It can be difficult for those starting out in SEO to decide whether they want to work agency side or client side. In my third and final post as part of the three part series of “How to Start and Develop Your Career in SEO”, I have interviewed those who work client side.
What are the skills you look for when interviewing SEO candidates for client side?
Danny Denhard, Head of SEO at Vouchercodes.co.uk
Client side roles are generally more specific than agency side, when interviewing candidates for client side roles I tend to look for the following qualities:
- Attention to detail
- Ability to explain SEO simply and concisely
- The ability to breakdown their experience clearly
- Demonstrate technical knowledge with confidence
A lot depends on the role and the people that are already within the team, but if I was recruiting for an additional member of my current team, I’d definitely be looking for the following:
Project / time management skills – I’ve found, in both of the in-house roles I’ve worked in, that I’ve been required to do a lot of fire-fighting and chasing – particularly with IT and other teams within the marketing department. There’s also generally less overall structure than agency-side, meaning you end up doing a lot more ad-hoc work.
Data analysis / analytics – Working as an in-house SEO requires you to justify your activity / performance to various different business stakeholders, particularly when value is being attributed to different departments. After Google stopped providing keyword referral data, it’s also really important that SEOs look for insight in almost any dataset that is available. Benchmarking performance and activity against competitors is also really important when you’re working in-house.
Creativity – Creativity is key in SEO now, as I believe that the best links come organically from creative marketing. I also think organic social coverage validates the value of the piece / campaign and will help to add long-term value.
Writing skills – For most SEO roles (less so in senior positions), being a good writer is really important. Being able to good outreach emails, on-site content and potentially editorial content would definitely be something I’d be looking for.
Jose Truchado, Head of SEO for Expedia
Although some experience is always welcome I always look at the candidate’s attitude; curiosity and pro-activeness are essential as well as being focused and able to listen. All these characteristics seem basic but more often than not the candidate won’t answer what’s being asked during the interview rather than what they want to say. Seeing that the candidate has done their homework and are prepared for the interview is always a plus, but what will get me on their side is their personal experiences, do they have projects of their own? How do they keep their SEO knowledge up to date, have they ever failed? What did they learn from it? Are always questions that I ask.
How would these skills differ if interviewing an SEO candidate for a job in an agency?
Agency side roles tend to be more general (although I appreciate many agencies are addressing this), interviewing for agencies I look for the following skills:
- Demonstrate being the go to person
- Very personable
- A multi-tasker ability to admit when they will have to dig deeper into data
- Quick problem solver
- Candidates who can manage multiple questions at once
- The ability to concentrate on the right question first
I think all of these skills would be beneficial for agencies too, however in a generic Exec role, you’re less likely to need to be as good with data / analysis and being organised / having PM skills isn’t as essential because the structure is generally more regimented.
I think when working for an agency you need to be able to multitask more and be a bit less thorough, it really depends on the agency you work for but whereas in the agency you need to demonstrate that you are able to achieve quick results you probably have more time to prove yourself client side. Innovative long term strategies that are scalable are highly valued client side while from the interviews I’ve conducted with people that have worked agency side it comes across from them that agencies tend to focus on more on the day to day.
What are the three advantages of working client side?
- Option to integrate SEO across the business and work more closely with business leads and core decision makers.
- Ability to be the thought leader and manage change directly.
- Time to concentrate on the finer details and data.
These answers (and for the next question) are all fairly general and are based on my experiences – obviously they differ dependant on the company and role you’re working in. For me, the three biggest benefits of working in-house are:
1. Focusing on one single brand / website (which isn’t always the case, but you see what I mean)
I find it much easier writing a strategy knowing that I can give the site my full attention. I’ve also got more time to allocate to projects and specific tasks and I’m not restricted by retainers etc.
2. More control
When you’re working on clients as part of an agency, it’s always quite difficult to get technical changes implemented or get approval for campaigns etc, this is much less of an issue when working in-house. Obviously people are still busy and it can be hard to get people to do things, but because you’re working with people every day it makes things easier.
3. Better working hours
I know this isn’t the same for all in-house SEOs, but I find that I do a lot less hours than I worked agency-side, and I know a number of other SEOs that have said the same thing. For me, this is quite a big perk.
- You are able to create and nurture projects until their completion.
- You can be more creative.
- You are able to collaborate with other areas of the business that may have an influence on rankings.
What are the three disadvantages of working client side?
- Tend to have one website to manage or oversee
- Politics and fight for budget.
- Reliance on change in house
Less fun – Buyagift is a bit different, because they do a lot of social stuff, but generally I’ve found that agency-side roles have a lot more social events and in-working hours benefits, such as flexible lunch breaks, foosball etc, which is fairly rare in in-house companies (excluding tech startups etc). Also, agencies generally have a lot of young, fun members of staff, which you don’t always get in-house.
Less events – When I worked for GPMD, I attended a lot more events and meetings with cool companies. When working agency-side there’s generally less of this and networking events are no longer valued by the employer.
Variation – I know I said earlier that working on one website is a benefit of working in-house, but it’s also good to work on different clients and learn from different verticals and scenarios too. I think both sides of this coin have obvious benefits, which is why I’ve listed it in both.
- It can become too niche and focused on the same thing.
- Internal processes and politics can hinder your efforts as other departments’ interests may be seen as more important
- Many layers of internal reporting
How would you advertise working agency side compared to client side?
Depending on the role, depends how I usually look to advertise the role. We are lucky in online marketing that social (media) plays a large part of recruiting, so my recommendation is post where the role demographic are.Sites like Gumtree have never given me any success.Typical job sites such as Indeed are particularly useful for junior roles, LinkedIn and Econsultancy have sent through good candidates for me in the past and definitely have a small group of trusted recruiters who understand your company and the role and can vet candidates and CV’s.On a really positive note, the SEO industry are particularly helpful, if you are looking for a role to be shared, a good role is usually shared by a number of friends within the industry and as I saw recently seen with the Senior SEO Manager role at VoucherCodes.co.uk, I saw a huge number of shares and RT’s. You would be surprised the results you can see by just good people sharing a role for you.
I don’t think there’d be too many differences for me – I’d promote the key benefits of working for the given company and that there would be more opportunities to diversify (in terms of moving into different departments etc – which you don’t necessarily have in an agency).
I’d also probably include some things to try and lure people from agency roles, as I think people that work for agencies generally develop a lot of really positive traits and have varied experience.
I have never worked in an agency so I wouldn’t quite know how to answer this, but working on the client side will certainly give you a better 360 view and control of the variables that will drive a site to success.
What would you advise to candidates looking to secure a job client side?
My top five recommendations are:
- Research the business you are interested in applying to, try to understand the business model and understand their competitors.
- Create a small SEO audit so you can confidently speak to the inhouse SEO or marketing lead. Demonstrate attention to detail.
- Concentrate on the role requirements and tick off your skills and attempt to address your weaknesses
- Come prepared with questions, concentrating on the business, look to ask about the internal teams, ask for information around the existing SEO, the hierarchy, if the company work with agencies and look to question the future.
- Do not argue or clock watch.
I think it differs depending on the role, but I think in-house stakeholders definitely value data and reporting and insight is probably going to be a really big part of your role, so this is something to think about before an interview. I also think it’s important to consider that it’s very different – there’s definitely a lot more politics working in-house, which you don’t always have in an agency. Also, like I said, there’s a lot less social events for most in-house companies, which is something that you don’t necessarily value until you don’t have it anymore.
If you want to secure a job client side you need to show that you can be a good strategist, a one person solution that can act independently and be problem solving. You need to have a good understanding of how different web-based technologies integrate and I honestly think that the only way you can only acquire such knowledge is by building your own projects and then both failing and succeeding with them, as you learn from your own mistakes probably as much as with your success stories. Also make sure you are up to date with your knowledge of On-page and Off–page optimisation techniques as well as analytics.
Thank you to everyone who took part in the “Developing Your Career in SEO” interviews. I hope you found the tips useful. If there is anything else you would like to see in future interviews on this subject, please let me know.