I shared a view of Google Trends this week on Twitter and Reddit, where I looked at the search trends/interest levels for “Search Engine Optimization” (which is an aggregated list of searches and terms – for example “local seo”, “search engine optimisation”) and “Google Ads” (which includes Google AdWords). PPC is now a broader term, often encompassing Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Reddit’s own PPC Ad offerings.
This is what the trend comparison looks like:
Search interest for SEO (organic) started to lift around February peaking at 100% (the highest ever) before falling, only to start growing again in April. There are lots of reasons and lots of data points within this but a couple of things sprung to mind:
PPC is still stable after a slight drop
Search for PPC is still very stable as it has been for the past five years. This doesn’t indicate a drop or increase in business to PPC agencies, although from my friends and connections, without a doubt, PPC agencies have seen a complete standstill in the following areas, for very obvious reasons related to COVID19:
- Travel – hotels, airlines, vacations, car rental
- A lot of online retail – as reported by Google but this should be temporary
Statement from Google:
“Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai acknowledged during a conference call that the company’s ad sales had been “significantly impacted” during March and that the pain has spilled into this month, too. But both Pichai and Alphabet’s chief financial officer, Ruth Porat, emphasized that people are using Google’s search engine and YouTube video service more than ever under stay-at-home restrictions, a trend that could lead to long-term gains once the economy recovers.”
SEO is very different, especially in the travel industry. PPC right now is generating traffic that cannot make bookings because of reasons running to travel restrictions, international travel bans, individual health and safety, financial reasons, corporate reasons. SEO however, makes a lot of sense to keep investing because the cost isn’t proportionate, plus you want to be ready to be as highly positioned as you can when restrictions are lifted and people return to travel. PPC on the other hand, can just be turned on and off – hence the sudden collapse in business to many agencies.
What’s also of interest is the number of jobs posted in the last 30 days for jobs in SEO in NYC and jobs with PPC in NYC. On Indeed.com, we saw 783 jobs with SEO in the title/description posted in the past 30 days, with 198 being posted in the past week. That number was over 900 on Indeed.com with 222 posted in the past week. Granted, this will include some jobs where SEO is mentioned once in the description – I’m looking for overall scale of demand for “SEO”:
The total for the USA is 6,900 jobs in the past month, so New York City has a highly disproportionate number of jobs for SEO, having about 10% of the total postings with about 2.3% of the total population.
For PPC, the number of jobs posted in NYC is 203 and nationally it is 1407. Now there are some obvious reasons for these differences. SEO is quite often used in a broad number of job descriptions these days, even when it probably doesn’t matter a whole lot or make sense, for example in the roles of a content writer or social media manager/intern. These vary from overly optimistic, a sense of caution to just not understanding SEO at all. The other reasons are that fewer firms are hiring paid search managers right now.
Hiring an SEO person right now?
Freelancer vs Agency vs Inhouse
Firstly, there’s a vast difference between all of these hiring types – especially when it comes to experience. So when and why would you go in-house vs an agency.
There are 5 important variables that will dictate this:
Maybe some of these are intertwined. So I’m going to look at the pros and cons of each
Many small companies just can’t afford a full-time hire or an agency. The world of freelancers is vast and rates vary from $300 to $9000pm depending on experience, availability and location. And experience isn’t just down to years – it also comes down:
- Domain/Industry/Vertical knowledge
- Track Record
- Ability to show results
- Years on the job
- Time and reporting on the job
- Additional skills (e.g. PPC, PR, Writing, etc)
In a nutshell all models come down to efficiencies, these are just ways of looking at those.
These come to play in the variations between the other types too. Some will get you hired, however Ability to show results is what will keep you. There are definitely companies that are hiring freelancers that should be moving in-house and visa versa. Low end freelancers who are low priced tend to be so because of 1) location, 2) capability, 3) confidence or a combination of. That’s not to say location should be a priority – its really about demonstrating understanding and delivering on results, as well as the ability to report on that. Higher end freelancers do so because 1) they don’t want one job and 2) they won’t get nearly as high a revenue from an agency. Agencies don’t typically pay their staff well as individuals – there’s cost/risk sharing, team expertise and a revolving door of skills. Agencies can typically lead strategy with more experienced team members who delegate work to lower skilled staff, and in bad cases to interns, freeing up profit. Agencies also carry lots of non-billable staff – like finance, project managers, account managers, directors, owners who might account for 50-60% of revenue.
Freelancers might argue that they are more efficient – being able to outsource to people they can trust, measure and mitigate against, but not carrying non-billable staff like middle-management, shareholders and other team members. Agencies can make a similar argument that you can get a share of expertise, execution and thinking across 5-7 people instead of just one with a much lower shared cost.
The main difference between freelancing and agency is that freelancers have lower overheads and typically you are looking for a single domain expert. As I mentioned above, an agency can provide strategy and execution across SEO, PPC, Content and social and scales that freelancers cannot. Similarly, as companies move between the 3, depending on their own histories, talent availability, need to to keep improving, agencies can also show a lack of deep understanding, talent moving to different teams or agencies, that agencies build out plans to ensure maximum client retention.
I’ve often said in the past, if your company is heavily reliant (i.e. more than 40% of leads – and many companies today are above 65%) on search marketing, then you need an experienced search marketer at least at the VP level. The most successful companies who’ve leveraged search marketing to become Unicorns (like Indeed.com, car rental, jobs portals, aggregators etc) need to have this person at the senior leadership level to board level. Many companies need an agency within. Inhouse positions can open up to save costs -especially for companies spending $500k-5m on Search marketing. What does kill me is when I see firms bringing very inexperienced people into a multi-faceted role, like a digital marketing manager with 3 years experience for SEO, PPC and Social Media.