What To Look For When Hiring InHouse SEOs
Last week I wrote a post about What to Look For When Hiring Bloggers. That post got me thinking about what traits I’d look for if I wasn’t hiring a blogger, but instead someone to join my inhouse SEO team. What qualities are Must Haves and which are just Wants?
Hiring SEOs is tricky because the search engine optimization industry is a unique one. It’s one of the few fields where finding someone special takes more than just recruiting kids out of college and paying them enough to buy a fridge filled of beer and some ramen. There is no SEO major. There’s no Usability major. There are subjects just barely on the cusp of what we do for a living but there’s nothing with a skillset that perfect aligns to search engine optimization. So what do you look for? What are the traits that make a good SEO?
When coming up with traits SEOs should have I left off things like "prior experience in SEO", "knowledge of the search engines" or "being the brother of Matt Cutts". It’s not that these things aren’t important (especially that last one), but they’re all things that can be taught (okay, 2 out of 3). Just because someone knows what SEO stands for doesn’t mean he or she is any better qualified than the girl currently sitting in the marketing department who secretly has some mad technological savvy.
With that, here are the traits I’d look for if Bruce ever lost his mind and put me in charge of hiring our SEO team:
- Analytical Mindset: Going along with being technologically skilled, you should also look for someone who is a bit mathy and analytical. Someone who can look at data sets without feeling lightheaded. As an SEO, you can’t be intimidated by numbers or conversion rates or other types of Web metrics. So much of search engine optimization is interpreting the information you already have and then making decisions off that. Gathering all the information collectors in the world won’t do you any good if you don’t have anyone who knows how to do something with those numbers.
- Mad Research Skills: I personally believe (like such as?) that in order to be a good SEO you have to be tirelessly curious and inquisitive. Much of search engine optimization is based on research, tracking down answers, and experimentation that either you have the mindset for it or you don’t. When I look at the amount of time our SEO Analysts spend trying things out and researching the pearls of wisdoms exposed by the search engines, it’s amazing they get any "real" work done.
- A Think Outside The Box-er: Hey, search engine optimization ain’t for dummies and it’s definitely not static. You need someone will be able to soak up the training you’re giving them and run with it. Someone who can read Larry and Sergey’s master plan and pick it apart. Someone who’s able to understand marketing practices and the bigger picture. People who exudes creativity and has that spark in their eye when you present them with a problem with no answer. A good hire will always be able to find that answer or at least spend a week not sleeping trying to find it. I credit the success of Bruce Clay’s SEO team to these people. Our SEO Analytics who don’t see the leaves off the tree, but instead imagine the leaves and somehow make it all come together to form a solid foundation. They’re awesome.
- Ethics: I hate to even go here, but I think it’s important. You have to hire someone who will respect what search engine optimization is all about and not fall prey to the "quick and easy" mentality. The worst thing you can do is hire someone, teach them about SEO, and then watch as their eyes get real big reading less than pure SEO blogs and they start "experimenting" with your site. If you’re going to spend the time teaching someone the principles of search engine optimization, you want to make sure they’re going to stay true to those and not, um, wander. You don’t want your site getting banned because they were overzealous.
- Optimizable: Above all, you want someone who you can train and who will fit inside your organization. It makes no difference how smart they are, how creative, how skilled if they can’t work within your group. Smart people incapable of working in a group setting do nothing but frustrate everyone.
Obviously there are plenty of other traits that can help make a great SEO, but I think these are some of the most important. Would it be nice to have someone who has experience in Web analytics? Sure, but you can train someone how to do that. Would it be nice to have someone who can write and craft really stellar landing pages and ad copy? Yes, but you can outsource that to other departments or teach basic writing skills. These are the traits that your hire is either going to have or be without. They’re what’s most important.
Remember when hiring that you probably won’t find all of them in one person, but as long as they’re common among your SEO team, I think you’re in pretty good shape.
Which traits for the perfect SEO did I miss?