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SEO Careers In A Recession
First off, I would like to start by reminding everyone to participate in the SEMPO.org 2009 in-house salary survey. Running for the second year, this benchmark survey provides direct industry feedback, from in-house professionals like you, on the realities of compensation in this profession. Agency side folks, don’t worry, will be launching the second annual survey for you shortly.
Opportunity in a recession
Buy low, sell high. That’s the mantra of every great investor. Finding a career on the internet, and especially in search marketing, is no different. Now is an excellent time to start a search marketing career, or shift your current efforts into high gear.
If you listen to the news, or follow what the pundits are saying about the economy, it’s a cinch that this recession will be lasting through 2010. While most feel trepidation at this scenario, those seeking a career in search marketing should look at this as an opportunity to buy low and sell high. More now than ever, businesses need to justify every marketing dollar they spend with a serious return. No longer are they able to simply state, “as long as the ROI is positive, we are fine.” This need to get granular can pay off for those with some experience. Businesses are in need of your skills, and now is a great climate to cement your place as a professional. This effort will pay dividends as both your portfolio and experience grow.
With the current economy, every business needs to be certain that they refine their business model to the point where there is no further gains to be had from any investment of marketing dollars. Ultimately, this means fine-tuning areas of marketing such as pay per click advertising to the highest degree possible, ensuring that every possible penny is accounted for as an ROI. In today’s climate, even the previously untouchable budgets of pay per click advertising campaigns are coming under scrutiny. While search marketing may be stealing traditional marketing dollars, the days of those search marketing programs running autonomously and only having to return vaguely positive ROI is rapidly coming to a close.
Today, we are seeing pay per click campaigns run with such efficiency that high double-digit click through rates are standard and expected, and eking out a growing return on these highly efficient campaigns is becoming increasingly more difficult. Add into the mix, rules changes at the platform level, the latest changes in expectations of an ever-increasing relevancy by consumers and the time is right to see a mass migration of large, Fortune 500 branded companies towards organic search marketing as they’re truly long-term marketing avenue of choice. Though many invest in paid search campaigns, most don’t do SEO well.
More and more large businesses are choosing to invest in organic search marketing as a baseline marketing tactic. SEO is being seen as not just a marketing tactic, but is the marketing tactic online. While certainly not news to those of us in the industry, these large well-known brands have been slow to adopt in the fast-moving Internet environment. As these companies come online, their need for talent will spur growth in search-centric career opportunities.
Getting your career as an SEO professional started in today’s climate takes considerably more effort than even just a few years ago. With most businesses extremely focused on their bottom line and the return, the demand for performance has never been higher. Couple this with traditional hiring practices that typically dictate years of experience equating to future performance, and we’re seeing the merging of the need for both education and experience.
The days of being able to claim success on your personal website or blog and see that translate to a high five figure job are coming to a close. Businesses that can afford seasoned professionals also need to be ready to step up well into six figures to secure this desirable talent. If you are new to this career path, and you see this as a quick route to a six figure income, best to change your perspective now. To command top dollar requires experience and proof of results. Having a few months, or even less than 2 years of time-in, simply isn’t enough for most high-level SEO positions today.
While the speed of the Internet moves at the click of a mouse, when it comes to hiring top talent, most businesses fall back on traditional hiring practices. This means they invest time into doing the research about the work they want done, they create a detailed job description and run candidates through a typical interview process. Often, they overlook critical areas due to lack of expert knowledge. Very little information compensation information exists, which is the back-bone of any HR plan when creating a new job. Very little internal talent exists to help them build the proper job description, even – that’s why they are looking to hire. The end result is many positions are scattered in their approach to this work, tacking SEO on as “part of your duties”, and allowing the company to mis-classify the job as a Marketing Manager, and vastly under-rate the compensation.
Add to this, to be an effective SEO, you also need to be part salesman, part soothsayer, part sorcerer and part coding savant. Beyond actual SEO knowledge & experience, general business experience is needed, as you’ll be functioning in a business environment.
Your best bet to start a career or move your career forward in this industry is to get a solid theoretical grounding in both organic and paid search marketing, then use this education to obtain a position of employment that will allow you to grow your experience base. If this advice seems familiar, it is. This is the same pattern of career growth that has existed since the early 1900s.
State of the nation
The realities of obtaining search marketing work in today’s environment are such that, unless you are an established quantity, six figure income jobs will be extremely hard to come by. This does not mean to say, that you must be a “branded name.” Plenty of people in this industry make an excellent living, and you’ve never heard of them. Recruiting being what it is, the few who are focused on finding this talent generally know who most of the players are.
Businesses, however, while seeking to justify a high salary for unique talent, will require years of experience. Given that most large brands looking to expand their organic search marketing efforts are coming from a traditional marketing background, they will seek to protect themselves. This usually means following traditional hiring practices.
These companies often have no one internally who understands the intricacies and details around search marketing. Though they may have spent millions on creating a current website capable of leading edge e-commerce, community management and/or lead generation, this does not mean to imply that those websites were properly optimized. Large companies will usually invest in dedicated third-party reviews to determine where they may be lacking before they decide to even go down the road of hiring a search marketing professional. At the end of this process, they are usually left with one unpleasant truth: more investment is needed in their state-of-the-art website to make it truly search friendly. Thus begins the search for their own talent.
With most of these large companies now understanding the realities of the social marketplaces and beginning to see the value that direct marketing a product to the end client via the Internet allows, they are thinking seriously about how to not only optimize their website, but how to optimize their bottom line. These businesses are more than willing to invest in their own website and their product if they feel the return will be there.
Most people would agree that organic search marketing can form a solid foundation for future income. While a paid search marketing campaign will require dollars invested upfront, in addition to dollars invested in the human resources required to run such programs, organic search marketing usually requires far less direct funding beyond the initial talent location.
As these businesses hire top-end SEO talent, more opportunities will exist for those with lower levels of experience in the industry. This doesn’t mean you can skip your education and learn on the job, but rather, this implies that more jobs will become available, which require less years of experience to compete for. If you’re just starting out, be sure to look for opportunities that provide experience not just in SEO for you, but also provide a serious grounding in basic business management. A few years poking around and picking up these talents will pay off handsomely for you down the road.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.