How to hire for an in-house SEO opening

Hiring for SEO is really hard and it is about to get even harder.

After an extended period of time where many large organizations chose to not focus on SEO internally, there is suddenly renewed interest in hiring for SEO. The following is my opinion based on independent research on the sequence of events behind this sudden surge in interest in SEO.

SEO demand plummeted

The dropoff in demand for SEO talent coincided with the acceleration of paid marketing primarily on Facebook back in 2015. With the latest efforts around Facebook’s privacy pivot – and Google’s too, some granular ad targeting options will no longer be available – meaning advertisers will inevitably start paying for non-targeted impressions. The net result is the CAC (customer acquisition costs), a metric more important than ad engagement costs will continue to rise.

When this first started, marketing budgets remained fairly stagnant, but advertising outcomes – a function of the higher CAC – trended lower. The slow squeeze on what used to be a very stable and consistent ATM (the cash machine – not any sort of advertising acronym) is forced marketing leaders to look for channels that might have an opportunity.

SEO revitalized

In many instances, this internal soul searching lead to a discovery that the SEO channel has been quietly driving a significant amount of revenue with very little investment. There may be someone already responsible for SEO or this seat could be entirely empty. Either way, the executive team decides that it’s time to resource SEO, but they don’t know how to prioritize their action items.

Even if they have an SEO audit in-hand, they still don’t know what items can be backburnered and which must be a full-stop-the-presses effort. The next solution is to hire someone to oversee SEO or better manage the individuals currently responsible for organic traffic.

And, this is where they hit a wall. Others are coming to the same realization and the ratio of SEO jobs to those that can fill the roles is very lopsided.

At the moment there are 17, 241 SEO jobs listed on LinkedIn

But there are only 25k people in the United States with jobs in their title. This means that the ratio of jobs to people is 2:3.

For comparison sake, the ratio of jobs to people in software engineers is 1:2 and we all know how highly sought after engineers are.

A very logical effect of the lowered demand for SEO talent meant that less SEO talent was groomed over the preceding five years. Having participated in the marketing industry through events and conferences, I had a first hand view of the shrinking SEO community. Marketers that might have developed SEO skills with a key focus on just SEO instead were diverted into other tangential roles that did not help them build the technical SEO skills now considered to be critical.

Additionally, as SEO was not considered a key function, salaries tended to be lower than other marketing roles. Anyone working in SEO that wanted to earn more money or get promoted was inevitably forced to take on roles outside SEO.

Talent imbalance

So now in 2019, we have a truly imbalanced market for talent. There is a rising demand to fill SEO roles while at the same time the number of people that have the necessary experience have been shrinking for years.

For specialized skills such as enterprise level technical SEO, international SEO, large scale image SEO, and even enterprise level local SEO, there is even a smaller pool of potential candidates.

Many of the open roles are looking for people that have 5+ years of experience – a cohort that is really thin when it was 5 years ago that this function started to be underutilized. Those that accrued the requisite 5 years of experience either worked at an agency which means there could be a skills gap for some of the necessary cross-functional abilities required for an in-house role or they are the rare candidate that has the right mix of experiences that are now highly sought by just about everyone.

SEO leadership

For organizations seeking an SEO leader that can help with strategy, planning, internal communication, and management, many of the roles require 10+ years of experiences. Finding an individual that worked in the few companies that actually resourced SEO over the last decade is even harder to find simply because of all the forces that pulled people away from SEO over this time period.

I believe there are only two ways that I think companies can overcome the talent shortage and fill their SEO needs.

  1. Make the SEO role at their company more attractive than any other role the candidate will be interviewing for at the same time. This goes beyond salary and benefits but more into the actual job role. The position should have significantly more responsibility than their previous role, and the hiring manager should be able to demonstrate how the role will significantly impact the organization’s bottom line. This more than anything will help sell the right role for a person responsible for SEO. There are too many SEO roles that are just about closing tickets and not really driving results. The right candidate will be excited by the possibility of growing a business through organic search.
  2. Use an SEO consultant. There many people with the right amount of experience, but they are not looking for a full time role. While a company might take some time to come around to outsourcing this functional role, the impact from the right SEO consultant could be even greater than a full-time employee. A consultant brings the know-how from all of their other clients in addition to the years of experience they likely had working in-house. Most importantly, it is far easier to onboard a consultant than to find the right employee. To find a good consultant one should rely on their network on Linkedin or use a service like GetCredo.com which will
    match you with the perfect firm from their vetted network.

TL;DR

In closing, if you are an SEO professional or someone interested in working in SEO reading this, know your value. The SEO skillset is in high demand, and you have leverage in finding your next role.

For the hiring manager, be aware of how tight the market is for this role and put on your best recruiting show.