We’ve been growing our SEO team here at Two Octobers, and we’ve been spending a lot of time discussing what make a great SEO analyst. Some traits are extremely helpful, while some can get in the way, depending on the type of team you’re trying to build. If you’re in a similar situation or trying to decide how you’d fit into a SEO team, we’ve outlined some of the common archetypes we’ve seen during our hiring process over the years, along with their strengths and weaknesses.
The SEO Archetypes
Quote: “I smell an algorithm update.”
Strengths: The veteran has seen it all, or is a messaging app away from someone who has. They have huge depth of knowledge and experience to draw from. Whatever the issue, they’ve been there and done that, sometimes in multiple ways.
Challenges: Sometimes, the veteran’s past knowledge can be a hindrance if they’re not willing to learn new things. The SEO landscape today is obviously a lot different than it was 10, 5, or even 3 years ago, so that trick that worked back when might not do much for you now.
Might be a good fit if: you have a young team and need an experienced veteran who can jump in and help with minimal guidance.
Quote: “I got this.”
Strengths: Tenacious and self-reliant. They get their work done well and on time.
Challenges: Might lack collaborative instinct. They may spend hours trying to untangle a problem alone when asking someone else could get them there in a fraction of the time.
Might be a good fit if: You’re relying on a single person to get work done without much oversight.
Quote: “We talked about this in my online marketing class.”
Strengths: The noob is a tabula rasa, which means you won’t have a lot of bad habits to break.
Challenges: That same lack of experience means they need a lot of mentoring, care, and attention. Whatever time you can spare to get them on the right track will often pay dividends.
Might be a good fit if: You’re “top heavy” in terms of knowledge, with team members who have the patience to get them up to speed. When you’re hiring someone without a lot of experience, it’s even more crucial to look for the important traits outlined below to make sure they’ll be a good fit, but they can be great if you have a limited budget but you know what direction you want to go.
The Grey Hat
Quote: “If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying.”
Strengths: Often has ideas that can move the needle quickly from a SEO perspective.
Challenges: Those ideas might run the risk of getting your site (or a client’s site) penalized if Google gets on the scent.
Might be a good fit if: A recovering Grey Hat’s background can make it easy for them to recognize spammy techniques that might be impacting organic visibility. If you have a website, yours or a client’s, that has been dinged by Google for shady dealings, the Grey Hat can help you sniff out the issues and figure out how to clean them up quickly – as long as you know they’re willing to wear a white hat proudly from now on.
Quote: “I used to handle SEO for my last company. And email marketing. And SEM. And graphic design.”
Strengths: Like The Noob, the Dilettante can come with a fresh set of eyes and fewer bad habits to break. They can often offer new perspectives and broader digital marketing skill sets than pure SEO analysts as well.
Challenges: The Dilettante can sometimes think they know more about SEO than they actually do. They may take some extra time to train up, but it can be worthwhile if you need their extra know-how in other areas.
Might be a good fit if: You’re looking to broaden the skill set of your team or expand your overall general digital marketing knowledge with a cross-channel role, or build bridges between existing silos in your organization.
The Tech Wiz
Quote: “I’m giving it all she’s got, Captain! Maybe if we splice the .htaccess to the flux capacitor we may be able to bring the host load down to reasonable levels.”
Strengths: The Tech Wiz eats, breathes, and sleeps technical SEO. They can find and clean up canonicalization issues, dig in on what’s slowing down page load times, and tease out why your pages aren’t performing in organic results, all before lunch. They’re also great at “talking the talk” with developers.
Challenges: The Tech Wiz can be so focused on site structure, information architecture, and other details that they can sometimes forget to see the digital forest for the technical trees.
Might be a good part of your team if: You’re otherwise light on in-depth technical knowledge. As a bonus, pairing them with a team member with some of the “softer” SEO skills like link- and relationship-building can often help raise the level of both.
Traits and Habits We Look for in our SEO Team Members
When we’re hiring, we often joke that we’re looking for an SEOsquatch, the mythical creature who has the right mix of traits, habits, and skills. Just like the real Sasquatch, they’re often discussed, but rarely seen. So how can you identify an SEOsquatch of your own? Here’s our (mostly complete) laundry list of what defines a great SEO analyst:
Passionate About SEO: This might sound like it goes without saying, but we’ll say it anyway. Digital marketing in general, and SEO in particular, is always changing. We need to stay ahead of an ever-changing landscape where paying attention to the Google algorithm is just the tip of the iceberg. Staying current means reading blog posts, watching videos, going to meetups – and actually wanting to do all that. If you’re not curious, if you’re not someone who can prove to me that you’re a continuous learner, if you’re not someone who wants to roll up their sleeves and pick up new skills, you’re not going to go far in SEO.
A wise man once told me that there’s no such thing as a “9 to 5 SEO.” That doesn’t necessarily mean working long hours, but if you’re not following Moz on Facebook and reading Search Engine Land posts with your morning coffee, you might not be cut out for it.
“Geek to English” Translation: It’s easy for someone steeped in SEO to forget that most clients aren’t going to understand a lot of our industry jargon, or even understand the underlying principles of them, but in the words of Einstein, “if you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a client stop me to ask “I’m sorry, but what is canonicalization?”
This goes beyond typical client service skills – being able to translate complex technical issues into simpler lay-speak, whether you’re writing a client document or on the phone with them, is something worthwhile for all SEO communication.
On the other side of the coin, it’s also crucial to be able to “talk the talk” if you’re communicating with your client’s technical resources. Explaining host load (aka crawl budget) to a Web developer will often require different language than talking about it to your day-to-day marketing contact, and knowing the right lingo for their platform or development ecosystem can help build confidence in your recommendations as well.
Confidence: As consultants, the value we bring to our clients goes beyond identifying SEO issues and opportunities, it’s also confidently making recommendations and advocating them to people who need some convincing. Exuding confidence in your recommendations can have a huge impact in the success of an SEO campaign.
In the immortal words of Han Solo, “That’s great kid! Don’t get cocky.” Sometimes a client needs time to think about your recommendations before they agree to them, so it’s important to know how much to push.
Interesting Hobbies: I always like to ask interviewees about their hobbies, and it’s usually the ones they don’t reveal first that say the most. A crucial question is to dig into WHY they like that activity. If they like fly fishing because they’re pescatarian, I’m less interested than if they display the healthy level of geekery I’m looking for, waxing rhapsodic about tying flies, researching fly/fish combinations, and analyzing wind patterns and water temperatures.
Gaming: For the record, I’m thinking more about Carcassonne and less about Candyland when I’m talking about gaming. While you might think board games have nothing to do with SEO, these complicated hobbies show a tendency for a strategic and tactical mindset, the desire to face a challenge, and the ability to think on your feet.
I once interviewed someone who sheepishly told me he created multiple spreadsheets for a fantasy sports team, and I pretty much hired him on the spot (for that and other reasons). If they’re that much of a data and spreadsheet nerd on their own time, I want them on my team.
Client Services Skills: There are lots of agencies where SEO analysts just do their tasks in the background, never really interacting with clients. While it’s important to be able to get your ideas across in written form, knowing how to effectively interact with clients via email, in person and on the phone are skills that will broaden overall knowledge and improve anyone’s career path.
Collaboration: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve talked to someone on the team who complained that they’d spent X hours trying to figure out the answer to a problem I’ve run into multiple times. They could have saved themselves all kinds of work and frustration if they’d just reached out to the team with a quick question – “hey, has anybody seen this issue before?” Collaboration tools like Slack can make it easy for people to reach out, and a tool for managers to nudge reluctant folks forward.
Detective Skills: Anyone who’s ever had to do a forensic SEO analysis of a client website knows it can make you feel like Sherlock Holmes or Miss Marple. We often (half) joke that a great SEO is someone who can’t fall asleep at night until they’ve answered a question, untangled a riddle, or found an issue that was presented to them that day.
Process-Oriented: Another great skill to have is the ability to follow a set process, or even creating new process documentation. I’ve done hundreds of technical site audits in my life, and even though the process itself has changed since I started doing them in the early 2000s, there is still a prioritized checklist I follow to find the most common (or uncommon) issues.
That said, I also look for someone who knows when it’s time to deviate from the standard process to follow their intuition. Creativity is great tool for solving hard problems and identifying opportunities.
Likes a Challenge: Effective SEO is always a challenge – whether it’s Google’s semi-opaque ranking factors, or the host of potential client strengths, weaknesses, and foibles, no two campaigns are (or should be) exactly the same. If you want to succeed in this industry, you’ve got to follow industry standards…and expect for them to change without much notice (remember the rise and fall of Google Authorship?)
The challenges can differ. Some on your team may be link-building wizards, forging relationships and identifying opportunities. Others might be more focused on-site writing compelling meta descriptions and semantically analyzing page copy.
While these are traits that are particularly important in SEO, I also look for other qualities important in any employee: humility, a willingness to take risks, and a desire to test their hypotheses. Before you hire, take a look at your current team, revisit the archetypes, and remember these key skills for success.
Jake manages an SEO supergroup here at Two Octobers, and previously put together similarly effective teams at iProspect and 190 West. If you need great SEO people, but don’t want the headache of hiring and managing them yourself, give us a buzz!