SEO As a Career? Viability and Advice for a 30-Year-Old
For my entire adult life, I've been plagued with the problem of not knowing what the hell I want to do with myself. Lately, I realized the answer may have been in front of me all along: Search Engine Optimization (SEO). But I don't know how viable it is for me.
I am by no means an expert in SEO, but I have some side projects in which I've created and ranked WordPress websites. I definitely understand the fundamentals of on-page SEO and technical. I am very inexperienced with off-page SEO. Seeing as I spend a significant portion of my spare time interested in this, it seems to make sense to pursue SEO as a career.
For some additional context, I have a bachelor's degree in actuarial science that I barely used because I found it incredibly boring. I have quite an analytical mind and I am competent at both maths and statistics. But the actuarial path just wasn't for me.
I've worked as a freelance content writer and editor for the last 5 years, focusing mostly on information security topics, but doing a bit of everything really. I've always liked the idea of creating websites and trying to rank them, although success has been limited to ranking on page 1 for a few keywords that aren't exactly going to make me rich.
What draws me to SEO other than the fact I'm interested in it, is that it's a constantly evolving industry in which you need to wear many different hats. There's also the community aspect; I often hear about SEO conferences and I think there' are good opportunities to network with like-minded people.
I guess I'm wondering what I would need to do to break into the industry and get an in-house role at an agency. Are there any particular certifications worth pursuing? Am I screwed without a digital marketing degree? Would it be worth maybe upskilling in data analytics using online resources like Dataquest? Is it too competitive?
Ultimately, I'd like to land an in-house SEO role, work at that for a few years, and then start my own consultancy or agency (assuming I become good enough). Other options I 've considered are becoming a data analyst, becoming a web developer, or getting into cybersecurity. But SEO seems to be what's drawing me in the most.
Thank you for reading and for any advice.
I agree with starting out at an agency or as part of a marketing department for a larger company or even the marketing guy for a smaller startup forba few years to get that hands on experience. The agency world will get you more experience quicker and provide that multiple hats scenario you mentioned. Plus you will get hands on experience with explaining results or lack thereof and reasons for that to clients which will help build your own knowledge of the subject; since they say teaching or explaining something is the best way to master it. You might even build relationships that will come in handy when you branch out on your own.
I wouldnt worry too much about a degree in marketing but having certifications with hubspot or Google will help. If I were interviewing you for a position at my agency I would rather you have hands on experience with Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and can talk through your process of how you would handle a new client and throw in some important keywords/topics that someone who does SEO for a living would know, like the constant updates coming from Google, Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI), why engagement and user experience are becoming more important than ever, how Google has switched over to mobile first indexing, etc. And what tools you use to do your job like webmaster tools, Google Analytics (GA), Ahrefs , or SEMrush, etc.
I agree here. Start with an agency, as they'll give you a bit in all different areas. After a couple years move client-side where you'll make more money, have better advancement opportunities, have more job security, less stress, and much more.
Many in marketing don't have a marketing degree. Google Ads and Google Analytics are the two (and really the only 2) certifications I'd recommend. They're the only 2 anyone will ever require and pretty much the only two most know about. Others are find for learning more, but NEVER pay for a certification. If there are any additional ones a job requires, the employer will pay for them (and give you the time) to get them on the job.
Thanks for your kind help. For Google Analytics, is the certification I need to get called the "Google Analytics Individual Qualification"? Do you think an agency will hire me based on a few years as a content writer and a certification? Could my niche websites that I've ranked for a few keywords also help or am I better off omitting them from my resume?
Content writers are always in demand (especially if your knowledge of specific topics aligns with those needed for their clients). I think an agency would certainly hire you.
From there you'd likely start in content but push them and let them know you want to learn other areas and work in them too.
Not sure you'd list your website on the resume (unless you have a personal/professional site) but certainly talk about that in the interview. The work you've done, what you've learned, and importantly, the results you've driven. Lots of folks can do SEO stuff, those that standout are the ones that can tie their work to actual tangible results. "I optimized a website to gain more traffic." is far less impressive than, "Through website optimization, I increased sales by 450% to $1.5 million a year."
That was really helpful, thanks. I guess my main concern about landing an entry-level agency role would be that my resume automatically gets passed over due to no relevant education/experience. I am unsure if it would be filtered out. Also, if I do get an agency role and ultimately transition to client-side SEO, is a reasonable salary expectation $5k per month after tax? (I know that seems a weirdly specific amount but it's essentially the income level at which I would feel I don't need to worry about money).
Yes it may be hard to get an SEO job without any experience shown on your resume. So throw in some of your freelance work if any and put it under your own company name to make it look legitimate instead of just hobby work. You can even say you have x years of SEO work experience even if it's just your freelance work years. Trust me it helps. Even having extra agency talents like graphic design, email marketing, web development or design, writing, social media or anything similar experience will really put you over the top of other interviewees. Whenever you answer how much experience you have with certain things on a scale to 10never say 10. Even if your an expert at it say 8. And never put it below a 6 even if your new to it because ALOT of agency work will be learnt on the job with Google as your best friend even if you know absolutely nothing about a software program or topic.
Now expecting 5k after taxes is hard in any position in an agency. These aren't really high paying jobs with where you are starting but you can work your way up. At management level at the right kind of agency you could expect that. But with client side work comes alot more responsibility so you will definitely be working for that extra bit of cash.
Back end work (as in doing the grunt work but not having client facing communication) isn't as bad as some make it out to be. Once you get involved with client side stuff, yes you have more job security but you will also have alot more to prove to keep your clients happy and balancing work with client communications is hard at many agencies unless they hire enough people to manage both well.
Certifications don't really mean anything in the world of SEO. Sure, one could argue in favor of certs, but really it comes down to research more than certifications (imo).
People care about your processes, strategy, the tools you use, and the ability to measure results – they want predictability and confidence in what you offer.
SEO is never going away, and whoever has the most and qualitative content – regardless of industry – will always win (see: Disney, Netflix, CNN, etc.).
It's also important to set expectations. as you may already know, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is not a game of instant gratification, so make sure you work with people who understand that upfront. If you have to convince someone that your work is valuable, you're being set up for failure – trust me lol.
Worry less about the credentials and focus more on what I mentioned above. Produce good work and consider putting together a portfolio. If you're looking to get started, I have plenty of clients you can test your content with and I can help show you the impact over time.
Get your hands dirty and put yourself out there :)
SEO is never going away
That's a relief! I was half-worried it was going to be one of those fields where automation will take over most of the tasks and supply will far exceed demand. Is it too late at 30 to pivot into SEO, though?
Nope! I mean, there are low quality software tools that can blend an article into a new article using synonyms and broken english, but people who are looking to spend at least $2,500/mo on content want their money's worth. You can't automate keyword-researched journalism.
I don't think so. I think you should make sure you keep a primary source of income and not rely on SEO being your nut right out of the gate, unless you're independently wealthy. Maybe sign up and become a Fiverr vendor to get your toes in the water :)
Why not build your own digital assets-rank them using your SEO skills and sell the leads they generate to local business owners? Not only would you be building a portfolio of sorts but would be helping local businesses who are taking a real beating at the moment.
I've been doing lead generation for just a little bit but am already seeing the fruits of my labor. And with my lead gen sites ranking I can show potential SEO clients that I'm worth my salt.
I keep hearing about these sorts of websites but can't conceptualize it in my mind. Would you mind sharing an example of one of these sites?
Hey, these are essentially niche websites that focus on an industry and establish themselves as thought leaders. An example would be a website focused around landscape design that then offers to connect readers with local experts to help them create the landscape project of their dreams.
If you take this idea and expand it out to even more broad reaching niches you can find sites like
ZocDoc that help people find doctors. In the case of ZocDoc it's a very competitive niche and quite lucrative, but you can take the same concept and apply it to anything in a service industry such as pest control or industrial cleaning.
Thanks! That cleared up a lot of questions
Of course fellow internet stranger! If it's something you're looking to get in to it can be difficult to wrap your head around the concept and finding niches. I would say if you're trying to do this you have to look at mundane informational searches that you or others do frequently and that can often times lead you to opportunities in this space.
This is something I've been curious about. Care to share resources I can learn more about this?
Of course! I took Ippei Kanehara's training course. Absolutely phenomenal. I had NO SEO or online experience-I mean ZERO. But I followed the training and am seeing real results. Ippei has a blog too-you can Google him if you wish-well worth the time.
Thanks for the suggestion. I've been seeing a lot of recommendations on "make money online" websites lately about local lead generation but I'm not sure it's even a thing here in my country (Ireland). It sounds interesting though.
You can do it anywhere in the world. Two of my fave people from the group are from the UK and they are both killing it in the space over there:)
Interesting, thanks for sharing. Do you recommend any go-to resources for learning all about local lead gen?
There's a ton of free stuff online but remember-you get what you pay for. I took Ippei Kanehara's course-epic stuff-easy to understand and apply. He has a blog too you can check out that shares a lot of info. For me his course was the only option.
What types of industries? Roofers, painters, etc?
You got it-you can do lead generation for literally any business but phone-driven is ideal-as is essential services at the moment (think appliance repair-insulation-hvac-etc.)
I've tried this before. The issue is always selling people that don't see the value in lead gen. I send them for free a certain period of time and it still doesn't work. 🤷🏽♂️
Ya-I get that. It can take time to find a biz owner who actually gets it (so many say they want to grow but really they don't) but when you find one it's golden. I've had a lot of luck on Facebook Marketplace-biz owners who don't have a real online presence. Takes consistency but worth it in the long run imo:)
I think I was in your shoes about 10 years ago. I started managing a WordPress site for a startup and began venturing into Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Within 5 years I was in an in-house SEO role and I've been doing it ever since.
Do you mind if I ask whether SEO pays well? I ultimately want to be in a position where I earn around $5k per month after tax because that's the amount that would give me financial freedom. I
It will probably depend on where you are located, but with some experience under your belt it should be doable. Startups typically pay less but will have better opportunities for advancement (and better incentives, like stock options). Technology, e-commerce, healthcare companies tend to offer higher pay.
Agree with everyone else. You can start by applying to entry level positions at small agencies. Then eventually work your way up internally or at other companies. I work in-house as an SEO at a fortune 100 company. My journey went from doing Search Engine Optimization (SEO) at a small internet marketing company (had no experience but they trained on the job). Once I had experience on my resume, I applied for an entry level position at a large marketing agency that paid a lot more. Worked my way up the ladder over a few years. Then moved in-house. I had a college degree, but not in marketing. The only certification that probably helped me were from Google. But those were required for work. If I had one recommendation, it's to probably learn and work on every facet of digital marketing if you eventually leave an agency and not pigeon-hole yourself into just SEO. While agencies have positions like VP of SEO, a lot of in-house positions at other companies don't. An example is the company I work at. The highest level an SEO has is Senior Manager of SEO. If I wanted to become a Director or VP, those positions are likely reserved for general "digital marketing" or "marketing" roles. And trust me, if you don't want to get bored being the SEO guy, it'll help to get your feet wet in non-SEO projects. I'm sure that might involve other certifications. FB and Google both offer courses for their products.
I'm 26 and got an entry level job at an agency a year ago (transitioned from accounting). I've since been promoted twice, learned a ton about Search Engine Optimization (SEO), and have some really good prospects to move up even further. (I'm in the Chicago area so there's quite a few agencies).
Find the agency job, it'll get you the widest variety of experience.
Thank you for your reply. Do you have any specific advice for getting in the door at an agency? Would linking to the niche websites that I'm ranking for a few keywords in help me? How did you transition?
Then apply, apply everywhere and anywhere, look at job boards and go to agency sites and actively seek the job out (or anything similar, my original role at my agency wasn't SEO related but I was vocal about wanting to start a career in SEO). You'll be rejected a ton, but all you really need is one shot.
For what it's worth I'm in my mid-30's and rebranding/repositioning myself from a catch-all digital person that sold technical SEO as an add-on to website builds into a fully focused technical optimization for WordPress websites person. It's always what I've done and now I'm embracing it. The demand has never been higher for what I do than right now. I've been looking for a number two to teach under me and help me grow my business for a long time. Now that I've finally defined what it is that I do, I'm working on defining my process better so I can make that hire a reality. Your qualifications are exactly what I'd look for in that person.
If you want to open your own agency, you're better off starting at an agency rather than an in-house role as SEO strategies vary dramatically by industry and your potential clients are going to want to know that you have experience implementing SEO across a variety of industries.
Thanks, I think that seems like solid advice. Are agencies likely to give me a chance though given all I'm bringing to the table is my writing experience and some brief experience ranking 2 niche websites for a couple of keywords?
In my experience, there are agencies ok with very little SEO knowledge they're willing to train. Unfortunately, the downside of this is that the pay is low, the hours are probably going to be long, and (biggest thing of all imo) you risk them not really knowing what they're doing and learning bad SEO practices.
I don't say that to scare you off at all just to let you know that those places are typically the ones that will take no or very little experience. However! If you supplement this with your own research and keep up to date on trends, compare how what you're doing at work with best practices according to industry experts, those jobs are still perfectly useful for getting your foot in the door.
When you say writing experience do you mean SEO-specific? Because that's a good niche and another good way to get your foot in the door and get experience. You can still put all that agency experience on your resume and you can bulk it up by doing the research I mentioned on your own. You could start suggesting to your agency bosses that you could start helping with other stuff, etc.
Learning the basics of on-page optimization is a useful entry-level skill I've seen quite a lot of demand for.
Wow. Looks like you are describing me. I'm also an actuarial science graduate who just hates the course and its career path passionately. It was a misinformed choice from a young me ten years ago. I've been doing SEO and content writing on content mills for the last 7 years.
Hopefully this is the year where I can get my sh*t together get a few certifications I feel I need before starting out on my own. Might take a one year diploma in sales and marketing or journalism. I don't know, I mean I'm yet to decide man. Will be turning 30 in a couple of months and I feel its time to focus on Search Engine Optimization (SEO) as I am passionate about it.
That's crazy that there is someone out there almost exactly like me in terms of studying actuarial science, disliking it, and becoming a content writer instead. Thanks for replying. I always feel an underlying sense of guilt that I never used my degree because actuary is such a high-paying career. But I was true to myself in admitting it wasn't for me. I hope I can get my shit together soon and find out what I actually want to do.
Personally I started in the automotive software industry as a tech support agent and the company saw a need to offer SEO. I volunteered as I had done some minor stuff and ranked some affiliate sites way back in the day. From there I really picked up the ins and outs of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and became the lead. I'm now working for a pretty big e-commerce retailer as the in-house SEO Analyst. This position has already opened so many opportunities from all the inquiries I get on LinkedIn compared to my previous company.
I focus solely on SEO/technical SEO. It helps to know a little bit about paid, social, etc as I partner up with those teams frequently.
The industry only keeps growing. I'd definitely suggest hitting up an agency and gain your expertise there and then go looking for in-house as in the end it ends up being a little more relaxed and not as crazy as agency work.
Thanks, it's nice to hear your story. I guess my worry is about the difficulty of the first part of the process; simply getting hired in an entry-level SEO gig whether at an agency or in-house. I am unsure how in demand my skills would be considering all I've done is worked as a content writer and ranked my own 1 or 2 niche websites.
Do you mind also if I ask whether SEO pays well? I know I won't earn well initially, and I'm ok with that but I figured out the amount of money that I would like to ultimately earn for personal financial freedom is around 5k per month.
Here in LA, agency pay is like 20-22 for entry. Depending on the company, an in-house can range from 50-70k easily which is in the range of what you're looking to for financial freedom. As you get better and a few years under you can be Sr SEO Analyst, SEO Manager, SEO Director and move up to if not 6 figures. This is all from personal experience and what I've seen being offered at larger companies on LI.
43 here. I got in to SEO just over ten years ago. I did not have a career for a large part of my working life and I started full time employment at 17. I did a lot of jobs that required no qualifications or little experience and as such lived on a comparatively low wage for a long time. A friend needed me to do some temp work for him and he liked my work and kept giving me more. He eventually gave me a full time job doing Search Engine Optimization (SEO) as a data analyst and I finally got a career and was optimistic about the future. I've only done SEO in house and for only three companies, but I do love it, especially the company I work for now.
Great to hear your success story in building an SEO career. Thanks for sharing. I hope I can have a similar path to you.
Yup sounds like you are more than qualified to get an entry level SEO job at an agency where you will earn shit money and do a lot of outreach/content writing.
Can be good places to learn though, and you can work your way up quickly if you are good.
Other option is to start some affiliate sites and start making money off them, although you'll need cash and time to start off. Once you have a decent portfolio after a few years, done some freelance, you can probably start getting some of your own clients and consult?
Honestly, most people I've met in SEO fall into it by accident and most are happy with the outcome.
Thanks for your reply. I've got a Google Doc with a five website portfolio that I plan to build over the next 5 years. Two of them are affiliate websites but I haven't started working on either of them yet. I have monetized a small niche site of mine but the money I earn is like cents per day so it's nothing to brag about.
You just have to build and grow – eventually that cents per day will be a few dollars a day, and then a few hundred a month etc. If you have 4-5 of them running you have a really decent little passive income going
That's a lot of eggs to put in 1 basket. I wouldn't switch if you plan on going strictly into SEO, as there is very few jobs available that focus only on Search Engine Optimization (SEO) at in-house marketing teams. You also risk running into 1 of the first career paths that can come to a crashing halt if 1 company decides to change up how their platform works.
If you want to go into web design, or digital content creation then SEO is a good skill to have. The problem is if you strictly focus on it then you're eliminating yourself from most marketing jobs.
I also want to warn you… Agency life is not for everyone. I find most people who go to agencies tend to change career paths after 5 years as working with clients will get old really quickly.
I started exactly like you did. Was building my own sites and ranking. Got son good others wanted to pay me. My feeling is most great people in the SEO field start this way.
Highlight the websites you have built and how they rank in Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs). That matters more to Directors of Marketing then a degree or cert.
I've seen a lot of people claim they are good at "digital marketing". They have no idea how to execute keyword research properly or grab emails. 🤦🏽♂️
Have you considered starting a website in the information security or cybersecurity space?
Have you considered starting a website in the information security or cybersecurity space?
I have considered it, but I looked at the competition and it's a very difficult space to get into. Even very esoteric long tail keywords are covered by websites that are very tough to outrank like techtarget and Cisco.
I'm sure it's very competitive. If you have been writing in it for 5 years though you must have some interest in a cyber niche?
If you moved into cybersecurity and had an authority site in a specific topic, you likely could find a job. After you do training or some school. Just something to think about.
Cyber jobs pay much better. 🧑🏽💻
I like writing about cyber but I've looked into it as a career and I don't think I would like it. I definitely have it as a backup option though. I will try SEO first and if it seems hard to break into, there is an option to take a cheap postgraduate course in cybersecurity.
I worked as a copywriter for B2B trade magazines and a freelance blogger before applying for entry level marketing roles. After that it was very much a case of learning while doing. I think as most people have said, it's all about applying for entry level positions and ideally having a transferable skill to help show your aptitude for the world of Search Engine Optimization (SEO)/marketing.
Thanks for sharing your experience. How does your SEO career compare to freelance blogging and copywriting? Do you prefer it? And how long in your experience can I expect to have to work in an entry-level position for the type of bad pay that other commenters already posted?
I still enjoy the editorial side of my career, but combining it with a grasp of technical SEO seems like a good evolution – although there is something to be said for having a unique specialism.
With regards to pay, it'll depend very much on your company and on your own aptitude. If you can makes yourself valuable you can try to negotiate better pay, or jump to another company once you have some proven results.
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