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Back when I was in college, I always got asked “What are you going to do with that?” when someone found out I was an English major.

There isn’t always a clear career path for someone with an English degree. The good news is that there are actually a wide variety of fields where an English degree is highly valued. SEO happens to be one of them.

When everything aligned for me to accept my first SEO position, I really didn’t know what to expect. Would I enjoy digital marketing? Would it be a good fit for my skill set? The answers, thankfully, are yes and yes.

Here’s my advice for English majors looking into a position at a digital marketing agency.

Find the Right Agency

I cannot stress this point enough. Where you work truly matters, especially in SEO. The rest of my tips will do you no good if you’re working somewhere where your skills aren’t valued.

I understand that a job is a job, and sometimes you just need to do whatever you can to get by. But if you’re looking to seriously pursue a career in digital marketing, take your time to find the right agency.

To find the right fit, you first have to understand the different types of SEO agencies out there. Here are a few basic distinctions.

Agency Size: There are small, “boutique” agencies (like Big Leap) that work with a smaller set of clients on a very personalized level. Positions at small agencies typically offer a lot of variety in day-to-day work, but may have fewer positions for climbing the corporate ladder. Larger, more corporate companies offer more opportunities for growth, but positions may revolve around the same daily tasks. Client interaction may be less personal.

Client Size: Some agencies work with small, local clients, while others focus on large, national clients. Most agencies work with a mix of both, but it’s an important thing to ask about during the interview process, as this in some ways dictates the range of opportunities available to you.

Service Level: Digital marketing agencies range from offering only traditional SEO (site audits, link building) to full-service contracts (SEO, PPC, content marketing, branding and PR). Generally, full-service agencies offer a lot more room for creativity and have a greater need for good writers.

More than anything, be wary of agencies who practice black-hat SEO. These agencies typically employ writers to churn out masses of low-quality content. You won’t enjoy writing it, and you won’t produce anything you’d like to show to a future employer. Most critically, if an agency is doing work that violates Google’s policies, your job may be on the line once the next search algorithm update rolls out.

It can be difficult to discern the quality of an agency’s work in an interview. Make sure you do plenty of independent research on the company before accepting a position by checking their client case studies, Google listings, Glassdoor reviews, and even the Better Business Bureau for client complaints.

Identify and Diversify Your Skill Set

Transitioning from a classroom discussing 17th-century British poetry to a digital marketing agency can be quite the change. Sit down and think of how your skillset could translate into a more technical position. Here are a few assets that English majors can bring to the table:

  • Researching: The countless hours you spent finding the perfect source for your term paper can easily translate to researching keywords, blog topics, and media opportunities.
  • Editing: The ability to edit well allows you to clean up a client’s website without losing their brand’s voice.
  • Attention to Detail: Can you spot misplaced commas in your sleep? Your attention to detail could help you spot inconsistencies across a website.
  • Solid Writing Ability: If you can write about that obtuse novel you secretly hated, you can probably write on just about any topic.

Don’t be afraid to add more technical expertise to your skill set. I took a few web development classes throughout my college career, and while I rarely have to debug JavaScript, it helps to have at least a basic understanding of how a website works. Learning a little HTML and CSS is a great place to start.

There are tons of great resources out there to learn SEO. The Moz Beginner’s Guide to SEO is an excellent place to start. It’s available for free and covers a lot of the jargon you may be unfamiliar with. DistilledU is a paid resource, but offers a more in-depth and interactive approach. Ahava Leibtag’s The Digital Crown: Winning at Content on the Web is a great book for learning more about writing and fine-tuning copy for the web.

Maintain Your Editorial Standards

Most college professors hold any writing you produce to the highest possible standards. The training from my editing minor especially emphasized the need for clarity and accuracy. Working for an agency, though, there likely won’t be anyone looking over your shoulder to make sure your work is top-notch.

Hold yourself accountable to creating the highest quality content possible. Let’s face it—the SEO industry is not exactly known for producing the best content. This is no reason, though, to let your own standards slip. Clients will be happier, your content will perform better, and you will feel more fulfilled if you consistently produce quality work.

This is far easier to do if you work for an agency that values good writing. If you’re expected to churn out six blog posts a day, you might be working for the wrong company. Google is increasingly changing its algorithms to reward researched, well-written content. Stay ahead of this trend by keeping your writing skills up-to-date and working for an agency that understands the importance of good content.

How do you keep your writing fresh? Write outside of work, read writing and content marketing blogs (Copyblogger is a favorite of mine), and take time to edit and revise your work.

 

While digital marketing may not seem as glamorous as writing a novel or working for a magazine, it can be very fulfilling to see real results from your writing. The industry is fast-paced, rewards creativity, and is a surprisingly good fit for people outside of traditional business and marketing. If you have more questions about transitioning from liberal arts to SEO, shoot me an email at rachel[at]bigleap[dot]com or tweet us @BigLeapLLC.

Photo via Pimthida / CC BY

Rachel Peters
Marketing Manager at Big Leap
Rachel manages marketing efforts for Big Leap and works remotely from the Portland, OR area. In her spare time, she loves to read and try new restaurants.