, employers use skill gaps to pay you less, so it’s crucial to get the skills you need early on…

Skills gap illustrationSkills gap illustration
Source

Examples of other skill gaps I’ve noticed include:

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If you think you have a lot of skill gaps, then you can brush up your skills with our SEO academy. Once you’ve completed that, you can fast-track your knowledge by taking a course like Tom Critchlow’s SEO MBA, or you can try to develop these skills through your job.

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How to Become an SEO Lead 10 Tips That AdvancedHow to Become an SEO Lead 10 Tips That Advanced

As a junior in any company, it can be hard to get your voice heard amongst the senior crowd. Ten years ago, I shared my wins with the team in a weekly group email in the office.

Here’s what you should be sharing:

  • Praise from 3rd parties, e.g. “the client said they are impressed with the work this month.”
  • Successful performance insights, e.g “following our SEO change, the client has seen X% more conversions this month.”
  • Examples of the work you led, e.g. if your leadership and decision-making led to good results, then you need to share it.

At Ahrefs I keep a “wins” document. It’s just a simple spreadsheet that lists feedback on the blog posts I’ve written, the links I’ve earned and what newsletters my post was included in. It’s useful to have a document like this so you have a record of your achievements.

Example of wins spreadsheetExample of wins spreadsheet

Sidenote.

Junior SEOs sometimes talk about the things “we” achieved as a team rather than what they achieved at the interview stage. If you want the SEO Lead role, remember to talk about what you achieved. While there’s no “I” in team, you also need to advocate for yourself.

One of my first big wins as an SEO was getting a link from an outreach campaign on Buzzfeed. When I went to Brighton SEO later that year and saw Matthew Howells-Barby sharing how he got a Buzzfeed link, I realized that this was not something everyone had done.

So when I did manage to become an SEO Lead, and my team won a prize in Publicis Groupe for our SEO performance, I made sure everyone knew about the work we did. I even wrote a case study on the work for Publicis Groupe’s intranet.

Silver prize winning at publicis groupeSilver prize winning at publicis groupe

I’ve worked with some incredibly talented people, many of whom have helped me in my career.

I owe my big break to Tim Cripps, Laura Scott, and Kevin Mclaren. Without their support and encouragement, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Even before that, David Schulhof, Jodie Wheeler, and Carl Brooks let me mastermind some bonkers content campaigns that were lucky enough to succeed:

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Digital Spy Coverage for emoji campaignDigital Spy Coverage for emoji campaign
Some of the coverage I got for a stag and hen do client, back in the day.

I wasn’t even an SEO Lead at that point, but they gave me the reins and trusted me.

So, how can you find your tribe?

  • Speak to recruiters – they might hold the ticket to your next dream job. I spoke to many recruiters early in my career, but only two recruiters delivered for me—they were Natasha Woodford, and Amalia Gouta. Natasha helped me get a job that filled my skill gap, and Amalia helped me get my first SEO Lead role.
  • Go to events and SEO conferences, and talk to speakers to build connections outside of your company.
  • Use LinkedIn and other social media to interact with other companies or individuals that resonate with you.

Many senior SEO professionals spend most of their online lives on X and LinkedIn. If you’re not using them, you’re missing out on juicy opportunities.

Example of Linkedin recruiter messageExample of Linkedin recruiter message
Example of a recruiter message I got just after I joined Ahrefs.

Sharing your expertise on these platforms is one of the easiest ways to increase your chances of getting a senior SEO role. Because, believe it or not, sometimes a job offer can be just a DM away.

Here’s some specific ideas of what you can share:

I’ve recently started posting on LinkedIn and am impressed by the reach you can get by posting infrequently on these topics.

Here’s an example of one of my posts where I asked the community for help researching an article I was writing:

Linkedin post exampleLinkedin post example

And here is the content performance across the last year from posting these updates.

Linkedin-Content-PerformanceLinkedin-Content-Performance

I’m clearly not a LinkedIn expert—far from it! But as you can see, with just a few months of posting, you can start to make these platforms work for you.

Godard Abel, co-founder of G2, talked on a podcast about conscious leadership. This struck a chord with me recently as I realized that I had practiced some of the principles of conscious leadership—unconsciously.

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You can start practicing conscious leadership by asking yourself if your actions are above or below the line. Here are a few examples of above and below-the-line thinking:

Above and below the line thinkingAbove and below the line thinking

If you want a senior SEO role, I’d suggest shifting your mindset to above-the-line thinking.

In the world of SEO, it’s easy to blame all your search engine woes on Google. We’ve all been there. But a lot of the time, simple changes to your website can make a huge difference—it just takes a bit of effort to find them and make the changes.

SEO is not an exact science. Some stakeholders naturally get nervous if they sense you aren’t sure about what you’re saying. If you don’t get their support early on then you fall at the first hurdle.

Business plan with no detailBusiness plan with no detail
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To become more persuasive, try incorporating Aristotle’s three persuasive techniques into your conversations.

  • Pathos: use logical reasoning, facts, and data to present water-tight arguments.
  • Ethos: establish your credibility and ethics through results.
  • Logos: make your reports tell a story.
Persuasive techniquesPersuasive techniques

Then sprinkle in language that has a high level of modality:

Modality of languageModality of language

Some people will be able to do this naturally without even realizing it, but for others, it can be an uphill struggle. It wasn’t easy for me, and I had to learn to adapt the way I talked to stakeholders early on.

The strongest way I found was to appeal to emotions and back up with data from a platform like Ahrefs. Highlight what competitors have done in terms of SEO and the results they’ve earned from doing it.

Sidenote.

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You don’t have to follow this tip to the letter, but being aware of these concepts means you’ll start to present more confident and persuasive arguments for justifying your SEO strategies.

When I started in SEO, I had zero connections. Getting a job felt like an impossible challenge.

Once I’d got my first SEO Lead job, it felt stupidly easy to get another one—just through connections I’d made along the way in my SEO journey.

I once got stuck on a delayed train with a senior member of staff, and he told me he was really into Google Local Guides, and he was on a certain high level. He said it took him a few years to get there.

Local Guides is part of Google Maps that allows you submit reviews and other user generated content

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When he showed me the app, I realized that you could easily game the levels by uploading lots of photos.

In a “hold my beer” moment, I mass downloaded a bunch of photos, uploaded them to Local Guides and equaled his Local Guide level on the train in about half an hour. He was seething.

Google Local Guides Screenshot Level 7Google Local Guides Screenshot Level 7

One of the photos I uploaded was a half-eaten Subway. It still amazes me that 50,974 people have seen this photo:

1713812167 453 How to Become an SEO Lead 10 Tips That Advanced1713812167 453 How to Become an SEO Lead 10 Tips That Advanced

This wasn’t exactly SEO, but the ability to find this ‘hack’ so quickly impressed him, and we struck up a friendship.

The next month that person moved to another company, and then another few months later, he offered me an SEO Lead job.

Tip

Build connections with everyone you can—you never know who you might need to call on next.

Final thoughts

The road to becoming an SEO Lead seems straightforward enough when you start out, but it can quickly become long and winding.

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But now armed with my tips, and a bucket load of determination, you should be able to navigate your way to an SEO Lead role much quicker than you think.

Lastly, if you want any more guidance, you can always ping me on LinkedIn. 🙂



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7 Content Marketing Conferences to Attend in 2024

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7 Content Marketing Conferences to Attend in 2024

I spend most of my days sitting in front of a screen, buried in a Google Doc. (You probably do too.)

And while I enjoy deep work, a few times a year I get the urge to leave my desk and go socialize with other human beings—ideally on my employer’s dime 😉

Conferences are a great excuse to hang out with other content marketers, talk shop, learn some new tricks, and pretend that we’re all really excited about generative AI.

Without further ado, here are the biggest and best content marketing conferences happening throughout the rest of 2024.

Dates: May 5–7
Prices: from $795
Website: https://cex.events/
Location: Cleveland, OH
Speakers: B.J. Novak, Ann Handley, Alexis Grant, Justin Welsh, Mike King

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CEX is designed with content entrepreneurs in mind (“contenpreneurs”? Did I just coin an awesome new word?)—people that care as much about the business of content as they do the craft.

In addition to veteran content marketers like Ann Handley and Joe Pulizi waxing lyrical about modern content strategy, you’ll find people like Justin Welsh and Alexis Grant exploring the practicalities of quitting your job and becoming a full-time content creator.

Here’s a trailer for last year’s event:

Sessions include titles like:

  • Unlocking the Power of Book Publishing: From Content to Revenue
  • Quitting A $200k Corporate Job to Become A Solo Content Entrepreneur
  • Why You Should Prioritize Long-Form Content

(And yes—Ryan from The Office is giving the keynote.)

Dates: Jun 3–4
Location: Seattle, WA
Speakers: Wil Reyolds, Bernard Huang, Britney Muller, Lily Ray
Prices: from $1,699
Website: https://moz.com/mozcon

Software company Moz is best known in the SEO industry, but its conference is popular with marketers of all stripes. Amidst a lineup of 25 speakers there are plenty of content marketers speaking, like Andy Crestodina, Ross Simmonds, and Chima Mmeje.

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Check out this teaser from last year’s event:

This year’s talks include topics like:

  • Trust and Quality in the New Era of Content Discovery
  • The Power of Emotion: How To Create Content That (Actually) Converts
  • “E” for Engaging: Why The Future of SEO Content Needs To Be Engaging

Dates: Sep 18–20
Location: Boston, MA
Speakers: TBC
Prices: from $1,199
Website: https://www.inbound.com/

Hosted by content marketing OG HubSpot, INBOUND offers hundreds of talks, deep dives, fireside chats, and meetups on topics ranging from brand strategy to AI.

Here’s the recap video:

I’ve attended my fair share of INBOUNDs over the years (and even had a beer with co-founder Dharmesh Shah), and always enjoy the sheer choice of events on offer.

Keynotes are a highlight, and this year’s headline speaker has a tough act to follow: Barack Obama closed out the conference last year.

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Dates: Oct 22–23
Location: San Diego, CA
Speakers: TBC
Prices: from $1,199
Website:
https://www.contentmarketingworld.com/

Arguably the content marketing conference, Content Marketing World has been pumping out content talks and inspiration for fourteen years solid.

Here’s last year’s recap:

The 2024 agenda is in the works, but last year’s conference explored every conceivable aspect of content marketing, from B2C brand building through to the quirks of content for government organizations, with session titles like:

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  • Government Masterclass: A Content Marketing Strategy to Build Public Trust 
  • A Beloved Brand: Evolving Zillow’s Creative Content Strategy 
  • Evidence-Based SEO Strategies: Busting “SEO Best Practices” and Other Marketing Myths

Dates: Oct 24–25
Location: Singapore
Speakers: Andy Chadwick, Nik Ranger, Charlotte Ang, Marcus Ho, Victor Karpenko, Amanda King, James Norquay, Sam Oh, Patrick Stox, Tim Soulo (and me!)
Prices: TBC
Website: https://ahrefs.com/events/evolve2024-singapore

That’s right—Ahrefs is hosting a conference! Join 500 digital marketers for a 2-day gathering in Singapore.

We have 20 top speakers from around the world, expert-led workshops on everything from technical SEO to content strategy, and tons of opportunities to rub shoulders with content pros, big brands, and the entire Ahrefs crew.

I visited Singapore for the first time last year and it is really worth the trip—I recommend visiting the Supertree Grove, eating at the hawker markets in Chinatown, and hitting the beach at Sentosa.

If you need persuading, here’s SEO pro JH Scherck on the Ahrefs podcast making the case for conference travel:

And to top things off, here’s a quick walkthrough of the conference venue:

Dates: Oct 27–30
Location: Portland, OR
Speakers: Relly Annett-Baker, Fawn Damitio, Scott Abel, Jennifer Lee
Prices: from $1,850
Website: https://lavacon.org/

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LavaCon is a content conference with a very technical focus, with over 70 sessions dedicated to helping companies solve “content-related business problems, increase revenue, and decrease production costs”.

In practice, that means speakers from NIKE, Google, Meta, Cisco, and Verizon, and topics like:

  • Operationalizing Generative AI,
  • Taxonomies in the Age of AI: Are they still Relevant?, and
  • Out of Many, One: Building a Semantic Layer to Tear Down Silos

Here’s the recap video for last year’s conference:

Dates: Nov 8
Location: London
Speakers: Nick Parker, Tasmin Lofthouse, Dan Nelken, Taja Myer
Prices: from £454.80
Website: https://www.copywritingconference.com/

CopyCon is a single-day conference in London, hosted by ProCopywriters (a membership community for copywriters—I was a member once, many years ago).

Intended for copywriters, creatives, and content strategists, the agenda focuses heavily on the qualitative aspects of content that often go overlooked—creative processes, tone of voice, and creating emotional connections through copy.

It’s a few years old, but this teaser video shares a sense of the topics on offer:

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This year’s talks include sessions like:

  • The Mind-Blowing Magic of Tone of Voice,
  • The Power of AI Tools as a Content Designer, and the beautifully titled
  • Your Inner Critic is a Ding-Dong.

(Because yes, your inner critic really is a ding-dong.)

Final thoughts

These are all content-specific conferences, but there are a ton of content-adjacent events happening throughout the year. Honourable mentions go to DigiMarCon UK 2024 (Aug 29–30, London, UK), Web Summit (Nov 11–14, Lisbon, Portugal), and B2B Forum (Nov 12–14, Boston, MA).

I’ve focused this list solely on in-person events, but there are also online-only conferences available, like ContentTECH Summit (May 15–16).

Heading to a content conference that I haven’t covered? Share your recommendation with me on LinkedIn or X.



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