The Teacher and the Trainee: How to Train on SEO
I have yet to be in the position where I am training others in SEO; however, I did just finish up the training program at SEER. I’ve learned that training in SEO can be quite different from other industries because naturally, SEO is a self-taught profession. Will Critchlow published one of my favorite posts around the topic of learning SEO (A printed copy sits at my desk here at SEER.) His very first point is that “curiosity is your biggest asset,” and this is certainly accurate. In SEO, you always need to be asking ‘why.’ Additionally, SEO is a fast-paced culture. It is ingrained in the culture of SEO to move fast and at scale.
Agencies and marketing departments seem to be hiring quite rapidly for SEO related positions in the last few months. However, the rapid breakthrough of the SEO industry has made it difficult for companies to adapt a SEO training program that employees find useful. SEO is not an ever-matured banking or accounting industry where companies have a planned six-month structured training schedule that every employee takes part in. SEO is not there yet, though one day it may be.
Until then, I wanted to outline some ways for current SEO experts to teach SEO trainees in an effort to make the process of hiring employees and nurturing them into valuable SEO specialists as swift as possible.
Do not suffer from the curse of knowledge
Do not suffer from The Curse of Knowledge. The curse of knowledge means that as humans become experts in a certain field, we begin to understand something much better and forget what it was like to not know it. The expert may forget what the trainee is going through, which holds the expert back from clearly communicating to and teaching an SEO trainee.
The SEO trainee is learning something new in a very fast-paced environment and some emotions the trainee feels could prohibit growth and development. SEOs spend a ton of time digging through data, finding & solving technical problems, discovering new opportunities, and doing many other things that we could easily suffer from this curse. If you’re training an SEO newbie, be mindful; below you will find some best practices to do so:
Make time for your trainee
There are two very important aspects of time when helping others to learn SEO. First is that you should make time for the person you are training. Make time in your schedule to sit and walk the trainee through a real keyword research assignment. Then, when the next assignment for keyword research comes in, give it to them and see what they can do. Since they were walked through it, they will likely have enough tools to complete the assignment while at the same time stepping just enough outside their comfort zone.
The second aspect of time is to go a little slower reviewing with the trainee than you would with a teammate. SEOs tend to be fast-moving which is a great quality. But a newbie tends to need some time to process everything they are learning. By going slower through a keyword research training session, it will pay off a few months later when the trainee can bang out keyword research at a faster pace.
Choose projects wisely
There are two different types of projects to give an SEO trainee. The first category is mini-projects. These are basic things like keyword research, prospecting, and researching competitor strategies and tactics. These are very important for the trainee, as they all build a certain foundation of SEO knowledge.
The second category is bigger, loftier projects. Be sure to give them one project where you are pretty confident that they have never done something like it before. This will be an ongoing project that will yield even more learning for the trainee at a faster pace. Larger projects should be more technical and strategic, where the trainee will be called upon to make something from nothing. It will likely push the trainee far outside of his or her comfort zone.
The power of questions
A solid training tactic is to ask questions of the trainee. Send them an email asking them if they would pursue a specific linking opportunity, and ask why or why not. Send a quick message asking why they think you made a certain recommendation. On the flip side though, let them ask you some questions. The key is to get them to feel comfortable enough to ask.
Let the trainee see you in action
If you are at an agency, get the trainee on a client call the first day on the job. I learned fast by listening to SEER consultants communicate with clients. If you are on the client side, bring them to a cross-functional meeting where you are speaking to the design, brand, or product team about recent SEO efforts. It will train the mind to start learning how to communicate SEO to other team members or clients.
Creating confident SEO employees
Following these guidelines, you will likely see your SEO trainees transform rapidly into confident SEO employees. Agencies and marketing departments who follow these practices will have more valuable employees, as trainees will build confidence at a faster pace. A recently trained employee will be well equipped for any deliverable you give them. Now, why don’t we all read this book, and I will start a discussion about it on Google+ in about a month or so.