Career Gut Check – SEM/SEO Employment Landscape


Okay, I’m starving. I didn’t have a chance to eat. And I was already dizzy. That means these last few recaps are going to be super entertaining. Until I fall over and die, of course. But until then, super funny!

Our next session is all about the SEM employment landscape, which I hear, is pretty damn good. Let’s see if the speakers confirm the rumors.

Carolyn Shelby is moderating with speakers Josh Gampel, Aaron ShearJoanna Lord and Gary Swart.

Ooo, spinning room. Fun.

Up first is Josh.

Has the recession impacted the Internet marketing job market? Is it really recession proof? He says it’s more recession resistant. There has been a decline in jobs available and a slow down in spending. It’s not the wild, wild west, but it’s certainly still growing.

The good part about search engine marketing is that advertisers are looking for increased ROI and accountability. That means taking dollars out of offline and putting them into online. The bad news is that consumer spending is down. Budgets have tightened up and it’s not as easy as it was.

How does the recession affect my career?

If you are an employer, you have access to a better talent pool at a lower cost-premium than ever before. Take advantage of it.

If you are a job seeker, the jobs are out there and you are in a GREAT industry. You just need to work a little harder and get smarter to find them.

Sourcing Internet Marketing Talent

People are getting good aggressive salaries if they have the right skills and they’re really good. Those $100,000 raises aren’t happening.  You need to be an expert in the field. You have to know how to drive for conversions. If you want to leverage your career, have a specialty in a particular industry.

Tip #1: Show Me The Money

Job seekers: Work experience in a related industry comes as a premium and you will be paid for it

Employers: Don’t settle. The talent from your industry is out there. Find them. There are a lot of consultants out there who are very good at what they do and can make a big impact on your business.

Tip #2: Schmooze or Lose

What are you doing to get you/your company’s name out in the market?

Build your network and don’t rely on just the job boards. If you were your own client, how would you spread the word to the search community? Use social networking, blogging, network meetups, etc. LinkedIn is also your friend.

Tip #3: Remember the Willie Sutton Rule

Know where the money is. Target the right industries and the right segments.

What jobs are hot?

  • VP/ Director of Internet Marketing
  • Social Media Consultant
  • SEO Project Manager
  • Internet Analytics Manager

Build your brand. Use Twitter. Be pro-active. Know how you want to be represented online.

Tip #4: Get Trained & Certified

Job seekers: If you are new to the industry, invest in some level of training to strengthen your resume.  He talks about SEO Book, SEMPO, Bruce Clay, etc.

Tip #5: Adjust Salary Expectations to the Market

Job Seekers: Your base salary will not jump as fast as it has in the past. Ask for performance-based compensation plans to get your optimal number.

Employers: Upgrade now. You can acquire “A Talent” for “B prices”. Don’t miss this opportunity.

Next up is Joanna.

She talks about the flip side of popularity.  Our jobs are still seeing growth. We feel safe/job security. Attracts new candidates. You need to do things to set yourself apart.

Stand Out & Succeed

Expand your skill set: Back then you had to be creative. You had to be well-written and analytical. It was a hybrid position. You were doing them a favor by coming on because it was going to be a lot of learning. Now it’s chaos. There’s a ton of “experts”, “gurus”, etc.  This tells you there’s still a need for someone who can wear all the hats, but you have to be able to carve out a niche. You have to be the best at X, but also be able to do everything else.

Showcase Yourself: Stay ahead of the curve. Read the blogs, join the forums, engage in the communities. Beta into everything. Learn the tutorials.  Train on the weekend. Ask for demonstrations for 3rd party tools. Read the official updates, posts, etc.

A marketer’s resume checklist:

  • Use numbers, numbers, numbers
  • Show community engagement
  • List certifications
  • Highlight toolset experience
  • Establish authority
  • Pimp yourself out in social media – jump on, reach out, be sincere, share knowledge, learn from the people before you. She mentions LinkedIn’s Question & Answer service. 78 percent of recruiters Google.

Manage expectations: We still don’t know specifics for how much people will get paid with certain criteria or through commission structures.  We do know ranges.  We’re starting to see the divide between an expert and a newcomer so the ability to train is huge. Hybrid positions are good. Your title matters and it should reflect what you do on a daily basis.

Newcomers get 40k to start. At five years, it jumps to about 56k. [Really? Those seem awfully low to me. ]

Aaron is next. He says he had an hour notice. Hee.

He finds certifications aggravating. He’s sat through courses pretending to be other people (hee), and says that most of them are bad. He calls out Bruce Clay’s SEOToolSet as being one of the few good ones and I have to agree.  I’ve taken it a few times and definitely recommend it.

What to Look For:

  • Experience, don’t just look for SEO in the resume. Look at the types of sites they’ve worked on.
  • Big sites? If all they have worked on is less than 10k pages, move on.

Are they aggressive? Do not hire someone who cannot communicate. Even an analyst should be able to convey a sense of urgency. [I want to disagree with this hardcore. I didn’t speak at Bruce Clay, Inc. my first 3 months on the job because I was petrified. But I still kicked ass. Being vocal does not show authority or expertise. Have we learned nothing from social media? The loud people aren’t always the smartest.]

How do they spend their day? How much time are they spending on analytics? How much time are they spending researching?

Do they have a blog? Are they social and out there communicating? You can tell a ton about how they communicate through their blog. Can they draw a reaction? How does their own blog rank?

Fire your HR recruiter: They don’t know how to bring people in. HR departments always sift through resumes for you and will simply skip a perfectly good applicant based on their knowledge. Education does not matter in this space, you CAN’T learn this in school.

How to get budget

  • Keep an open mind to compensation
  • Can you pay for performance?
  • If you can, it can really help to motivate your staff.
  • Set stern goals and make it tough to hit, but not outrageous

Don’t be afraid to ask/pay for help. There are great consultants who know specific markets very well. They can help you sell concepts internally. He takes another shot at introverts and how they can’t get things done. I think this guy had his heart broken by an “introvert” or something. There’s nothing wrong with being introverted if you know your shit. Actions can speak louder than words.

The mocking bird effect also helps, engineers may blow you off, even though you are right!

Last up is Gary.

You’re no longer captive to your local market, thanks to remote work. The economy has increased the competition for jobs.  The good news is that US providers have higher feedback than their global counterparts. Rates are holding steady. Rates for skilled categories like SEO are actually increasing.

Skilled professionals can still find work. In fact, work done in the US grew at a rate of 367 percent, 50 percent faster than 0Dek’s overall rate of growth.

He shows some sample job listings.

Tips for Marketing Yourself Better

  • Save your powder: Apply for fewer jobs, but the ones that require the skill sets you absolutely master.
  • The hook: The better you understand your client’s pain and implications of the problems, the more effectively you can respond to their needs.
  • Sell benefits, not features
  • Show instead of tell

Tips for raising your prices

  • Have referrals
  • Sharpen the Saw
  • Don’t sell price, sell value

Rates holding steady or increasing. However, raising prices in today’s environment is difficult.

Tips for expanding your work

  • Grow business among existing clients: once you understand your clients’ needs, sell more based on what you know.
  • Augment your team: Don’t have the skill-set or manpower inhouse to sell additional work? Add to your team with a flexible bench of contractors.
  • Access a global talent pool: Don’t limit yourself to a single location. Leverage global wages.

And we’re done. I hear there are cookies. I’m going to go find them. Wish me luck.

Your Comments

  • Eric

    Always refreshing to see the industry that pays my rent isn’t in the tank! If you’re talented, persistent and assertive…nothing but good can happen. I also totally agree with the statement “Being vocal does not show authority or expertise”. If people are overlooked or underestimated by a company because they aren’t boisterous, then that company needs to get it’s priorities in order.

  • Casey Yandle

    Great summarization Lisa! Gives me some ideas on how to search for more JOB positions. Guess this further illustrates that I need to get my site finished ASAP!

    Though I am not sure I agree with the comment from Aaron about if a potential prospect has not worked with sites over 10k pages then you shouldn’t hire them. How else will they get that experience if everyone turns them down? :)

  • Victoria


    I LOVE HOW YOU WRITE!!! This was a GREAT post and am taking down notes. So glad I can get the knowledge, even if I am in Tampa:) This is a cool idea….Live blog from ALL important conferences and cliff note the talks….basically what you are doing!

    Great job and thanks for the information

  • Derek Kean

    I agree with Casey’s concern over the 10k web pages. I think Aaron hopefully means more than 10k pages total- not on one website total. I think that on the job training is how most of us became to exist, but the extra caliber comes from the community.

    Introverts are great thinkers, I once heard a quote (long time ago), “If you work with an introvert, give them 10 seconds to think about what they can say. You are in for a great answer.” Some of us just like to answer correctly vs. stumble till we get close.


  • listorbit

    Before investing any money, people got to know one thing that SEO is indeed long term strategy.

  • Kae Kohl

    Lisa, thank you so much for taking the time to summarize this for those of us who cannot attend. I’m also passing on this information to a friend of mine who is breaking into the field. I know he will find it helpful!

  • Mert Sahinoglu

    ironically 10k page site experience is vital for any SEO. The metrics and strategies are a lot more complicated.

  • Daria Goetsch

    I agree with you Lisa on the 10k limitation and the introvert comments. 10k may be important for specific industries or corporate work but there are plenty of SEOs who work with medium and small websites who can do the job and do it well. Introverts? I’m one of them. My first SEO supervisor said I “kicked ass” in my job review my first year and it meant a lot to me. You need to pay attention to the quiet ones as they often are spending their time working their asses off while other people talk. Both good things to do for different reasons but introverts rock too.

  • SFaz

    You are right, now we can expect to have higher salaries only when we have enough evidence of our experience and hard work. Today is the age of social interactions and i thing that the more exposure and recommendations one have along with experience, the higher are the chances that the company will pay more.

  • pageoneresults

    “He calls out Bruce Clay’s SEOToolSet as being one of the few good ones and I have to agree. I’ve taken it a few times and definitely recommend it.”

    I want to clarify something about Certifications. There are no “official” certifying bodies in our industry as of this date. The above is a Certification for using a particular set of tools offered by the creator. While the tools are SEO specific, the Certification received is not something that an employer should use as a factor in hiring. Not unless you plan on operating your business under that suite of tools.

    I see quite a bit of discussion surrounding Certification in this industry. As of this date and time, there are none. Do a search for SEO Certification and the website in the first position is a crap site and I’m on a mission to get it bumped. I pwn and if I ever launch that, the .org can kiss their position good-bye. For now I’ll settle on being their shadow. :)

    Now, there are some excellent training courses available from a variety of resources. Let’s not confuse a Certificate of Completion with being Certified as an SEO. Heh! That just doesn’t sound right, Certified SEO. It is also way too limiting in today’s environment. The closest you will get to Certification are the programs offered by the Search Engines themselves.

    Ladies, great live coverage. I watched most of it via using the #PubCon Hash Tag and also setting up feeds for various search queries. It was almost like I was there. And, I was able to attend multiple events at the same time. How cool is that? :)

  • Kim Krause Berg

    Was there nothing about mentors? Partnerships? I noted the reference to carving a niche, which is true. I’m disappointed that there may be an emphasis on how much $$ one can make. I’ve never been an SEO millionaire. There are different personalities in SEO/M. Some use their gifts and expertise to make a lot of money for themselves and they boast to high heaven about how wealthy they are. Others love the work. They love to help their clients succeed. They choose to use their talents and skills for the benefit of their clients, not personal gain.

    I wish more emphasis would be placed on reality checks. SEO is misunderstood, even today. Many companies have no idea what they’re hiring, which has made it easy to rip off people. It takes years of develop a robust set of skills. It’s not the size of the site that matters. It’s how well you use your skills that makes you a good SEO.

    Lisa? Bring energy bars. No sense killing yourself on the job. :)

  • Lisa Barone

    Kim: I think there’s a lot to be said for the “eating our young” comment that was left on Sphinn. The SEO community will kill itself to help you…once you’ve proven that you’re worth helping. And even then, a lot of the old timers don’t accept the new kids and would never dream of “mentoring” or lending a hand. I’m not talking about people like yourself, I’m talking about the people who still don’t accept me (or others of my “generation) at conferences because I haven’t been talking about SEO for 10 years. That’s always been the way it is and I don’t see that changing.

  • Allison

    I’ve been in the business of SEO for almost 10 years now. My 10 year anniversary is coming up in July by the way… I want a cake. Anyway, I do this because I love it. And I love sharing my knowledge with others. Even though I’ve been in it for almost 10 years, I know that I don’t know everything, so I look to others for advice, tips, knowledge, etc., just as much as I try to share my knowledge.

    I enjoy sharing tips with colleagues, clients, and even friends. I’ve recently given a side business of mine to a friend because I simply don’t have the time to run the business and she’s looking for a hobby. I’ve found that sharing what I know about SEO with her has been fulfilling, and a learning experience for me as well. I’m currently working on a “SEO for the little guy” project so that I can help others like her who are looking to promote something online, and could benefit from knowing the basics of SEO. It might not be a huge profitable venture for me, but I think it will be personally fulfilling and perhaps spread a little SEO karma around.

    I appreciate all the people that have helped me along the way and I try to give back as much as I can. I commend those SEO’s who do the same and to the ones who look down on the “newbies”… shame on you.

  • Tommy Walker

    I’ve been to a couple of the conferences and the mentality is very much so that way. I’ve been doing SEO for the past 3 years or so and while by comparison to some of the veterans that’s no long stretch of time I’m also no longer wet behind the ears either. In some ways I feel the advantage goes to the newer generation of internet marketers because we’ve grown up with the web. I remember google when it was rolled out and I was in 8th grade but used it all through highschool. The internet went through it’s awkward stage around the same time I did. But it would be nice to have a mentor that could give advice on how to get started with building a client base and really the business side of it. Translating for the folks who just don’t know what’s up.

  • rishil

    I woul have never learnt much about SEO if it wasnt for the resources available online, as well as the constant support I get from the community. 2 years ago, no one knew who the hell I was – and to be fair, neither did I.

    Now I get called to help people on projects, get recruited often, and get asked to speak in events / and guest blog (I am too lazy to run my own :P). And I try and retrun that favour as often as I can. I still do small business SEO, even though the time spent isnt worth the return.

    But thats what brought me up, let me experiment etc etc.

  • Brent D. Payne

    I don’t think it is about ‘not being accepted’ because of how long you have or haven’t been in the industry. I think it is a matter of what circles we naturally run in. It’s tough to relate with someone a lot older than yourself. Or it is tough to relate with someone that has a wildly different personality than you do. We tend to stick with the people that we naturally like better. That means that the young people hang with the young people and the old people hang with the old. The serious people hang with the serious people and the partying folks hang with the partying folks (though I think we are ALL partying folks).

    This is one of the most accepting and forgiving industries you are ever going to find. Not EVERYONE will like you. Hell, some may even hate you. But your percentage of quality people that truly want to get to know you and accept you is much higher in this industry than most others (in my opinion).

    I love this industry and the people in it. It’s part of what keeps me driven every week.

  • Eric Ward

    I am happy to talk shop any time with anyone who wants to, regardless of whether they have been in the biz a week or a decade. When I first started there wasn’t anyone to ask for help or advice. So I tried various methods and tactics, made mistakes along the way, and slowly gathered together a set of what I use as my own roadmap of best practices. If not for the generosity of others I never would have learned what I did, and do. My challenge is I have purposely remained a one man band, out here in the middle of nowhere. For those reading this, here’s my private skype chat handle: eric.ward (stealthy, no?). Shoot me a note anytime about anything.

  • Lisa Barone

    Brent: I’ll totally agree that most people in the community are like Kim and Eric Ward. They’re willing to help. They want to help welcome newbies into the industry and get them on the right path to learning. But you can’t deny the fact that there are definitely those, and those that people would benefit from the most, that don’t. It’s not a matter of hanging in different social groups. It’s that some of the old timers simply won’t help out the new kids or take them under their wing. I know cause I’ve seen it. I thought it was something that would fade away as I was in the industry longer, but it hasn’t. There’s a definite ‘old timers’ that doesn’t like to share or stop harking on how good the old days were. That’s their choice, but if the question of “why don’t newbies get mentors” gets thrown out, that’s part of the answer.

  • Alan Bleiweiss

    OMG It drives me nuts how some people are all about themselves, and just as much how many in our industry focus on only some small aspect of what it means to optimize (like the “its all about links” nut cases out there) because that harms anyone who hires them and it harms our industry.

    Personally I think mentoring is vital – if I can help a newbie learn the importance of seeing the bigger picture, of considering how important it is to think like our client’s customers, and everything else about running the business, managing projects… then it means I can trust that if I send work their way that they’ll do the right thing for the client in all aspects – from the actual SEO / M work to the client relationship aspects.

    And the two people who work for me are both people who I have trained from the ground up, soup to nuts about our industry – neither one of them had any SEO experience previously. One started last August at a rate of $25 – that’s $25 an hour as an SEO newbie (she’s 40 years old so she brought life experience with her that makes a diff re: keyword research and customer support). She has consistently evolved and earned increases in her rate – and now gets $50 an hour for whatever I send her way. I say this not to brag – I am not wealthy and my company is a boutique firm. I say this because it is representative of how important it is to go the extra mile in how we show up in business. I would rather pay someone more of a share of the income than line my own pockets for the sake of it.

  • Daria Goetsch

    >>I’m talking about the people who still don’t accept me (or others of my “generation) at conferences because I haven’t been talking about SEO for 10 years. That’s always been the way it is and I don’t see that changing.

    That’s just wrong, everyone starts from the beginning at some point. Doesn’t matter how long you’ve been in the industry, smart is smart and we all have something to learn from each other no matter how long you’ve been in search marketing. I guess I’m not out there as much as others and keep a low profile. I’ve been in the industry eleven years and would be happy to talk to anyone about their ideas. I hope to continue learning for years to come.

    >>In some ways I feel the advantage goes to the newer generation of internet marketers because we’ve grown up with the web.

    Absolutely, I find the need to catch up more on the social networking end of things whereas others started in that arena.

  • Listorbit

    I think recession is an opportunity for Search Marketing.

  • Manoj


    Is there a way to see how the pages that have been indexed are ranked without having to type it in at Google and then start searching.

  • Arlen Saffel

    There are really only two types of SEO: one makes you money, and the other … just makes you mad. SEO has changed a lot – it’s changing every day.That’s why I want to become a Certified SEO Consultant.