What a SEO Professional should know
To be a good SEO you need to know a lot of things and to be a professional SEO you need to know them well. I sometimes see people calling themselves "SEO Experts" looking to make a quick buck ...
Let's just list the things I consider that a good SEO must know:
As an SEO, knowing HTML is a must. You need to see and understand how the search engines are reading the source code of the web pages. If you can produce nice web sites in Notepad and type HTML without looking at the keyboard then it's good enough :)
You don't need to be a CSS-expert but you need to know all the basics fluently. Tasks can include transforming a JS menu to a CSS menu. Styling heading tags is a daily routine.
Web Design / Web Development
You should be able to produce nice web sites from scratch without help. At least a basic knowledge is needed and you can outsource the design tasks and use CMS'es for your or your clients sites. To be honest, I myself suck at graphics. That's the major reason why there are no images on this site. But you don't really need graphics in your SEO work.
How search engines work
You need to know how search engines rank pages. That's a simple sentence but you need to observe, study and test until you know and have a good grasp on how it works. It is a plus if you also know the differences between the major search engines in their ranking algorithms.
You need to know how to find the best keywords by looking at popularity, competitiveness and relevance. This includes working with KEI.
Trust with Google
A basic understanding is required on what the sandbox is (a kind of filter) and is not (penalty for all new sites) and you need to know some basic things on how a site can gain more trust (trusted links etc.).
Knowing and understanding on-page factors
When you review or build a site you should have a checklist to tick off all the on-page factors (perhaps this will help). You should also know which CMSes are the best to use for different purposes.
Ability to write and craft link baits
A good SEO is a also a good writer. If you cannot write you cannot improve a web sites copy, make good guides, articles and other good content which serves as link baits. A good writer can get links much more easily and if you despise writing perhaps you should look for another job.
Basic knowledge of the social networks
With link baits you work with social networks (digg, reddit, furl, del.icio.us, netscape etc.) and you need to know the basics on how they work so that you can use them.
How to redirect pages
There is only one proper way of redirecting a page or site, the 301 redirect. You need to know how to do it in .htaccess, PHP and ASP and when to do it.
The long-tail of search are all the non-competetive big volume of search queries you will get when using a lot of unique good content properly. You need to understand how this works and properly utilize it.
Handling duplicate content
Part of a SEOs job is removing duplicate content on a site. Any content that shows up same for more than 1 URL should be fixed. This includes the non-www redirect. Example with default WordPress.
Mod_rewrite with .htaccess
This is something you really need to know in order to make those clean nice URLs. A real bonus if you know how to do it on a windows server with IIS (I don't ...).
Link power and how it works (PageRank)
You need to understand such things like how link power flows through a site (so you can make good internal navigations) and how search engines uses links as a voting mechanism and how it works. This includes working with online SEO tools and querying search engines for measurements. You need to know the difference between toolbar PageRank and real PageRank and that PageRank is just one out of 100 factors used in ranking.
For each link there are several factors such as the anchor, link position, link relevance, age, surrounding text, C-class IPs and more. This is also important to understand when you start to build links.
Link Building methods
There are probably over 20 strategies in getting links. I listed some effective ones over here. You need to know them and know how to work with them. As an SEO it should be easy for you to get good links, links are vital for SEO.
Basic knowledge of penalties
To know what factors that can get give penalties or banning in the search engines are very important. If you don't know these you can make big mistakes, even unintentionally.
Knowledge of and ability to set up backlink generators
As an SEO you need link power in order to power your network of sites, especially if you have many. You should have at least 5 of these running for a big network of 100 sites IMHO.
Understanding the supplemental results and know how to get out
Things like unique title and meta tags, placing big header information at the end of source code with CSS-P, deep links, better internal navigation, removing duplicate content and other factors has to be understood and used to take this action.
Basics of PHP / MySQL
Many sites are written with PHP and using MySQL. You should have a basic knowledge on how it works (in fact I know very little PHP) so that you can adjust existing code for better SEO. PHPMyAdmin can be your best friend when dealing with the database.
Your web sites stats are a very important and useful tool, you need to understand how to use it in your SEO.
You need to know what your competitors are doing, how they get their links and how well optimized their sites are. (this one was added by Lee Beirne in the comment below)
Google sitemaps, robots.txt and more.
Connections with people
If you are going big and plan to build an empire of own sites and handle a large amount of clients you should have a full list of partners, it will be needed. These includes Web Designers, Content Writers, Link Builders, Programmers, Directory Submitters, Cheap Brokers of PR 6-8 links, buddies that help you in social network sites, SEO Experts that you can ask for advice and more. I currently have 45 partners that I have been using on my list and most of them are experts in a specific field. Many of my partners are located in India or other eastern cheap countries (yes, you can find real good people there). But before you start to use a partner you need to know and understand the thing he is doing and test them on some of your own sites before using them on "real" work. Make sure to inspect and reject work that is not proper. The ideal is that they do the same thing you could have done but you use them to save time.
Did I miss anything?
I didn't cover marketing or SEM here such as branding, PPC or creating hype - that's a whole different big field.
Learn more and research on those area you feel you need to learn more on. Did you know all? Good! You are now a Level 5 SEO. Now you need to work on becoming a level 6!
I know all the above subjects, some areas more than others but I have actually stopped providing optimization services as announced here and I am now specialized in link building. If you need help in getting links, feel free to contact me.
PS: I do plan to write an SEO book in Swedish starting at end of 2007.
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