SEO Education: Online Degree Or The School of Hard Knocks

Last week’s post about online degrees started a good discussion on the value of getting a degree. It also inspired today’s guest post from Brandon Hopkins on degrees in SEO.

As with last week’s post I’ll add some of my own thoughts at the end, though I’ll have more to say in a post tomorrow.

Bachelor of Science degree

Is an SEO Degree Realistic?

I have an 18 month old son, which means I am exactly 18 months behind planning for his college education. I like to think that he will want to follow in the footsteps of “dear old Dad”, but if he chooses to follow in my foot steps, does that mean he needs a four year degree in SEO? It is hard to say what the future holds, but as for right now, I believe obtaining a degree in SEO is not only a waste of money, but a waste of valuable time that one could use gaining real-life usable knowledge in this field.

Before I get lynched for not adhering to societies ever-poplar mantra “You MUST go to college”, let me explain. SEO is an entirely separate entity from most modern careers, and here is why. Clients don’t care about your education, they care about results. Plain and simple.

It is sad that most of the modern world doesn’t function this way. Imagine how different our public schools would be if the focus when hiring teachers wasn’t who was most “qualified”, but who could actually obtain results in the classroom. Perhaps SEO is just ahead of the curve.

I only wish it were so easy, that I could go into a classroom and learn the secrets of SEO from a master. But the truth is, that simply doesn’t exist. If I were to take a course in SEO, I would likely be learning tired tricks of the trade, from someone who not only does not know this industry, but couldn’t have possibly been successful in it, because if he or she had, they certainly wouldn’t be wasting their time teaching in a classroom, they would be online, making money instead.

Imagine the absurdity of a textbook geared at teaching the art of SEO to students. Before the ink had dried, Google would have changed their algorithms, and the text would be rendered useless.

Instead of college degree, an internship in a successful SEO company would be more highly valued. And isn’t that what my son is getting already? An 18 year long internship in how to run a successful SEO company?

Perhaps this is the one and only job that focuses attention where it needs to be, on success.

So should you focus your time into taking classes in SEO so you can stand in the crowd chanting societies mantra “You must go to college…you must go to…” Sure, go ahead. But I will be here, in the School of SEO hard knocks, learning from mistakes, and enjoying the success that comes from working in an industry that focuses on results over education. Come on son, “Dear old Dad” has something to teach you.

Classroom at the Hamlin School

Thoughts from Steve

I’ll have more to say tomorrow about the value of getting a degree, but wanted to add some thoughts specific to Brandon’t post here.

While I agree with Brandon that it ultimately comes down to results, I think he’s shortchanging what can be taught in school. SEO is at its core marketing and marketing principles can be and are taught. I disagree that SEO is an entirely separate entity.

Off the top of my head here are some things you can learn while getting a degree that could benefit an SEO.

True you aren’t going to learn the latest tricks of the trade, though that’s true of every industry. There’s much more to SEO than the latest tricks of the trade though.

I don’t run an SEO company, but if I were and I was hiring I think I’d look more for the person who could write well and understand statistics, analysis, and testing, and had a strong foundation in marketing, than the person who knew some of the tricks of the trade. Those tricks are much easier taught than the the more well rounded foundation.

I’m not trying to imply you can only learn these things through a degree program. You can certainly teach yourself to write, etc. I just want to point out that a lot of what an SEO does and should know to get the results they’re after, can be taught in school.

I’ll also argue that there are plenty of teachers who teach, not because they can’t perform in their industry, but because they enjoy teaching and think it’s valuable to help educate others.

I’ll have more thoughts on the general subject tomorrow.

University of Maryland Eastern Shore Commencement

Author Bio

If you weren’t able to deduce, Brandon Hopkins does not have a college degree, but he does have over 8 years of link building experience and owns a link building service with a focus on getting results.

Download a free sample from my book, Design Fundamentals.


  1. Is SEO ahead of the curve? Or are we heading towards a time in which our clients judge SEO results quality as per formal education? While I tend to agree with Brandon’s consideration of the time wasted in class which could be spent gaining real life experience, I must wonder how long it will be before widespread engagement with professional programs begins to distinguish SEO experts. Could client demands change? For instance, when building a house, do you seek a contractor with loads of experience, trade school certification, or both? When does professional certification make or break a decision?

    • I didn’t mention it in my thoughts, but I can see where a degree will help clients determine who to hire. SEO does not have a great reputation with a lot of people. To many seo = spam. Degrees from accredited universities could help change that perception.

      • Both of those are valid points. I wouldn’t hire a contractor without both certifications and experience and having a degree in SEO could be the tipping point for a company looking to hire someone.

        • Definitely an interesting subject with no right or wrong answer. Ultimately I agree it’s about having the knowledge and skills, but there are different ways to get both with pros and cons to each.

    • Are you sure about that? Knowing and doing are not the same thing. I think there are plenty of people who should know better than to spam links and regurgitate content and yet still do.

      I’m someone who believes in education and thinks a degree is still worth earning many times. I’m not sure though that there are any great seo degrees to be had though. Those who do it best are still more the on the job type and there isn’t really any accredited program for seo.

      I think a lot can be taught in regards to seo, but I don’t think that teaching us currently there yet. For now I’d stick to hiring based on results, though I’d also recommend a little self education so you can better understand what your seo company is doing.

  2. Thanks for your interesting post. As the field of SEO is always changing, people in the profession really need to stay abreast of what’s going on.

    I’m not sure a degree can provide this, but it’s proof that you’ve at least studied the theories of the profession..

    I’m more a fan of tools. They really come in handy to analyze what you need to do to stay competitive in the ever changing world of SEO.

    • Thanks Heather. I’m not sure how well any seo degree could prepare you. I would think it would need to focus less on specifics and more on general marketing with an eye toward search engine marketing.

      Tools can be great, though I’d add the person using them still needs to understand what all the data is suggesting. Tools are useful, but they can’t do the thinking for us.

    • I use analytic tools all the time for SEO. I am still learning, but it’s great to see a lot of FREE tools out there.

      On the job education is probably better than trying to decide what school will give you any usable SEO education.

  3. Good call, Steven.

    You have to be willing to adapt to the environment and as you said, know how to process the information provided by your toolset. If you can do these things, a degree in SEO is just a piece of paper!

    Keep up the good work here. Always good information :)

    • Thanks Heather. Sometimes we all forget the best tool is still the human brain. :)

      I think with degrees there are 2 sides. The degree itself is just a piece of paper. In some industries it’s necessary. In seo it’s not something you need.

      At the same time the degree still represents something. It represents a certain number of years of study. That’s not a guarantee you learned anything or that you can’t without the degree, of course.

      To me it’s always a case of education is important. Where and how you get that education less so. Some people do learn better in a more formal structure. Some don’t.

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