Lee Odden

Pros and Cons of Hiring SEOs

Lee Odden     Business of SEO

As a growing mid-sized online marketing agency, TopRank has had opportunities to interview well over a 100 people for various search engine optimization and internet marketing positions. We’ve been fortunate to hire and develop an amazing team of professionals. We’ve also experienced the flip side.

There are increasing numbers of resources from which to attract or find candidates whether it’s traditional online job boards like Monster.com, SEO job listings at SEMPO or sites dedicated to SEO recruiting. Making sure actual SEO skills and experience are in alignment with company/client needs is as important as setting accurate expectations for job responsibilities and work environment.

Hiring more experienced internet marketers in the hopes of bringing a knowledgeable outside perspective to a constantly evolving set of processes can seem promising. However, finding experienced SEO professionals who are willing to work for an agency can be challenging. This is especially true if working remotely might not be an option. Also, the fact that there are many opportunities to generate substantial income from building, promoting and monetizing one’s own web sites provides less incentive for some to work for a company.

A few options for finding or attracting experienced SEO talent include those working for agencies where SEO is not the primary marketing offering, sole operators that are tired of wearing all the hats of a small consulting business and search marketers that work in-house for companies.

Many client side search marketers who have been in the same role for 5+ years at another company or companies tend to have become comfortable in certain ways that may not make absorption into a fast moving, ever changing environment productive – either for the employee or the company. This is especially true in larger companies where people can get lost within bureaucracy and the minutiae of process without being holistically accountable for all aspects of the company’s search marketing program.

Solo SEO consultants tend to want to keep their clients while performing SEO work for the agency, which is understandable, but technically working for the competition. Financial and HR managers have a tough time accepting the idea of paying someone while they build their own consulting business with the potential to take clients. You can’t have an effective non-compete in place (at least I haven’t seen one) where SEO consultants work both for themselves and for an agency. For many SEO agencies, intellectual property is the biggest asset and needs to be protected.

Hiring people that have worked a year or three for another agency that offers token SEO services but isn’t a specialist often times brings people who over value their own expertise. Having been a big fish in a small pond, there’s a tendency to become unrealistic in self assessment of skills.

In these cases, everything looks good on paper, but when the rubber hits the road, jaw dropping comments like, “You don’t actually think I’m going to write web page copy, do you? I’m an SEO, not a copywriter. I do keyword research!” make hiring managers white knuckle it all the way to the server room.

Some agencies won’t hire more tenured SEOs due to the perception of “baggage” and some will only hire recent college grads preferring to train them up. What’s important for agencies is to put forth the proper effort to define responsibilities, both anticipated and unanticipated as well performing the due diligence of testing actual skills, checking references and ensuring there is a personality fit with the rest of the organization.

What’s important for SEO candidates is to be honest in their ambitions, self assessment of skills and willingness to focus as much or more on meeting client needs as they are on meeting their own.

Within TopRank we have a mantra that guides the way we do business:
Client > Company > Self.

This sequence prioritizes decision making to ensure those paying the bills (clients) are first and foremost in all aspects of consulting/operations. Emphasizing client success makes both the company and the individuals that make up the company successful.

Overall, it’s a mix of hiring experienced professionals as well as individuals with a few years of post University work experience that share a never ending passion for learning, tolerance for ambiguity and a keen interest in both creative and technical problem solving that makes ours an effective team.

Segmenting the process driven tasks of a search engine optimization campaign from pure consulting creates an environment that allows for entry level hiring and an upward mobility path for advancement.

Incidentally, the punch line of this post is of course, that TopRank is hiring. There are two positions currently open for Online Marketing Specialist:

TopRank is looking for an equally creative and technical marketer for an Online Marketing Specialist position. No stranger to acronyms like “SEO”, “SERP” and certainly “ROTFLMAO” this search engine and social media marketing enthusiast will navigate curiously named Web 2.0 sites like MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, Del.icio.us, Digg and StumbleUpon promoting a variety of client projects.

As a instrumental part of our Online Promotions Team, the Online Marketing Specialist will creatively concept and implement web content and social media promotions as well as a variety of link building tactics for our clients. Measuring results with our social media reporting tools as well as web analytics to the Account Teams is all part of the magic provided on a daily basis by the TopRank Online Marketing team.

Please contact: hr at toprankresults dot com or visit the TopRank Online Marketing web site.

Hiring SEOs Search Engine Optimization Jobs” originally published at Online Marketing Blog

PoorSo SoOKGoodAwesome (1 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5)

Lee Odden About Lee Odden

@LeeOdden is the CEO of TopRank Marketing and editor of Online Marketing Blog. Cited for his expertise by The Economist, Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, he's the author of the book Optimize and presents internationally on B2B marketing topics including content, search, social media and influencer marketing. When not at conferences, consulting, or working with his talented team, he's likely running, traveling or cooking up something new.


  1. @Twin Cities SEM Consultant: You just dissed an internationally known SEO, with one of the finest reputations in the world. You must be a loser Lee fired…and you probably deserved it.

    @Lee: Killer help wanted ad dude…and yes-please notify me of followup comments via e-mail 🙂

  2. LOL, You can see why it’s a challenge to hire SEOs in a market with manners like these. 🙂

    Funny thing about the “local” comment is that I’m not involved with anything in our local market and haven’t been in a while. There’s no local SEM specific organization – at least not one I’m involved with.

    This blog has had more troll comments the past 2 weeks (3) than in the past 5 years. I guess we’re finally doing something right!

  3. Wow…I’m going to go ahead and assume that Twin Cities SEM Consultant is part of “the flip side.”

  4. @Tony, I believe that would be the case.

    @Marty you’re nice to say those things but I’m just a marketer like anyone else in this biz trying to get ahead by helping clients. BTW, guess who ranks #1 on Google for “Twin Cities SEM Consultant”. Now THAT’s funny.

  5. Aw Lee, it’s not your fault that you didn’t know that the most mature and respectful way to share your opinion about someone these days is to leave an assfaced comment on their blog and sign it slightly anonymously.

    It’s the moon or sommat, as I’ve gotten a higher than average number of trolls on several blogs.

    If your were so bad, I wouldn’t think you rock. So there.

  6. Agreed Lee… I find the sign of success in the blog-o-sphere at least, is when the trolls, hackers and spammers set their sights on you merely to (try and) cause some grief. I know that’s when I realized folks were actually reading anything I jotted down.

    Good luck on the staff hunting, it can be daunting. If I was a decade younger I’d jump at the opportunity to work with such luminaries (can’t let Marty soak up all the flattering goodiness now can we?)

    Oh and congrats once more on the trolls…


  7. @Judd you are very nice to say, thank you.

    @Dave Trolls would be more interesting if they were smart about it or at least transparent about intentions

  8. Avatar Rick Marnon, Novi Real Estate says

    Twin Cities SEM consultant didn’t your mother ever teach you, “if you don’t have anything nice to say don’t say anything at all?” Even if you were right about what you said I would have less respect for you because of the way that you addressed the issue.

  9. The more I think about it, the less reason I see for the first comment to stay on this post. It’s obviously “a comment poop” from a jaded person – possibly one that isn’t happy with themselves or is predisposed to lash out at others that aren’t afraid to engage in personal branding and relationship marketing.

    I’ll leave it up for a few more hours and if nothing productive or interesting comes of it, it’s gone.

  10. Wow. That’s probably not the best way to build links for ‘twin cities sem consultant’.

    Lee – I’ll vouch for your reputation locally 😉

  11. I’ve had the opportunity of meeting Lee (At an event). He strikes me as an incredible resource in SEO and did not come across as a “jackass” as one commenter mentioned. Lee travels the globe, sharing his insights on SEO and online marketing.

    I think it’s important for any cnadidate to be honest with their skill sets and try to be open to the challenges of any new job. Open communication is obviously important during the interview process.
    Lets remember that it’s as hard for the hiring manager to know what type of candidate they’re interviewing as well it is for the candidate to know what type of comapny they’re really interviewing with.

    Like Leee mentioned, I fall into a group of marketers who is more interested in working on their online business then for someone else. Candidates should be aware of their inner desires for their careers and embrace them.

    That’s my two cents (or more). I had to respond to that ignorant commenter who bashed Lee.

  12. I’d love to one day work with someone as intellectual and thoughtful as Lee. He’s way up in the cold country though =)

  13. Speaking as a local peer I say Lee’s reputation is nothing but admirable. Sounds like TC SEM Consultant was describing himself.

  14. @Jeff Thanks

    @Anthony, I am glad you’ve been able to find a way to do what you really enjoy and wish you success.

    @Adam Actually, Florida sounds pretty good to me right now

    @Chris You’re nice to say so. To be equitable, it could be a he or a she 🙂

  15. Avatar Nicole St.Martin says

    Not sure if any of the below comments we’re directed towards me, as some of you may or may not know that I no longer work with the TopRank organization. The decision to leave was my own, and purely based on not being the right fit culturally for me. Sometimes it is difficult to get the full understanding of how a company operates until you walk in the door, that’s what happened to me.

    I agree that Lee does have an amazing bunch of people working for him. Dana, Dustin, Mike, Thomas you guys all rock!

    Although the employment relationship did not work out, I still think Lee is a brilliant marketer and I have the utmost respect for him.

  16. Nicole, there has been no announcement or disclosure of your departure. Best of luck in your future endeavors.

  17. Lee,

    Interesting post. Shame about that schmuck up top – what can you do?

    Just curious – do you not find it beneficial to use copywriters for website copy? I just ask because using SEO Specialists to write copy seems to me to be potentially disastrous for usability and effective sales copy. It seems to me that SEO and copywriting, while there are obvious crossovers, are two specializations in and of themselves. I’ve come across a number of successful SEO firms that outsource copywriting for this reason – usability and effective sales copy being so important for conversions.

    Just curious about your thoughts on that.

    Overall, spot-on post that raises a lot of important and interesting points.


  18. Mike, having a dedicated copywriter for SEO is a luxury most companies (client side) cannot afford. However, many SEO agencies have people that perform specialized tasks such as code optimization, keyword research, analytics and copywriting. They’re all “SEOs”, just focusing on different areas. A copywriter had better be able (at least if they work for me) to conduct keyword research as well as write title/meta data and on page copy.

  19. Lee,

    I certainly see your point about having a dedicated copywriter being a luxury. I guess as the budget drops so does that ability to have “specialists” on the project. Low enough and you have a one-man show. And we agree there are different facets of SEO one may specialize in – it is, in my opinion, something of a loosely-defined term. Once you start examining conversion rates and usabilty, for example – are you still in the field of SEO? Certainly we want to offer this for our clients, but I’m just not sure it fits the definition.

    I don’t think it’s asking too much for a copywriter to perform keyword research. With the right systems/procedures in place you should be able to get any web-savvy and reasonably intelligent individual doing effective keyword research. I’d hope that for most people keyword research isn’t exactly akin to rocket science.


  20. I wanted to make one other point. In my converations with Lee, I learned a ton. The information that I received from listening to Lee has helped me in my affiliate website.
    As most of you are aware there’s a huge difference between doing PPC or SEO in a B2B model vs. a b2c model.

    I’m currently running a campaign for a merchant that I’m an affiliate with and my conversion rate has been 20% in the past 3 days. I owe a lot to Lee and really haven’t had the opportunity of thanking him.

    Now SEO is another animal for me and it’s hard to find the time to devote adequate SEO for my website. I’m getting better but I wish I could outscource to Lee’s talented team. Maybe time will allow me to do that.

    Not only is Lee respected but I’ve witnessed and continue to witness Lee’s expertise in SEO.

    This blog is also a really valuable resource to any online marketer.
    Instead of bashing Lee, the first commentor should put their feelings aside and welcome Lee’s expertise in the areas of SEO and SEM.

    Once again that’s my two cents (Or more).

  21. Avatar Melinda Cayetano says

    I would highly recommend anyone pursuing a career in search to consider joining the team at TopRank.
    Lee and the team afford you the tools necessary to build your strengths and grow to be a true SEM consultant. You learn how to be strategic, how to tie tactics to results and client objectives. And at times, yes- they may push your limits. But it is well worth what you gain (both mentally and professionally).

    I can attest that this position does call for a unique individual. It is a position that demands discipline, drive, and perseverance. Of course there will be growing pains, just as Lee described in the above post. Still, the benefit of working for the team supersedes all.

    So perhaps, some may see him as arrogant or overly proud. But having witnessed what the team can do and where Lee has lead them- he has every right to be proud.

    TopRank and its partner company Misukanis & Odden are lead by two very strong, very talented individuals and are comprised of an incredibly strong team. Their creativity and drive never cease to amaze me, and I will never forget what the team taught me about SEO, marketing, and everything in between.

  22. 10 on a scale of 1 to 10 for an article. Love the honesty.

    From what I’ve seen, the most important quality is this:

    “never ending passion for learning, tolerance for ambiguity”

    It’s really easy to say, but tough to do, and tough to find.

    Without getting into a generational war (I’m Gen X), I know that my generation has some passion, but honestly, it can fade (with bureaucracy, age, other responsibilities, etc.) I’ve heard that some of the younger generations want a lot more up-front, whether deserved or not. Some of the older generations could care less about the internet (my Dad has no idea how Google makes money, and he’s never used a search engine).

    Hiring right now is a bitch, especially in this industry. I feel for you Lee; good luck.

  23. Lee, just seeing this post for the first time- we’re hiring now too, so I feel ya, love how you elucidated the issues.

    Thus far what’s working for us is hiring based on potential-
    that’s really more because we need people who want to live in Myrtle Beach, which is a tourist beach town, but still in South Carolina… not all the cool web people want to live in SC, I don’t think, and cost of living and salaries are lower here too, so that filters out the ones who are focused only on pay. It’s not a bad thing, really, to take raw talent and equip it to work in your firm on your particular clients- no preconceptions to break, no bad habits, etc.

    The key has been trying to identify: what are the raw talents and skills that make a good search marketer, and since we do SEO, PPC, SM, and ORM, that’s even more complicated. Actually, this would make a good blog post, so I’m going to stop here! 🙂

  24. Brian, we’ve made a lot of progress on the path you’ve described. Finding core skills that can be built upon and also that fit within the organization’s culture are key.

    Too much work experience often equals a different motivation level than what a growing organization needs as well as “bad habits” as you say or “baggage”. Not enough work experience bogs the organization down with teaching entry level skills that don’t contribute to billable hours.

    The key thing is to be clear about expectations and to offer candidates opportunity to talk with their potential peers in the interview process. Our practice leaders and team are just as involved with hiring as our President and Ops Manager. Without a culture fit, the raw talent and potential doesn’t mean much.

  25. Avatar Karen Price says

    I had to go search Twin Cities SEM Consultant, that is very funny!

  26. We’ve been doing business since 2001 and have published a blog since late 2003 and out of all those years and hundreds of posts this was the first time anyone has made a blatantly negative comment. There haven’t been any since. I think that speaks volumes.

  27. I re-read this again today and got to thinking, especially about this point:

    Hiring more experienced internet marketers in the hopes of bringing a knowledgeable outside perspective to a constantly evolving set of processes can seem promising. However, finding experienced SEO professionals who are willing to work for an agency can be challenging. This is especially true if working remotely might not be an option. Also, the fact that there are many opportunities to generate substantial income from building, promoting and monetizing one

  28. We recently took on a new manufacturing client that had a bad experience with a seacrh engine optimisation company. I won’t name the SEO company, but I always believed them to have an excellent reputation. The stories I heard from our new client were unbelievable. Over 6 months they had somehow made the website go backwards in Google. I suggest approach SEO companies with caution. Ask to see case study examples and check out references.

  29. hi Lee. I am starting my own online agency here in Spain. On the past years I mainly gain experience in display advertising, SEM, and I am recently starting with SEO and SMO. I manage to partner expecialised proffessionals on SEO, Web design, affiliation so I think I am on the right path. Although self learning sometimes gets to slow and for this reason I am planning to work in the States for a while and I thought there must be a way where hiring me could be a benefit to you. Like opening your experience and company to Europe. If this sounds interesting to you, please send me some feed back. Thanks.