How to Hire for Ecommerce SEO

One of the hardest parts of search engine optimization is finding the right professional to manage it. Since there are no universal SEO accreditations, hiring comes down to a resumé and a gut feel in the interviewing process.

Don’t let smooth talk — or a lack thereof — misguide you. Look for the skills that SEO professionals need to be successful.

Ecommerce Is Different

First of all, ecommerce SEO is unique because the catalogs of products and the platforms required to sell them tend to generate problems not found in other areas of SEO. Seek someone with experience in large ecommerce sites, even if you don’t have a large product catalog.

The temperament of your future SEO professional is important, as well. You’ll want someone who fits well within your company culture. But you also need someone with natural curiosity, someone who just has to know not only what happened, but why. Without that drive, she’ll likely stop digging for answers long before she finds the true root of a natural search performance problem.

Data should be at the core of all your new SEO professional does. That doesn’t mean she needs an advanced degree in mathematics. She just needs to have a brain wired logically that reaches for data to determine next steps before jumping to other conclusions. You’ll also want someone who can report on performance accurately, effectively, and without taking half of the week to cobble something together.

Look for someone who is organized, attuned to detail, a self-starter, and, importantly, is comfortable with tedium. SEO at any level requires diving into some pretty unexciting data sets with tens of thousands of URLs or keywords or lines of code. Pass by the SEO “gurus” who aren’t willing to get their hands dirty.

Pass by the SEO “gurus” who aren’t willing to get their hands dirty.

SEO professionals need to be comfortable with subjective answers, grey areas, and leaps of logic. There are few hard and fast rules in SEO. Most answers to SEO questions change based on special circumstances found in each site and in each instance. Consequently, an SEO professional who clings to one right way of doing things in all circumstances will likely be wrong a portion of the time.

Technical vs. Marketing

The balance between technical understanding and marketing skills is another tricky area of hiring an SEO professional. Unlike other marketing disciplines, SEO can be too technical for some applicants and too embedded in marketing principles for others. You need someone who can understand and communicate both sets of challenges to other teams equally well.

That mix of skills makes hiring more difficult if you, as employer, do not have a marketing and technical background. Consider calling in someone that has the skills you lack to help with the interviewing process.

On the technical front, your future SEO professional must be comfortable writing detailed requirements and working with your development team. She doesn’t need to have all of the answers, but she needs to be able to listen to issues and ferret out the best possible way of resolving tricky questions given the immediate limitations.

Consider someone who has managed personal sites or blogs. This hands-on experience, no matter how frivolous or successful, demonstrates a familiarity with the basics of HTML and the elements that go into optimizing a site.

It’s also important to ask applicants if they have ongoing side projects that could detract from their role or pose a conflict of interest. SEO professionals tend to moonlight to supplement income, test out theories, or just play around. This attraction to technology is beneficial, but make sure that it won’t become an obstacle.

On the content side, seek applicants’ take on keywords, rankings, and optimization. How do they come up with the best content topics? Are keyword rankings the ultimate performance metric? Can they write well and optimize content? Ask for proof. If they can point to specific pages, all the better.

Developing Authority

Finding someone with the creative skills needed to earn search-engine authority ethically without resorting to link buying or comment spam is challenging. These days, building authority is typically an extension of content marketing. When both your SEO and content marketing are strong, the links come.

Ask candidates when the best time to buy links is. If they answer anything except “never,” either look elsewhere or make very clear your company’s stance on ethical practices and the need for long-term success versus short-term gain. These should both be important to your SEO practices.

If they answer anything except “never,” either look elsewhere or make very clear your company’s stance on ethical practices…

In the second round of interviews, I like to have candidates show me the sites they’ve worked on, what they’ve optimized, and how it has been beneficial. You’ll get a window into not only their SEO thought processes, but also into the way they communicate.

If you need someone to manage your entire program, look for a person with experience across the technology, content, and authority aspects of SEO. Naturally, if you have a larger team and are looking to bolster a certain area, you need someone with experience in that topic, recognizing that she should understand the other areas, too.

Compensation, Environment

Another aspect is salary. Candidates’ salary expectations are largely based on their work experience. Make sure that your goals are in line with what you’re willing to pay. If your salary is too low to attract the right SEO skills, the results could hurt your company’s bottom line.

Lastly, SEO pros typically expect to work remotely, at least part of the time. This is similar to other technology personnel that are in different locations, or different continents. Even when an SEO employee needs to work collaboratively with developers or marketing staff, video conferencing and screen sharing work wonders.

Jill Kocher Brown
Jill Kocher Brown
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