Finding talented SEO/SEM staff

Thread Title:
[goes nowhere]
Thread Description:

I’m sure most of you here have experience the same problem as I’m having now.

I desperately need to hire SEM staff for my team. The only problem is I can’t find anyone who can impress me here in London.
Sure I get lots of applicants from India offering to work remotely, but I need a client facing SEM guru (possibly an Oxymoron).
I get a number of applications from 18-23 year olds with no degree and only six months experience but the current market means they are commanding >£35k.

As if this was not hard enough already, I need to find someone with at least 2 years experience, degree and good business sense – I’ve got up to £45k but I’m starting to think that anyone who has this CV would never want to work for a London agency when they could probably make twice this at home part time.

Is it possible that everyone with any skill is either working for themselves at home or is setting up/running their own business?

I’m beginning to think I will not be able to find anyone and SEM is destine to become a fragmented industry of small 1-2 person operation not dissimilar to electricians and plumbers.

Does anyone have a secret?
Can anyone see SEM agencies being able to hold onto talented SEM staff?


electricians and plumbers

I think you have it spot on, in UK terms, with the analogy to Plumbers and Electricians.

Confessedly I am one of those who sit at home earning reasonable money working for myself.

Why should any SEM or Plumber work for anyone else, if they can get what they want out of life working for themselves. I was taking to a local plumber recently, asking how he managed to keep below the VAT limit (about $100,000 in UK). His answer was simple, he looked at his turnover , and just stpped worked when he reached the VAT limit - this meant that he spent the last 4 months of the tax year on the golf course most of the time.

No building company is ever going to get that plumber to work full time for them.

Basically no SEM agency can ever offer more money or better working conditions than working for oneself. You can offer training, but you really do not want to do that - they will be off like ferrets when they have got it. You can offer perhaps security (but whether that is real or even whether the prospective employee wants it is doubtful)

I guess in the end you will have more and more money, for less and less good staff until ...

Even if you ignore the perks

Even if you ignore the perks of working for yourself, a major disadvantage you have is being in London and the higher cost of living/housing, compared to working from home somewhere up north.

On the downside, unlike a plumber who can suddenly stop work, i can’t see me having any holiday anytime soon. So maybe longer paid holiday is one aspect that can help entice people. If the only incentive is money, then its down to who pays most, which can’t be good for business. My old low paid job at a dot come was so much fun I would go back tomorrow if they hadn’t of gone bust.

Looking for a graduate with experience may be too much to ask for, maybe training someone up on low salary is the way to go. Gambling that they will want to stay after training(and pay rise) but if the working environment/perks are good enough they should. May lose a few along the way, but if you can train them quick enough you should be able to get a ROI before they get bored/greedy and leave.

Degree in what?

I presume you are wanting a CS or marketing degree?

Because I am degree-less I have had the "degree or not degree" discussion many times (or substitute certification for degree) and most people have told me to not bother and that a degree does not prove anything once you a year or so after graduation. The thinking is that papers/letters show an ability to learn, but so do experience?

The last time anyone asked what qualifications I had was 1999, the last time it had an impact on my career was .. never :O) I still think about doing CIM or restarting my OU CS every now and then though, because of companies such as yours that would overlook me because I don't have the relevant certificates.

I would say what you can do, what you have done, and how you communicate ought to be priorities rather than which school, subject you attended and what your grade was?

London rules me out anyway, I can't afford oop north house prices so couldn't even contemplate that there London! :O)

It isn't easy to find skilled

It isn't easy to find skilled SEM workers, or at least not for us, based in the suburbs of East London. We have some major challenges, just like you but tackle them in a different way.

Skilled Project Managers who understand the princples of search and marketing are essential rather than trying to find a skilled SEO/M project manager who can undertake the work that has to be done.

We then take unskilled (At least unskilled in SEO/M) staff and train them up to fulfil specific roles. I like to think of it as the System running the company rather than individuals. Any of them can leave and we'll keep on going.

I think the answer may be (at least in the short term) to outsource the client facing and project management aspects of the work, even to competitors who have these skills, purely so that you and your team can focus on what you do best, Get rankings.

It may be unusual way of working but I know quite a few businesses that do it. Work together to get to the common goal - Just make sure that the contract is water tight and you trust the partner company to deliver management not steal the client.


Have you read any of the e-myth books?, pretty much a similar idea.

I have actually but I prefer

I have actually but I prefer the Rich Dad Poor Dad books.

They all have great philosophies :)

London Agencies

good luck mate! the only people you're likely to get are:

a) those who aren't experienced enough to approach and retain enough clients to make it on their own. and once they've been with you a while you're gonna have to worry they will "do one" taking some or all clients they've worked for with them.

b) those who cannot work for themselves for financial or confidence reasons. in the second case they're not very likely to be good at client facing either.

i'd like to point out a minority of the SEO's I worked with in my time with agencies had degree's. none of those who did where among the best. my theory was they'd spent most their time getting that degree rather than working in some new media role and getting the experience you need.

Sadly my experience of working with the agencies was they seemed to exist to take the talent of the SEO's, overwork them as much as possible and make big bucks for the business owners.

I don't do SEO work at all now. The whole agency culture put me off the industry. Much happier contracting as a developer. A lot freer too.


Why a degree??

things that would entice me to work for an agency again

no particular order here

- Don't overburden the SEO guys with projects. There comes a point when all you're doing is fire-fighting and working late because the sales reps have had a storming run and you've got more work than is feasible to do in one week.

- Decent kit. No one wants to work on an old slow machine cobbled together from the spares box with a monitor that makes anadin extra your best pal.

- Flexibility. Let them work from home at least half the week. If you're paying a fortune for that London flat you wanna see it occasionally instead of being stuck in the office/tube/pub.

- Great office environment. Gimmicks don't make a great office environment. People do. But the gimmicks help ;-)

- Fair and transparent management. The worst job I had was one where the managers came in for about half the day, spent most of their time at the local bar (we called it their second office) shmoozing and bigging themselves up and turned out to have massive salaries despite begging the staff to invest in the increasingly dubious company share scheme to keep it afloat...

- Training.

- Profit sharing.

- Holidays in the Sun and Party's on the Town on the company tab for when you do "real good"

- The potential of becoming a manager / gaining managerial skills.

I have doubts as to the viability of some of these in a business environment. But it gives your some ideas as to what would attract me to a SEO agency role again, and I guess that might help you. *shrug*

Consider me a B)

But the confidence thing is lack of confidence in paying my mortgage etc consistantly rather than lack of client-facing skills. Every month (around pay day heh) I think of going it alone but have never had the balls. Working for someone else you also get to have nights and weekends with the family and see your kids grow up - all the business owners I know work >60 hour weeks!


I enjoyed them when I read them but all the anti talk around the web about him being a faker etc put me off recommending them any more (too much backlash). I still find them enjoyable and motivational reading, was never going to follow his advice by the letter anyway! The game is fun too :O)

Recruiting SEOs

Some of you may know that I had to find a way of attracting a highly competent SEM that was suitable for training as a top-end SEM consultant only recently.

As we all acknowledge, recruitment of already capable competent SEO/M practitioners is more than a little difficult. People with the technical skills and background are plentiful. But the tech skills without the deeper understanding of marketing are not enough for client-facing consultancy work. I'm not even of the opinion that a technical understanding of SEO makes a good enough SEO.

In the end, about all I could do was underline the unique opportunities being offered - full personal training and coaching from me, to create a lieutanant I could rely on.

It got me some good candidates, (not many, but some) so it worked for me. However, what worked better was my network of contacts and friends acquired over the years.

We regarded this as a quite senior hire, and the salary offered, while performance based, was certainly higher than your £45k limit. I would expect such a consultant to actually be earning in excess of £70k and quite possibly over £90k per annum. Of course, that's a salary based upon being able to stand up as one of the best in the industry.

I have a far better time as an Employee/Partner of Propellernet than I did as an independant. I don't have to sweat over the sales pitches for starters - never face the idea of finishing a job to find that the next one isn't all lined up already. I don't have to worry about the account management, nor the minutae of project management. I get to focus my efforts entirely on the work I enjoy the most. There's a whole lot of advantages to working for/with a company as opposed to working independantly.

ah but...

theoretically you have nights and weekends! I've missed a fair few of those working permanent roles :-)

most permanent contracts i've seen have some bumph in them about working outside regular hours as required - something that seems to be the norm rather than the rare case in IT jobs i reckon

Nights and weekends

I am fortunate enough to be able to have avoided the majority of nights and weekends through good project management and foreseeing where things might go wrong :O) You always get some (and the occasional all-nighter is team-building-everyone-muck-in fun, heh) but from what I hear on the business-owner side of the fence it is more the norm, especially with the smaller co's?

what about...

not looking for more permanent staff, but building a network of contractors? people who do SEO themselves but might need the odd bit of work throwing their way between jobs?

then your permanent SEO'ers do the client facing bumph and some work, and have a "team" of virtual workers who you contract in and out as needed?

yeah chris, my impression is

yeah chris, my impression is definitely that it can become the norm for extended periods - urg!

though funnily i have no problem with it working on short contracts on site. because i know there's always something different around the corner - like one job i had involved working from home but being somewhat nocturnal as you were required to work with staff in Japan on a project.

Another point

an SEO agency job is great for SEO's trying to build up an impressive client list if allowed to list the clients they've worked with on your CV - some agencies have ND stuff

appealing to people looking to go indenpendent in the future is good i reckon, as is offering support for them when they make the move away from the job with the agency. that strikes me as a great way of building a base of independent contractors who you can get back in to do work when mutually agreeable.

what we do..

we never take on anyone who has worked in the industry before...

we build a team, I teach individuals certain parts of the seo jigsaw sometimes a member of the team will know a few parts, trusted staff will have their own seo'd sites which I work on for them. we have meals outs and days out regularly, we take time out each day to have fun and brainstorm ideas...

the idea is to make a place where people want to stay and work for me, I'm not the best boss in the world, but I try to ensure my guys have fun and make money as well...

so far I haven't lost any of my tech team, and when we take on new people I always let them meet the team so to speak so that they can get a feel of our company and the team can later voice the opinions on the candidate.


Type ThomasB

There are also SEOs/SEMs out there that just don't want to work from home as they prefer having more social contacts. I personally enjoy my work and what I do for clients a lot. But one of the biggest reasons is the fact that I meet new people, see new parts of the world and have a good time. I'd love to work in a young and creative team where everybody understands what other team members want and is highly motivated to achieve the best possible. On the other hand I need the flexibility to work on weekends or late as I have days when I'm more concentrated than on others.

I think Google actually did a very good job in the beginning as their staff seems/seemed to be quite happy working there.

To answer the initial question:
Give them freedom. Give them tasks to do and leave it up to them (after 2-3 months trial) when they do it. If they enjoy working in the team, fair enough, if they prefer working in the dark when it's quite and do a good job it's fine as well imho. Because freedom is what most people are looking for, especially when they realize that money is not everything.

Qualifying the Degree part

I agree with most of the posts above, that top quality - cutting edge SEM work is not reliant on a degree or MBA. I’d say 60% of the best SEOs do not have a degree.

However, the clients I work with demand a high level of educations and any/all strategies have to fit into a pan-European marketing mix.
So like they say in the classics the client is always right

Strange clients you have there

Certainly not the norm to ask for any sort of qualification from my experience (from smallest to top multinationals). You haven't said which degree you are looking for though, I presume these clients are after a particular qualification not just *any* degree? Not sure where degrees fit into pan-european either unless you are talking about language degrees?

Reminds me of when I was talking to an IBM HR person in late 90s, she was frustrated that they were taking on graduates with american history degrees etc that had no interest in computing over and above salary potential but had to pass over really talented experienced programmers who did not have degrees. Makes me think I ought to buy from one of those "get a degree right now with your credit card" spams ;O)

I can understand Google and MS wanting PHDs though - what they do requires the best scientists. I can't see any university offering an up to date SEM degree - how could they? Especially when considering there are a minority of public sector educators that are less than a year or so out of date in general computing subjects and the courses they teach are even further behind (I once worked in education sector).

Good luck with your search anyway :O)

DaveN & ThomasB

Really liked hearing what you had to say. Both of you share the same philosophy I do that work must be more than a job - it has to be something you enjoy. A career, not a job. Workmates that really are mates.

Nurturing and retaining the employees you have is always at least as important as recruiting the right new staff, and in my view more so.

DaveN: Don't you find that it takes to long to train complete newcomers to do the more complex tasks? I mean, we'll happily recruit people who don't know the biz into our entry-level posts, teach them the detailed biz of PPC management as an easy entry to the business, but we couldn't afford the training time to recruit SEOs that way. To teach them HTML, CSS, IR basics, Marketing, Teaching, etc would be a task of years.

Black Knight

yer it can be slow, but take the last guy we took on ... 18 years old being programming php - linux since 14,

the Guy before that 19 years old design and PHP.

both guys fresh from school/UNI ... thats what I ment ...


[quote]I agree with most of t

I agree with most of the posts above, that top quality - cutting edge SEM work is not reliant on a degree or MBA. I’d say 60% of the best SEOs do not have a degree.

I push that further (farther?) and say the most successful people I know do not have a degree.


"I push that further (farther?) and say the most successful people I know do not have a degree."

Same here - at university you learn how to work by rules. On the internet you learn how to create them.

On the internet you learn how

On the internet you learn how to create them.

Or ignore them ;)

I have always held the opinion that degrees are becoming less valuable as time goes on; the drive to have 50% or more of the population with a degree (in the UK) means that all but the retarded can find a place somewhere, and in the last twenty years, the student lifestyle has permeated into public conciousness overwhelmingly, simply because of the number of them blasted scrougers ;)

The result is that those coming out of University are more and more percieved as loutish and immature, or, at best, "having got it out of their system" -- getting jobs is difficult, more so for those who choose not to pursue a degree and instead march out into the workplace, because the catch 22/caveat is everyone wants experience or qualifications

Once you've got your foot in the door however, and have stayed in any job for a decent length of time, you've gained the required experience and just as importantly, you'll have the maturity to deal with office interaction well, and if you're any good at interviewing, that maturity and acknowledgement of "having paid your dues" will be reflected.

Needle in a haystack

We were just having this conversation two days ago. The amount of work your experienced SEO/M staff can handle can often be your limiting factor as an agency. With a good reputation, good marketing materials and a great sales team you can outsell your workload easily. So, I discussed selling more web design/development services until our optimization and marketing workload was lessened.

I explained to a sales director how it's much easier to keep design/development staff because it takes signficantly more effort for designers/developers to go freelance and handle clients than it does for SEO/SEM'ers to bathrobe it, cause they don't have to deal with a client or clients to make money. Just create sites, use adsense, affiliate stuff, or even make an arrangement with a business for leads. You can make fantastic money with very little business skills or resources as an SEO/M.

Perks, job security, flexibility; all key things in retaining a good SEO.


I started doing SEO when I was 17 and my best year so far was when I was 19. And now guess if I have a degree or ever attended university for more than 1 or 2 hours or one of the good parties they do sometimes. ;)

Learning by doing, being interrested in sth and being not too stupid helped me and is the way how I gained most of my knowledge.

Finding such people is probably very hard as most of them prefer to hide or are too young to move their live to a new world. (Got a few offers across Europe but I would miss my friends and family too much :( )

Quals = nothing tangible

A qual only means someone has studied up to a certain level! That’s the only guarantee you get.

I should know worked in both the F.E. & H.E. sectors… sure there are good places to study but the Q’s don’t guarantee anything more. Good employers have/put in place vetting procedures to cull the drift wood. Bad employers don’t know what they are talking about so the drift wood is allowed to float in the system.

about to find out myself?

I'm about to find out as I hire on my first but I agree somewhat with DaveN based on my won experience as an employee and then as an independent.

I am looking to build a team that is unified in vision, focused on clearly-defined success metrics for the domains under our watch. That's not an SEO/SEM per site, but a team of people p/t per site. I liken some to QA roles, some to campaigners, some are aspect managers, and some are niche/kw space innovators. Each has something to offer the domain, some required and some opportunity-based. It allows for specialization which many people like. It tends to limit the freedom of generalists... which discourages SEO entrepreneurs from staying too long.

Sure there will be PM to do, but if I can motivate/evangelize as I anticipate, with a high level of metric transparency, I think it can work. Based on past experience most will stay specialized and not become expert SEOs, although some will want to try. Not much different from webmasters, really. Some try and make the leap to true multi-skilled webmasters, while others stay as designers/coders/whatever. I think if you ask them to be everything for an account, they will do that and then go looking for their own accounts.

If you make them valued expert contributors to an SEO/SEM team, and challenge them to be the best at what they do (keyword work, semantics, client coaching, campaigning, sales funnel, copywriting, etc) will they have time to meet the challenge and still learn all the other skills? Hopefully they will value the team and want to stay in order to realize their potential (and see success), because it is the team that achieves rank for a domain.

All conjecture.... but I am betting my farm on it.

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