SEO is an integral part of online marketing and is now included in most marketing curricula offered at colleges. Additionally, there are numerous certification courses offered by tool vendors and various organizations. There is also many SEOs who either learned on the job or are self-taught.
Because almost every resume for an online marketer includes a reference to SEO proficiency, the question remains how to evaluate the depth of learning and level of competency of these candidates. Many very experienced SEOs have never studied SEO as part of a curriculum of study.
When I first started working in search, there were just a few online guides and some excellent forums for those wanting to discuss and solve problems. The entire industry was new and evolving. Most SEOs learned through the proverbial school of hard knocks — success, failure. Their colleagues/peers were the teachers, conferences provided extremely valuable learning opportunities.
In today’s business environment, I would not want to trust a key portion of my marketing to an amateur using trial and error. But that was the way it was. Schools are reopening, so I’d like to use this opportunity to provide a few tips for those who are hiring SEOs for their projects.
Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover
Technical SEO is a mixture of both left and right brain skills. A single semester course, certification course, or module will not provide the depth of skill needed to helm a large SEO project.
Not everyone learns SEO through official training. Many SEOs with technical/marketing experience will not have the academic coursework, but they often have learned SEO on the job.
On the other hand, coursework can provide a new hire the necessary knowledge to execute tactical steps on even a very large project.
A marketer who does not have a passing knowledge of code (can read and understand what the code instructions say) and how sites are architected must rely on programmers and other more technically proficient personnel. This is not ideal, for the technical team. The SEO must work collaboratively and in tandem to solve problems and achieve business results. It has been years since I personally wrote code, but I have found it a valuable skill to be able to read, understand and critique what the programmers have created.
Tools Are Just Tools
SEO is the home of the online tool junkie. There are literally dozens of toolsets available for almost every task — from keyword selection to analyzing the finished product. Some of the tools have a steep learning curve, others are very easy to learn and are almost intuitive. If your business has an already defined toolset used for SEO, then it makes sense to search for a candidate who is familiar with your chosen toolset.
To help deal with the need for measuring proficiency, some tool providers offer certifications (for example, Google Analytics and Adobe Analytics). A certified candidate offers the hiring managers a measure of confidence in the candidates’ competency.
However, tools are just tools. A candidate with lots of valuable skills, and who’s maybe even certified on a different toolset, but unfamiliar with your toolset, may still be the best candidate.
Tools are constantly changing, and SEOs must adapt to a fluid tool environment.
Hire the Lifelong Learner
The candidate, whether for an in-house SEO job or from an agency pitching for your business, who claims to know everything about SEO is waving a bright red flag. If a candidate does not have a bottomless curiosity and a rich set of sources of information to consult for continuous learning, their skills will quickly stale and become outdated and obsolete.
Hire the lifelong learner with a broad portfolio of skills for your technical SEO, and you will not go wrong.