How To Build A “Navy Seal 6 Team” Of Search Marketers

In the last nine months, I have seen a hiring blitz as Adobe moved its search program in house. Seventeen search marketers were hired and each has turned out to be extremely capable. One colleague compared the new search marketing team to the Seal Team 6 that took out Osama Bin Laden.

Through an interview with Jay Middleton, Sr. Manager of the Worldwide Search Marketing team, and my own observation, I identified three principles that have been fundamental to this team building process. They are:

    • Have a clear and compelling vision
    • Make hiring the top priority
    • Hire passionate people

Have A Clear & Compelling Vision

Jay’s vision to build an in-house search team combining SEO, Paid Search, and Site Search to leverage the synergy among all three inspired me to join the team.

Developing a vision takes time and planning. Jay collected data for three years before crystalizing his idea into a powerful business case that he communicated to the decision makers within Adobe and also to job candidates.

This business opportunity was especially important in recruiting the management team. Jay understood that the best people have multiple career options and that he would need to articulate a compelling vision to persuade them to join Adobe.

Once the managers were in place, Jay’s sense of mission not only motivated them to contribute their skills, but also ignited interest among people in their networks, further attracting talented team members.

Precarious Jenga Tower

Make Hiring The Top Priority

“We are building a complex structure, and one bad building block could bring down the whole Jenga tower” Jay exclaimed. Before speaking to Jay, I didn’t realize how much attention hiring takes. I thought I had seen the whole process because I interviewed every candidate, but there was a lot going on behind the scenes that I did not see.

For example, Jay explained how he trained the recruiters to look for the right people. Because Search is such a new and specialized field, most recruiters don’t have experience finding candidates with the right skills.

Jay didn’t just tell the recruiters what to look for; he gave them examples of ideal LinkedIn profiles and told them where to look. The “where to look” part was especially important and was only possible because of the effort Jay has put into making connections across the industry.

Even when Jay is not in the hiring process, he is thinking about building his network and is diligent about spending a few minutes every day making connections to others in the industry.

Hire Passionate People

This principle is the one that is most often violated. Most hiring managers try to match candidates to a batch of qualifications, but hiring “Navy Seals” requires a completely different mindset.

Jay taught me that while prior proven experience is essential, passion for Search is what distinguishes a great candidate from a good candidate. Any candidate that gets past the recruiters should have the basic qualifications to do the job, but passionate candidates bring innovative ideas and specific skills to the team.

In our case, we hired a diverse set of team members that includes MBA’s, consultants, and math majors. We have already seen several situations that would have ended in disaster if team members had not drawn on their collective experience and developed innovative solutions to solve unexpected problems.

Although the Adobe Search Marketing team is still new, it’s already evolved into an especially high-functioning team.

Not only has the transition to an in-house search program been smoother than expected, it has also produced significantly improved results. One program doubled its ROI almost immediately, and many other programs are not far behind. My interview with Jay reinforced my conclusions as a job candidate and team member.

To build an elite SEM team you need to a have a clear and compelling vision, make hiring the top priority, and hire passionate people.

Photo  from Kevin Lawver. Used under Creative Commons license.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Search Marketing | In House Search Marketing


About The Author: is an MBA candidate at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. Prior to heading back to school full time, he was a worldwide search marketing manager for Adobe Systems.

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  • Pat

    Wondering how you screened or tested, and what key personality traits or skills you focused on. For my search team hiring, two broad buckets come to mind, ethics (equal weighting to both external and internal) and causality curiosity if not acumen (puzzle lovers, logicians). What did you look for, and how did you identify or quantify it?

  • Jeff Newman

    Thanks for the insightful post. Your Adobe link is broken by the way.

  • Richard Carey

    Pat – Thanks for sharing your ideas on hiring. I personally don’t focus on a key set of traits or skills when hiring an individual. Instead I try to see where the gaps on the team are and hire that type of personality/skill set. For example, I agree that having a logician is very important, but I would not want my whole team to be logicians. I would rather have one very good logician, one very detail oriented person, and one person who is very personable who may or may not be strong in the other traits. So my favorite question to ask in an interview is actually very simple, but sets the tone for which path I go down. The question is:

    What do you enjoy about search marketing?

    If someone says that they enjoy the testing aspect of it, then I ask follow up questions to determine if this is something they are also very good at.(My favorite question for determining if someone is a tester, is “tell me about a time you have failed”. If someone says that they enjoy the visibility into all of the data, then I might explore how detail oriented they are to see if they are what the team needs at that time.

  • caseycarpenter

    Hey Richard, great to see you posting here! Well have to catch up one of these days again.

    Good article and I ask many of those same questions. The key for me is try and find people that love search marketing and are not simply looking for a job. Its tough but asking what they like, or what they read, how the latest new release will impact search like +1 or things of that nature tend to get people talking. Agree that the math majors have been awesome to work with, and that I would lean on that background if everything else is equal.

    Hope to see more postings from you and hopefully you can catch some good skiing out there in Utah.

  • Guido

    This is a great article and very true. I am in the process of building a team like this for our agency and he makes some really compelling points here. I think I’ll need to come up with an alternative name to my SEO team like perhaps, Seal Team 3 !! LOL

  • Richard Carey

    Thanks for everyone’s comments, and great to hear from you Casey!

    I don’t know how I feel about the “What blogs do you read?” question. What is trying to be revealed with that question?

    I can see how it might reveal that someone is interested in the Search Marketing industry, but I would assume that someone is interested if they applied for the job. The question obviously doesn’t make sense if I am trying to recruit someone away from another industry. Someone convince me that this is a good question…


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