Eli Schwartz

The following is adapted from Product-Led SEO.

As the demand for organic growth skyrockets, there will be an increasing number of SEO job requests being created. The problem? Most executives don’t know enough about SEO or their SEO needs to know how to write a good job description, ask relevant interview questions, or assess a candidate’s competency in this area. 

I’ve seen many SEO job descriptions that don’t really seem to know what they are looking for. Some of the postings have responsibilities that may have been copied from job requests that are ten years old. Others seem to have impossibly high standards—many postings are looking for someone who understands content, project management, engineering, and analytics. Finding a person with all these divergent skills might be an impossible mission. 

So, let’s take a look at what you actually need in an SEO expert, how much you can expect to pay them, and how to write an effective job description.

1. Clearly Assess Your Company’s SEO Needs.

To crack hiring the right person to fill an SEO need, you need to take a step back and truly understand the need that you have. You don’t want to end up having a strong tactical person but no one to develop the overall strategy. Most strategists will have some tactical abilities, but not all tactical people will have strategy skills. Think carefully.

The skill strengths of SEO practitioners can be broken into four distinct functional areas: product management, copywriting, technicians, and PR. Who you should hire is entirely dependent on your individual company’s existing SEO abilities and gaps.

Finding someone that has experience and skills in all these areas is not impossible, but it is not easy. It’s far more effective to take a step back and determine exactly what the company will need and where there is bandwidth to get things done. 

Earlier-stage companies should ideally hire a jack of all trades with varying skills across marketing and Product. In later-stage companies where the new hire will only work on SEO projects, prioritizing skill sets is critical. There is no perfect formula for how to hire and which skills to prioritize, as the specifics will always be individual to each company.

2. Properly Calculate Fair Compensation.

What should be plainly obvious from this diversity of skills and requirements is that compensation for your first SEO marketer will cover a very wide range. I don’t believe it is helpful to declare the ideal salary in this blog, nor do I think anyone should make such declarations. From experience, I have never seen the many public surveys on SEO salaries be in line with real in-house compensation packages; therefore, I would take them with a grain of salt. 

Large enterprises will have salary ladders that place SEO managers within a job category with some of the more common placements under product management, Product marketing, content producers, performance marketers, or online marketers. Smaller companies that do not use formal compensation ladders should align SEO salaries with one of the other more common job functions when setting up compensation packages. 

One thing that should be avoided at all costs is making any part of the salary variable based on a KPI. This will lead toward the wrong incentives and not help prioritize your SEO efforts in the right direction of long-term, sustainable growth. I have seen SEO bonuses aligned with link metrics, ranking positions, clicks from search, and even revenue, and in every case, it caused long-term issues. The saying, “What gets measured gets done,” is exactly what happens in these scenarios, often with far-reaching, negative impacts. 

As SEO is going to be a critical part of your growth, don’t look to pay as little as possible. You will get what you pay for! 

3. Write a Detailed Job Description.

When hiring an SEO employee, it’s crucial to determine what the end goal should be. This will be the foundation of your job description. Are you looking to launch a new site? Grow your content or organic visibility? 

Once you’ve nailed down your end goal, try to break down the steps that might be necessary to get to that end goal. These will be the specific requirements that should be in the job description. Here are a few fundamentals to consider when putting pen to paper:

  • Understand what sort of reporting might be necessary to know when that goal is reached. Require familiarity with that tool.
  • Decide what sort of hard skills the person needs. If you want a link builder, they don’t need a math background. If you want a technical SEO specialist, they don’t need to be a great communicator.
  • Know whether you want a senior or junior hire, and include appropriate years of experience.
  • Understand what kind of previous jobs provide the ideal background for your hire. Do they need experience in a big company? Agency? Early-stage company?
  • Include some “nice to have” other skills, but really believe they are not requirements.

With proper preparation before opening up the job listing, you will make sifting through resumes and deciding who to hire much easier. Because you have clearly defined what the new hire will be doing once they are on board, it will also be a lot easier to make the decision on who is the best candidate. 

SEO Is Done by Humans

Great SEO is done by humans, for humans. A function of great SEO that is this important absolutely needs the right people. Therefore, my recommendation is you find the person or people that you can envision owning the future success of your company. Put care and diligence into finding people you can trust for this large task. 

Anyone with a modicum of SEO knowledge could conduct an SEO audit or build out a keyword list. However, it takes a unique person to be able to combine customer empathy with creativity layered in SEO knowledge.

Hire someone who can operate beyond the bounds of your typical digital marketer. Hire someone who demonstrates adaptability and creativity. They’ll be able to handle anything that comes their way.