Journey to SEO Career Success: An Apprentice Story

Posted by Robyn Savidge on May 2, 2017

How do you become an SEO expert when it’s not offered as a degree option in college and most entry level positions require 3+ years of experience? Christine Contreras showed us how it’s done by being a resilient self-starter and learning to code several languages on her own. Christine adopted an apprenticeship mentality focused on continuous, transformational learning through valuable hands on experience, which helped get her on the pathway to success as an SEO-focused marketer.

Christine graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in 2015 with a degree in Public Relations, Advertising and Applied Communications, with a focus on Account Management. She knew she wanted to be in the marketing and advertising sector but found it difficult to break into the field with little experience. Christine taught herself some of the basics and landed a job at a search engine optimization startup in San Antonio and independently built upon the skills she learned in college. Through mentoring and continuous learning, Christine was able to accelerate her SEO learning, career, and develop a passion for web development along the way. 

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Christine Contreras, Digital Analyst at Gray Digital Group, pictured at work.

Overview of Christine’s Career Path:

  • Marketing Communications Intern at Communities in Schools of Central Texas
  • Digital Marketing/Account Manager at CityWide SEO San Antonio
  • Digital Analyst at Gray Digital Group

We sat down with her to explore the journey to becoming an apprentice and her decision to take on the world of SEO.

Full Interview

What did your path look like right out of college?

I was looking on Indeed for any jobs related to digital marketing and content advertisement. CityWide SEO does PPC and search engine optimization, and because I majored in Advertising and Public Relations, I went ahead and interviewed there. The founder said they were predominantly SEO and asked if I was interested in that, and I said yes! I worked side-by-side with him for about a year, and at a startup you have to wear so many different hats—I learned so much along the way. My boss was a great mentor, and that’s how I got into search engine optimization. While there I also learned web development and I realized that was a passion of mine too.

How did you learn about the idea of apprenticeship?

When I was transitioning out from the startup I found Digital Creative Institute and Gray Digital Group within a week of each other—it seemed perfect. DCI was exactly what I was looking for. I felt really good about my search engine optimization skills, but when you’re working at a startup and clients are asking you to do things you can’t, I knew there were other skills to be learned. When interviewing with Gray, I was going to be the head of SEO, and they are a full digital marketing agency offering web development and email marketing as well. Coming to Gray Digital Group, I knew I was going to need to know more than just SEO, and that’s where DCI came in. It went hand in hand perfectly, and I knew it would build my skillset.

Can you describe apprenticeship and how it has been valuable to you?

Apprenticeship is growing from relationships and real-world experiences. Everybody who has mentored us or has taught us a lesson is giving us the knowledge they already have and then challenging us to apply it to our everyday lives so we grow. Every mentor we’ve had, I’ve taken a little bit of their advice and applied it into my work. It’s valuable for your career because it’s important to learn from other people and have somebody with the knowledge look over your work and say, “you’re doing it right”.  If I can mentors' advice and incorporate it to my work, then I think that’s beneficial.

How has the apprenticeship program helped with your role at Gray Digital Group?

My responsibilities have grown because I am capable of more now than when I first started in my role. For example, through the apprenticeship I learned analytics in Google Tag Manager, and now I’m in charge of implementing Tag Manager on all our clients’ sites. The production team is not familiar with it, so their clients come to me. It’s built my worth here at the agency.

What skills have you learned through DCI?

When I came to work at Gray, I did mostly SEO and was told I would transition into more paid search, but it wasn’t a strength of mine. Everything I’ve learned about paid search and AdWords has been through Digital Creative and the apprenticeship. Now I have my own clients for PPC, and I’m able to build out those campaigns and landing pages. The campaigns themselves are doing really well. One of my clients has a campaign that I built and within about 6 weeks it has a great click-through rate of 7.31%, which is extremely well for paid search. The landing page is also doing quite well—the conversion rate is 16%.

What’s your favorite part of the apprenticeship so far?

Web development is my favorite and a newly discovered passion of mine. I’ve been working on my web development and coding skills throughout the apprenticeship, and to have someone who’s in the industry who can give constructive feedback on whatever I’m doing, is so valuable.

What are your overall learning goals for the apprenticeship?

My goals coming into the apprenticeship were to build my web development skills, link-building skills for SEO, and then overall strategy of content marketing.

One part of the apprenticeship is having a career coach. What value did that bring you?

Our coach Aurora teaches us the business and management side of working in digital marketing. She teaches us how to talk to your manager, how to ask for a raise, how to promote yourself, how to give back the best, and how to ask the right questions. All these are things that you really don’t think about before somebody brings them up to you.

What are your post-apprenticeship plans?

I’m moving to California in a few months. I complete the apprenticeship with cohort 2 in August. The plan is for Gray Digital to hire another apprentice to take on my job and for me to train them before I leave. In California I’ll work at a web development agency.

Would you recommend the apprenticeship to other marketers?

I’m a big advocate for Digital Creative and the apprenticeship. I think it’s absolutely one of the best decisions you can make if you want to be in digital marketing, and I don’t say that lightly. It doesn’t cost as much as an MBA and takes less time. The overall value you get out of it is better than anything I’ve seen out there. I feel very lucky to be in the program.


Christine continues to learn new skills and connect with other professionals. Want to be like Christine and experience exponential career and skill growth? Apply today to be in one of our cohorts of digital marketing apprentices! Training begins in August in San Antonio and in September in Austin. 

 Apply to DCI Today!

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Christine, pictured at the white board, presenting a landing page design during a cohort session.

Topics: For Recent Grads

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