I have been recruiting in the search marketing industry for over four years, and I am still intrigued by the individuals that I come across everyday. Search marketers possess a unique combination of both marketing and technology skills that are unmatched by any other profession. My experience has been that most search marketers are extremely smart and usually have very brilliant marketing minds, and represent the best-of-the-best that marketing has to offer.
Therefore, it probably does not come as a huge surprise when I tell you that one of the most common questions I am asked by people who are just beginning their search marketing careers is, “what skills do I need to acquire to be a successful search marketer?”
I normally choose to answer this question by asking a couple of questions myself. My questions are focused around assessing the search marketers’ experience and where they see themselves heading professionally over the next several years, as opposed to defining specific skill-sets the search marketer should identify on acquiring. I do this because I believe what is most important to a search marketer is ensuring they have a strong base in fundamentals given the changing tactics of the industry.
1. Do you feel you are stronger with the analytics and data side of search, the creative side, or are you fairly well balanced between the two?
I believe most successful search marketers have a good balance between “left brain” and “right brain” thinking. While, I am simplifying this — and keep in mind I am definitely not a brain surgeon! — the left side of your brain drives analytical and logic thought processes.
Search marketing is a numbers-driven business. The ability to manage and interpret large amounts of data and then translate your analysis into an action plan is key to a successful search campaign. To be successful in SEO and SEM, you must be very “left-brained”.
The right side, which contributes more to your creative thought processes, is equally important for a search marketer. You can look at all the data in the world, but you still need to develop a page that is visually appealing and user friendly at the same time. When you develop that piece of content which drives high volumes of traffic to your client’s website, that is the right side of your brain at play.
I always advise candidates, particularly in the early years of their careers, to work on developing a portfolio of both “left-brained” and “right-brained” experience, so they have a base of experience to build on if they decide to specialize later in their careers.
2. Do you feel like you are an effective communicator?
To be a great search marketer, you need to be a good, if not a great, communicator. If you are skilled at interpreting analytics and / or designing a well-optimized page, it does not mean anything if you cannot communicate the benefits of search. Search marketers need to be able to evangelize your search strategy to your clients, communicate the technical changes to the IT team, and / or explain campaign results to your internal customers.
A typical search marketer touches all areas of the organization and might be talking to the CEO, VP of Sales, and CTO in the same business day. Developing your communications skills is not a nice-to-have, it is a must have. Also, focus both on your verbal and written communications. Both are equally important.
3. Where do you want your career to go?
This is the last, but most important, question. You would be surprised at how many people have not thought through a five or even “three year plan”. Knowing where a person wants to go with their career (or for that matter that they do not yet know), is critical for me as a recruiter to counsel a candidate on their next job or what skills they should look to acquire. This is all important given the rapid pace of new job growth in SEO today.
As I mentioned above, I typically recommend to young search marketers that they focus on career choices that build a strong base of diversified and fundamental skills in the early years of their career. This has a number of benefits:
- You will understand what aspects of search you like and dislike. You might decide that management is the route you prefer or you know that being an individual contributor or specialist is what drives you.
- You will have a clear picture of the aspects of search marketing in which you excel. You can deepen your specialization in those areas or focus on working on your weaknesses.
- You gain more career option value. Search marketers will continue to be in very high demand. If you have diversified experience you will now be in the driver’s seat to decide which opportunity is best for you to continue to leverage your career year over year over year.
The bottom line is that you need to look at your current level of responsibility and the skills you have and are using. Do not worry about whether you are working on “the client side” or “the agency side”. Instead, focus on understanding what aspects of your experience are relevant and match up with your ultimate career goals.
I believe if you use these three questions in your own personal career assessment and continue to evaluate your goals every step of the way you should be in a good position to leverage your career as the search marketing industry continues to grow.
I’d love to get any feedback from you. Please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Josh Gampel is the Vice President of Staffing Services for Onward Search, the Leading Provider of Search Marketing Jobs