Current shortage of SEO

It's been almost a year since I published an offer for a SEO Manager position and as you could expect from the article's title, I did not fill it yet. I know I'm not the only one and since John Shehata talked about it in a tweet some months ago, I've decided to cover the topic.

What you can expect from this article:

  • Why is it difficult to hire SEOs?
  • Job descriptions: reality vs. expectations
  • Profile of SEO applicants

Why open positions are not filled?

Now that we are in a post-pandemic context, a lot of things have changed and some others have not.

Things that have changed over the last three years

  • Working from home trend. During the pandemic, we all worked from home and this created a lasting trend even after the pandemic was "over". Some companies have decided to go full remote or hybrid while some others asked their employees to get back to the office. Last year, 22% of job offers published in the US were for full remote positions! Over all the applications I received and the people I talked to about the offer, nearly 90% of them have asked is the role was full remote.
  • Layoffs. We see a lot of companies announcing layoffs. I tend to think that it may seem scary for some and that they rather prefer to stay at their company, even if they're not satisfied with their position anymore. Still, during the hiring process, a very few number of applicants ask questions about the business itself such as: are you profitable? How is the business going, especially after the pandemic? What are your objectives in the coming years? Etc.
  • Going freelance. Following the "trend" of layoffs, some SEO decided to go freelance. One of the first thing that generally comes top of mind when thinking about freelancing is the financial insecurity it can bring. I'm not sure it's that true anymore because freelancing gather a lot of today's expectations for work: you can work from home and/or rent a space in a coworking, you focus on what you love first and you can always go back and find a permanent job given the number of open positions. I'm thinking about Kevin Indig in particular because I liked how he talked about the why behind going independent:
Being independent allows me to spend more time in my Zone of Genius [...] Inhouse, I had to play many roles, some of which I wasn’t great at. As an advisor, I can outsource tasks like bookkeeping, taxes or admin work and fully concentrate on my strengths.

Things that have not changed

  • Job descriptions. Open Linkedin, look for an SEO Manager position and open the first 3 offers. Chances are they will be all alike; in the structure itself (presentation of the company, responsabilities (listed sas bullet points) and requirements) (and that applies to the vast majority of job descriptions, not only to the SEO ones). I'm 100% sure that job seekers are tired of this. These job descriptions don't make any sense. Unless you just want a salary at the end of the month, you want to better understand the context around the position being filled, who you will work with, how you will work with them, etc. It's a time well spent for the hiring manager to write the job description following these principles. In my case, I explained our vertical in a few lines and then why we were looking for an SEO Manager. Then, I talked about our websites setup (NextJS, Strapi, etc.), the questions the SEO Manager will be asked to provide answers to, etc. I also indicated the salary: you save a lot of time doing this. Nick LeRoy shared an interesting poll about the most annoying thing in job descriptions and the salary transparency is now something that is "asked" by applicants:

Profile of today' applicants

Based on the dozens of applications I received, candidates & SEO friends I talked to, things I saw on social media (ie. Twitter & Linkedin); here's what I learned.

  • Non specialists. This is what shocked me the most while interviewing junior applicants. While asking "what is your routine to audit a website?", most of the answers were like: "I look at the audit score on Ahrefs and/or Semrush and then I asked developers to implement the recommendations given by the tool". I'm exaggerating but in 98% of the interviews I've done, which included a technical test, this is the type of answer I got. When asked "how does Google search work?", I got very large approximations. I have the feeling that today, SEO profiles are much less technical than ever before.
  • No-code trend. Webflow, Wix, WP, etc. there's a trend now around building beautiful websites with ultra intuitive WYSIWYG and no care for what's behind (code formatting, etc.). When you're new to the industry and when you start working on this kind of CMS, you naturally tend to be less technical. Anyone can be self-autoproclamed SEO and from what I see, most of the applicants only cover the very basics of SEO and still apply for high-level positions. I also received feedbacks from senior SEOs telling me that our tech stack (NextJS) is too complicated/risky where I personally see challenge.
  • Different learning curve. Today, we don't read long form content anymore (see the explosion of Tik Tok consumption, Apple news headlines snaking rather than reading specific newspapers, etc.); we are in an era of information snacking. People ask questions on the instant, willing to get the answer fast and without having to think about it further. This is not something new but maybe something we tend to see more nowadays. Example with the following answer from John Mueller to a random question. I share it because it made me laugh but it also shows the lack of self-questioning around topics that seem obvious.

Now, what to expect?

Clearly, there's room for improvements on job descriptions for hiring managers: answer to today' expectations (salary transparency, etc.), explain what is really expected from the role, introduce the team, etc.

In my opinion, the quality of an SEO expert (or other disciplines I'm sure) starts to be more about knowing how to use the good tools rather than about being autonomous, creative and curious to learn through exploration and tests.

As an hiring manager, I would advise to look for a profile first (someone who fits your internal culture, who is curious, who wants to learn and run tests & who ask questions on your company not only from an SEO perspective) rather than hard skills and prepare to invest time in training.