SEO is actually the same as working in a library

Digital Marketing and SEO graduates are common at the moment. I was recently looking at a pile of CV's of graduates looking to get into the dodgy world of SEO.

Most of the graduates did not have work experience, those that did, had it in irrelevant industries - certainly not in web marketing despite their studying marketing.

One thing that stood out from this was that most of them listed SEO, SEM, PPC, HTML, and CSS as proficient skills. Really? Despite having no work experience would someone correctly deduce from that and consider that they are skilled in SEO? I've been working in and out of digital marketing now since 2007 after having had a spell as an English Teacher, and previously working for 4 years in a pubic library (and remember, libraries WERE the original search engines, working in much the same way as digital indices do now before the web was launched!), and I still do not fully get SEO. Being proficient in SEO takes hardwork, commitment and study - because Google are ever changing the rules of the game, you need to keep abreast of industry changes. If you're not interested in this then forget SEO.

But SEO is not just about making your pages look good. SEO is rather a branch of digital marketing, and becoming good at it is to specialise - being specialised is key. It's no good saying you are skilled in SEO, PPC, and HTML. You've got to experience it.

One thing is clear, SEO is a long game, and not for the faint hearted. If you've a thick skin and someone that can succinctly and convincingly explain SEO to an embittered MD or CEO or Head of Search, then you will do fine. That sort of quiet confidence only comes when you've been working in SEO for at least 2-3 years. Putting SEO on your CV and declaring that you are skilled only convinces the ignorant; but the initiated not so.

I've worked in some of the most difficult segments of the online industry (well, ok, they're all difficult because no two campaigns have the same metrics, within reason): personal injury claimsdigital recruitment, business insurance and commercial ferries. The latter two very dry, boring, and ephemeral products: for example, once you've got an energy supplier contract what interest do you have in treating with like-minds on social networks or blogs? (Blogs perhaps yes, if you're a disgruntled customer having been duped into a rubbish insurance policy) There are exceptions, Aviva Insurance have done alright with their ad campaigns but then they probably paid Paul Whitehouse a pretty penny. Getting back to the point, business energy isn't the most interesting of subjects.

The point is, Google is pushing online businesses to disregard online PR and link building, by changing the webmaster guidelines Google is compelling all into producing top quality content.

While SEO's up and down the country weigh up the impact of this and whether it really means anything, they soon realise how difficult it is to produce unique and relevant content for a great UX driven website.

When you've a product that is a dry and boring one the ultimate challenge is to think of ways to get your site ranking. How do you do this?

With hardwork, patience, and lots of time (and luck!). It's not for nothing the word ORGANIC is infused in the SEO industry as something that grows without social engineering nor human tinkering.

Working in a library for 4 years one picks up small nuances on how people search for books, and what they are searching for; the cardinal sin of course was pressuring people into lending specific books. There were more subtle ways of suggesting literature to public lenders (leaflets, posters, book displays), in much the same ways that search engines do today with PPC. This is rather like on-page and off-page SEO; the methods and techniques to get sites ranking.

Public libraries index content (i.e books) in the same way search engines do. Occasionally those books require tidying and organizing (like Google's supplementary index) such as removing old versions and replacing them with updated ones. It even means tidying a shelf so that numerically and alphabetically, the book searcher can find what they want properly (as you do with a Google search query). Otherwise they ask the library assistant to find it for them (if the assistant can't find it they ask the Librarian... even libraries have hierarchical structures like HTML!).

Being a library assistant is to be a human search engine; it is an exercise in information retrieval. You get to understand and know by rote the location of books via their indexation code and location based on type or category (i.e fiction and non-fiction; biography, history, politics etc). Even books too, have social signals - as a library assistant you learn to pick up on what these signals are, you become a conduit through which those signals flow by recommending to potential public borrowers, a sort of Beckett's disembodied mouth.  In principal it is the same way how search engines work. As a library assistant we know the location of almost every book and can point the book searcher to the correct location, and even show associated literature.

Working in a library will imbue you with the necessary information scientist skills necessary to get inside the mind of Google and understand how search queries operate.

Tinkering with digital marketing and SEO for 12 months won't be enough to get you the skills you need to run an effective campaign unless you live and breathe SEO night and day (unsurprisingly, webmasters running their own SEO for their own website tend to have the greatest success because their business is their livelihood).