Steps to recruiting an SEO Manager

by on 21st December 2009

Much of my time in the past month has been consumed by an SEO recruitment campaign we’ve been running in the US and UK for a major client. In that time, I’ve had the opportunity to really think about my relationships with the recruitment agencies I’ve been working with and review how their selection process has helped or hindered our efforts.

In this post, we’re going to be looking at what steps should be happening before the interview…

Target your audience wisely

How many times have you had your email inbox inundated by irrelevant job applications from all around the world for your SEO role? Choosing the right advertising channel is a tough decision to make but where would you prefer to concentrate your man hours? Quantity or quality? Major jobs boards can drive hundreds of job applications but do the candidates you’re receiving really have the right skills?

In the UK, there are quite a few sites you can advertise for a candidate without spending a huge fortune. In fact, many of the properties online that accept job advertisements are not jobs boards at all:

Econsultancy jobs – have a jobs board, featuring roles in e-commerce management, usability, SEO, PPC, Web development and design.

SEOmoz Internet Marketing Jobs – Rand’s site has jobs and contracts in SEO, Linkbuilding, development and social media, internationally.

Builtvisible’s Careers page.

Each one of these sites have a high volume of completely relevant traffic – passive job seekers in digital marketing who are in the right place to be reading about their discipline. The traffic levels on some of these sites compare very well to well known jobs boards, so it’s worth doing some research to find out.

Jobs boards do add an immense amount of functionality (integration with networks like Broadbean, CV search etc) but, it could make sense to play the numbers game and target your audience wisely.

How much experience is there?

What length of time should an SEO practitioner be an SEO to gain qualification enough to lead an SEO team? I doubt there’s a perfect answer, but common sense and intuition would lead you to believe that a number of years, say, 3 or 4 would be the bare minimum you’d need to qualify. Strategic leadership in SEO can be learned, but not in a year.

Finding people at the moment isn’t easy. When you’re reviewing a CV you need to be able to discard it quickly if the person described won’t fit into the role. I call this “second hand car syndrome” – you fall in love with a car before checking if the service history and condition are ok for the next 10,000 miles, and it can happen to you at any point in the recruitment process.

If your candidate has been doing pure SEO for a short time, or not been focusing on SEO at all in the last 6 months, they’re probably more suited for a middle weight or management development role in a more general position.

Do a telephone interview

Start by shortlisting your candidates and arranging a time to speak to them. An informal format can encourage a relaxed conversation allowing you to dig around and assess that precious SEO knowledge. Can the applicant talk you through the basic principles of SEO? How does a search engine work? What’s the difference between a 301 and a 302 redirect? What is the intended purpose of the rel=”canonical” tag? These are all quick and easy questions to assess the depth of knowledge the voice on the other end of the line contains.

A telephone interview is also a cracking opportunity to sell the benefits of the role and set the scene on what the job would require regularly. If you under sell the role to the right person, and they go for a similar offer elsewhere, how are you going to feel?

Interviews, offers, acceptance?

Hopefully, the steps above add enough usefulness for you to be able to get to the full interview stage completely unscathed. It’s not easy and quite exhausting but exhilarating to catch the right person. Good luck!

Enjoy a few additional resources / recommended reads:

SEO Management 101 – What Makes for a Good SEO Manager?

Build a Great SEO Team – [Organisational SEO]

Great SEO Starts with the Right People – [Builtvisible]

A Portrait of the Perfect Linkbuilder – [Eric Ward]

Interview with Chris Alan, SEO Manager for Expedia.com – [Netconcepts]

Brent Payne Interviewed by Eric Enge – [Stone Temple]


  1. Some great tips there Richard. I especially agree with targeting your ads to the SEO community rather than generic IT job boards, from what I’ve seen you get a far higher standard of applicant in this way. I’d also suggest putting up an ad on your company blog (this is free after all!) and if possible, getting the link to it spread via Twitter. Your ideal candidate may not be actively looking for a job, but if one of their trusted followers tweets about it you might get them thinking…

    Another point (and this may cross over into the actual interview itself) is asking the candidate to demonstrate a successful campaign they worked on and what they did on that site to get that success. Also how about giving them an actual site to analyse and come up with a rough sketch of a plan of how they would approach an SEO campaign for that site? Both of these will sort the blaggers from the really good candidates and give you a glimpse into how they think and work in a practical way.

    • Absolutely. A nice way to handle the demonstrate success point is to ask for a 5 minute presentation on a result with a strategic case study on how they achived this (during the interview). Thanks Jammit, always nice to have you over at Gadget HQ :-)

    • Another good point about displaying the advert on your site shows that your business is doing well because you are expanding. A good thing to project out during these so called hard times.

  2. Nice article Richard :) I definitely agree with Jaamits point on asking for analysis on a site. I have been through this process before, unfortunately in that instance I managed to lose my presentation 2 hours before the interview so that didn’t go so well but hey ho…
    What are your thoughts on whether a candidate has their own blog / personal projects and their level of involvement in the SEO community as suitability factors.

    • Completely agree – I think I touched on this in the “Proven SEO Background” section in What makes for a good SEO Manager? written a couple of weeks back. You should think about “like for like” when assessing a case study too. If you’re interviewing for say, a 1,000,000 page dynamic site with hundreds of thousands of backlinks, you would hope your candidate could deliver a similar sized case study of their own!

  3. Some good tips on recruitment, especially using jobs boards like EConsultancy, I’ve found a lot of recruitment agencies have jumped on the SEO bandwagon to get their commission. However, they cannot tell the difference between a candidate being knowledgeable in SEO to a candidate being able to use Google. I’ve actually had a recruitment agent beg me to interview someone because he always uses Google!

    When looking for an SEO Manager or even a consultant, the first thing I look at is can I put them in front of my clients, a telephone interview can give you a feel for that. Then a first interview where you can fact find about them, how they keep up to date in SEO, I ask there opinions on things like paid links etc. If they have good body language and give intelligent answers I will invite them back for a second interview.

    Second interview is where I ask for past success stories etc, I agree with you, I always big up the company. The candidate is selling themselves to you, but you have to sell the company, including training support and career growth or you can lose someone really good!

    Thanks for the tips and resources

    • “can I put them in front of my clients” – I love that point. When you’re say face to face with this person, you should also be asking yourself the hard question – “can I work with this person?”. Exceelent point made there SEObelle thank you!

  4. Excellent post Richard,
    And I agree with many of the comments above, however a note of caution in how you approach the “make a presentation” test – in that if you ask someone to do an SEO analysis of a site, be aware that often these people are busy in their current positions – and also may be wary of the old trick of getting work for free!

    I would also add that the “ninja vs pirate” test (copyright @Distilled!) is no doubt an effective tactic, in that for certain climates & companies you can test how people respond to left-of-field requests, and also see if they match your humour!

    I’m also interested you didnt mention checking them out online, ie looking for them on twitter, linkedin, seomoz etc prior to the interview – or at least asking them if they were aware of these areas. Is that not something you’d suggest?

  5. As mentioned, some very useful points here.

    I’d be interested to know if anyone has had any luck recruiting though LinkedIn. I find it useful for checking references and other contact information, but not easy to browse through for direct recruitment purposes.

    • Hi Adam, I get a couple of linkedin requests from recruiters trying to suggest I apply for a f/t job with an employer – I always reply with thanks and explain to them I’ve started a company, and wouldn’t be able to take the opportunity any further. Following this, I casually mention that they could advertise their role on my jobs board :-)

      I’ve never used linkedin to actually recruit people but I myself have been recruited via that site in the past.

  6. I have just been through this process a few times and (hopefully) for more in 2010.
    A generic recruiter who claims to do SEO professionals (not always) doesnt understand the skill set of this hybrid role. Therefore any CV or candidate that has the terms “keywords”, “search engine marketing” instantly get through. This means at client side there is a lot of shifting and still a lot of rubbish. I am sure that is the main reason we pay agents!

    Totally agree with the phone interview. This weeds out the “idiots” and “chancers” immediately and then you can meet the real candidates. But this can be tiring. I would also suggest getting a number of your colleagues to interview them too against the skills you need them to have.

    I have been staggered by the salary expectations with little or no relevant or recent SEO experience. If this is the state of the market maybe We should put our selves on the market and reap this current shortage?!

  7. We had great success testing recruitment through Twitter which nicely illustrates Richard’s point about targeting your audience. I also enjoy a bit of internet stalk-research before interviewing a candidate, it’s very interesting to see how people present themselves publicly and how that matches up to the real deal when you interview.

    Also – congratulations on the growing success of your blog Richard!

  8. I believe that everyone working in online/social media strategy should have am modicum of SEO knowledge, and some of the questions above would still be appropriate for an online strategist or online reputation manager.

  9. Thanks for the great article and tips. This is a new area for us and we are still in the learnign curve with SEO and management of it.

  10. Lots of good points. If you assume that a recruitment agency has more time than you do to build up a network of SEO professionals (this should be all they do), it makes sense to use their network. If it is accepted that it would make your life easier if an increasing part of the screening of those candidates is performed by an agency, does anyone have any ideas how to upskill an agency allow you to entrust this important role to them? These people are very unlikely to be SEO experts themselves so how can they be given the tools to provide true value to the company that needs quality SEO resource?

  11. I have found that using an agency in this case really works. I have never agreed with using agencies before but I was really struggeling to find the right match. Were all very unique in our office and I needed someone that would fit in.

    I came across BD recruitment and they found me 5 SEO juniors that were all perfect. God knows where they found them. I think they magicked them from thin air!!

    I know people have had hastle with agencies but BD really worked. The girl on the phone took the time to find out what my company was really like, how many people there are, who works where and what I was really looking for. No other agency I have spoken to has ever done that!!

    If your recruiting for SEO I cant recomend them Highly enough!!!!

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