Avoiding A “Bad Romance” In Your Next In-House SEO Job

As the Digital Marketing industry rapidly grows and changes, search engine optimization jobs are trending across the Connecticut/New York metro area. But how do you find the right, long term position? Accepting the wrong job could have potentially damaging effects on your career, not to mention the time and energy that is wasted by taking the wrong opportunity. SEO expert, Jacques Bouchard, provides his tips for choosing the right in-house Search position. Avoiding these red flags will help you spend your time on promising and viable opportunities.

Avoiding A “Bad Romance” In  Your Next In-House SEO Job 
By Jacques Bouchard

I met my wife on an online dating site – but it didn’t happen overnight. Before my “happily ever after” came a pretty significant learning curve about how online dating works. With time, you learn to read between the lines, pick out the red flags, and narrow your choices down, so you can spend your time and energies on the most promising options.

What would you give for one more day with your true love? Quite a bit, I imagine. And finding love online is not so different than an online hunt for the in-house SEO job that’s ideal for you.

Accepting the wrong job will hold back your career and be a tremendous waste of your time and energy. And you don’t have a single day to waste on a bad relationship – professional or otherwise – because that’s one more day spent away from where you really belong.

As someone who’s been around the block with in-house SEO, I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of the industry. If you want to avoid becoming one of the “star-crossed lovers” of the professional world, keep an eye out for these red flags as you do your job search:

They Don’t Know What They Want


You can’t be perfect for someone until they know what they want. Are they describing the skills of a talented SEO, or are they looking for someone with an extremely broad skillset that includes specific programming language knowledge, social media, PPC, SEM, e-mail marketing, brand management, and more? On the other hand, are they just looking for an SEO-savvy content writer?


SEO is always evolving, and it’s still relatively new profession. Because of this, there’s a lot of confusion over what an SEO is. If what they describe is a perfect match for your skills, then ignore the mislabeling and apply anyways. If not, you may want to bookmark this one for later and focus your energies on a better fit.

They Can’t Let Go Of The Past

Remember the good old days of SEO, when ranking was easy, and websites tripled their inbound search traffic by 300% in a few months’ time? The salad days of our profession? Good times… good times.

Those days are sadly over. Competition in most online spaces has matured, and today, there are few quick-and-easy ways to knock it out of the park. Unfortunately, there are hiring managers that never got the memo and will hold you to that outdated standard.

One of the most perilous career moves an SEO can make is to commit to a role where your manager has dated information, out-of-touch expectations, or a closed-minded lack of understanding of the current industry.

Keep an eye out for references to the following (all pulled from live job postings):

Keyword density
Article marketing
Directory listings
Press releases for link building
“Backlinks specialists”
Submission to “major search engines”
Paid link building
Use of the misnomer “SEO Optimization”

These are all red flags that should remind you to come into a job interview with a proactive, educational approach. You’re going to want to find out if your team will treat you as the resident SME or if you’re going to be wasting a lot of time trying to buck counterproductive presumptions about your job that will prevent you from living up to their expectations.

It’s also worth noting these references may mean that it’s been a long time since they’ve had someone with SEO savvy on board. Or worse, it could mean that their previous SEO actually tried things like paid directory listings (read: time bombs). You may have quite a mess to clean up, and if traffic crashes, all eyes could be on you!

They Have Trust Issues

Nope List Meme - TMG

SEO is complicated, and it can take a long time. Good SEO’s will also need to feel free to experiment. To shine, we need managers that trust our expertise, and approach the work we produce with a mentality of long-term investment.

Consider this – when an in-house SEO is introduced to a company, their first missions are usually foundational tasks like these:

Making sure that analytics and goals are working
Conducting keyword research
Establishing best-practice documentation
Training the team
Evaluating the core web properties
Doing competitive research
Building a priority plan based on site analysis
… and so on.

Even when all preliminary work is completed and you’re ready for action, many of your largest projects won’t start immediately, but instead will be queued into the workflow with the appropriate departments. Once all is said and done, it could easily be six months or more before the largest of your initial changes begin to take form and that meter starts moving. In the meantime, you need to know that you’re going to keep your job.

Look out for these warning signs:

1. They want daily/weekly SEO reports.
Four months of weekly reports with few rises in traffic is going to get you off to a rough start. Requiring feedback on such a granular level probably also reflects a lack of industry savvy on your manager’s side. During your interview, be sure to manage their expectations in regards to when they can start to expect an increase in organic traffic.Monthly reports are, of course, fine – especially if you’re given the tools to automate them.

2. They want promises.
An SEO will probably increase a website’s organic traffic numbers, but at the end of they day, Google holds the cards. I don’t think there’s any SEO that can accurately predict the specific growth a website can expect (I’m talking about questions like “What would your keyword ranking and traffic goals be by the end of your first quarter?”) at the job interview stage.Instead of making promises, tactfully explain the factors at play (unexpected algorithm changes, penalties from legacy SEO, etc.), and explain where you see potential growth opportunities

3. They've established toxic success metrics.
Managers sometimes come to a meeting with a set objectives that create a conflict of interest between your personal success and the company’s. For example, they may want you to work on top rankings for a vanity keyword that has no search volume, or perhaps a keyword with such high search volume that they can’t realistically compete for it. As SEO’s, we know that the kind of optimizations that heavily targets a single keyword to the neglect of others are often a recipe for disaster. If possible, try to channel those expectations into broad-brush wins, such as increasing clickthrough and conversion rates, improving the user experience, building overall organic traffic, strategizing for keyword groups, and addressing technical issues with the website. It’s hard to argue with the value of those kinds of improvements.

4. They’re hyperfocused on the bottom line.


Be wary of managers that are too focused on ROI, measurability, or “low-hanging fruit”; they may see SEO as risky business, and could be more likely to bail out on your employment if the going gets rough. Make sure they understand that SEO’s will sometimes need to do things that are important but unlikely to result in traffic increases, such as cleaning up spammy links, minimizing short-term traffic losses during site redesigns or culling old, outdated content. Additionally, high-value SEO projects can take a long time to come to fruition. For example, great content rarely gets page-one rankings overnight, and in the case of a Penguin penalty, your company may have to wait a year or more before having a chance to recover.



During your conversation with a hiring manager, it’s also worth mentioning that the best SEO’s are forward thinking – they’re not optimizing a website to the current state of the industry, they’re laying the groundwork to meet upcoming developments in SEO. For example, today’s SEO’s are preparing for the day when mobile search volume overtakes desktop search. Projects like that take time, foresight, and patience.

You’re Just Not Feeling The MagicSchema Markup Meme - McIntyre Group


To paraphrase John Popper of Blues Traveler: “When the hairs on the back of your neck start to stand up? Trust those hairs.” Romantic or otherwise, a looming bad relationship usually comes with its warning signs. If you’re past the honeymoon phase before you’re done reading the job description, it may be time to bail.

Messages you don’t want:

1. We’re already contradicting ourselves.
Does the job description say that they’re looking for someone who can “hit the ground running, work well under pressure, and meet deadlines” and, two sentences later, say “We have a fun, relaxed workplace”? If’ you’re not past the job posting and you’re already seeing inconsistencies, beware.

2. We don’t want to pay you.
Line up those job requirements with the required experience. Do they want someone familiar with five programming languages, a specific CMS, multiple sophisticated SEO strategies, and 2 years of experience? Sounds like they want to have their cake, and eat it too.

3. We’re looking to hire a worker drone.
An in-house SEO wears many hats: consultant, troubleshooter, analyst, data guy, content strategist, etc. The job description should be written to appeal to an innovative, creative, and highly motivated individual. More alarming is the fact that an SEO is going to need to work with the entire team – from design to development to brand, and from brainstorming to development to success measurement after the project is done – to deliver success. If the language implies “churn” more than “change”, or if it sounds like they think an SEO is just there to stick keywords into things, you may be in trouble. (I found one job posting that actually listed “able to sit in a chair all day looking at a computer monitor” as a job requirement!)

4. We’ve been firing people.
Do background research on the company on ratings and news websites: have they been firing people? Or maybe they contacted you six months after you applied? Whatever the reason, if you get the vibe from the job posting or interview that people are being fired often or quickly, that’s one of those times when you want to be very, very careful.

5. Meh.
Are they looking for an expert in “data minding”, or can’t be bothered to write a real job listing? If they can’t put the effort in now, they probably won’t consider your role a high priority – and probably never will. It’s also worth taking a closer look if they seem too eager for you to apply.

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Why are they hiring? Research reputation and recent news before applying for an #SEO job.


When It’s A Love Story…

… just say yes. Don’t worry if the interview seemed to go too smoothly or if you got the pay you wanted too easily (asking yourself “Should I have asked for more?” doesn’t change anything), and don’t look back to the job you’re leaving – you made the decision to move on already, and that’s just fear talking. Besides, once they know you want to leave, the job you’re leaving will probably only keep you on long enough to replace you. 

Some of the best job offers I’ve gotten came surprisingly easily – and I worked my fingers to the bone locking in some of the worst ones. Just roll with it, and enjoy your good fortune. Here’s some great hints that you’re going to love your new job:

They want an analytical thinker.
If they’re focusing their search on someone who’s a strong problem solver and a forward-thinking, strategic thinker, then you’re on the right track.

They’re looking for PowerPoint knowledge and communication skills.
Sounds to me like you’ll be doing presentations. I’m thinking education, explanation, and collaboration. You’re going to be on an active, involved team.

CTR” is mentioned in the job description.
At the very least, they get that SEO is more than just rankings. They also sound like the types that are tracking metrics related to user behavior, which is excellent. Hopefully, they’re not confusing SERP CTR with PPC.

The job description reveals their own SEO savvy.
Is the job listing talking about things like mobile SEO, reputation management, video marketing (Yes, please!), A/B testing, and structured data? Awesome – this has the potential to be a challenging and engaging opportunity.

They want a self-starter.
This is often another way of saying “If you have something you’d like to be doing as part of your job, we’re listening.”


Bonus Section: The “Nope” List

Smile - TMG

The following are a compilation of some of the most flagrantly alarming (also: fairly hilarious) things I’ve found in live SEO job postings in the past few months. Slight rewording has been applied to “protect the innocent”:

  • “Must have an expert-level working knowledge of convergence optimization.”
    Show of hands: who knows what convergence optimization is?
  • “Were you one of the cool kids in high school?  Then this is the right job for you.”
    Yup, I was. It’s right there on my resume.
  • “We’re looking to hire a full-time SEO expert to cover all areas of our online marketing and SEO such as h1 tags, blogs, wordpress, Facebook, You tube, content writing, and more.”
    Not just blogs, people — WordPress too. With content. And h1′s.
  • “Job perks include a well-stocked refrigerator, catered lunches, weekly bagel breakfastes, and many healthy snacks.”
    The fastest way to page one rankings, apparently, is through an SEO’s stomach.
  • “Will be able to implement off-page SEO content strategies such as coding.”
  • “Should be extremely comfortable navigating the internet – especially Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites.”
    So… you’re looking to hire a 12-year-old?
  • “Job requirements:  Sitting 80% of the time. Walking and standing 10% of the time. No heavy lifting required.”
    Usually, the development team does all the heavy lifting at my company. Also: what happens during the last 10%?
  • “Our business is very new, with a small budget and few competitors. Naturally, we’re looking to reach the #1 rank in an 8-week period to be ready for our summer season. We’re looking for someone to achieve this in 10-15 hours weekly MAXIMUM. If you can’t guarantee and achieve this in that number of hours per week, please do not apply.”
    The last four words sum up the rest.


Do you have a special gem for my “nope” list? I’d love to see it! Leave it in the comments below; I’ll check back often, when I need a chuckle. :-)

Written by Jacques Bouchard, Digital Marketing Account Manager at DragonSearch. Jacques has an extensive background in the recruiting and jobseeker space, and has worked with some of the world’s largest IT, digitial, and creative staffing agencies in the world. Find him @jacquesbouchard, or check him out at his website.