The Future Role of a Search Professional

During the latest Brighton SEO, Yext’s Duane Forrester shared his predictions on what a future SEO job description might look like.

For those unfamiliar with the event, BrightonSEO is a search marketing conference, which takes place twice a year and brings together some of the best speakers in search.

Digital Knowledge Manager

Designed for an executive in senior management, Duane’s Digital Knowledge Manager would require proficiency in most marketing competencies, capability to communicate with different internal stakeholders, and ability to influence leaders and set the direction for the company.

Duane included five essential skills a successful Digital Knowledge Manager would require too:

1. Investigator – Knowledge of existing marketing assets and understanding of what your users and prospects seek
2. Negotiator – Settle conflicts at source and bring others along the journey to aid collaboration
3. Communicator – Share knowledge effectively, build excitement around the work being undertaken and promote their team’s work
4. Thinker – Predict future relevant change
5. Builder – Create a team and culture which enables teams to executive effectively

Becoming a Digital Knowledge Manager

Talking to Duane following the event he added that “while most SEOs are on the path to a senior position like this, many are simply not there yet.

And they won’t get there without gaining experience across a broad range of digital disciplines: SEO, PPC, social, email, affiliate, usability, e-commerce, etc.”

Considering the potential for artificial intelligence and other advances to remove lots of the manual work undertaken by SEOs, actively diversifying your skill set makes sense.

Duane used a helpful chess analogy to explain the point. “Business is like a game of chess. SEO is one of your pieces, but it’s not the most powerful piece in play. It may be a Rook, or a Knight.

The person managing the digital knowledge of a business will effectively be the one playing the game of chess, with all pieces under their purview.”

Reflections on Digital Knowledge Manager

Reviewing Duane’s predicted job role, I thought he provided a good summary of the required soft skills and explanation for why competencies diversification is essential.

Stella Bayles, an SEO and PR expert who knows a lot on this topic, agrees.

I believe this role is already taking place in some cases. Today’s successful SEO managers will already be aware of marketing assets to maximise, they’ll have to be negotiating and connecting lines of marketing as well as educating them.

But beyond their own soft skills Duane points out, I believe they’ll also be looking for support beyond their organisation.”

Following Duane’s talk and our following conversation, I started considering what hard search skills might be necessary too. Moreover, how these might be different to today.

The difference between soft and hard skills

Soft skills are personal attributes that enable people to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people to achieve their own or common goals.

Hard skills, in contrast, are specific, teachable abilities, such as writing or the ability to use software programs.

They are probably harder to predict as there is more opportunity for them to change quickly. That might be because of a new platform, an updated algorithm, or a new trend in how users are using a platform.

What other hard skills will an SEO professional require in the future

The list below has been compiled with Stella Bayles and my colleague Louise Heap. It is far from exhaustive or complete and I would love to hear what you think might be missing over Twitter or email.

1. Voice search

The growing popularity of using search through voice rather than text has caught the attention of numerous leading search professionals. Indeed, Google says more than 20% of all searches are voice-based already and they expect this to reach 50% by 2020.

Unlike traditional search results which provide users several results, voice will only provide one. So, in this winner-takes-all environment, getting your strategy right is essential.

Forward-thinking SEOs are already preparing for this trend. They’re identifying developers with experience on voice platforms, researching how early adopters are using voice, optimising content for voice results and mapping out what customer journeys through voice might look like.

2. Optimising for SERP features

Since 2014 SERP features have become a common sight on search engine results.

For those uncommon with the term “a SERP feature is any result on a Search Engine Results Page (SERP) that is not a traditional organic result.”

One example is a featured snippet. A featured snippet is a concise summary of an answer to a search query. It is displayed at the top of search results and is extracted directly from a web page.

Optimising content and web pages to be included within SERP features can prove hugely beneficial.

In 2016, HubSpot analysing over five-thousand high-volume keywords, demonstrated that being included within a featured snippet produced a 114% click-through-rate boost, even when they already held the first organic position.

In the future, every search professional will need to be adept at optimising content for SERP features. That voice search uses featured snippets for its result too, makes this even more important.

3. Building relationships

Forward-thinking SEO specialists have been taking media outreach seriously since 2011, when Google made a huge change to its search algorithm, through the Panda update.

Building links to a website is an essential part of any SEO strategy. Moreover, as search engines place a premium on independent editorial content, the ability to build and retain relationships with journalists and influencers for link-building, will grow in importance for SEOs in the coming years.

Stella published an excellent eBook on the role of public relations within SEO success.

Google rewards unique content that is genuinely recommended online. The organisations winning in SERPs today will have a strategy set by someone that understands that.

Earned recommendations are the single biggest ranking factor for search engines today. Something I expect to continue in the future too.

If any organisation wants to amplify their brand in search they’ll need to seek the experts in earned media. And that is why it’s such an exciting time for public relations.”

A fitting example of this is what3words. Working with Edelman, our earned media specialists secured 50 links from high-authority news outlets to its website in less than six months.

To learn more about this approach, why not read my previous blog post on the role of PR in search.

4. Using other organisations’ data

A trend of some of the best SEO and PR campaigns in recent months has been the use of third-party data.

Whether it’s data provided by government agencies or industry bodies, the ability to analyse and present third-party data in a visual or compelling way, has been incredibly successful for several brands.

In the US for example, GeoTab, a fleet tracking and management platform, analysed road crash data to see which highways have the most fatal accidents in each state. The campaign secured over one-hundred linking root-domains (LRDs).

5. Delivering content faster

Google, Facebook, and other platforms have increased pressure on marketers and publishers to deliver content faster in the past two years. Research indicates those efforts through projects such as AMP have been successful.

North Star Inbound’s State of Enterprise SEO 2017 research, for example, found page speed was the most monitored technical SEO issue for both in-house and agency teams.

Looking forward, SEO professionals will need to ensure not only is content delivered quickly but the design and layout provide an enjoyable reading experience on any device.

So what’s next?

In sharing his Digital Knowledge Manager role, Duane is providing an important call to action for search professionals. It’s time to break out of your bubble.

During our conversation, he challenged me to do the same, sharing examples of companies already moving into this space. “If you have more skills, or can learn more than just SEO, you’re on the track to be a hot commodity over the next few years.

You’ll be the one leading teams of digital marketers, crafting the company strategy. You’ll be the one playing chess.”

Whether Duane’s Digital Knowledge Manager becomes a reality or not, considering which hard and soft skills SEO professionals might need in the future, is a fun and valuable endeavour.

I would love to hear what hard and soft skills you think might be missing over Twitter or email.