As the need for search engine optimization professionals grows, there is a growing debate: Is it better to “learn from the trenches” or get formal training through some sort of SEO certification program?
While formal education isn't necessarily an indication of workplace competence, most employers have certain expectations in regard to knowledge, fields of study and practical application.
If you have a degree in chemistry, I can assume you have a strong understanding of the sciences and math and in addition to specialized knowledge in chemistry. If you have a degree in finance, it’s assumed you have a general understanding of business administration and so on.
The explosion in online marketing over the last decade has allowed countless businesses to flourish and succeed like never before, but it has also created a new set of problems for employers. There is a huge demand for qualified online marketers, but finding quality professionals isn’t easy for most businesses.
Unlike other fields, there aren’t “Ivory Towers” for online marketing specialties like SEO, PPC, social media and so on. It’s difficult to have well known educational programs for occupations that didn’t even exist 15 years ago.
This makes it challenging for many employers to use education as a baseline in considering a potential employee for a job in SEO or other Internet marketing fields.
Many argue that knowledge and results will reign supreme, but is the tide beginning to change? Education versus experience — it’s a battle that has been going on as long as there has been job hunting. How will this industry deal with it?
Is SEO Certification Worth It?
Education of any sort is an investment, and like any other investment, you have to look at the cost compared to the perceived return.
The reason many people are willing to shell out $60,000 a year to go to an Ivy League school is because they think that the education and pedigree of those schools will pay off later, in the form of better jobs and higher salaries.
Of course, you can also get an education without the fancy piece of paper. As Matt Damon tells a Harvard graduate student in the movie "Good Will Hunting," "you dropped 150 grand on a f@*%in' education you could have got for a dollar-fifty in late charges at the public library!"
There are plenty of examples of titans of industry who never had formal education in business, yet were able to rise to the highest ranks through hard work, ingenuity and intelligence. But if you’re hiring for Goldman Sachs, who are you going to go with: the Harvard business grad or the "wicked smart" kid with no degree?
When deciding to take SEO certification courses, what you really need to look at is the return on that investment of time and money compared with your goals.
If your dream is to own your own online marketing empire of affiliate sites that make you passive income while you live the "4-Hour Work Week" lifestyle, then gaining SEO knowledge is more important than getting a formal SEO education.
If you’re looking to work at a large company’s online marketing department and they require or prefer SEO certification courses, it might not matter how much knowledge you have. You could be an SEO god, but if you don’t fit their parameters you might not even get a chance to prove that.
Another factor to consider is how potential clients might perceive you and your SEO business. Maybe being certified and having a cool-looking diploma hanging on your office wall will make some clients feel better about forking over the large amounts of cash you’re asking for.
The decision to get formal SEO training or not is one that highly depends on you, your goals and what value you estimate you’ll gain from it. Run through this analysis yourself and see where you come out.
SEO Certification Courses to Consider
If you’ve run through the numbers and you think that pursuing a formal SEO education is the way to go, there are plenty of options to consider.
While it doesn’t take much for “an expert” to throw together a certification program, here are a couple of quality programs that are well known and worth you looking into:
- Market Motive: This self paced course runs $299/month and you have up to six months to complete the program.
- SEO Certification: This is a great beginner's course as it offers various levels of education at different price points starting at $89.
- UC Irvine: If you’re looking for a well known name in education that employers might respect more, then check out the SEO program at University of California, Irvine’s extension center. But at $3,500, you will be paying for the name along with the education.
- Web CEO: This is an in-depth program at a reasonable cost of $295. There is also no time limit to complete the course.
- Full Sail: This online university offers certification courses, bachelor's and master's degrees in Internet Marketing that all include SEO education. If you’re looking for a wider scope to your education, you might want to consider this.
If none of these online courses work for you, check out your local options. Many community colleges, universities and for-profit schools offer “brick and mortar” classrooms where you can learn the same SEO skill sets.
What’s your take? Do you think formal SEO training and certificates are the wave of the future? Let us know in the comments.