Acquainting with the Search Specialist

Posted on September 22, 2011

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Search undoubtedly, tops the digital marketing world and hence recruiters, business owners and retailers are all racing towards experts and specialists who understand and implement search optimization techniques effectively.

A decade ago you never heard terms like search marketing manager, digital marketing manager, digital analyst or strategist. These are all very extravagant titles but how many people out there really know what they stand for? Having spent quite some time in this arena as a SEO expert, I am presenting a comprehensive definition of these respective roles along with inputs from few professionals in the same industry.

  • Web/Digital Analyst vs. Web/ Digital Strategist:both these roles sound very similar but their roles change within the team categorization of a company. So what does an analyst do? Deal with figures and data; so that means analyze metrics and KPIs (key Performance Indicators) of website performance and paid marketing campaigns results.  It requires an in-depth knowledge of most of the analytics software and be able to test and vary results along with audits of all the marketing mediums used (be it search, social media, display advertising, website performance or email marketing). They adhere to the team or client’s needs of business goals (leads, conversions, referrals, etc) and discuss weekly reports and changes in web related activities. Yes, they deal with google analytics, omniture, webtrends or whatever software it is that you prefer.So now how does a strategist differ? My personal view is that both these roles now wear the same hats and if you look at the job requirements of both they are no different. If you are able to dig into figures that involve metrics like bounce rate, page views etc, which page is getting most views and understand the click pattern on the website, you should also know what to do with this information and implement the necessary changes accordingly.  This may involve improving conversions, improving the navigation path or data capture strategies. Thus, a strategist is also required to be able to identify metrics, understand dashboard reporting and future campaign strategies. “An analyst does more data crunching and strategist does more block building from the data collected,” very well put by a fellow LinkedIn group member (americanbusinessmarketing.com).

    ‘The ultimate goal of a web analyst is to make website recommendations based on intelligent data. To me, intelligent data comes from multiple reliable sources, it is actionable and it takes context into account. I would also add that a large part of the web analytics function is to highlight opportunities and threats; these could be market related or web related,” Penelope Bellegarde, a digital analyst based in New York.

Another role that we constantly see springing up in job posts is that of a SEO specialist. This is one crucial expert that most businesses want in their team.  Why is that? In the online world every business wants traffic to their website and that is what they are all competing for. In a world of pull marketing when visitors go out to find their needs on search engines, SEO specialists are hired to leverage their brands in organic results (which means grabbing the top spots on the first page of major search engines) which eventually aids them to sell their products and services to relevant target audience. An SEO analyst studies analytics and works directly with businesses to improve their search engine rankings. They are constantly researching and picking search phrases, re wording page content, reprogramming sites for SEO friendliness, KPI definition and measurement and getting links from other websites. “Due to the ever-evolving tools and techniques to make this happen, search engine optimization specialists will be an important part of the puzzle for years to come,” reckons Rad Fishkin, the CEO and Co-Founder of SEOmoz.

The demand for SEO specialists is on a rise every passing year all because of the growing necessity to rise up on search engines.  A recent statistical study showed that 85 percent of the online traffic is captured by the websites listed on the first page of the SERPs. A mere 15 percent traffic is distributed among rest of the pages. So acquiring a position on the first page is necessary to attract a decent number of visitors to your site. Sure, you might have the best of web designers but without proper optimization your potential clients will never be able to find your website.

Thus, it is not a surprise that the job posting for SEO specialists has quadrupled over the last five years as confirmed by indeed.com. In an August 2009 interview* with Rand Fishkin stated that, “The investment in SEO is going to increase at a dramatic pace over the next five years – marketers see more value in SEO than virtually any other tactic – online or off.” Fishkin also adds, “The search marketing field is in a state of imbalance that can’t last forever. $14 billion dollars was spent on PPC last year and those paid search results received <10% of all clicks in the SERPs. SEO received $1.4 billion in spend and more than 90% of the clicks.” As spending increases, so does the need for qualified search engine optimization specialists. {usanfranonline.com}

Now that you know what SEO experts can offer you, we now move on to discussing what skills they posses. Fishkin again explains this factor very well, “The search engine optimization specialist job description can vary from company to company. However, there are many skills that an SEO specialist is expected to have.” From being an analytical thinker to creating SEO copy, the search engine optimization specialist needs to have a wide variety of skills, such as:

Website analysis
Keyword analysis
SEO copywriting
Search engine guideline awareness
Technological, including HTML, CSS and blogging platforms
SEO terminology, including organic search, PPC marketing, CTR, CPC and ROI
Excellent communication skills

Yuwanda Black on one of her blogs has a few valuable additions to this, “SEO specialists liaise with many different departments and professionals, inside their own company, with the client company and with independent contractors. For example, they may work with the client’s SEO point person to strategize ways to improve and track site performance; they may compile reports for their company’s management; and they may consult with independent web designers to improve the navigation of a site so as to enhance its search engine ranking. Interestingly, in a Clickz.com article, SEO Generalists vs. SEO Specialists, Sheri Thurow sums up this professional in a nutshell:“[An SEO specialist delivers a] . . . Web site that meets user goals, business goals, and search engine goals. A truly great SEO professional is a person who can apply his or her skills to attain all those goals.”

Search engine optimization (SEO) is a fast-growing field which has generated many types of specialists over the last decade or so. These are SEO copywriters, search engine marketing optimization consultants and pay per click analysts to name a few.

Fishkin (seomoz.org) enlightened us with a few more  positions:

  • Campaign Manager
    The campaign manager would report to a director, but manages a team focused on specific campaigns for a site, keyword set, content area, etc. The compensation could go into six figures primarily due to bonuses, which are often given to campaign managers who can churn out consistently excellent results.
  • SEO Specialist (Links, Content and/or KW Research)
    An SEO specialist is the true “worker” of the search team – optimizing page content, researching keywords, building links, adding content, etc. The range is very wide due to experience and opportunity – an SEO-newbie just starting out won’t have the same independence, reliability and skill as someone who’s played in the space for several years and knows the engines.

Other than these, he also talks about SEO consultant, link builder, content writer, SEO researcher and client relationship coordinator.

Search is truly the king of the digital world and as its reach grows further and encompasses businesses of all types, specialists in this field are always going to be in demand and maybe even newer roles created for the digital media savvy candidate. There is a saying in the online community, “when in doubt turn to Google”; but I say when you are in doubt as to how you can top the Google search results that you swear by, you need experts like us.