Search is one of those career disciplines where there’s no real direct path to getting started. It’s like owning a business or being a rock star (I mean, it’s exactly like being a rock star, obviously). There’s no (at the moment) single degree you can get. There’s no (at the moment) certification you can get that will help you get hired.
Since my path isn’t something that can be perfectly replicated, so I’m thinking through where I’ve been and trying to organize it into tips that hopefully you can use for finding your own path.
Experiment With New Stuff!
If you’re recently out of college, I’ve been using the internet for longer than you’ve been alive. I’ll spare you the “back in my day” stories, but I call this out because a lot of the technology that we rely on today did not exist when I was a youngster. Namely blogging. One thing I remember is using the super basic website builders of the day to just make pages writing what was on my mind. Others were doing this, too. It helped me learn HTML and things like if you don’t link to a page nobody can find it.
Technology is obviously still changing. So try stuff! Test that new hot social media app. Sign up for the free tools that let you build simple apps. Whatever it is, just play. Becoming an expert in everything is not the goal. But building the habit of learning new concepts is a skill that will never let you down.
Can’t Intern? Find an Alternative
I was working full time when I wrapped up school. Taking an internship wasn’t an option. And it was the 2nd of my now 3 recessions (GenX/Millennial Proud!), so any sort of entry level openings weren’t available.
My answer? Volunteering. I’m not going to say it was life-changing. But there are options that can be. I found a gig where I helped a non-profit with their website and some other basic marketing stuff. It was a couple hours a month.
I don’t know that it made a difference in the end, but it was something to put on my resume. And for you, the options could be more valuable.
Give Odd Jobs a Chance
The jobs that look the best are going to have the most applicants. They’ll be able to pick the best candidates. If you’re just getting started, these jobs are probably a stretch. Don’t take that as a reason to get a horrible job, but maybe consider some jobs that not everyone is going for.
My first full-time marketing job was an analyst role I found on Craigslist. It was for an adult toy website. I’m sure they had other people apply, but probably not a lot. And it turned out to be great. Was my favorite boss to this day, I got a feel for the startup world. I learned a lot by breaking things (including Magento, Google Shopping, Google Analytics, etc.). I also got to take over a small Google Ads account, which was enough experience to get me my next job.
Make Your Own Website
I don’t care what it is, what platform you use, if anyone visits it. Just build your own site. You need the experience of how websites work, how they’re managed, what it takes to set up basic stuff like Google Search Console.
I’ve lost count of how many websites I’ve made. There’s so many places like WordPress where you can do it for free, so why not? I have a guitar blog that I have neglected for years but it still ranks on page 1 for tons of keywords. It doesn’t make me money, but it is a great place to get out the occasional creative idea as well as a testing ground for new SEO concepts.
So just make a website. Make 10 of them. Make one about your favorite 90’s arcade games. Make one about your wedding. Make one about the funny hats you see on the subway. It doesn’t have to be great. It just has to be.
Only Make Enemies if it’s Really Worth it
I guess maybe this is the same as “don’t burn bridges” – but frankly, you’ll encounter people who are so horrible it’s worth lighting the bridge on fire and then running back into that fire just to throw that person off the bridge to be sure they don’t escape. Was that going too far? Anyway, don’t worry about keeping every connection just because it could help down the road. That’s using people.
But try and separate the people from the circumstance as much as possible. Case in point, my first agency job was stressful. Too stressful. Like, I wanted to lead a violent rebellion to overthrow the management and carry on the company without them. But there were no really malicious people there. It was just kind of a bad vibe and nobody quite knew what to do about it. I left on reasonable terms and didn’t light any fires on my way out. Seven or so years later when I was going out on my own they became my first big client. Still work with them today.
Find Parts of the Job You Like
Especially early on, jobs in search can be repetitive. There’s a lot of keyword research or ad copy testing that just goes on forever. That stuff doesn’t magically go away, so to a point you have to get used to it. But that’s not all there is to the job either. As you get exposed to more and more, keep an eye out for stuff that you might enjoy.
For me, the first real spark was I took on the task of managing a ton of small accounts that were fairly similar. Figuring out how to scale things was what interested me early on. Building templates, making tools to manage bidding across several hundred accounts, etc. I think that helped me land some bigger gigs down the road. But there’s a lot of different paths you can take to advance.
Just remember, simply because you like one part of your job more than the others doesn’t mean you’ll be able to just solely focus on that one thing. Work still needs to get done. But you can use that as motivation to keep getting better. And as you’re able, you can hopefully take on projects doing that one thing you like most. Just have some patience.
Hopefully that was of some help. As I said in the beginning, there’s no easy or clear path to getting started in this field. Be ready to pounce as opportunities pop up. And if you have questions about career stuff, feel free to comment or connect and I’d be happy to try and help.