Episode 210 | Posted on

Stephan Spencer Solo Episode on How to Hire an SEO

Hey, this is your host, Stephan Spencer. Today, I’m going to try something a little different. I’m going to do a solo episode and I want your feedback to let me know, is this format great for you or just okay? Should I stick to the interview format or should I intersperse some more of these solo episodes? The topic for this episode is how to hire an insanely great SEO, whether that person or that company is an outside firm or it is an in-house person. If you’re an agency or you are a client-side company trying to get your website to the top of Google, doesn’t matter. What we’re going to go over is going to be super valuable.

I’m basing this episode on a talk that I gave at Brighton SEO called, How to Hire an Insanely Great SEO. Each one of their talks are only 20 minutes, thus the recording is only going to be 20 minutes. If you want, that’s on my website, stephanspencer.com, in the press area. I want to, first of all, frame this as there’s a seven-step process. I do also have a download, which you can get at marketingspeak.com/210. That’s the episode number for this particular episode. That has the show notes as well as all the links I’m going to mention through this episode. The download is a 10-page PDF, it’s got a seven-step process that I use, and I’m going to walk you through these seven steps.


Let’s get started with step one, which is getting the garden to weed itself. What the heck do I mean by that? We want to cut out all the chaff and get straight to the weed. We want to avoid wasting our time with folks who are just blasting their resume out to everybody who are on the agency side of things, trying to blast a whole bunch of potential prospects, and on the agency side who are trying to blast a whole bunch of prospective clients with their marketing messages, unsolicited emails, phone calls, ringless voicemails, all that sort of stuff. We want to get that out of our view and go straight to the folks who can really deliver.

Van Halen, if you’re a fan or not, I don’t know. I used to love their music; not so into it anymore. I still like it, but I don’t really listen to it. Eddie Van Halen did something really interesting and really clever. Back in the early days of Van Halen, David Lee Roth had a whole bunch of stipulations in the contract and people poke fun at it when they heard about it.

One of the stipulations, for example, was that he had to have certain colored M&Ms in a bowl in his dressing room. If there were different colors than the ones that were specified in the contract, he would get upset and then he would go and inspect all the lighting and everything because he knew that details were inevitably missed. This probably saved his life or at least save them from having a disaster happen, like some lighting catching on fire or something.

How you do one thing is how you do everything. If that’s how you show up that you cut corners or you don’t pay attention to the contract or to the details of what are required, the functional requirements, technical requirements, the specifications, what have you, then all bets are off. Probably nothing is going to be perfect. Not that perfect is the goal, but we want stuff to be up to snuff.

This was very clever and David was ahead of his time. How do you apply this to hunting for an SEO specialist, an employee or an agency? In the job posting, if you have requirements that are indicative that they have attention to detail or not, that will save you a whole ton of time in terms of interviewing, all the back and forth, and all that sort of stuff. You don’t even have to respond to their initial inquiry if they didn’t follow the directions. Here’s what you can do.

First of all, you can require that they leave a voicemail instead of an email to respond to the job ad. That will give you insight into their phone mannerisms and how effective they are, thinking on their feet and so forth. More importantly, it will tell you if they follow directions. If they send you an email when you specified that they must respond by leaving a voicemail, they’re out. Clearly, they can’t follow directions.

The stakes are high in hiring an SEO. One careless SEO mistake can result in a Google penalty that can take months to recover from- assuming a full recovery is possible. Click To Tweet

Another thing that you can do if you don’t want to get voicemails—which I highly recommend, it will give you a lot of insight—if you don’t want to bother with that, you just want to get emails with various attachments, the cover letter, resume and all that, then require that they put a certain keyword into the subject line or they specify a certain subject line. If they don’t use that subject line, you don’t even read the email, maybe you just have it automatically filtered to the trash. That’s another thing that will save you a ton of time getting that garden to weed itself.

Another thing that you can do to facilitate this process and avoid spending a lot of your own personal time on it, is to delegate the screening. What do I mean by that? If you, for example, apply for a position working for me. I have a team of people—virtual assistants, writers, video editors, infographic designers, and so forth. I don’t do the initial screening process and I don’t do the initial interview. I delegate the screening process to my head VA, my head virtual assistant. What happens is that, that email or that voicemail comes in and they review that. She reviews it and decides if the person gets to go to the next step or not. In fact, we’ve gotten even more sophisticated over the years and now we have a hiring funnel.

There’s a whole automated process that they’ll have to respond to some questions, if they make it past that stage then they have to leave a video. They will record a video and then send that through. It’s a pretty cool process. Then, there is a login for my assistant to go in and just approve or deny each of these folks to go to the next step or not. It’s pretty cool.

Another thing that you can do is include a riddle or some sort of test assignment to test their mettle, to see if they’re worthy or not. A problem-solving riddle would be best in terms of a riddle. Something that’s not easily Googleable although if they do find the answer on Google, I’m not going to fault them for it, even if I can tell that they just copied and pasted it because they were creative in their problem-solving. They did find a solution. If they don’t show their work, that’s not great. As long as they answer the riddle, we’ll still accept them to go on to the next stage, but ideally, they show their work.

This kind of problem-solving riddle might be something like, “There’s a policeman, a convict and a child that are on one side of the river. There’s a boat that only fits two people. You have to get all three people over to the other side of the river. You can’t leave the convict alone, you can’t leave the child alone, or the child with the convict, etc. Those sorts of criteria have to be met. Show your work, and get all three people across the river.” That sort of riddle.

Test assignment could be that you give everybody the same assignments, so you can compare apples-to-apples and it’s a very straight forward easy to follow set of instructions. Maybe, you shoot a loom video, walk them through the process, maybe you give them the checklist, or a checklist and a loom video. Then, you wait and see what they produce.

You probably have to pay them to do that test assignment, but it’s well worth it. If it’s half an hour or an hour of work and you can tell that they are not going to be a good fit, but they would’ve screened well and made it through the interview process, you just save yourself a whole heck of a lot of money. There are people who interview great and then where the rubber meets the road is where everything falls apart. They don’t deliver. That’s what you need to be careful for, somebody who’s great at the interviewing, but doesn’t actually deliver the goods.

One more thing about the riddle or the test assignment is if they did not provide the right answer and you let them know that, the thing that’s going to be a deal-breaker that you’re going to want to look out for is, did they defend their wrong answer? Oh my goodness, if they are defending the wrong answer, that is just the death nail. That tells me that they are out.

Now on to step two, which is to review their social media profiles. Again, I don’t do this myself, I have my team do this, but you get so much insight into these folks looking at their social profiles. I don’t require folks to give their private or personal profiles. I just ask for an example or two of social accounts that they have built up, either for their company, or for a client, or that are theirs personally.

Hiring funnels automate the job hire process. This can help maximize the team’s time and efforts in searching for the next best hire.

A lot of times they’ll give me personal accounts or if I just Google them, I probably can very easily find them on Facebook, Instagram, and so forth and what insights you get. If you just go back in time a little bit, if they were not job hunting, let’s say it was a year ago and they were just partying hard or whatever, that gives me a real insight into their behaviors. You know what the best indicator of future behavior is? Past behavior. This is very helpful.

You can’t really fake the fact that you posted all sorts of crazy stupid stuff a year-and-a-half ago. You can clean up your act with more recent stuff. If you’re providing a Pinterest account, you can clean all that up, move stuff around and everything, that’s easy.  But Twitter or Facebook or Instagram? Stuff from six months ago, a year ago or whatever, you can’t fake that. That’s kind of written in stone. Really cool, kind of like the Blockchain.

I guess they could actually go back and edit those old posts, technically speaking, but probably they’re not going to bother to do that. You’ll get lots of great insights if you just go back in time to their old social posts.

I also look to see if they’re connected and active with other SEO’s. Do they ask and answer SEO questions on their social counts, on Twitter and so forth? What kind of content do they share? Are they adding value out there? Are they revealing light? Have they ever publicly criticized or bashed their employers or clients? That’s a bad one, so instead of revealing light, they’re revealing darkness. I don’t want that. I don’t want negativity. Is there evidence that they participate in SEO conferences, meetups, discussion groups? Do they have any big plans? That’s also helpful to know.

Also, is their spelling and grammar great in terms of their social media posts? Do they participate in events or donate time to volunteering? Do they donate to causes? Like sometimes, you see folks publicly show that they had donated to a fundraiser or to GoFundMe? Are there personality flags, such as antisocial behavior or mood swings that are evident in some of these posts? Is their racist, sexist, or other prejudiced content in their profiles? That’s a no go.

Is there evidence of excessive drinking or illegal drug use? I mean, obviously, that’s a no go for me as well. And are there other red flags that this person or company is not a good cultural fit with my team and my company? You just have to be careful. Caveat emptor, buyer beware, and that goes for whether you’re hiring an employee, or a contractor, or an agency.

Step number three is to use AB testing for your job postings. AB testing gives you such insight into what works and what doesn’t. An AB test or split test, just in terms of marketing, gives you insight into whether a book cover might work better than another book cover, or a particular ad creative will work better than another, or a certain price point will work better than another. Why not test different ads for your jobs or for finding prospects and potential clients. That is I think kind of a ninja thing that most people don’t think about. Especially if they’re looking to hire an in-house person. Do an AB test on the ad.

Number four, use trick questions in the first interview. What do I mean by this? Oftentimes, the interviewer doesn’t know nearly as much about SEO as the candidate or hopefully doesn’t, because they’re looking to hire an SEO specialist and they’re not an SEO specialist, they’re the business owner, or they’re the marketing director, or maybe they are the agency owner, and they know a lot about SEO, and this is a piece of cake. They don’t have to worry about it, but that’s probably pretty rare.

If they had a list of trick questions in their back pocket they could pull from and slip into the interview process, that is ninja. I have a free download which I’ll include in the show notes. It’s called the SEO BS detector. It has a handful of trick questions, things that an SEO person should know, but somebody who is not savvy with SEO, is not up to speed with everything, is going to not necessarily know the right answer to, but I provide the right answer in the document.

If you aren't weeding out the beginners and the fakes at the interview stage, you are jeopardizing the success of your business. Click To Tweet

Let me give you a quick example. What’s your process for optimizing Meta keywords? This is a trick question because Meta keywords never counted in Google and the only right answer for this question is, “What? Are you serious? Meta keyword is never counted in Google.” If they give you some answer like, “Meta keywords don’t count as much as they used to. Google’s discounted those over time,” or let’s say that they just answered the question like, “Here’s our process. We do keyword research and we use Google keyword planner,” and so forth. “Oh my goodness. What? Meta keyword, seriously?”

Here’s another one, “What’s a good keyword density to aim for?” this is an obvious one for SEOs that this is laughable really. Keyword density is not something that is to ever be taken seriously and shouldn’t have been even 10 years ago, but some folks are still hanging on to some of these old school, fallacious ideas around SEO. They might give an answer about keyword density like, “Well, we don’t want to go for too much or too little.” The only right answer for this is, “Keyword density is a fallacious metric. It’s useless. It’s not valuable. It’s a red herring.” That is another one.

Here’s a third one, “What’s the difference between panda and penguin?” this should be so straightforward and obvious. Panda is all about low-quality content like content farms and all that, and penguin is all about low-quality links. I have interviewed folks who have flipped those around and given panda as the one about links and penguin about content. They’re out. I’m going to quickly wrap up the rest of the interview and they’re gone because this should be so obvious.

Here’s one more question that has nothing to do with SEO, but has everything to do with the quality of the person that you are interviewing. My friend came up with this. He calls it the honesty test. I just kind of gave away the answer. Here’s the question that you would post, “What would you consider to be the most important in this position? Attention to detail, honesty, dedication, technical acumen, or creativity?” When you are listing all these five things, do not put too much emphasis on one thing because you’re going to tip your hand.

The only right answer is honesty because this is the honesty test. You cannot train that into somebody. If they don’t have it as a core value, they’re going to be cutting corners, they’re going to be doing stuff that is not cool that they’re going to try and hide from you. You don’t want that.

I’ve employed hundreds of staff over the last couple decades and one of those staff that sticks out in my mind from our New Zealand office back in the day—this is like a decade ago—every time I would come up to her, she would zip up all the windows. She was doing stupid stuff, things that had nothing to do with work. Facebook and games and all that sort of stuff, and she would zip all that up as I’m walking up to her. What she didn’t realize is that the screen reflected with the window behind her so I could see what was on the screen. As she was zipping everything up as I was walking up to her because I was looking at the window behind her. That drove me nuts.

We didn’t end up firing her, we should have probably, but in any event, honesty was not her number one value clearly. You want to hire somebody who sees honesty as a non-negotiable. If they’re saying, “Attention to detail,” because this is a VA role or because this is a technical SEO role, or a web developer, systems administrator position or, “I’m an agency and I want to put a good face in front of the client,” attention to detail is very tempting for somebody who is trying to please you and that’s not the kind of person you want.

Step five is, ask specific questions that can prove their expertise. What are some specific questions? One that I would use and get just really great insights from the candidates on is, what were their favorite SEO tools? I remember interviewing a candidate on behalf of a client who is looking for an in-house person. This was the second interview. They already made it past the first interview with my client’s team and they did pass with flying colors, they were going to get hired.

I asked this candidate what his favorite SEO tools were. He answered his favorite SEO tool was Majestic SEO. I already knew something was up because that was the name of Majestic before they rebranded. They dropped the SEO part. My spidey sense was already tingling.

I delve a little deeper, I asked, “Cool, tell me a bit about what you like about Majestic. Do you like the metric in there?” It was a leading question. Here’s the thing, you can only do this if you know the tools intimately. I asked a leading question. I asked, “What’s that SEO metric?” I didn’t say metrics because there are two now that are primary with Majestic, but at that time, way back in the day, there was one metric and that metric was called AC Rank. Darn it if he didn’t answer AC Rank.

At the time I interviewed him, AC Rank had already been deprecated and was gone, replaced with two metrics, Trust Flow and Citation Flow. Clearly, he hadn’t been in the tool for multiple years because the AC Rank metric was deprecated at least three years ago. That was bad. I quickly wrapped up that interview. I wasn’t going to waste any more of my time. First of all, that guy was a liar. Secondly, he was not up to speed with SEO. That was a disaster averted. 

What if you don’t have that kind of deep expertise in SEO so you can’t ask those kinds of questions that I asked? Here’s what you do, you need to ask for specific examples of the thing that they are touting as a great outcome, or a great attribute, or a skill of theirs.

For example, if they say something kind of fuzzy or vague like they’re great at details, or they’re a great problem solver, whatever, ask for a specific situation where this trait, or resource, or whatever was exemplified. For example, “You say that you’re great at details. Fabulous. Can you give me an example, a situation where you saved the client’s bacon, or you saved your employer’s bacon by your attention to detail.” Wait for them to think of something. Don’t interrupt. Don’t be afraid of the silence, just sit there and wait. It might be one or two minutes, but they will come up with a thoughtful answer, hopefully, and then you will get a great insight into how true it is that this thing that they touted as being a strength.

Never ask that question about weaknesses say, “What are your top strengths? What are your biggest weaknesses?” You’re forcing them to lie because the only right answer from their standpoint is something that is actually a strength disguised as a weakness. For example, “Well, I’m kind of a perfectionist,” what I want is absolutely a weakness, having perfectionism is equivalent to having no standards because your standards are so high that you’ll never get anything done. I don’t like that one. That makes me want to turn and run. A perfectionist? No, thank you.

Let’s say that, “I’m a little too punctual. I’m a little to type A,” or something like that. That’s a disguised strength where they’re trying to make it one. Don’t force them into a position where they have to lie or you’re trying to get them to lie. Ask for these sorts of specific examples. Anytime that they give a kind of a vague truism or whatever like, “I’m punctual, very forthright, or candid, or I don’t mince words,” or whatever. “Tell me an example of a time when that made a difference and the life of your business or your client’s business,” or whatever.

Another thing I would make sure to ask for in the interview process is if you are starting to form an opinion of this person or this company let’s say, the company or person is kind of fast and loose, or they don’t seem to have the kind of standards, or the same ethics, or the same threshold for quality or whatever, ask for contrary evidence. The way that you form that is let’s say that you’re forming the opinion that they’re too kind of renegade and your company is very conservative.

Trick questions are a great way to find out how adept and skilled an applicant is.

You might say, “Can you give me an example of a situation where your level-headedness really saved an account or saved a situation?” You’re asking for contrary evidence. If you think that they are lazy, then ask for a time when they showed such diligence and dedication that they stuck it out, saw the project through, and saved somebody’s bacon. The key here again is to keep your mouth shut. Wait for them to think of an answer. If it’s five minutes, just wait it out. Wait it out. You can’t be the first one to speak. It has to be them. 

Another thing that will help prove their expertise is to ask about the training and education that they’ve gone through. What conferences do they attend? What are some of the things they learned? Get specific again. What are some specific things that you learned from the last Pubcon that you attended? That’s very powerful. If you can get some nuggets out of them because they really get value out of a certain book, certain course, or they’re going back for their MBA or something, that is gold.

Also, ask about their philosophy in various aspects of SEO such as link building. Are they willing to pay for a link, for example. Let’s say they outreach a blogger and they are only willing to post that guest post or that contribution if they get $50. Would you be willing to pay that $50? Let’s say DR (domain rating) 80 website. DR is one of Ahrefs’ metrics. That’s very illuminating as to their white hat/grey hat ethics. 

Step six, the second interview. This is where you ideally bring an expert. Somebody like myself can grill them on things like, “Tell me about that metric in Majestic that is really important.” This is very helpful, especially, if it’s a high stakes role in the company. Somebody who is going to be expensive to replace or they can do a lot of damage if they are not very good or if they are a little bit too grey hat. Very helpful.

If it’s an agency, it’s also very helpful to bring in a third-party expert. I have helped in the interview process, not just interviewing candidates for clients of mine but also potential agencies. I’ve reviewed existing agency relationships. I’ve got link building firms fired from working with my clients because they just build such egregiously bad links. I have some people out there who hate me just because of that.

Step seven, confirm the fit during the trial period. You need a trial period. If they want to lock you in a 12-month contract, no. If it’s a candidate who’s looking to come on the team as an employee, trial period. The way that that works with me is if they are going to be a full-time person especially in the state of California, you cannot have a contractor whose full-time or even half-time working for you. You have to hire companies as contractors and people as employees or you will get hit by the state government with all source of back taxes and penalties. 

So you want to confirm the fit during the trial period. The way I do it is by hiring a person as a contractor for the first three weeks and then it switches over to employment role once they pass that trial period or I give them trial assignments. Either one works, it’s a trial period of three weeks or trial project or assignment that will take at least a week to complete. I will get tons of insights into how they work, their quality of work, their timeliness, and so forth.

There’s something called Parkinson’s Law. It says that the amount of work will scale to fit the amount of time allotted. If you give somebody two weeks to complete an assignment, they’ll take two weeks probably to complete the assignment. If you give them two hours, they’ll probably complete it in two hours.

Give folks less time and they’ll probably do a lot better and faster work. During the trial period, it’s understood that everything is confidential and they have to sign all these documents so I’m not worried about confidentiality being breached or anything like that. I also have them using Time Doctor to track their time and randomly screenshot them and so forth. It’s just really helpful so I don’t have to hover over them especially if we’re in a virtual work environment which many of us are these days.

I have a virtual company. My team is spread out all over multiple countries. That is really helpful, timedoctor.com or you can use Upwork which also does the screenshotting and tracks the amount of keystrokes, mouse clicks and all that. 

Attention to detail is incredibly important to SEO. If not done correctly, your company's Google traffic could be decimated. Click To Tweet

The completion of the assignment is very straight forward. There’s a very clear finish line when it’s considered done so there’s no vagueness there. If I just ask somebody to rewrite a landing page, that’s pretty vague because what is success? What’s the finish line? It’s like the question, “How long is a piece of string?” I don’t know how to answer that. I don’t know if I’m done rewriting this landing page or this sales letter because you haven’t given me a smart goal or objective. Specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound.

Be sure to nail it with the trial period because this is going to save you a lot of money. The cost of a bad hire is a lot. I forget what the stats are, but it’s like a year-and-a-half of their salary. It’s crazy.

Another thing that is part of the trial period or even during the interview process and the selection process is I analyze their DISC assessment. I have them take personality tests. Myers-Briggs, I’m not a big fan of. It’s better than nothing, but I’m a huge proponent of DISC, StrengthsFinder, Demartini Values Determination Process, and Kolbe A as well. 

Those are all assessments that I have my finalist and certainly all of my new hires who are on the trial period do. DISC is done by all my finalists. You can get it done for free or for really cheap. tonyrobbins.com, there’s a disc assessment there. I think they started charging recently for that; it’s used to be free, but it’s only $15. 

StrengthsFinder is about $15. I love that one. You get the top five strengths of the candidate or the new hire. Also, the Fascinate Test from Sally Hogshead. You get to see what their primary and secondary advantages are and what their archetype is. Prestige and power are my primary and secondary advantages, and my archetype is the victor. 

Why do all these assessments? It’s not just for fun. It actually gives you great insight into things like their attention to detail and how best to work with them, who to pair them up with, whether they are going to complement your weaknesses, your gaps. For example, with Kolbe A, if somebody is really a fact finder and I’m a really high quick start, that’s a great fit because I can come up with all sorts of crazy and brilliant ideas really fast, and it’s really hard for me to complete stuff on my own. I can hand it off to the person whose the fact finder to be the finisher and not worry about the details getting missed.

Another thing I do with DiSC to see that the details are not going to be missed is to see if I’m going to hire a high C. If it’s a role that requires a lot of attention to detail, let’s say that they’re going to be a VA and they are going to be in my email managing my email for me, for sure I want a high C. I don’t want them fast and loose with sending emails to prospects who send me an email asking me an SEO question or wanting to book a call. 

That’s another really valuable assessment as I said. The thing I care about the most is usually the C, but also S. I’m high S, high steady, that is also good. Somebody has high S, then they are very reliable, and slow and steady wins the race, as they say.

If you want to learn more about these kinds of assessments, I’ve covered this a few times on Marketing Speak, but the episode that comes to mind off-hand that is worth to listen is Cameron Herold. We kind of geeked out about assessments in that episode. We also talked about something that he called TORC. That is ninja. TORC stands for Treat of Reference Checks. What you do is, through the process of the interview, ask for the person’s name of let’s say it’s a particular specific situation. An example of them saving the day through their attention to detail or whatever it is. It’s like, “Oh wow, that’s a great outcome that you got for that client. What was his name? Oh, Bill. Awesome.” then you go to your next question but you write these people down. 

When you work with that co-worker, that colleague and you helped her to look like a hero to the client or whatever, but what was her name? So by the end of the interview, hopefully maybe 10 names, you turn your pen and paper around and you say, “Could you give me the contact details of these folks, Bill and Betty and whoever?” If they go sheet white, you know that person is to be escorted out the door. If they hmm and huh, or they say, “I already gave you my references.” Then you know that this person is not a good hire. That is a huge warning sign. If they don’t give you all the people’s contact details, maybe only 80%, that’s also a warning sign, not necessarily a deal-breaker but a big warning sign.

What we can do is this is where the threat of reference check comes in. You can ask for specific things that attribute qualities, whatever that person will say about the candidate. “If I were to call Bill right now and ask him what your highest value is, or what your  best strength is, or how he’d score you on a scale of one to ten in terms of work ethic or whatever the question is, what would he say?”

This is where you’ll get the truth or most likely. That is so ninja because they are afraid that you’re going to call and verify that that’s indeed the right answer. Of course, you don’t have to call Bill or any of these folks because you are getting all the insights right now in that interview process by saying, “What would Bill say about you? What would Betty say about you?” It is really clever. That’s called TORC. That’s one of the things I learned from my conversation with Cameron. Definitely listen to that episode.

Another thing that I do within the trial period is I get the new hire to define the roles, responsibilities, hand-offs, and success metrics. What are success metrics? These are the things that will be smart goals, objectives that will be easily measurable, that they can determine their success on who can determine their success on. 

Hiring the wrong person because you’re “saving on costs” is actually more expensive than hiring an expert who already knows what to do.

Peter Drucker famously said, “What gets measured, gets managed.” If the person has no success metrics then how do they know if they are winning or losing at the game? Another thing I see rarely getting addressed in a job description is hand-offs. This is where the new person’s job ends and some other person’s job begins.

For example, if it’s a web developer whose not doing SEO, their job ends where they’re creating robots to that text file based on default guidelines but then they are consulting with the SEO specialist to understand what are the additional disallows and sight maps directives and so forth that need to get added to that robots.txt file. Or they go in and set-up the redirect, but they confirm with the SEO person that it’s the right kind of redirect and that it is working correctly and it’s not a chain of redirects, etc. Hand-offs is super important.

Now, why would you get the new hire or the new company to define the success metrics and hand-offs, roles and responsibilities rather than writing them for them? The reason is because you want them to feel like they have functional ownership of their position.

From Impossible to Inevitable by Aaron Ross & Jason Lemkin

I use that term, functional ownership, very deliberately. That comes from the book From Impossible to Inevitable by Aaron Ross. I loved that book. I interview Aaron on this podcast and on my other podcast, Get Yourself Optimized. You need to listen to both episodes. It’s fabulous. 

The idea of functional ownership means that instead of the employee renting their job like they’d rent a car and they’d beat the heck out of it, you don’t treat your rental cars like you treat your own car that you own. That’s how they treat your job because they don’t own the job. It’s not their business. They just punch in and punch out. Some people are more responsible than others, but for the most part rent their job and own their home. If they own a home or if they are renting a home, that’s different. 

The idea here is that you want them to feel like they own their job, that they have that functional ownership. Get them to feel like this is their idea. These roles, responsibilities, hand-offs, and success metrics. Even if you have to coach them over and over again to get the right answers in terms of what these metrics and hand-offs all are. It’s going to be well worth it in the end.

The roles and responsibilities. What’s the difference there? Roles, it’s their position. What are their big job functions? Responsibilities are more where the minutiae are. If one of your roles is to be the in-house travel expert, if you are a new VA on board, in-house travel expert for hotel bookings, airfare, airline bookings, all that, then that’s a role, whereas a responsibility might be to find the best deals on Priceline or Skyscanner. That’s different. It’s more tactical, whereas a role is more goal-oriented. 

Another thing is to make sure that in these test trial period, you are delegating not tasks but outcomes. If you tell somebody to do this, that, and these other tasks, then they might stop short from actually getting you that outcome and they tick the box on Asana or Trello, it just sits there and the thing never sees the light of day, and you never get the benefit. It’s really important to delegate outcomes.

I mentioned before the Demartini Value Determination assessment, which is free on Dr. Demartini’s website on drdemartini.com. There’s this value determination process. You set up an account, it’s free, and you end up with a values hierarchy. These are your top values in order. 

Let’s say that when your highest values are family, God, your church, or whatever, whatever that thing is, if it’s highest on your values hierarchy, then you want to figure out ways on how to work that into the job description, the roles and responsibilities, or you want to encourage them to make the connection between those highest values of theirs and the thing that they are going to be doing on a day-in-day-out basis. 

For example, in the case of a travel person. If they are really excited about traveling the world at some point, they have as one of their highest values travel or location independence. I actually have one of my key people, she bops around all over the world. She might be in Mexico, California, or Paris for some number of months of the year and that’s totally fine. She gets the job done. I don’t care where she’s based. That’s hugely freeing for her and she loves that, makes it a very appealing attribute of the job.

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Whatever the highest values are, if you can accentuate that, “Hey, your highest value is travel or location independence. One of the key things or key roles is to be our in-house travel expert and I’m going to teach you how to get the best deals from Priceline, how to use tools like Skyscanner or Autoslash.com, or tools that they might not even heard of before.” 

They will go like, “Wow. That sounds really cool. I’m excited.” That’s going to inspire them. You don’t have to motivate them. They are going to be internally inspired because they see the connection between their highest values and what they are doing in their roles and responsibilities.

That’s a lot of stuff. I want to leave you with some parting thoughts. In particular, I want you to figure out ways that the person or the company that you are hiring is going to be motivated, internally inspired to get you the outcome that you are after. It’s going to be like your and their incentives are going to be closely aligned.

Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt

Have you ever read the book, Freakonomics? You’ll know what I’m talking about. One of my favorite business books. It’s a great book. So if you can align your incentives and their incentives, you’re going to have a great outcome. Let me give you an example of that. 

My clients, many of them use my team for link building and it’s a pay for performance basis. The way that works is that you sign up for the service and you pay $5000 a month retainer. But it’s all on a pay for performance basis so that’s just to make sure that we get our money in case the client walks which doesn’t happen. Just to protect ourselves. We get paid upfront but then we need to deliver on that.

The way that we deliver is that we charge based on the links that were acquired. If we don’t acquire any links that month, you get a full refund of that $5000. If we’re a little short on the target, the pricing is on a sliding scale based on things like domain rating, Ahrefs, estimated click-through traffic, trust flow, and a bunch of things. We take that into account, we price it out, and then for each link you see the price and you get that reconciliation report that statement shortly after the end of the month. Let’s say that the $5000 retainer is completely used up, great. Then you pay the next $5000 retainer. 

If we went a little bit over, then that gets’ added to the next invoice. If we came a little short and we only got to let’s say $4900, then you get a $100 credit. This is awesome because what it means is that it takes all the risk off of the client and puts it on us. They feel a lot more comfortable with signing up. We de-risked the situation for them. You should look for opportunities to do the same with that new hire or that new agency that you are working with.

How can you de-risk it so that it’s on them to perform and if they don’t, they are losing out? They got skin in the game. That is something that I’ll leave you to mull over because it is going to depend on the situation. It’s going to different for an employee and it’s going to be for an agency. 

Another example of a pay for performance type of arrangement is with my previous agency Netconcepts. I invented a pay for performance Software as a Service called GravityStream. It was a reverse proxy technology that would fix all sorts of SEO problems. These were really big eCommerce websites like Nordstorm and Zappos were running and we would fix all of the intrinsic problems with their SEO, with their eCommerce platform, that would normally cost seven figures to fix the eCommerce platform. The CMS will oftentimes be so unwieldy, difficult, or impossible to modify in this way that this was the only way to do it, to use a reverse proxy and have some middleware that would inject the SEO changes in between their web server, their CMS or eCommerce platform and the greater Internet.

In between there, there is that layer that we would apply all these fixes. We would process the DOM (Document Object Model). We charge on a cost per click basis or pay for performance, 15 cents a click. They want to buy as much of that traffic as possible because it’s so much cheaper than the GoogleAds spend. They would want to buy as much traffic. We had clients who would spend seven figures a year with us on that technology, but it’s all pay for performance. They would never dream of that time to spend seven figures on an SEO firm for consulting, but they were happy to do it for pay for performance.

Look for these opportunities to structure a deal that is a win-win, that is aligned in terms of the incentives, and they’ve got skin in the game. If they are not performing as well as you would want them to, as what you would expect, then they’re essentially getting a pay cut.

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All right, that’s a wrap. I know that this was a very different kind of episode than my typical interview format. Again, please send me an email and let me know if you want more of these. This is actually a lot more work. I get into a flow state talking to other people and I’m just talking to dead air here. I’m talking to a microphone. I’m hoping you’re there listening, but it’s harder for me. I get into a flow-state conversing with others. 

This is a harder episode to create than typical, but I’m willing to do it for you if you are getting massive value out of it. Let me know. My email is me@stephanspencer.com. If you are looking for SEO services, a consultant, an expert, somebody who co-wrote a book on the topic, then send me an email. As always, go to marketingspeak.com/210 for the show notes, transcript, checklist, all that and we’ll catch you on the next episode of Marketing Speak. I’m your host, Stephan Spencer signing off.

Important Links

Your Checklist of Actions to Take

☑ Create a hiring funnel to automate my hiring process. It can be as simple as a Careers page on my website where people can send their resumes.
☑ Where possible, delegate early stages of the hiring process to an assistant. Make sure they have a set of criteria so that only qualified candidates move on to the next stage. 
☑ Include a problem to solve in my job ads. One right way to know if the applicant is serious about applying is by asking a riddle. This will demonstrate problem-solving skills and competence.
☑ Be careful when perusing the applicant’s social media profiles and don’t let their personal lives such as age, disability, gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation affect the hiring process.
☑ Split test job ads to find out what works best. Switch the titles, job descriptions, and other elements such as the problem-solving tests.
☑ Use trick questions during the interview. An example would be asking, “What’s the difference between Panda and Penguin?” A good candidate would answer, “Google Panda’s algorithm is about thin content while Google Penguin is about low-quality links.” 
☑ Bring in an expert on the second interview. This could be an SEO consultant who can grill them more adeptly on best practices, algorithm updates, and recent advances.
☑ Agree to a trial period of at least three months before I bring them fully on board. This is an excellent period to evaluate whether they are a fit for the company.
☑ Bookmark Stephan’s Brighton SEO powerpoint as a reference on how to hire a great SEO.
☑ Download Stephan’s SEO Hiring Blueprint on www.stephanspencer.com.

About Stephan Spencer

Stephan Spencer is an internationally recognized SEO expert, internet entrepreneur, and professional speaker. In his 20+ year SEO career, Stephan has established himself as one of the leading experts in the world. He has helped many clients big and small reap the traffic, conversions and ROI they desire through the power of search engine optimization.



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