Hiring The Right People For SEO & SEM

Hiring For SEO

The Right People For Your Digital Marketing Team

Have you ever asked yourself if the people you are looking to hire are the right people to take on your project?

Ever hire the wrong person or agency and regret it months or years later?

According to many business owners I talk to, the right hire can potentially explode a business within a few short months. Picking the wrong one can cause disastrous problems that linger for years.

This isn't a topic to take lightly.

In this post, I want to walk you through what I personally look for in a new hire so you can understand how the digital marketing ecosystem works.

And man, I'm gonna PISS OFF a lot of people in our industry with this post because I'm letting the cat out of the bag with a lot of shady stuff that goes on...

From my overall personal viewpoint, hiring is a tough nut to crack.

I've been in positions in the past where I've had to hire and fire people on the spot and I've picked up a few lessons along the way. Sometimes I made the right call. Other times I wished I spent more time researching and background checking before I pulled the trigger.

No matter if it was successfully building teams of people for agencies in the past or working for others and wondering how they landed their job, I've been on both sides of the coin when it has came to figuring out the right people for any task in digital marketing.

A few times I made the right hire, but put the person in the wrong position.

Other times I was duped by a good resume or fancy sales speak from an agency only to find out they didn't know anything about SEO.

One time I was straight lied to and almost lost my shirt in the process when I found out the person I hired outsourced the work to someone else, who themselves outsourced the work to someone else!

Over time I learned some hard lessons when it comes to hiring. Some of what I list are general thoughts, and some are actionable things you should look for.

So here it is...

5 Lessons I Learned From 2 Decades Of Hiring Within SEM

Who's On First?

Digital marketing has a lot of interesting people.

It's one of the few industries where people will promise you the moon on results they have no idea how to get, or even the current resources to achieve.

Early in my career I took jobs here and there to support my family with other agencies while I honed my skills. I remember vividly a very well known and large agency put out an ad for someone who could do SEO and I applied and got a call back.

The call went something like this..

Them - "We're looking for someone to do SEO for XYZ company, a Fortune 100 company where you live".
Me - "You found the right person!".
Them - "We don't have anyone on staff who can do it, but we won the contract to do the work".
Me - "How did you pull that off? Why would you take the contract if you had no one?"
Them - "Nevermind that, can you start on Monday?"

Do you see anything wrong with the picture here?

  • This large agency bid on a big contract knowing they had no one that could actually do the work.
  • Then they won the contract and decided to place a job ad for someone that could do the actual work.
  • When they found someone they "thought" could do the work, they didn't care about validating my background, they just wanted to hire me to get me in the door before the next week started to satisfy the contract needs.

This is how the majority of contracted work is handled in the digital marketing industry.

As a small business owner, you should be down right scared of this practice.

The people you hired don't even have anyone on staff to handle your needs and are only hired after the the contract is won. Many times with no background check or validation of skill set.

Sometimes the person working on your project could simply be a $5 an hour freelancer on Fiverr, while you pay thousands a month to a company that claims to be a certified "inbound marketing" agency.

So how do you prevent this?

Dig in deep and ask who is specifically working on your project day in, and day out.

Many will simply give you a "rep" or "account manager". That's not good enough.

Ask to speak to the person doing the grunt work.

Once you find out who it is, look them up on LinkedIn and search their name on Google. Look up their email if you have to as well.

Some questions you want to ask yourself while researching:

  • Is this person really an employee of the agency? Search the agency's "About Us" page.
  • Is their current company on LinkedIn the agency you are dealing with?
  • Do they have active profiles on UpWork, Fiverr, or other freelancing sites?
  • Does the person doing the work list certifications that pertain to the work you need? Many times an agency will say they are "Google Certified" or have X years in PPC. However the person doing the work on your project has none of this.

If you think you are dealing with an agency that has "contracted" out your project, that's not the end of the world. However, you should know exactly what's going on with the relationship of your project when it concerns the future of your business and who is handling potentially sensitive information within your company ( password, billing details, etc ).

Certifications, Degrees, Awards & Big Brand Names Mean Nothing

Lots of potential hires will fluff up their resume or "news" page of their website to try to win you over.

Who gives 2 shits?

Yeah, I said it. Again, who gives 2 shits? I hope you don't because most of it is pointless and is designed to fool you into thinking you're in good hands. But this isn't All State Insurance we are dealing with here.

I don't have a degree.

I have 2 certifications and I think one of them is actually expired. ( Hubspot and Marin Enterprise certifications ). Other than that, I haven't had any others, ever. I only bring this up because I've done the majority of the grunt work by myself for a ton of agencies out there when it comes to SEO or PPC. I'm not certified in anything Google, yet I developed a SEO SaaS that has helped tons of SEO's and broke a lot of new ground in the space that has "certified" funded competitors shaking in their boots.

I've ran multi-million dollar PPC campaigns for numerous companies on the Fortune 100 and 500 that have increased leads or sales 10 fold within those campaigns.

And many un-degreed and uncertified people like me are doing the same for agencies that are certified or hold special distinction as "agency partners" with Google or other big names in the award and certification space. Yet, we don't hold those same "certs".

I routinely have to educate "certified" and "degree'd" marketers. I routinely have to correct founders of agencies that won big awards or claim they worked on big brand accounts for SEO and PPC.

I routinely find out that just because you won "Agency Of The Year", spoke the keynote at 3 SEO conferences, or hold AOR for several big brand contracts.. Doesn't really mean you know anything about the topic. It's the little people behind the spotlight doing the heavy lifting and many times those people end up leaving the company after a few years. So once an agency loses a few superstars, you won't know about it. They ride off the coattails of their former glory while you are left with empty promises of what might have been.

And if you're hiring a freelancer that claims they worked on 4 huge brand names, doesn't mean they actually did the work. They claim they worked on Microsoft's account, but in reality they were just on the team that worked on the account.They might not have actually done the work themselves.

Awards, brand names, certifications, and degrees mean nothing.

So how can you avoid this trap? In a nutshell, you have to disregard anything they say that looks "exciting" and "credit-worthy".

Sure a degree looks nice, but is a degree from John Ozark New Baptist Community College the same as one from Yale? Even if from a respectable school, what if they averaged a C- compared to someone that averaged an A+?

And a degree doesn't equal success in the real world.

A degree means they can follow orders and stick to a routine. However, do you hire smart people to then tell them what to do ( following orders ) and have them act like a robot on a routine?

I hope not.

I'm not putting down people who do have a degree. No sir. Just make sure the person you hire has more than JUST a degree.

And certifications? Well they can be faked and bought. Look online and you will see ads where you can pay people to take the certifications you need, like Google Adwords.

Most of the certifications are a joke anyways. Many of them you can take over and over again until you pass.. OR you can go back and find the answer in the course material while you take the test. Essentially in both examples you can bypass the whole course and just take the test and "brute force" your way through the exam until you get a passing grade without knowing anything about the material.

Awards are almost as bad. I've seen awards won based on flawed voting. Voting where IP's are not counted/tracked. Where the voting was on campaigns that were self reported instead of actually researched and found. It's all flawed but designed to make you think it's legit.

In the end, you need to look at these items as they were intended.. to try to legitimize and win you over. If you need to be won over, then maybe you haven't done enough of your own homework yet.

Clock Punchers Are The Worst

Listen, everyone has SOME KIND of job. Something they do to earn money.

But hiring someone that looks at this just as a job is the worst hire you can make in this industry.

Why? Because that person learns on your dime. They don't really invest in themselves or this industry.

They come to work and learn from co-workers or failing on the job at your expense and time.

Then they go home and watch reruns of Seinfeld and play softball on the weekends until Monday rolls around and they rinse and repeat the cycle all over again.

Nothing is getting improved, unless it's magically found while you're paying them.

If you fall into that trap, you'd be better off just hiring an intern who knows nothing and paying them to learn from a uDemy course on digital marketing to work on your campaigns. At least you could get someone in cheap and control what they learn.

The best way to avoid this is to ask the right questions of your potential hires and listen for key insights. Insights that sound similar to:

  • I run my own PPC campaigns at night, after work, with my own money.
  • I'm building my own tools for SEO from the Python coding courses I took on uDemy.
  • I'm doing research on the side on the impact of email marketing during different times and days of the week.
  • I'm teaching others how to do social media on the weekends.

You're looking for someone that has interests and passion for it so much, they engage in the industry even when they don't get paid for it ( from you ). They actually enjoy doing it and don't look at it as JUST a way to earn a paycheck 9-5.

That's not to say you are looking for someone who is a robot with no social life. But you are looking for someone that hasn't stopped learning and only thinks about this during work hours.

Honesty Is A Very Expensive Gift. Don't Expect It From Cheap People

Yes, I stole this from Warren Buffet.

BTW, I also love his, "It's only when the tide goes out that you learn who has been swimming naked" quote too.

Sometimes I test people with something I know is a lie or incorrect just to see if they will tell me the hard truth about something.

When I don't get what I feel is the truth back from them, I have to ask myself if this person is lying or just doesn't know the subject matter well enough. No matter the reason, it generally means this isn't the right hire.

Too many people are watered down or try to "keep the peace" now days. Finding honesty is about as hard as finding a good marketer. These types of people have no place in truly growing your business and scaling it to the next level.

These people tend to also be "fence riders" and never really take a stand.

Not taking a stand shows a lack of decision making skills and confidence.

Do you want those kinds of people taking direction of the growth of your company? I know I don't. If you are worried about what's going to make me happy or what's generally good, you don't have the growth of the business as your objective. I need someone that is honest and will tell me this landing page sucks or I'm doing a horrible job.

I need someone that is going to tell me I have no clue what I am doing and then tell me why that is so.

YOU need someone that cares about the success of the company enough that they will stick their neck out and tell you the hard truth about what's wrong so it can be corrected.

Too many times these people get bashed, fired, reprimanded, demoted, or ignored. It's made a "scared" mentality where people are afraid to speak up so they can keep their paycheck coming in. When this happens, you have a team of people who care more about their well-being, then the marketing campaign itself or the company.

Avoid this workplace mentality at all cost.

The best way to find the right hire and to avoid bringing these types of people into your business is to regularly test them before and after they're hired.

Find something you know to be incorrect or wrong.

Maybe you have a designer make the ugliest landing page ever and you show it to your new PPC hire.

It has a ton of outgoing links, it's slow to load, the conversion action is below the fold, etc.

Then ask the new PPC hire what he thinks about it while you smile and say it's the best work you have ever seen. A seasoned and confident PPC marketer should tell you everything wrong with it and not sugar coat the rant they give you. Anything else, and you are dealing with someone who has ZERO experience, or is just trying to please you.

Neither of which you really want in your organization.

Quality Of Work > Amount Of Work

A lot of agencies and contractors like to constantly push "reports" and what they've done for you to show you that you are getting your "monies worth".

Even middle managers in your organization will do this.

Lots of meetings, phone calls, Excel charts, emails, Skype conferences, Asana time tracking dumps, etc...

It's bullshit.

I'd rather pay someone to sit around all day and do a few things really really well and exactly as needed, then to pay someone that is constantly producing reports and doing "busy work" that doesn't move the needle.

Even if their busy work moves the needle a little, I'd still rather have the person who does less during the day, but does it extremely well.

I've had hires that spent their entire day telling me how many people opened the last email campaign, how many of those clicked this campaign compared to the last, and which keyword has the best CTR.

As a business owner or higher level manager/director... I don't care.

I don't pay you all day to do busy work and learn which keywords have the best CTR. I certainly don't pay you to learn this and then tell me about it. My time is valuable.

I pay you to get results.

How many people clicked my last email doesn't pay the bills. You telling me this info also doesn't pay the bills.

What pays the bills is you doing the things that move the needle, like getting those people in the email campaign to buy something from me or become a qualified lead that the sales team can follow up on. Those activities pay the bills.

So if I can pay someone $60,000 a year to sit around all day and they only do 1 thing within the work day, and that's get people to buy stuff... I'd rather have them on my team then someone who spent all day pulling TPS reports and telling me useless things that didn't get people to buy.

Even if the person spends all day watching Game Of Thrones on the company owned laptop and at 4:58pm they get 100 people to buy from a single email, they're more valuable than the hours I paid for someone else to generate 10 Asana tasks, 4 Skypes conferences, and 3 Excel pivot table charts on how many likes I got on my Facebook page.

Yet surprisingly, the world thinks differently when it comes to hiring workers and taking on contracts with agencies.

They think people need to be "busy" pushing buttons and writing report emails all day long.

Listen, you pay money to get results.

Everything else is just waste.

And if you have an agency that seems to push out more reports than results, you have a bad partnership that you need to break ASAP.

Same with your employees.

Being busy doesn't scale your company. Getting results does.


This is just my viewpoints on hiring and how to hire the right people when it comes to digital marketing. It doesn't mean it's the only way or the right way.

However, as someone that has been both the employee and employer I think my experience over 20 years within the space contains some valuable nuggets even if they are a bit "controversial" compared to what normally is shared online.

Just remember that making a bad choice in hiring can haunt your business for months if not years.

Have you had a different experience?

Maybe you have more to add or a way to shed new light on what I presented?

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