When it comes to SEO, especially technical SEO, we often talk about the importance of hard skills. And while there’s no doubt that vlookup and regex can be your best friends, there are some essential soft skills to learn that will help you excel in your role and progress in your career.
But first, let’s look at the definition of what we actually mean by soft skills.
What are soft skills?
Soft skills are abilities that allow a person to communicate and work with others effectively and harmoniously.
Whether you’re a content or technical SEO, in-house or agency, your soft skills will help you navigate any work environment and process. That’s because in any role, even in tech roles, we are still working with other human beings. Not to mention that SEO is mostly a cross-functional team effort, which means you’ll need to be comfortable interacting with your stakeholders.
And if you are an SEO at management level, you might find that there are even trickier interactions to have with your leadership. Especially if you are responsible to get sign-off on your organic strategies and projects.
I’m going to share five soft skills today that you can start focusing on in order to improve how you engage with your team members, stakeholders, and leadership, thus helping you progress in your career and generate success.
Five soft skills for SEO success
Empathy is the ability to sense other people’s emotions, coupled with the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling. According to recent research, empathy is the most important skill in leadership. But why is it important for SEOs?
Well, the reason why empathy is the number one skill for leadership is because it helps you build better, more meaningful relationships with and a good understanding of the people you work with. This is essential for SEOs who work across several different functions and engage with a variety of stakeholders on a daily basis. Empathy will help to successfully engage in and resolve conflict, which improves productivity, collaboration and drives better results.
The best way to improve empathy is to examine your own biases and observe how you interact with the people around you. Focus on how you interact and engage with people who have a different point of view from yours. This is not about the logical reasoning behind anyone’s opinion, but more to see if you can understand the emotions and feelings behind why someone has a different way of thinking. You don’t need to agree with someone in order to be empathetic, but you do need to focus on understanding, accepting and validating other people’s experiences.
- Critical thinking
Critical thinking is the objective, unbiased analysis and evaluation of available facts, in order to form a judgment. It’s absolutely crucial in a space like SEO and digital marketing, as SEO is filled with opinions and occasional facts, and it can be challenging to stay objective and be aware of our own biases.
Asking (better) questions is a big part of developing critical thinking. To do so, you will need a healthy amount of curiosity and skepticism. Skepticism will help develop the habit of questioning assumptions, and improve the practice of reasoning through logic, while curiosity will prompt you to seek out diversity of thoughts. You also want to improve your research skills by looking at the credibility of your sources and actively seeking out the opinions that are different from yours.
This is by no means an easy thing to do. It requires time and energy to go out of your way to do research, ask questions, and respectfully engage with views and experiences that are different from yours.
This skill is useful when reviewing any SEO opinions, analyzing data, reviewing search engine guidelines and algorithms. It can also be extremely helpful when presenting to stakeholders or decision-makers. Critical thinking can help keep your confirmation bias in check, and prepare to deal with concerns and objections. For more tips on improving your own critical thinking check out this article by Harvard Business Review.
- Proactive listening
Proactive or active listening means that you attentively listen to whoever is speaking to you. It requires you to absorb what is being said, and to listen with the goal to fully understand what the speaker is communicating to you.
Now, you might’ve guessed, but proactive listening is actually an essential part of both developing empathy and critical thinking. And it’s important to not confuse listening to someone with hearing what someone is saying to you. Especially because when we talk about proactive listening, it means more than just absorbing the words being said. It’s not just about what is being communicated, but also how it’s done. Pay attention to body language and tone of voice in order to fully understand the other person.
You can improve this skill by first of all, being more conscious and more present when someone is talking to you. Create mental notes of the conversation. You can imagine to use labels to better grasp how the other person might be feeling. Are they excited, worried or indifferent? Proactive listening will help you understand your stakeholders, team members and leadership better, and set the foundation to our next soft skill.
- Clear communication
Clear communication is the effective use of verbal and non-verbal communication in order to successfully exchange and explain thoughts and ideas. The goal of the communicator is to make sure that the content communicated is fully understood by their audience.
Clear communication is not to convince someone about your truth. It’s to help others understand the intended message. The reason why this is important to emphasize is because we often think that if someone rejects our idea, we haven’t communicated our proposition clearly. While that is a possibility, this is not a correlation. Unclear communication can lead to rejection just as much as clear communication and vica versa.
When you are trying to improve this skill, focus on improving how well your audience understands your message. The essentials of clear communication are therefore; a good understanding of your audience and their needs, the use of the right language and examples, and a clear message. You can further improve this by actively seeking and listening to feedback from your audience and improve your communication skills accordingly.
Storytelling is the act of sharing a story. Sounds simple, right? We all tell stories. We share our personal stories such as memorable events from our lives. Something we’ve seen, heard or experienced. We also share stories about what we aspire to achieve, or around something we fear. Stories help us make sense of the world, and it lets us share information in a way that creates emotional connections.
But why did I include storytelling on this list, if we all know how to do it? Well, it’s because we also need to learn how to use it in the workplace in order to achieve success.
Let’s break this down. Stories help us make sense of the world, which means a story could help communicate a clear message even about the most complex subject. So, if you want your non-SEO audience to understand the difference between crawling and indexation, you can tell an analogy about how search engines are like librarians and the database behind a search engine is like a library. Analogies are a great form of storytelling to help explain unfamiliar things with something familiar.
Stories also help build emotional connections, so using them in business can help you create trust with stakeholders and leadership, which is essential to get buy-in and achieve success.
It takes practice to find what narrative works well for your audience and to develop your own storytelling style. The good thing is that each of these skills build on each other, and you can totally focus on developing them at the same time.
When it comes to SEO, developing these five soft skills will help you be more successful in:
Building better relationships with a variety of stakeholders, as well as better-functioning teams.
Successfully presenting to and getting buy-in from leadership.
Improving productivity in cross-functional projects.
Deeper, and more factual, understandings of Google algorithms for non-SEOs.
Improving your understanding of “the big picture”, and high-level connections between SEO and other business functions.
Building your soft skills can be hard, and there’s no tangible certification to say you’ve mastered them. It takes practice and consistency and — just like SEO — it’s never fully finished. It’s a mindset that inspires to do the work day-to-day and motivates to continuously develop your skill set.