This may be the first time I give him credit, but I have to acknowledge Identity’s post on SEOMoz entitled, How Do You Role Your SEO? His post was insightful and worth reading. There, I said it. I hope my tongue doesn’t swell.
Working for a search marketing agency or an interactive agency large enough to have a search marketing division will play an invaluable role in the career of ANY SEO. Many SEOs start off as individual consultants who saw a need and learned what they needed to get some contract clients. Some SEOs are trained in-house because they expressed an interest in changing roles. Then you have your agency SEOs, who probably experience the fastest pace and most frequent challenges of them all.
As an in-house SEO, you may learn quite a bit about succeeding in your company’s industry. Perhaps you can even turn that into a niche specialty down the road. But for many of you, you’ll find that in-house work limits your exposure to multiple industries. Unless you’re in-house in a major niche industry with plenty of opportunity for advancement, agency experience stretches your ability to solve problems among multiple industry categories. What works for retail might not for industrial. You get the point.
There are hundreds of small agencies around the world where you can serve a dozen or more clients and really develop a sense of universal best practices and industry specific recommended tactics. Even most of the larger agencies will assign each SEO several clients, so you get the benefit of encountering unique problems and challenges with each site and the opportunity to overcome them.
Learning to deal with people is essential in any business venture, and SEO is no exception. I have witnessed many a meeting where the agency folks and the client weren’t speaking the same language. The difficulty is in realizing that regardless of your position, you are comfortable with a set of terms and ways of describing what’s happening that might be foreign to the other party. I’ve seen agencies who behave like snobs, and insist that their clients learn how to speak “correctly” about SEO. I’ve seen clients interrupt agencies and tell them how it’s going to be, regardless of whether their position is actually the best one. I’ve seen clients banging their head into the wall (not literally) because they couldn’t understand the gibberish.
There are lots of challenges and opportunities to get frustrated. But in facing those frustrations and slowly working through them, you develop new people skills and more advanced problem solving skills. These are a few of the qualities that make a top tier SEO.
My advice: If you are looking to enter the search engine optimization fray, look for an internship with an agency. Turn that internship into a job. Keep in mind that other agencies and regular companies have very different ways of doing things, and just allow yourself to grow in that busy environment. Once you’ve developed your resume, working for an in-house agency should be much easier because you are well-prepared to deal with change and conflicting opinions. Some of you will find that in-house work is boring after the fast paced lifestyle of an agency. I’ve had anywhere from nine to twelve search marketing clients on my plate at one time, and trust me, that will stretch you.
Each of us has our own path to take, so I don’t want you to feel that this post is telling you that there is only one right way to go about joining or growing in the SEO industry. Far from it. These are my thoughts that will ring true for some percentage of the population that think like me… I’m pretty sure there are at least a few of you out there.