Lee Odden

Reader Poll: Most Important Skills for SEO

Lee Odden     Online Marketing, Reader Polls, SEO

reader poll

TopRank is hiring for various SEO positions like mad right now and in the process of revising job descriptions to reflect changes in client needs and the industry, it became clear that, yet again, some skills have become far more important than others.

An example would be the importance of HTML and on-page optimization skills was very high in the early days of SEO, whereas link building and viral marketing/creative have become increasingly important.

Core characteristics for a successful search marketing career like being smart as a hell and an insatiable need to continuously learn new things will never change, but as you know, when an ordered list comes across my desk, it’s time for a reader poll!

A proper answer to this question would probably start with, “It depends on the situation” so feel free to provide context for your answer in the comments.

What type of SEO skill is most important?

  • Copywriting (28%, 32 Votes)
  • Keyword analysis (14%, 16 Votes)
  • Web analytics (11%, 12 Votes)
  • Marketing strategy (11%, 12 Votes)
  • Traditional link building (7%, 8 Votes)
  • Online research and search (6%, 7 Votes)
  • Coding (4%, 5 Votes)
  • Account management (4%, 4 Votes)
  • Creative and design (4%, 4 Votes)
  • Social media for SEO (4%, 4 Votes)
  • Online PR for SEO (4%, 4 Votes)
  • Server side issues (1%, 1 Votes)
  • Blog marketing (1%, 1 Votes)
  • Sales process consulting (1%, 1 Votes)
  • Media and link buying (1%, 1 Votes)
  • Blackhat skillz (1%, 1 Votes)

Total Voters: 113

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With so many skills involved in the business of planning, executing and managing a search engine optimization campaign, this list is by no means comprehensive, so please mention other “most important” SEO skills in the comments.

PoorSo SoOKGoodAwesome (2 votes, average: 4.00 out of 5)

Lee Odden About Lee Odden

@LeeOdden is the CEO of TopRank Marketing and editor of Online Marketing Blog. Cited for his expertise by The Economist, Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, he's the author of the book Optimize and presents internationally on B2B marketing topics including content, search, social media and influencer marketing. When not at conferences, consulting, or working with his talented team, he's likely running, traveling or cooking up something new.


  1. Okay, maybe I’m not as smart as the group in the number one spot, but in my mind it doesn’t matter how good your copywriting is if it completely misses the mark. To me understanding who really wants my message is like winning 75% of the battle.

    As webmasters we owe it to ourselves not to waste time chasing lemmings (I always wanted to say that) just look at the problems Aaron wall is having with attracting the wrong types of customers. Whilst most of us won’t have this sort of problem for months, thier nothing wrong with peeking into the future.

    Target your market or waste your time, it’s really your choice.

  2. Avatar Paul O'Brien says

    The option at the end of the list is easily overlooked but good copywriter does not an SEO make. Copywriting is just a piece of the puzzle (granted, a big piece); deep knowledge of search and the ability to research (which I interpret as analytics) sites to contact for links and relationships, keywords to include, PR and trends, and to keep pace with the ever changing search landscape are most critical.

  3. SEO requires you to know just about everything marketing, analytics, business sense (as in goal setting), understanding user behavior, technical (for crawlabilty) etc.

    But, I think Account Management is underappreciated. How are you going to explain to a client (and their 4-5 different departments), why they need changes in areas of design, technical backend, usability, call to action, PR/Word-of-Mouth/Social Media, etc? And how are you going to make them work together with you? Especially when they are outsourced or have competing budgets?

  4. i’d add that a seo’ist MUST be a self learner more than any other guy.
    there’s so much change and so fast that’s quite a challenge to keep onself updated.

    is a design blog

  5. Interesting survey results… I wonder if the results would be different if the options were displayed randomly. It almost looks like the #1 result is getting voted #1

  6. Thor, that’s a good point. I am not sure if the plugin we’re using has that functionality, but it’s a good idea.

  7. Great post! As the results sit right now I would agree with the top four (copywriting, marketing strategy, KWA and web analytics). Understanding understanding user/consumer behavior is also huge. Being creative (in terms of developing strategies and making unique recommendations..)is also a key component.

    Probably the most important “skill” that is not on this list is listening. Listen to your clients, listening to industry leaders, listening to the search engines. If you want to succeed as an SEO then you need to listen.

  8. Jody, that’s a great point about listening and it’s a skill necessary for success in any field.

    The real point I wanted to make with this poll is to show how multi-disciplinary SEO really is.

  9. Very interesting question — especially since I’m in the process of trying to hire someone right now, and it’s proving really tough to find someone who has everything I’m looking for. I tried really hard to pick just one item on your list, but I can’t seem to… basically what it boils down to is this: a good SEO should be a dabbler, someone who knows a bit about all the relevant aspects and who has a genuine curiosity about everything.

  10. For me all the points are important – but yes if I have to choose the top most thing from the list – then it has to be Content…


  11. Avatar Peter Davis says

    Hey Lee, I’d say that you missed the most important skill of all for SEO. Social engineering.

  12. I chose keyword analysis as the most important skill, but I’m sorry to see (though not surprised) to see that copywriting doesn’t get any votes.

    Today’s SEOs whine about every search engine algorithm update because their link-based strategies are so fragile. Real search engine OPTIMIZATION is built on copy.

  13. Hey Peter, there’s an ethical issue with social engineering and some might consider that part of black hat skillz anyway. 🙂

  14. Michael, am not sure what you’re talking about – copywriting is #1 with the most votes. You need to vote to see the current stats.

  15. Hehe. That’s what I get for doing two things at once! 🙂

    I see what you’re saying.

  16. Avatar Peter Davis says

    It’s all social engineering Lee. Linkbaiting? Yep, social engineering. Even your basic link-building campaigns work better if you’ve got some sound social engineering skills.

  17. Peter, We must have different different definitions because what you’re describing sounds more like selling or pitching to me.

    Social engineering as I understand it is getting people to unknowingly give you sensitive information for use with sinister endeavors.

  18. Avatar Peter Davis says

    Right. Not unusual.

    Here’s what you’re thinking….

    And, here’s what I’m thinking….

  19. Avatar Peter Davis says

    Hmm, those links broke, but they lead you to a page that links to them anyway.

  20. Ah, that makes sense. Thanks for the clarification!

  21. I voted for Copywriting and its nice to see that most of us are thinking alike .. reasons ..

    A Good copy –
    a) Serves the search engines with relevant content and keywords
    b) Good copy attracts links

    A very simplistic view :
    point a+b = keyword rich content+link = good rankings 🙂


    c) Good copy serves to your visitors – increases sales $$

    What more do you need?

  22. I think the poll could have been labeled more effectively. There is a large difference between copywriting and SEO Copywriting. I have written two blog entries on this recently. SEO Copywriters need to know a lot more than just writing to sell services and/or products.

    SEO Copywriters need to know how to review competitors’ SEO strategies (Or lack there of); review the coding of a web site and know how to fix problems; create an SEO strategy for increasing visibility; understand Internet marketing strategies; create effective title-tags, content, headlines meta descriptions/meta keywords/anchor text/image text/alt-tags etc.; follow webmaster guidelines; know how to verify a site; know how to create an XML sitemap -integrate one into the web site -submit it to Google; and in addition to all of these things they need to know how to write copy that not only sells, but also integrates the SEO strategy.

    Oh, and I forgot to mention how important it is to understand how benefical blogging can be and how to promote a blog.

  23. Hey Melissa, I take it you’re new to our blog as the only context we’d talk about copy writing in is in relation to SEO.

    Thank you for the mini-SEO copy writing lesson though. 🙂

  24. I vote for writing skill, the most forgotten in the grey area ..

  25. Avatar La Fingn says

    I believe copywriting crowns all SEO skills. But situation in China is they copy rather than copywrite.

    Hope the list keeps updating.

  26. Dear Mr. Lee,

    This is a topic of increasing interest for me and the SEO industry. I totally agree with you that the creative side of SEO practices are becoming more and more important. The importance of having HTML and on-page optimization skills is clear but it is the creative individual with these skills that is of true value to an SEO firm. Thankyou for your article.

    Shiv Kumar

  27. Copywriting sales is very important, but it need a good skill to write it.

  28. The simple approach to success on the web
    is as follows;
    1. Market Research
    2. Traffic
    3. Conversion
    4. Product or service
    Another great formula:

    CONTENT IS KING BUT WITHOUT TRAFFIC IT MEANS NOTHING if no one shows up on your site to view the content. It is like driving on a long windy road that has a forest of trees on either side of the road as you drive along at 80 miles an hour it just becomes visual noise.
    It is the job of a SEO consultant to be the road sign to help you stand out in the forest of websites and to drive unique, highly relevant traffic to the site so your purple tree stands out in the visual noise of online marketing.
    Once the users are there you MUST write compelling, relevant content to GRAB THE ATTENTION of the audience then make a irresistible offer and then a call to action this requires seo copy writing. What more can i say….


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