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Competition In The SEO Job Market And How To Succeed

SEO is just as essential as ever in building a powerful marketing strategy.

And as the industry continues to evolve, the competition for SEO jobs is heating up.

As more newcomers enter the SEO field – and as that field continues to be transformed by emerging technologies – jobs are becoming harder to come by.

Our State Of SEO (SOS) report found that SEO pros with less than five years of experience are the most concerned about the competition for talent right now.

The report findings suggest high competition for entry and junior-level roles at organizations, pushing newer SEO pros to strike out on their own.

In this article, we’ll explore what the SEO career landscape looks like today, the challenges faced by both new and experienced SEO professionals in this market, and offer strategies to distinguish yourself from the competition.

The SEO Career Landscape

The SEO industry is always growing and changing, which is likely why so many marketers continue to choose it as their specialization of choice.

But this means that the race for job opportunities is fierce – and SEO pros know it.

We asked respondents to our State Of SEO report where they thought the biggest shifts in the overall SEO industry would come from.

These three concerns effectively tied for the top slot, with competition for talent eking out a slight lead:

  • Competition for talent.
  • Generative AI & AI.
  • Google updates.

Notably, competition for talent is the foremost concern for those getting established in the industry, with between two and four years of experience.

And with new technologies like generative AI reshaping the SEO landscape, rising above the pack will not get any easier.

The Career Threshold: Five Years Of Experience

According to our State Of SEO report findings, five years of experience is a critical threshold for SEO pros – and it is the folks with less experience than this who might face the most significant hurdles.

A majority of respondents to our SOS survey (51.6%) fall into this experience bracket, which indicates that the job market is densely crowded at this level.

While nearly two-thirds of managers and over 80% of directors possess more than five years of experience, the data highlights that 49.8% of managers and 56% of directors are within the five to 10 years experience range.

This suggests that advancement into higher positions often hinges on this crucial milestone.

Yet, it’s noteworthy that a substantial percentage of managers (27.5%) have only two to four years of experience, showcasing the industry’s potential for early advancement.

Similarly, a significant number of owner-operators (53.7%) have two to four years of experience, hinting at the entrepreneurial spirit of newer professionals in the SEO realm.

Interestingly, the study also found that experience distribution is strikingly similar between in-house and agency roles, indicating a consistent challenge regardless of the work environment.

This underlines that the demand for SEO expertise is high, but the supply of professionals is equally robust.

Freelancers In The SEO Ecosystem

A substantial percentage of freelancers (77.9%) surveyed have less than five years of experience – and almost seven in 10 are looking for new positions this year.

This suggests that freelancers are often new entrants to the industry, seeking opportunities to gain exposure and experience.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, agencies are freelancers’ most sought-after position types, indicating a desire for stability and diverse project exposure.

Distinguishing Yourself In A Competitive Market

The results are that SEO pros face a highly competitive job market.

Whether you’re a newcomer or an experienced professional, landing your dream role will hinge on standing out from the crowd.

Here are five ways to differentiate yourself in today’s SEO market.

1. Embrace AI And Automation

As we highlighted above, AI is having a major impact on the SEO industry at large – and the sentiment toward its potential impact is positive.

The majority of respondents to our State Of SEO survey (72.4%) feel positive about AI’s impact. In addition, many companies, especially large ones, are looking for ways to integrate AI software.

You know what that means; it’s time to get on board with AI.

Get ahead of your peers by embracing generative AI, and focus on honing your skills to put them to use for great SEO results.

Take courses, learn from other experts, and practice using AI to enhance your workflow or add value.

Rather than letting generative AI do all the work, look for innovative ways to work smarter with it. Can it make your content process more efficient? Could it help you conduct audits, keyword research, or competitor evaluation? These skills are only going to become more important.

2. Network And Collaborate

No matter your industry, this is always the right thing to do, especially if you’re looking for a job. And SEO is no different.

By building a strong professional network, you won’t just meet others in your field and learn from their expertise, but you’ll often find yourself with leads to new jobs.

With the sheer amount of competition in the job market, having a referral from somebody connected to the role can make all the difference.

So, what are the best ways to network and collaborate with other SEO professionals?

Join SEO-focused communities online or groups on social media, attend conferences and interact with other attendees, and make a concerted effort to join discussions about SEO where you find them.

Regardless of whether your network leads you to a job, it will absolutely help you grow in your career.

3. Establish A Personal Brand

Just like networking, this is a key one for SEO experts.

Whether you’re new to the game or have years of experience in your back pocket, establishing a strong and recognizable personal brand can really help set you apart.

Here are just a few examples of ways you can go about this:

  • Build out your social media presence by sharing your own insights, tips, and advice; joining trending conversations; sharing your opinion in industry discussions; and creating a steady stream of valuable content. LinkedIn is a great place for this, as well as platforms like Reddit and X (formerly Twitter).
  • Create your own SEO-related blog and update it with regular content.
  • Participate in SEO conferences, webinars, and podcasts to share your own story and perspective.

4. Engage In Continuous Learning

SEO can change in an instant – and that’s why the most experienced SEO experts are dedicated to lifelong learning. It’s a necessity to keep up.

By staying on top of the latest in the industry, you’ll signal to hiring managers that you care about being the best at your craft.

Educate yourself on the latest trends, tools, strategies, and algorithm changes.

Beyond this, set aside time to further your learning through obtaining certifications, attending workshops, and taking online courses to enhance your skill set.

As a bonus, you can add certification badges to your LinkedIn profile and resume to showcase your expansive knowledge and capabilities.

5. Build A Strong Portfolio

You’ve heard of “show, don’t tell” – a portfolio is a great example.

If you’re looking to impress a hiring manager, portfolios and case studies go a long way.

They provide a detailed look at how you’ve built SEO strategies in the past, and how these have directly contributed to the success of your company or clients – as well as your specific results and what you learned.

Use your portfolio to showcase your most successful SEO projects, and include specific data points and metrics to highlight your expertise. Before and after comparisons can be super helpful here.

In Conclusion

The SEO industry is continuing to boom, and the job market is as competitive as ever – if not more so.

Competition is high for newcomers to the industry and experienced veterans – and the struggle is especially stark for those with less than five years of experience.

On top of this, tools like AI will continue to revolutionize the SEO landscape in the coming years. Our State Of SEO survey showed that 68% of respondents want to invest in AI-powered software or services this year.

The good news is that there are plenty of organizations hiring for SEO roles.

And by leveraging some of the aforementioned tactics, you can stand above the competition and land your perfect role.

Good luck!

If you want to dive deeper into all the first-party data and gain more insight, get your copy of our third annual State Of SEO report.

Featured Image: Paulo Bobita/Search Engine Journal

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