How To Hire A Great In-House Search Engine Marketer (Or Not)

At search engine marketing conferences, I am often asked for advice on how to hire people for in-house search engine marketing jobs.

Usually over lunch a business owner turns to me and says something like, I came here to learn more about all this search engine stuff and what I learned is that I need to hire somebody to do this, but how do I do that? Or, how did you get your job?

This has happened enough times that I thought it would serve well for me and those looking to hire SEM staff to put my advice in writing!

The Timeless In-House Or Agency Debate

Whether to outsource search marketing to an agency or hire to manage in-house is a debate as old as search engine marketing itself. Opinions on this vary, and I invite you to share yours in the comments, but here is mine.

If your company has a small staff and isn’t looking to increase that and manage a marketing person, then hiring a consultant or an agency may be the way to go. If you are looking to grow the business in terms of staff, or open to it, then consider hiring in-house, as often as search marketing programs mature and become more a core part of a business, there’s increased desire to mitigate risk and costs and move operations in-house.

For many businesses I talk to there’s the issue of not knowing what you don’t know. People know search engine marketing is important, but they aren’t sure what to do in terms of actions to improve it for their business, they don’t even know where to start.

An in-house hire in this case would need to be a fairly knowledgeable and self-motivated person, and one that a company can fully trust with this important area. Expense wise, this starts to cost as much as perhaps a small agency engagement, which might be a better option for businesses that need to increase their internal knowledge of search engine marketing before feeling comfortable about hiring an in-house position.

Have an honest debate with yourself about comfort level – ask yourself these questions:

  • How well do you trust yourself to manage an in-house hire and know what they need to do?
  • Could you learn more by starting off with an agency and pushing them to increase your education level?
  • Do you feel like you eventually will want this role in-house and are willing to put in the time to educate and train in-house?

Where To Look

Unfortunately, geography can still be a factor. If a business is in a big search state like California, Washington, New York or Florida, there are lots of professional search engine marketers around. In states with less search companies, or in smaller cities, businesses will have a tougher time finding in-house talent and may need to go with an agency out of necessity.

If Craigslist is widely used in your locale, that’s a great place to start recruiting. LinkedIn is another popular place for job postings, and often the quality of candidates are high. For specifically search engine marketing, SEMPO, the Search Engine Marketing Professionals Organization, is another great resource for job listings.

SEM Skills

There are plenty of articles on Search Engine Land that focus on hiring the right agency, so for the purposes of this article, I’ll focus on hiring someone in-house. What skills should you look for in an ideal in-house search engine marketing manager?

Strong Excel or Google spreadsheet skills are a must. I don’t know any search engine marketer who doesn’t use a whole lot of Excel when managing search engine marketing. Reports, bulk upload sheets for changes, bid management and more are all Excel driven. Additionally, the reports are only as useful as the person looking at them, so analytical skills are critical. Several successful search engine marketers have backgrounds in economics, physics or other highly data driven, analytical fields.

Many of the other relevant skills for a good search engine marketer apply to all marketing jobs. Being organized, able to juggle multiple projects or tasks, the ability to prioritize well and being a good writer are all important factors. Particularly for working with other teams on SEO projects, like engineering, working well on cross-functional projects and being a clear communicator and educator are important skills.


In an ideal world, the experience of a new in-house hire would map exactly to what the business needs. If the company is in e-commerce and sells lots of physical products, then a search engine marketer with experience doing that in-house would be ideal, as opposed to say a marketer with agency experience working with companies with online subscription services.

It’s not that any search marketing experience isn’t valuable or transferrable, but that more germane levels of experience can apply depending on the type of business and its ultimate search engine marketing goals. Finding a search engine marketer who has had success managing paid search or carrying out SEO for the same goals and general type of business will be the best bet.

In the end, like in hiring for so many roles, getting a really smart person who is motivated to learn and develop their skills is better than getting someone with more experience but less natural ability. Search engine marketing isn’t magical, and there are plenty of articles, training resources, conferences and advice out there for less experienced search engine marketers to leverage. Smarts and drive you can’t teach.

Stock image from Shutterstock, used under 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 the Vice President, Marketing at Viator,the leading provider of destination activities worldwide, and also blogs on in-house search engine marketing issues at

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