12 Most Valuable Personality Traits of Top SEO Consultants

12 Most Valuable Personality Traits of Top SEO Consultants

I’ve been dancing around, playing in and practicing search engine optimization (SEO) for over a decade now. In a prior life, I also managed one of the larger SEO teams in the country. During that assignment, I had the pleasure of thinking very strategically about the roles within our team; how to divide responsibilities between roles and what function each of those people performed within the enterprise.

This level of organizational planning led to a marked increase in staffing, which meant a good deal of hiring. As we hired into all those roles (we nearly doubled the size of the team in under three years), I was forced to really think about and appreciate the many facets of great SEOs. Given all that experience, I thought I’d share with you my view of the 12 most valuable personality traits of top SEO consultants. It is exceptionally rare to find all 12 of these traits within one person. Nevertheless, the best SEOs have a healthy blend of the following:

1. Technical

Like it or not, SEO can be a fairly technical endeavor. One must study and understand the multitude of factors that search engines take into account when ranking pages and other assets for a certain phrase. A great SEO must also know enough about HTML, CSS, web servers, domain names and more to understand the impact of mistakes (and how to diagnose those mistakes).

2. Artistic

Good SEOs know more than just the technical stuff, although technical understanding can take you a long way. Great SEOs also understand the art and impact of human desire. They know what makes someone click on a search result and they think through why it makes sense to try to drive traffic to this page instead of that page. They understand the impact of navigational flow and site architecture. That doesn’t come purely from the technical side of the brain.

3. Inquisitive

The day an SEO stands still is the day they die. Just like sharks, constant forward movement is a necessity in the SEO world. Great ones constantly poke, prod, experiment and try to deconstruct complex algorithms that change a reported 200+ times a year. Some SEOs even try to think ahead and understand where the search engines are LIKELY to go by reading everything from tea leaves, to patent applications. Yes, really – patent applications.

4. Analytic

One of the best aspects of digital marketing is that EVERYTHING can be measured. Not everyone is wired to fully take advantage of this characteristic of the digital space. The very best SEOs are! Not that they are going to be able to measure everything themselves (though some absolutely can). At a minimum, they need to understand what can be measured, how to get their hands on the data and work collaboratively with data hounds to get the info they need to make informed decisions. Most importantly of all, they need to know when to “call bull-shit” when a data analysis comes back and doesn’t quite pass the sniff-test.

5. Intelligent

It goes without saying that great SEOs are intelligent. I mean we’ve still got 6 attributes to go and the most of you are probably already wanting to jump off a ledge. Just wait….

6. Methodical

This is the one that gets me every time. I’m not a very detail oriented person. Dotting I’s and crossing T’s is not my idea of a good time. But great SEOs look in every corner for an advantage, and often times that means revisiting every aspect of very large sites. Obviously, addressing all those nooks and crannies takes discipline and a strong methodology. There are few shortcuts in great SEO.

7. Articulate

Since SEOs are often asked to explain the “ways of the force” to clients, nbeing articulate comes in quite handy. Search engine optimization is a fairly complicated thing and (generally speaking) many clients come to the table with either no understanding, or a flawed understanding of what is important or how search engines even work. Layer in the complexities of multiple algorithms tossing about multiple datasets and then compiling what has become today’s search result page (think local, social, images, videos, etc…) and explaining all these factors to clients requires the patience of a saint and the teaching ability of Socrates.

8. Connected

It’s important for an SEO to be connected in two ways. First, a great SEO needs to be connected to and connected within the SEO community. Having trusted advisors to bounce new ideas off and learn from of is critical. But even more important is the ability to be connected to the client – whether an internal or an external client.

9. Driven

Good SEOs have to persevere. There is so much in their way, that a thick skin and a somewhat compulsive personality are must have personality traits. There’s so much that gets in the way: Reliance on other departments, lack of commitment internally, clients with unrealistic expectations or a lack of understanding, disinformation from friendly competitors and the search engines…the list goes on and on. It takes a special breed to push through that and love the job in spite of those issues.

10. Competitive

All business is competition. But there are very few industries where the lines of success are more clearly drawn. Page one listings can result in massive profits, while page three listings results in total obscurity. Now multiply that across hundreds or thousands of key word phrases, and you begin to understand how important the internal fire is. The most successful SEOs relish the fight and celebrate big when they come out on the winning side.

11. Social

With the newly increase importance of social signals within SEO, it is more important than ever for SEOs to be social. I can share with you that this is not always easy to find within the SEO world. I’ve interviewed more than a few SEOs who were quite ANTI-social. In fact, on the whole this may be the most important and toughest trait to hire for, given where SEO has been and where it is going.

12. Wisdom

The best SEOs I’ve ever met were wise beyond their years…and I’m not just talking about intelligence. I mean an emotional intelligence…a BALANCE that is missing in many of the rest of us (myself included). This may be the hardest one to define, but perhaps one of the more important traits. I call it the “old soul” trait. These people are well grounded and well rounded.

Well, there you have it. I hope you’ll agree with me that finding people with all 12 of these traits would be difficult at best. What I encourage you to do is think critically about your next SEO hire: What are you looking for in terms of role definition, and which is these (and other) personality traits will make for a good fit in the hiring process.

If, on the other hand, you are an SEO, think about which of these you have in abundance, and which you may be missing. Be honest with yourself…and find ways to develop your weak spots. I’d also encourage you to think critically about which positions within the SEO world are the best fit for your unique talents.

Featured image courtesy of Kuzeytac licensed via creative commons.

Sean McGinnis

Sean McGinnis is founder of 312 Digital, a company that provides digital marketing training for business owners, marketers, consultants and agency employees.

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I would add "self-aware" to the list. It ties in closely with your point about being artistic.

Search optimization is not something I do much work in, primarily because my clients don't want/can't afford it. However, I have been around long enough to know that SEO professionals need to be worried about conversion just as much as actual SERP.

SEOs are not good at content and copy. Period.

As such, a solid SEO needs to be aware of his limitations. He needs to understand that he will never be a graphic designer. He will never be a copywriter. He needs to partner in those areas to do his job, but he needs to admit he can not fulfill those functions.

Traffic + Conversion = ROI

Good ROI = happy clients

Self-awareness is a character trait I think an SEO professional needs.


I have to say that this is a far different discipline that I considered SEO; which was to gain an unfair advantage by gaming and exploiting weaknesses in search engine algorithms. I think that your article has changed my perception and perhaps my prospective.. well done Sean! you have opened my mind to the extent that the thing has evolved into a significant science from the dark arts magic frame I previously placed it.


Can I add Humble? Nothing worse than a consultant that thinks their S#!T doesn't stink.

Way to provide some perspective for those of us looking to increase SEO for our businesses.


I'll argue "Tolerance" should come in as a bonus point. Search engines change directions all the time, meaning SEOs have to be ready to go with the flow when the bottom falls out of their rankings, and have a ready bank of alternative strategies for when scraping and misattribution happens.

Tolerance also helps with "All SEOs are trolls" trolls. :)


@deleted_91832_Sean McGinnis Perhaps - but with Tech people it is so critical because they often give biz owners an inferiority complex.

We don't want to feel stupid that we don't know SEO, we just want to feel like you can help solve our problems.


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