The world of SEO can come in all shapes and sizes, and staffing often depends on how much time and energy your company has to do things on its own. If your business prefers to skip the agency or independent contractor route and keep SEO in-house, you’re not alone.
Making such a decision is really just the first step on the journey into scaling your search optimization effort into a winning proposition. Because SEO is so highly specialized, hiring the wrong person or team can have disastrous consequences.
One of the biggest mistakes I see is when a company executive suggests hiring someone with great soft skills such as the ability to be a good communicator and adaptability is the most important item on the checklist. After all, you can train someone to do SEO, right?
Let’s agree to disagree on that one. Anyone who truly understands the intricacies of search recognizes potential hirees must out the gate have in-depth technical knowledge and requisite skills to achieve and maintain high rankings.
Here’s an outline of some of the critical elements you should be focused on when staffing for SEO:
1. Proven track record
General marketing skills are not a substitute for SEO experience and expertise. Look for someone who has a proven track record of planning and implementing SEO strategies, preferably for businesses in your industry.
Ask for permission to contact past clients or employers to find out what kinds of results he or she has gotten previously. Testimonials are great, but may not provide the complete picture. Speaking one-on-one is more likely to bring any potential problems or issues to light.
If possible, look for someone with extensive SEO experience. Professional experience is paramount, but SEO work on personal projects like a blog or personal website can be equally important in sourcing a candidate that’s not only technically savvy, but passionate about search. These experienced SEOs aren’t just immersed in the field, but generally have a more “meta” view based on their experiences working on many sites. This will often mean they’re able to quickly gauge any potential pitfalls with your site and know exactly what steps to take to fix them.
Action item: When asking potential hires if you can contact previous employers or clients, be wary of anyone who denies your request or directs you instead to pre-written testimonials.
2. Understands how SEO, content marketing and social media work together
SEO, content and social media are now inextricably linked. A successful SEO strategy relies on excellent content, and social media is the channel that promotes and amplifies that content.
This means that any SEO you hire needs to be well-versed in all three categories. He or she may not be directly responsible for creating content or planning and implementing social media strategies, but this person will be expected to work closely with the individuals or teams that coordinate these efforts.
Action item: Some good questions to flesh out a potential hire’s knowledge base: “How do social signals impact rankings?”; “How does SEO impact and inform content creation?”; “How do you propose to work with our content and social media teams to ensure a holistic approach to marketing?”
3. Experience with local SEO (if you’re a local business)
Whether you have a brick-and-mortar store or a local component to your online business, your in-house SEO should have knowledge of and first-hand experience with optimizing for local search.
Contrary to what many people think, local SEO requires a number of unique strategies. From location-based keyword research to getting local reviews and building relationships with local publications, local SEO demands a solid understanding of what it takes to outrank local competitors.
Action item: Ask whether the candidate has worked on local campaigns. If the answer is yes, inquire as to what percentage of past experience was spent working with local businesses.
4. Knowledge and expertise in all areas of SEO
A successful SEO campaign will require four levels of optimization: technical, on-page, off-page, and analytical. Most SEOs will have their areas of speciality, but all should be comfortable optimizing in each of these areas.
On-page SEO: This will include keyword research and building content around chosen keywords and topics. It will also require the proper use of these words or phrases in key areas of the page, title tags, headers, URLs, etc
Off-page SEO: This will largely consist of link building and PR (although PR will – and should – fall to a dedicated individual or team in larger businesses). Given the shift towards “link earning,” candidates should also have a solid understanding of how content quality impacts link acquisition.
Analytical Savvy: This covers quantification of site progress over time using deep insights from Google Analytics through advanced features like RegExs and custom reports. A basic knowledge of SQL is an added bonus, since it can help SEOs dig into your company’s database.
Finally, candidates should display a solid understanding of the most current ranking factors. This will ensure they’re up to date and using strategies that are most likely to get results.
Action item: Ask questions that show an understanding of all three areas: “How comfortable are you with schema markup?”; “Which on-page elements do you find to be the most important?”; “What link-building strategies do you typically use?”; “Will you engage in guest posting as part of your link building/outreach strategy?” (Hint: the answer should be yes!)
5. Ability and willingness to track and share ongoing results
Anyone you hire will be responsible for consistently tracking and reporting the results of their efforts. Ideally, they should have extensive experience using SEO software for tracking rankings, performance and SEO visibility.
But keep in mind that just because someone is able to track these metrics doesn’t mean they’re necessarily adept at communicating them. Look for someone who not only understands how to monitor analytics, but who is also able to inform management about what those metrics are doing and what the metrics mean. He or she should also be able to translate their findings into practical, actionable steps.
SEO is a long-game. It will usually take many months to track the success (or failure) of a new campaign. Your SEO should be tracking these results all along in order to tweak (or completely re-think) strategy.
And when it comes budget time, your SEO will need to be able to demonstrate a positive ROI. If he or she isn’t willing and able to consistently track the results of their efforts, it will be virtually impossible for them to explain where your ROI is being generated.
Action item: Ask about experience and comfort levels working with your preferred SEO and content marketing software. Ask how they plans to track results and how often these results will be communicated to management, and how they’ll plan to work alongside related teams like development and content. Ask candidates how long they give a campaign before deciding whether it’s successful or not.
SEO drives traffic, rankings and conversions. Given the influence an in-house SEO can have in these areas, finding the right person is of utmost importance. Don’t make the mistake of hiring someone based on soft skills alone. Investing in someone with proven knowledge and experience in all aspects of SEO will pay for itself many times over. Hiring based on these factors will ensure you meet all your goals in scaling your SEO efforts over the long term.