SEO Team Enablement

The Sacrifice You Have to Make to Hire Good Digital Marketers

Where have all the good digital marketers gone? Throughout the year, we’ve been getting a smattering of data perspectives on the makeup of search marketing teams. Collectively, these broad strokes are painting a tense picture: the demand for SEOs is up, but so is management’s dissatisfaction with the talent pool. Hiring digital talent is, in many ways, getting harder.

Search industry is booming, and brimming with novices

We know from our collaboration with SEMPO and ClickZ on the 2013 Salary Survey that the search industry is growing. If you want to dive into the data, Nathan Safran wrote a great piece on our blog: Average SEO Salaries Are Declining, But That’s a Good Thing. For shorthand, here’s a roundup of the key findings:

  • 27% of survey respondents are new to search, in bracket of 0-3 years
  • Their average salary is between 0-30,000, pulling down the industry average from $75,543 to $68,600
  • Holistic marketing jobs (those with a range of responsibilities: organic, paid, and social) increased by 11%
  • Influx of smaller budgets under $150,000

seo salary survey

As with any thriving industry, the data shows that more people with less experience and resources are getting on the SEO bandwagon.

Management isn’t happy; digital marketers show talent deficiencies

With expansion comes a loss of depth; the Online Marketing Institute’s State of Digital Marketing Talent survey shows that management expresses a general dissatisfaction with their digital marketer’s abilities.

SEO is a successful industry, and it’s a relatively new one. There isn’t much formal training in degree programs; in fact one of Nathan Safran’s extrapolations from the salary survey data was that many search professionals are self-taught. (So far, I’ve only met one digital marketer with a relevant college degree…a social media minor from GWU.)

So, as the survey confirms, growth in the industry professionals represents an influx of the green, self-taught, and inexperienced (and entitled! Oh you millenials…). Here are some key takeaways:

  • When the importance of mastery and the ability of digital marketing teams were analyzed together, there were sizeable gaps
  • While 34% of management looks for both generalist and specialists, 22% say the need for specialists is growing
  • 70% of respondents say that new employees expect to advance or be hired for upper-level positions before proving themselves

This chart from the study shows management’s bleak assessment of digital marketers’ skills. Notably, only 8% of brands consider their team to be strong across all digital areas.

digital talent survey

How Do You Find and Keep Digital Talent?

It’s clear from these data points that there’s a large influx of lower level digital marketing professionals, making highly (and broadly) skilled employees diamonds in the rough.

This means that you have to make one sacrifice or another: you can either prepare yourself for a more arduous and meticulous hiring process (committing yourself to sorting through the slush pile until you find a digital savant), or you can seek new hires with the understanding that they’ll need foundational guidance and training at your organization.

If you’re going with the latter option, the candidates you’re looking for will be enthusiastic about learning, have a good head on their shoulders, and come with basic, transferable skills for you to build on like data analysis or writing ability. (Adam Dince wrote a great post about qualities to look for in entry level digital marketers, which you can check out here.) It’ll be in large part up to your department to provide an internal training path for them and a distinct timeline of KPIs — after you teach them what the marketing acronyms mean, of course.

Hiring, though, is only half the battle. Figuring out how to hold on to that digital talent is a vital part of organizational success as well.

Earlier this year, I had a fascinating conversation with a CEO of an ecommerce on the topic of retaining digital talent. He explained that he intentionally did not provide extensive in-house training to his employees; he worried this would enable them to leave the company prematurely.

In my opinion, the opposite is true: If you want to keep your team, implement training. If they can’t get it at your office, they’ll go elsewhere. In fact, I’d speculate that there’s a direct correlation between lack of training and turnover.

James Simmons, the director at Match Media, predicted this problem back in 2012:

“The speed of growth in digital means there is still a big talent vacuum. With the fragmentation of digital platforms and channels it now means more talent is required to do the same work. I believe that will be an issue for the industry for the next two or three years. With regard to solutions, as an industry, we obviously import talent and I am sure that will continue We need to look at how we train and up-skill staff. We need to ensure that we offer the right environment and culture to become a desirable place to work, minimizing churn.”

More challenging is figuring out what training or resources to offer. I’ll save that daunting task for commenters, or a later post.

What resources do you use to train your team or yourself? How satisfied are you with your talent?


Banner image via MyDoorSign.

6 Responses to The Sacrifice You Have to Make to Hire Good Digital Marketers

  1. Avatar mylesmg says:

    Great post, Charity. As a small business owner, I constantly struggle to find REAL talent. I find myself interviewing every applicant that shows even a bit of digital marketing acumen. Just like retaining customers, retaining employees is much more cost-effective than trying to recruit new employees. I offer things like full health insurance, flex-time, and I try very hard to keep the culture light and positive so the office is a pleasant place to be.

    Employees appreciate the little things, too. Snacks, soda, and catered lunches help to build morale and improve employee retention.

    • Avatar cstebbins says:

      Agree–little things make a world of difference in terms of retention. Employees want to feel treated like a whole person, not just the vehicle for their work function. (I love the Conductor cereal bar, myself!)

  2. Avatar Mackenzie Fogelson says:

    Hi Charity. Thanks for this timely post. We’ve been hiring every few months for the last year and it’s not at all as easy as I would have expected. We’re not bothered so much by lack of experience as long as there is a spark there. A willingness not only to learn but also to teach and be a true, collaborative team player. We’re focusing our hires on specialists vs. generalists (looking for that T-shape) and are certainly not at all opposed to providing in-depth training (and do ongoing). Hands down it’s leadership, a collaborative spirit, extreme diligence, and initiative that we look for. If we find that and they don’t have the experience, we may just be willing to give them a shot 🙂

  3. We have a very strong digital marketing team. It’s all about training our employees to work as a team but have specialties that they enjoy working on. We find it important to make sure everyone enjoys their positions and that they have a passion for focusing on quality. That quality makes our clients shine and gives our people pride in their work.

  4. Avatar Dan Valle says:

    The current assessment of marketing team’s digital marketing knowledge is not as alarming as it looks. With the specializations of SEO and PPC and Email and Social, companies with significant client bases hire employees for each of these disciplines. Often these different disciplines require different types of people. Rarely are there employees that specialize in all of these. Thus, the percentage of employees that are “strong in some digital areas, but mediocre or weak in others” is expected.