There’s a lot of ways you can get really good at SEO. Jeff Oxford, founder of 180 Marketing, started a baseball blog (even though he didn’t know anything about the sport). And Nick Eubanks, owner of From The Future, built his own personal brand (NickEubanks.com) before he ever even had an SEO client.
It’s crucial to put in the work and get your hands dirty if you want to excel in the world of SEO. We spoke to Jeff and Nick about how they got started in SEO, what steps they took to start their own SEO agencies and finally, what they look for when they’re hiring for top-level SEO talent.
Jeff and Nick are here to share their top secret tips to help you on your next SEO job search. Let’s dive, jump, soar, hop, skip, bound, vault, leap right in!
Meet Our SEO Experts
Jeff Oxford and Nick Eubanks are some of the highest ranked SEO experts around.
Jeff is the owner of 180 Marketing. Ten years ago he started a blog about baseball (even though he knows nothing about baseball) in order to figure out if he could make money off Google AdSense. Unfortunately, the scheme didn’t pan out financially, but the venture did land him his first SEO job at a San Diego agency. Today he runs his own agency where he’s worked on over 200 SEO campaigns, has been featured in Forbes and is the creator of the DIY link building tool Linkhunter.
Nick Eubanks runs From The Future, a technical SEO agency in Philadelphia. His first job out of school was at an accounting software firm where he was tasked with building web pages and emails. He was curious about why some competitors were showing up in searches and why the company he worked for wasn’t. So he did what anyone who wanted to rank better at the time would do: he copied the competitors. He started noticing trends in URLs and page titles and applied those same practices to where he worked. Today he has a staff of 30 in-house SEO experts that work for him.
If you’re thinking about starting your SEO career or you’re simply hoping to move up the SEO ladder, Jeff and Nick weigh in on the best things you can do to stand out to future employers—and clients.
Dissecting The Rungs of the SEO Ladder
SEO Analyst. SEO Manager. SEO Consultant. SEO Specialist. There’s a lot of terms for SEO job positions out there. Luckily for you, a lot of these fancy terms mean the same thing.
Here’s the breakdown so you can better understand what you’re applying for during your SEO job search.
SEO Associate | SEO Analyst | SEO Specialist
Typically these titles all fall into entry-level SEO jobs. For these positions you should have some experience in SEO, even if it’s just an internship or one year of working at an agency under your belt. In this role you’ll typically be doing research, optimization, writing meta and title descriptions, and maybe you’ll pull some data. These are what Jeff calls the “grunt work” jobs, where you don’t need many critical skills yet but you’ll be in the weeds working on optimizing sites, which is crucial to do as you get good at SEO.
SEO Project Manager | SEO Strategist
These are your mid-level SEO jobs. You can expect to do more interacting with clients, be tasked with reporting, and come up with an overall site plan for the team. You’ll need to have a good grasp of how to conduct a technical analysis of a website, see what it needs and where to take it.
SEO Manager | SEO Director
These roles require you to oversee a team, manage multiple people, and direct the grand scope of projects. You’ll need to be able to identify what needs to be done for a website, and be responsible for how it’s going to get done, which would include determining the tools, the reporting platform, and the link building.
VP of Search | VP of SEO
These are mostly roles found at big corporations where you might have 15 employees under you. If you’ve made it to the top of this totem pole, you probably don’t need to read the rest of this article. Go play some ping pong!
5 Sure-Fire Ways To Stand Out To An SEO Employer
Now that you’ve determined the right keywords to look for during your SEO job search, you’re probably wondering how the heck you can actually stand out to the top agencies for open spots that will often garner dozens of applicants.
Jeff and Nick share their personal candidate checklist below, so you can make sure that you tick each of these boxes at your next interview.
1. Make Yourself a Really Cool Brand
If JoeSmith.com is still available and your name is Joe Smith, scoop that up fast because it’s time to build your personal brand. Heck, take JoeSmith.net if you can get it.
“Being good at anything is all about stacking the bricks and your foundation comes from your personal site, building the footprint that will become your reputation,” says Nick. He suggests starting your own blog detailing what you’re up to in the SEO world. When it’s time to apply for jobs or seek out clients of your own, you’ll have a portfolio site to direct them to.
2. Build A Website, Get It To Rank
Every great SEO specialist has experience building a site from the ground up and trying to get it to rank.
If you haven’t done this already, Jeff recommends creating a site about whatever you’re currently passionate about, whether that’s vintage motorcycles or the latest season of The Bachelor. “Let your passion fuel the search and rescue. Start a website and make it your playground. It makes the process more tangible and effective and you can test different strategies to see how good you can get at SEO implementation,” he says.
Nick suggests working on your website so you can bring it to future clients and explain your approach and how you can implement your own strategies to help them grow. “If you do this”, says Nick, “people are gonna throw money at you”.
Every great SEO specialist has experience building a site from the ground up and trying to get it to rank.
And while you’re doing all of this, don’t forget to post about it on your personal blog. “Document everything you learn along the way and be candid. Share what works and doesn’t work, write about it on a blog that has your name on it,” he says.
3. Be A Nationally Ranked Ping Pong Player
Or take cooking classes on the weekend. Or be a black belt in Brazillian jujitsu. Nick loves when potential and current employees have a hobby. Why? Because working in an entrepreneurial culture requires passion. And in his experience, being a passionate person often translates to having a really cool hobby.
If you’ve been hoping to pick up that paintbrush again, now is a great excuse to get back to it.
4. Read Like a Robot
Nick gives all of his employees a subscription to Audible so they can constantly digest business books. “If you want to succeed in any type of competitive market, you need to keep educating yourself.”
Ask around for some great recommendations from friends as the books don’t have to be SEO-specific. Nick’s office has an ongoing list that employees add to so that everyone can keep adding to their Kindle.
5. Don’t Ask Lazy Questions
One of the biggest things Nick looks for when adding to his growing team is someone that likes to problem solve and research. “We love when people ask questions, but we want to make sure that it isn’t a lazy question, meaning they’ve tried to find the answer by doing the research on their own first,” says Nick.
Common SEO Interview Questions
SEO agencies require you to be savvy and smart, skilled and steadfast and be able to think on your toes! Which is why interviewing for a position will often test your SEO prowess, but also how you think.
Here are questions you can expect to be asked if you are interviewed by Nick, Jeff or other top-notch SEO companies.
What does an average day look like for you?
Jeff loves to ask this question so he can find out how hands-on a candidate is currently. “If they are already taking calls with clients, it’ll be easier to train someone.”
Tell me a time you were able to increase traffic and what specifically you did to get that result?
Be ready to present a case study and some specific instances of work you’ve done to a site and how you were able to improve it.
How much do the clients you currently work with pay?
“I ask this because I want to know the level of the company they’re at. If they were at an agency where clients were paying $3,000 a month, I can pretty much guarantee they were diving into some more in-depth SEO work,” says Jeff.
Describe a metric for measuring link authority.
Nick likes to ask this in an SEO skills pre-test, before a candidate even walks through the door. He knows most will Google the answer, but the candidates that choose the answer found on page one of Google probably won’t make it to the next round. Why? He always makes sure that it’s a question that requires some real digging. It’s how he finds the candidates that know how to truly seek out the best answer.
You notice a large number of negative links start coming into pages on your website over a short amount of time. Your SEO rankings start to fall and you are seeing decreases in your organic traffic. Based on this situation, what steps would you take to remedy the situation?
This question is more about figuring out what your approach to troubleshooting is and is meant to give your future employer a better idea about how you’d proactively help clients.
If you want to work for someone like Nick or Jeff, practice coming up with some killer responses for these right now.
The 4 Things You MUST Do Before Going Solo
Maybe this isn’t your first trip on the SEO merry-go-round. In fact, you might have the itch to start taking on freelance clients or perhaps breaking out on your own in the hopes that you can start your own agency.
Jeff and Nick have been there, done that, and are sharing the hard lessons they’ve learned along the way. Take notes!
Find Experience At An Agency
The best thing you can do to beef up that resume is to spend at least one year in an agency environment.
“Learn the processes of an agency, how they optimize, what the interactions with customers are like, how to structure calls,” says Jeff. “You will learn so much with just a year working for a legitimate SEO company.”
Ask questions about how the agency runs, what accounting software they use and how the CEO pitches the business to potential clients. “These are all skills you can learn on the ground at an agency and that hands-on experience will transfer over wherever you go next.”
Get Comfortable With Selling Yourself
If you can’t do sales, you’ll never make it as a consultant or be successful starting your own agency. “One of my favorite quotes is ‘Learn how to build and then learn how to sell and you’ll be unstoppable.’ I think this rings true,” says Nick.
Jeff agrees. “This is why having work in an agency environment is so crucial. You can really learn firsthand how to talk to clients, how to pitch in a meeting, how to structure calls – you’ll get all the tools you need to go it alone if you pay attention.”
Learn how to build and then learn how to sell and you’ll be unstoppable.
Move In With Your Mom
Thinking about going the consultant route? Jeff moved in with his Mom. And if you’re worried about going freelance, you should too. And if Mom’s basement isn’t an option, work on building a rainy day fund to be able to use during your startup phase.
“Save six months worth of having your expenses covered so there’s less pressure as you start to find and build your client roster,” says Jeff.
Scoop Up Client Castoffs
The biggest hurdle will be getting new clients. When Jeff was in the early days of his agency, he reached out to some of the biggest agencies around to see if they wouldn’t mind passing along his name to clients that were too small for them to take on.
“I knew these companies had minimums to meet, so I would offer them a 15% kickback if they could send clients my way,” said Jeff. “In turn they get to turn away clients, which they were going to do anyways, but this way they had the chance to get some additional money in their pockets.”
Big thanks to the SEO experts, the SEO professionals, the SEO consultants, the SEO masters (see what we did there?) Jeff Oxford and Nick Eubanks for shining a light on the SEO world.