You know an SEO expert when you see them: bulging biceps, a great mustache, high cheek bones and a ninja-like demeanor.

For women, hair that never needs flat-ironing, great skin elasticity and a presidential way about her.

Those are just the looks. A true SEO expert is a valued asset in any organization. A modern day SEO consultant is a self-disciplined machine capable of doing great things on and off the web.

You see, SEO isn’t like it was a few years ago where you could fire up a backlink program, blast some links and fire out some content. Google’s algorithm has gotten extremely sensitive to webspam and capable of shooting down any site that even edges on violating its guidelines.

With that in mind, here are the disciplines that make up a true SEO expert

Knowledge of Google’s algorithm

In my opinion, this is the most important skill to have. These days the best SEO’s out there have a very good grasp on Google Webmaster Guidelines and know the ins and outs of all of them. For instance, a skilled SEO knows what to stay away from such as doorway pages and keyword stuffing.

A modern day SEO reads up on all the major search engine blogs. Not just the obvious ones like Moz & Search Engine Land but the SEO bloggers that really call the shots.

Basic web development

A true SEO expert is also a swift web developer. To some they are “just a hack” but in the SEO industry a little coding knowledge goes a long way. They can whip up a web scraper to grab and parse results from any website, or even write a quick script to automate tasks that are below their pay-grade.

A well rounded SEO doesn’t have to be a professional software engineer, but basic tasks can really go a long way, particularly:

  • system debugging – figuring out what/where is wrong within an app/framework
  • knowledge of compilers
  • a basic familiarity with the open source community

Knowing basic web development (particularly PHP or Python) comes in real handy especially when it comes to all of these WordPress plugins or Magento extensions that always seem to cause conflicts.

Being able to debug these issues and take action in a timely manner is an essential element of any well rounded SEO.

Advanced HTML / CSS Knowledge

Let’s face it, if you are an SEO that can’t read and write HTML and CSS you have some work to do.

As an SEO, every single part of your day involves HTML and CSS:

  • responsive websites
  • email templates
  • iframes
  • blog posts
  • blog comments
  • guest posting

If you are an SEO and still using a WYSIWYG editor to handle your HTML/CSS for you, it is time to make a change.

They live their life inside “view source.” They laugh at websites that have over 400 lines of HTML, load dozens of JavaScript files, and take 10 seconds to load.

If you want to get started learning HTML/CSS I’d recommend firing up notepad and learning it on your own. If you’d rather use a more traditional learning approach, I’d highly recommend Codecademy to learn HTML/CSS.

Social Media

A seasoned SEO is also familiar with all major social media platforms and knows the ins and outs of their frameworks. Sure it’s great that you know how to post a selfie on Instagram, but do you know which social network uses open graph protocol descriptions?

Having an extensive knowledge of all of the major social networks will give a professional SEO a generous advantage over their competition.

Social media may or may not be a huge ranking signal in Google’s ranking algorithm, but it does play a major role in SEO no matter how you slice it.

Knowledge of operating systems

You might wonder why having knowledge of operating systems is a big deal, but having an in-depth understanding of various systems level operating systems is a must for all SEO’s (and will up your pay-grade)

There are lots of technical SEO’s out there that have a great understanding of .htaccess files and robots.txt. Do you think that happened overnight by reading some book?

Probably not. Most of them have a background in Linux running Apache servers which normally require hours of configuring .htaccess files and server settings.

A friend of mine spend a week trying to figure out why his .htaccess file wasn’t working on his Windows server. Little did he realize Windows servers don’t use .htaccess files (unless they are running Apache) and he’d have to do something different.

It helps to know the difference between a Digital Ocean Droplet, a Windows VPS desktop, a Mac and a Ubuntu Client.

Basic system administration skills can be very helpful as well. Just the other day I .targz’d my entire home directory, backed up /var/lib/mysql*, and removed a ton of useless process hogging memory and processing power on our server. By no means am I a system admin, but I was able to save a ton of time and money by knowing how to do these basic tasks.

As an SEO expert, having knowledge of popular operating systems is an essential part of any toolkit.

Basic design principles

I’m not saying you need to be able to make your own fonts and develop custom illustrations, but a little design goes a long way.

Let’s face it: SEO’s are constantly working on websites that are breaking, updating, stretching, getting deleted, etc. An SEO expert is able to whip up a basic design, icon set, slider, or header. It helps if you are able to edit photos as well.

Knowing basic principles of readability such as color contrast, font size, alignment and line length can be the difference between a 5% bounce rate and a 95% bounce rate.

Content writing, copywriting, and micro-copy

Google is pretty up front about the amount of algorithmic weight they place on content. Ever heard of Panda?

A true SEO warrior can whip up a 900 word article with original images on any given topic within 1 hour and have people saying “Now damn, that is interesting” when they are finished reading it and share it with their friends.

An SEO warrior know the difference between except & accept and aisle and isle.  They also know just enough microcopy to look good.

They know how to split test headings, buttons, and tag lines for maximum effectiveness.


An SEO expert is humble. He or she never refers to him or herself as an expert. They are always on the path for knowledge and always learning from those that have something to offer.

An SEO spends their time absorbing as much new information as possible, and passing what they know onto other people as possible.