If organic growth is your goal as an entrepreneur, at some point early on you’ll need to consider a search engine optimization (SEO) strategy. For many companies, this means hiring an SEO expert to manage this strategy for them. The problem is that most business leaders 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.
Eli Schwartz, author of Product-Led SEO, has developed a keen sense of what works and what doesn’t during more than a decade of work as an SEO expert and consultant. His strategies have generated millions of dollars in revenue for some of the internet’s top websites, and he’s helped clients like Shutterstock, WordPress, Blue Nile, Quora and Zendesk execute highly successful global SEO strategies. As head of SurveyMonkey’s SEO team, he grew the company’s organic search from just 1% of revenue to a key driver of global revenue.
“I’ve seen many SEO job descriptions that don’t seem to know what they’re looking for,” Schwartz said. “Some have responsibilities that are ten years old, while others have impossibly high standards. You might want someone who understands content, project management, engineering and analytics, but finding those divergent skills in one person? Unlikely.”
In his experience, the three steps to hiring an SEO expert are assessing your company’s needs, determining compensation and writing an effective job description.
1. Assess your company’s SEO needs
Start by taking a step back to get a sense of your company’s SEO needs. You don’t want to end up having a strong tactical person but no one to develop the overall strategy, Schwartz advised. Most strategists have some tactical abilities, but not all tactical people have strategy skills.
“The skill strengths of SEO practitioners can be broken into four distinct functional areas, which are product management, copywriting, technicians and PR,” Schwartz said. “Who you should hire is entirely dependent on your company’s existing SEO abilities and gaps.”
In most instances, Schwartz said 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. Finding someone that has experience and skills in all these areas is not impossible, but it is not easy.
Schwartz said it’s far more effective to determine exactly what the company will need and where there is bandwidth to get things done. 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
As evidenced by the diversity of skills and requirements, compensation for your first SEO marketer will cover a wide range. For this reason, Schwartz declined to declare the “ideal salary” for this position, nor does he think anyone should make such declarations.
“From experience, I’ve never seen the many public surveys on SEO salaries be in line with real in-house compensation packages,” he said. “Therefore, I’d take them with a pinch 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 pitfall to avoid is looking to pay as little as possible, as “you get what you pay for!”
Another mistake that Schwartz said 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,” he shared. “It always caused long-term, far-reaching, negative impacts.”
3. Write a detailed job description
What’s the ultimate goal you want an SEO expert to help you achieve? Schwartz said the answer to this question 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 goal, try to break down the steps that might be necessary to get there. These will be the specific requirements that should be in the job description.
For example, understand what sort of reporting might be necessary to know when that goal is reached and require familiarity with that tool. You should also 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? Finally, you can include some nice-to-have other skills, so long as you make it clear they are not requirements.
“Proper preparation will make sifting through resumes and deciding who to hire much easier,” Schwartz said. “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.”
Remember that SEO is done by humans
As you begin this process, remember that, “great SEO is done by humans, for humans.” For great SEO, you absolutely need the right people. That’s why Schwartz recommends you find the person or people that you can envision owning the future success of your company.
Hire someone who can operate beyond the bounds of your typical digital marketer and who demonstrates adaptability and creativity. They’ll take your SEO far beyond what you thought possible, so 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,” Schwartz explained. “However, it takes a unique person to be able to combine customer empathy with creativity layered in SEO knowledge.”