Business strategy

Why SEO and marketing matter when you’re building a startup – and when to hire someone who’ll deliver it

- June 9, 2023 4 MIN READ
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Understanding when and what type of marketing hire you need to make can be really confusing and difficult.

When appraising applicants, their job titles often don’t tell you what they really do day-to-day, and on the other side of the coin, you might know what you want your new hire to do but you can’t quite find the job title that represents what that is. As a result of this, many hiring managers struggle to hire marketers that align with and make a deep impact on the business. 

SEO in particular is a bit of a mystery box when it comes to knowing when it’s the right time to hire someone, what you want them to do, and how to tell whether or not they’re doing it well. 

What does an SEO specialist do?

Let’s break down what someone who specialises in SEO does to first get a foundation of understanding:

  • Technical reviews and fixes of your website, ensuring it is optimised for search engines (and not just Google!) and for humans alike, alongside day-to-day site management
  • Build a backlinks strategy, getting links to your site on other sites – this can be a very social aspect to the job, too, often doing outreach and communication with other sites
  • Reporting and analytics, doing deep dives into the behaviours of what people are doing on your site, where they’re coming from, and how to optimise this
  • Auditing content submitted by other team members or freelancers to check it’s SEO optimised before publishing
  • Tracking keywords, rankings, and traffic sources, and making suggestions to other team members managing any search ads

And of course, what they don’t do:

  • Write content
  • Manage or create ads

On top of all this, SEO is a fast changing specialisation, so a specialist needs time in their day to keep up with changes, continuously learn, and hone their craft more and more. 

When does it make sense to hire an SEO specialist?

Let’s run through a little checklist:

  1. Does a large amount of your website traffic or sales come through organic search? 
  2. Would you be at risk of losing significant revenue if organic search stopped working for you?
  3. Have you invested a lot of time and/or money in content? 
  4. Are you doing a lot of PR as part of your growth or marketing strategy? 

If you answered yes to two or more of these, it’s probably time to consider hiring an in-house specialist, otherwise a freelancer on retainer could make sense for you depending on your size. 

One thing to watch out for: If you have a freelancer on retainer, and every week or month they send you a report of your keyword rankings, but no mention of what they actually did in that time, look for a better one.

An agency might not make sense in this situation because it’s too “in the middle”. You’ll either get not enough value out of them because you need more time and attention than what an agency would give to any one client, or you’ll get too many bells and whistles that you can’t really take advantage of because you’re not yet that advanced.

If you already use an agency for your overall marketing, and SEO is just one component of that, then you are probably doing the right thing.

A second checklist:

  1. Do most of your sales happen through partner networks or outbound? 
  2. Do the keywords that best apply to you have low search volumes?
  3. Are you creating something that is a totally new category of product?
  4. Do you need fast results or want to get short term ROI?

If you answered yes to any of these, your time and effort is better invested in a marketing channel other than SEO. 

How do you know if someone you’ve hired is doing well?

SEO is a long term game. You can’t always tell if you’ve made a good hire within the first few weeks or even months. But you still need a way of measuring your hire – whether they’re in house, freelance, or an agency.

Aside from the hire being able to clearly communicate what they are seeing (performing an audit), what they are doing right now (current work), and what they’re planning (longer term milestones and goals), SEO is a very collaborative role.

Are they checking in with team members who are running paid search ads? Are they checking in with the team doing PR to find backlink opportunities? Are they building a two way street with content writers, so they can understand what the goal of the content is and provide recommendations on how to better reach those goals? 

Your team should be able to share with you how collaborative this hire is, and whether they feel like momentum is building.

SEO is far from a solo endeavour. Keep an eye out for hires who fly under the radar. Are they doing that on purpose, or because they’re busy getting work done? Encourage them to share their work early on to build that expectation, even if it’s not to share results but instead a hypothesis, idea, or suggestion. 

Longer term, you might have an unfortunate situation where the hire’s hypothesis was wrong, and it took some time to validate it. Don’t hold this against them. When they’re starting out they’ll need some time to fine tune, and with a long term play like SEO, that also means there’s a chance your long term play won’t hit the mark the first time round. 

Overall the pros of someone who really knows what they’re doing far outweigh someone doing SEO on an ad hoc basis. When it comes to a dedicated internal hire, the difference is truly night and day. 

Whether you are just starting your SEO strategy with a freelancer, have already got an agency working on it, or are convinced to make an in house hire, good luck! 


  • Kayla Medica is a B2B SaaS marketing leader and author of Mehdeeka, the newsletter for solo marketers and small teams. 
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