18 Areas of Knowledge Every SEO Must Possess

As SEOs, we need AS to know a lot of stuff. It can be absolutely overwhelming. Many SEOs experience the impostor syndrome — the feeling that we’re in our industry or job by virtue of luck or chance, and certainly not on account of the knowledge that is necessary.

It’s kind of like this:

Image from FastCompany

When we feel that way, we do ourselves a serious disservice, and erode our own effectiveness as SEOs.

We’re not impostors, though. None of us are SEOs because we got an advanced degree in it. We’re SEOs because we happen to possess knowledge and ability. But what kind of knowledge do we need? Here’s a list of areas that every SEO should have some familiarity with. Before you begin, please be aware that the SEO does not need to have an in-depth knowledge of each of these. He or she simply needs to have a functional familiarity with them. If we had to be experts in all these fields, nobody could become an SEO.

If you do develop an awareness of these 18 areas, you will have a powerful set of skills. Each of these areas are tied together in a complex web of inter-relatedness. Knowledge in one area builds on knowledge in another area, which enhances knowledge in the next area.

1. On-Page SEO

This is square one for every SEO. It is the absolute basics:

  • Page content
  • Title tag
  • URLs
  • H1s

On-page SEO has become common knowledge for many people who are not SEOs. This makes it that much more important for true SEOs to thoroughly understand this area, and how to apply the always-changing best practices of content, titles, and metas.

2. Link Profiles

After on-page factor, a site’s link profile has the most impact on how the site is returned in search results.

As an SEO, you should understand the impact of a link profile, what defines a good link, and what a spammy link is.

3. Keyword Research

Even though semantic search and search intent is supplanting the traditional functionality of keywords, they are still important.

You don’t need any specialized tools to do keyword research, but you should know basically how to do it. What keywords are best for a specific site? What keywords will drive the most targeted traffic?

Great SEO begins with top-notch keyword research.

4. Linking Best Practices

Linking from one website to another has been one of the foremost tactics of SEOs ever since there was such a thing as SEO.

Linking has changed a lot since it first revolutionized the web. Linking is still important, but it can also be a realm of penalties and dangerous maneuvers. Make sure you understand the nuances of linking — both internal and external/inbound and outbound — as you function as an SEO.

5. Local SEO

Local SEO defines how a local business gets search traffic, and therefore local customers. Like many of the areas of knowledge that I will discuss below, local SEO is a vast field. The basic idea is as follows:

  • NAP – Every business has a Name, Address, and Phone Number.
  • These bits of information are part of the business’s local citations happen when the business is mentioned on the web. Usually, these mentions are in directories or other local listings.
  • In addition, the business must have profiles on the web. Profiles like Yelp, Foursquare, and Google Local are important for a business to have local traffic.

Reviews are another critical element of local search. Negative reviews can damage a business’s ability to be featured in local results.

6. PPC

It’s possible to be an SEO and never have to bid on a keyword. Many SEOs, however, carry the load of both organic search optimization and paid search.

If you don’t know how to log in to Adwords and customize campaigns, that’s okay. It’s only necessary to understand that there are such things as paid searches, and these are what appear as ads in search results (at the top and side).

And, by the way, this is how Google makes so much money.

7. Mobile SEO

Mobile SEO is an entirely new iteration of the SEO universe. Yes, it’s important to know about. The digital world is hurtling towards a mobile future. From wearable devices to handhelds, we need to understand how to apply the principles of search optimization to mobile.

Thankfully, there’s a lot of overlap. Keep in mind, however that there are some important technical distinctions. If you want to become a mobile SEO expert, there’s a bit of a learning curve.

8. Conversion Optimization

Conversion optimization or conversion rate optimization (CRO) is helping users convert on your web page — clicking on a call to action or purchasing a product.

Conversion optimization is a parallel field to SEO. SEO tries to get traffic to the page, CRO tries to get that traffic to convert.

CROs are a low farther in the conversion funnel, and know that their niche has a more direct correlation to the revenue of a business. As an SEO, you should be aware of the basics of CRO — A/B testing, landing pages, etc.

9. Marketing

You may have never thought of yourself as a marketer. If you’re an SEO, though, that’s exactly what you are. You’re in marketing.

Marketing is defined as “the action or business of promoting and selling products or services.”

When you do search engine optimization, you are promoting products and services — specifically a website.

You will improve as an SEO if you grasp the basic concept of marketing, and even some of its advanced concepts. Many of the principles of traditional marketing can be applied to the digital arena, even in something as apparently far removed as SEO.

10. HTTP Status Codes

Want to prove your worth as a kick-ass smart SEO? Then you should take Moz’s SEO Expert Quiz. The quiz deals mostly with technical aspects of SEO. What you’ll learn is that HTTP status codes are a big a part of the discussion.

HTTP status codes come from web servers when the search engine makes a request and can’t find what you’re looking for. It comes in the form of a three-digit number. You may not have every one of these memorized, but you should know about the concept of response codes.

  • 200 – successful information transfer
  • 301 – visitors are redirected to a new page
  • 302 – the page and search spiders are redirected to a new page (transfers link juice)
  • 404 – the page is not found
  • 500 – there is no such page
  • 504 – the page is unavailable for some reason

11. Web Development

How does stuff get on the web? It happens by development.

Some SEOs enter the field from a background in web development. It’s certainly not necessary to know how to build web pages, but knowing about web development will help you understand and advise developers on how to implement SEO best practices into their websites.

12. Algorithms

The science of search algorithms back up everything that the SEO does. The algorithm defines how and what results are returned in the SERPs.

As an SEO, you should be aware with the fact that the algorithm is responsible for determining search results. No one except Google employees know the entire algorithm, but SEOs can make educated guesses.

To really advance your knowledge in this area, you can read about two areas of the algorithm from Moz:

  • Search engine ranking factors (What’s in the algorithm?)
  • Google Algorithm changes (How has the algorithm changed?)

13. Guest Blogging

Guest blogging is not dead. It’s alive and well. What’s more, it’s used by some of the most influential personalities in digital marketing today.

As an SEO, you must be familiar with guest blogging, including its risks. Guest blogging is the secret to spreading one’s influence and reach, but it is not to be entered into without caution.

14. Content Marketing

Long before it was a buzzword, I used content marketing in my marketing efforts. Now, it’s mainstream. Content marketing is something you have to do in order to succeed.

Content marketing has dozens of variations and applications. But the central tenet is this: In order to succeed in online marketing, a business must be a producer of high quality content. Maybe it’s videos, maybe it’s infographics, maybe it’s Slideshares, maybe it’s podcasts, maybe it’s blog articles, maybe it’s all of these.

Whatever the case, SEOs need to know about content marketing, and even why content marketing is the new SEO (this is a post from my own blog).

15. User Experience

User experience, and the related fields of User Experience Design (UXD) have to do with a person’s interaction with a digital medium.

User experience has everything to do with SEO. That’s not to say you need to become a master of UX, but you should be aware of its implications for SEO.

If a user can’t navigate a website or see the text on her mobile, this is a violation of good user experience. This has a negative impact upon SEO.

User experience is something that most people can understand intuitively.Does this website work? Do I know where to click? Can I find what I need to find?

Better user experience invariably translates into better SEO.

16. Semantic Search

Semantic search is the way that the web has moved in recent years. It used to be that search engine optimization was all about the specific keywords.

Now, it’s not as much about keywords as it is about the other factors that affect language — intent, substance, context, synonyms, location, trends, word variations, and other elements of language.

Hummingbird crystallized our conception of semantic search, alerting SEOs to the fact that it’s not just about keywords. It’s about the whole breadth of language usage and practice. Now, we have to deal with queries like “Where’s the closest place to get a pumpkin spice latte after midnight?”

17. Social Media

Don’t get too scared about this one. There are people who spend their entire careers as social media experts. That’s not required of you.

Social media is just about as vast as the industry of SEO itself, but your knowledge need only extend as far as being able to function on each major platform — Google+, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Pinterest is bonus.

What’s the connection between SEO and social media? There is obviously some correlation between “social signals” and a page’s rank, but there is not a direct cause-effect relationship on increasing number of retweets/likes/pluses and a page’s rising rank. Social signals are not an algorithmic factor as far as we know.

18. Penalties

Ah, penalties. I’ve saved the worst for last.

If you’ve never experienced a penalty on a site that you oversee or manage, then your education in this area will come when (or if) the penalty comes to strike.

Obviously, I’m talking about Google’s penalties. There are two types:

  1. Algorithm penalty – Your site violates the changing rules of the algorithm, and you lose rank and traffic. Make the necessary improvements, and you will hopefully recover.
  2. Manual penalty – This penalty is called by a Google employee. It happens when your site is manually reviewed, found to have violations (usually “unnatural links”), and loses ranking. In order to recover from this type of penalty, you must perform extensive link remediation, and ask Google for a removal of the penalty.


Those are powerful forms of knowledge — the tactical methods of delivery and execution that we have to do each day. When you combine this knowledge with other abilities like communication, honesty, diligence, etc., you will become a master of your trade.