Marketing companies in the Phoenix area are having an increasingly tough time finding experts to handle search engine optimization, even as client bases climb and more people target Internet advertising.
Ken Bonham, vice president of business development at the Lucid Agency in Tempe, said his company has quashed client growth because an eight-month search has failed to turn up a seasoned SEO specialist to handle new work.
“We’ve reached out through all of the avenues we thought would work, but haven’t found anyone,” he said.
Lucid’s problem is not unique. Several others in the online marketing space say it is difficult to find the right types of employees, particularly SEO-related, to fill out their rosters.
The challenges come as more businesses embrace online advertising, and the Valley has become a hub for various Internet marketing firms.
“We do struggle to fill some of our positions, with SEO being a particularly tough one to find good people that have relevant experience,” said Chris Johnson, CEO of Terralever in Tempe.
Consultants in SEO and marketing in general have seen a huge uptick in job openings in the past few years. An October study by CNNMoney and PayScale.com place marketing consultants, which include SEO specialists, as the second-best positions in the U.S. based on pay and industry growth. According to the survey, they comprise more than 282,000 jobs with a 41.2 percent growth rate over the past 10 years.
Much of that growth appears to have come during the past few years as more companies have flocked to online marketing. Another study by CareerBuilder.com and Economic Modeling Specialists International, also from October, found that marketing consulting services jobs were up by 27,113, or about 13 percent, between 2010 and 2012.
The challenge for many companies, particularly those specializing in online marketing, is that SEO expertise is not something that comes with degrees or certifications. Only some of the job is experience.
“The Valley is nationally known for our SEO, social and paid search community, yet we have a dearth of available talent,” said Arnie Kuenn, president of Phoenix-based Vertical Measures and past president of the Arizona Interactive Marketing Association.
Kuenn said his company has struggled to fill openings. Some jobs have been vacant for several months, but managers can’t find enough people with experience.
Terralever is running into the same problem. There’s no shortage of people applying for a position, but there is a shortage of qualified applicants, Johnson said.
“There are a ton of people out there who cite relevant experience in various digital marketing areas, but when we interview to drill into depth of knowledge and understanding of how and why these areas work, we find that close to 80 to 90 percent have only a basic understanding,” he said. “We just hired an SEO person and easily reviewed 70 to 80 resumes and had over 20 interviews before finding the right person for the role.”
Lucid has a similar challenge in looking for an SEO expert. In the past, the company has brought in relatively inexperienced workers and trained them. With a number of new clients, Bonham said the company doesn’t have time to do that.
“What we’re finding is we’re getting little activity,” he said.
Part of the reason behind the lack of talent is a rapidly evolving industry, which makes it impossible for colleges and accrediting agencies to keep pace, Kuenn said.
“There are some private companies offering training, but it is not formal and not recognized by any accrediting body,” he said. “The only thing we see out there are conferences and workshops that our industry offers, but no formal training programs.”
Another issue is that, unlike some other technology-related fields, there is no company-approved curriculum. Whereas Microsoft Corp. and Cisco Systems Inc. develop training courses on their products, Google Inc. and Facebook don’t do that for SEO.
Lucid and others have opted to hire less experienced people, reasoning it is better to train people than to hold out for more experienced people who aren’t available.
Even PayScale’s statistics indicate there is little in the way of experience in the field. The vast majority of their responses for SEO specialist, or about 73 percent, say they have one to four years of experience.
“With SEO in particular, it’s as challenging as ever to hire,” Johnson said. “More resumes than ever, and seemingly as few that are good candidates. The SEO industry has long been full of companies that can’t deliver on promises and use nonsustainable, questionable tactics to improve search engine rankings.”