How I Sniff Out Rockstar SEO Talent at TripAdvisor

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We’ve worked hard to build what I strongly believe is one of the best environments for SEOs to work in on the planet here at TripAdvisor and now, I’m looking to invite a few new talented individuals to join us.

Apply here if you’re interested in learning more about how we do SEO.

Now, I take hiring pretty seriously. As leaders, we all know that it’s the most important thing that we do and finding the best talent out there isn’t easy.

So, what does it take to do SEO at TripAdvisor?

Sure, you need to know the basics, read all of the blogs and know the ins and outs of how the engines work and how to rank, but if you know me, you’ll already know that I’m not interested in finding an average search engine optimizer …

I’m looking for a Rockstar SEO.

So, I’ve been putting a lot of thought into what makes a Rockstar SEO. What makes them stand out from the rest and what are indicators that they’ll be better than an average SEO.

Generally speaking I break SEOs down into 3 categories:

SEO Hacks (70%): These are the ones who’ve updated a few title tags, have read a few blogs and books and know the basics but don’t have much more depth than that.

SEO Professionals (29%): These ones know SEO. They’ve been doing it for a long time and have seen some good results, although they might not know exactly why what they did worked. These ones will get the job done and most companies would be pretty happy to have an SEO professional on their team.

SEO Rockstars (1%): The rockstars know SEO cold. They know that black-hat tactics aren’t a good long term strategy. They could write the book but they don’t because they’d rather not share their unique knowledge with everyone. This tiny sliver at the top is what I’m looking for. I think 1% may actually be generous. I’ve only ever met a few SEOs I would put in that top slice, and many of them already work ( or have worked ) on my team.

So, what separates them from the rest?

- They innovate. If an SEO can’t tell you at least one thing they did that they think was innovative that no one else has done before ( or few have ), they’re just following the pack.

- They know that Google Analytics just isn’t good enough for true analysis. These SEOs dig deeper by rolling their own reports from logs and data warehouses ( or by using much more advanced tools ) .

- They read SEO blogs & books but run tests to come up with their own theories and knowledge.

- They test, experiment and (most importantly) verify that SEO changes made a quantifiable impact to traffic & revenue. This is a big signal. Although sometimes you need to follow your gut, from my experience most SEOs use their gut as their only tool to make SEO decisions and rarely test to see if what’s been done had any measurable impact.

- Although they may not be hands on anymore, they are likely (or were) engineers, hackers or passionately curious individuals.

- They don’t trust what they read in the blogs. This is a big one for me. In my experience 99% of SEOs take what they read on SEO blogs as gospel. Although I think those blogs are useful, you’d be surprised how many times you read something that just isn’t true. The real SEOs run their own tests to find out what works and what doesn’t.

- A great question I love to ask is: “Tell me something I don’t know about SEO”. Now, I know SEO … but I don’t know everything. That said, I’m pretty sure I could think of a dozen tests we’ve done that would be new to other SEOs. If you’re trying to hire in the top 1%, they should be able to teach you something pretty novel about SEO.

- They’ve worked in competitive industries, and have had amazing results. When reviewing their experience, keep in mind it’s easy to look like a rockstar when your customers & colleagues are clueless about SEO so don’t put too much weight into previous company SEO experience unless you personally know the level of SEO at those companies.

Now comes the cold-hard truth. These people are nearly impossible to find but they’re out there… and I don’t give up easy!

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On May 13, 2014
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