Search Recruitment Trends for 2011

by Guest Author on January 24, 2011 · 1 comment

Guest post from Jake Langwith

Well we are firmly settled into 2011 and all the predicted trends within search are hotly doing the rounds as expected. The usual suspects such as social and mobile certainly seem to poke their heads up above the others. I think it will be an interesting year and I’m sure a few surprises will spring out and send the usual ‘SEO is Dead’ crowd into blogging overdrive too.

But what’s going to be hot or not in the technical world of search is not the thing I am here to write about today. I’ll leave that to people in the industry who are far more knowledgeable than myself. Instead I’ll discuss the recruitment side of the business and the state of the market over the past twelve months and what I personally expect to see happen this year.

The media is full of doom and gloom stories with unemployment rising and still a major lack of jobs open. This is true for the majority of industries as most have taken huge hits financially and are still in consolidation phases with their finances. An area though which has come through the recession relatively unscathed though is SEO. Apart from a few notable surprises such as i-level going under back in 2010 the industry has actually prospered quite well.

The days of above the line advertising budgets being the prime focus have most definitely given way to an increase in the demand for natural and paid traffic via the search engines. The accountants have done their sums, played around with their spreadsheets and have realised that substantial amounts of income can be generated online for a fraction of the cost involved with more traditional marketing techniques. Of course this comes as no surprise to anyone remotely associated with search engine marketing.


So what was 2010 like from a recruitment perspective? Well it was a pretty good year in all honesty and 2011 is going to be even bigger. During the first half of 2010 the market began to stabilise and a lot more junior roles became available as agencies saw an increase in business and looked to grow their teams in order to provide the man power needed for the day to day aspects of SEO and PPC. This invariably led to an increase in more senior roles within management as teams needed to be successfully led. Then towards the end of 2010 we saw a big upturn within the top end of the market with more director and heads of search positions coming up. This also resulted in a few well known industry figures making the news as they moved around.

Another change within the market was in the fact that more and more client side roles have become available with firms looking to build strong in-house presences to work alongside their agencies. A lot of these positions are obviously in highly competitive sectors such as travel and finance, but also we have seen a surge in technology companies hiring as they look to back-up their sales teams with other sources of revenue traffic. Some of the higher end salaries have also come from this side of the market as companies look to tempt agency workers away from their traditional career path with the lure of generous corporate benefit packages.


So what will be the recruitment trends for 2011? Certainly more and more client side roles will become available and I am already seeing this with around 35% of my current opportunities falling into this category. It is also worth noting that many applicants are telling us now that they are only looking to move should a good client side position come up.

What kind of positions will be in demand this year?

Well natural search will lead the way as it has done over the past twelve months, with everything available from the executive end to director level. The majority of hires will most likely be in the mid level experience range based upon discussions with our clients at the beginning of the year. Paid search appears that it will follow closely along this model too.

Already we are being asked to source applicants with good social media experience too and several agency side clients have informed us of their intention to rapidly expand these teams.

Firms are certainly looking to increase their social presence and several are also indicating that we should keep our eyes open for people with any kind of mobile knowledge too. This is still very much an emerging market and the talent pool is very limited indeed. We’d expect this to be a highly competitive area and to see companies actively fighting for the few experienced people available.

There also appear to be less split roles where a reasonably equal mix of SEO and PPC skills are required, as companies look to focus their staff into specialist niches. This can only be a good thing as it indicates more roles on either side of the search spectrum will become available. This is a trend seen mainly amongst the smaller companies.

Now a very interesting development has been in the rise of analytics focused roles. We have seen a steady increase in these types of jobs with certain companies really putting in the effort to recruit hard core numbers guys to data mine and focus solely on analytics, optimisation, conversion tracking as well as A/B and multivariate testing. I’d expect this trend to continue and have noticed this is an area where new blood has entered the search sector as invariably companies need to hire from the finance sector. Quite simply put, the number of jobs in analytics outweighs the number of people currently working in this sector. We are even seeing a huge demand for social media people with analytics backgrounds as more firms look to identify the ROI from their social campaigns. This is certainly a trend to watch closely.

The senior end of search will continue to grow as there is a well developed flow of experienced people looking to make sideways or upward moves for various reasons. But one area that many clients are struggling with is finding good junior applicants. There is most definitely a lack of graduates entering search and those that do often fall into the industry by accident.

More effort needs to be done to promote the types of roles available as SEO and PPC don’t appear to be buzz words with those job seekers who are new to marketing. The role of traditional marketing both online and offline are what they expect to enter into and it’s often only when they are assigned to a search team that they get an insight into what is a very stable job market.
Problems with hiring

I’d foresee many companies actually struggling to attract experienced applicants this year as salaries have remained stagnant and it’s a simple fact that most people will not move for the same money or only minor increases. If someone with two years SEO experience is on £35,000 then don’t expect them to join you for the same figure, just because that is the industry ‘standard’. There are certainly a handful of companies where it is their policy to pay well and effectively put the ‘golden handcuffs’ on their staff. These tend to be the companies that have grown rapidly recently and managed to retain their staff.

Another problem is the complete lack of benefits offered by many companies in search. The days of a base and maybe a small bonus are long gone. This is one of the areas that has made client side jobs stand out. Search professionals who join these firms are invariably going to be entitled to things such as travel allowances, private health care (including their families and dental), private pensions, substantial bonus schemes, good holiday allowances as well as things such as season ticket loans & share options. And of course companies in particular industries can offer things such as discounted holidays, cheap insurance and as interest rate rise (come on, we all know this is going to happen) access to cheap finance and subsidised mortgages.

Do you really think an average basic wage will really compete? It’s a close community within search and word quickly gets out about the kind of packages being offered. I think some firms are going to bleed staff in 2011 and will find it extremely difficult to take on quality experienced people to replace them.

Of course there are also many other factors to be considered such as training and the types of projects being worked on, but at the end of the day, it’s a recession and people are most definitely thinking with their wallets.

I hope this has been of interest. In all honesty I have had to leave out a lot of more detailed information and have made this article a more general piece. Maybe I’ll be asked to write a few more detailed pieces focusing on employers, job hunting tactics and individual markets. Until then, rest assured, if you work in search you’re in a market that is not going to die anytime soon. It’s always nice to have some job security.

Jake Langwith is a professional headhunter by day, SEO consultant by night. Further to this he describes himself as a ‘seo junkie, social media geek, gadget lover and all round superhero into Japanese cooking’.

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