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Search Agency Land - The Ever Emerging Beast

7th Mar 2015


Attracting top talent in search agency land has for the past few years been tough as we all know, but from my vantage point many of the progressive agencies have identified that just relying on increasing salaries and promoting rapidly is not sustainable and in fact, is harming to the industry as a whole. With the level of visas granted in Australia down this past year on previous years, international talent can no longer be the go-to option either. So what’s happening out there right now?


As alluded to above, for the past few years the search candidates view of changing jobs has been very much ‘same job, different place’ hence the request for a greater salary or progression quicker than maybe merited in other industries in order to move. The agencies themselves know this wasn’t sustainable and 2014 was very much the year that many started to redefine search roles with a view to creating a USP in terms of employer branding for candidate attraction. I’d like to think this was the sole driver but in reality it was most probably in some cases a bi-product of them creating a USP to provide a superior service to their clients. Some have looked at a complete re-structure of how they service accounts due to the industry being incredibly competitive with some very large accounts changing hands constantly. From our vantage point it is very interesting to see how different agencies structure themselves. The old school format of a client services team, delivery team & optimisation/analytics team has been replaced in many cases by a myriad of mini structures on the same agency floor. Search candidates love this. It’s different, it’s variable & they get exposure to new disciplines, which in latter years will aid their development into a general digital role.


I do feel a lot of this redefinition of roles was organic in some cases, for example, with the real kick forward of paid social in 2014. Paid social is an ‘add on’ to their role that paid search candidates enjoy and it just made complete sense as a cross sell, that the same person manages it all the while gaining valuable experience. I do feel this specific hybrid role will be short lived in many of the larger agencies however. It’s been flagged that paid social needs to be positioned as a totally separate product due to the fact that major clients while being keen to invest in this channel have ‘dipped their toe’ by taking it from the search budget which has resulted in cannibalisation, in a way. The internal role may still deliver on both but externally it may be positioned otherwise to address this.


So the candidate market has been asking for search roles with variety and now they exist. Whether it’s as above in a ‘biddable media’ wide role, whether it’s a shift into a performance role, or a delivery role that now is hybrid & has client contact, whether it’s a candidate that has serviced many accounts but wants a role focussing on one big account, or vice versa – there is now lots of variety out there and many different structures which suit different candidates. I’ve recruited in this space for 3 years and the level of change has been enormous. Search marketing is so competitive still and ever more with some international performance only players making some strides in the market. Players with a small yet very effective account direction/client services team on the ground here backed up by some massive delivery teams abroad who service several countries. (And I’m not just talking about the SME client market) It’s tough going especially if you are not nimble.


On the candidate side, I take a lot of calls from senior search candidates who wish to go client-side. The difficulty as a lot realise, is that often people can go ‘too senior’ in agency which makes it more difficult to complete the cross over. Many firms don’t have the need for a very senior search strategy person yet, (that’s what they pay the agencies for) they usually need someone who is still executing. It’s ‘never say never’ and as client-side build their in-house teams it’s ever changing, however it is still difficult. Publisher or vendor side can provide a good stepping-stone into brand side. A lot of brands as we know, especially in travel and FS in particular do have extensive in-house search teams.


Lastly, career paths and options for those wanting to move from search agency land. For paid search professionals looking for a new challenge, the programmatic space has no doubt been knocking at your door. It’s a good relevant option in a seriously emerging space. For optimisers/analysts/performance specific, the same beckons plus the publisher side has some great roles for a change of scenery. For SEO professionals - one particular route depending on your background, is to try get as much CRO experience under your belt as you can where possible. The banks, software companies and many other industries are really ramping up their in-house online sales conversion teams and there is a shortage of candidates in this space. We have placed a number of people with strong SEO agency backgrounds straight into CRO roles with the view of them being skilled up. Adobe training is vital for anyone looking to go this route. Adobe has positioned it’s product suite beautifully in this regard with some of the FS clients I work with in conversion often ranking their prospective candidates solely by their Adobe product suite proficiency.


It’s a great time to work in this industry, it’s hyper competitive but that’s what makes it so vibrant and ever changing – remember that that elusive client-side role may be your goal however the grass is often not always greener. The role is completely different and we do get calls from people who have made the move and after 6 months really miss the pace and team work in agency. Look at the role for what it is – you are not simply going to change over and be on the other end of the phone managing the agency. You more than likely will be running campaigns and looking at the same data sets day in day out (that still may sound good) but you may tire of it. You lose the environment, pace and flexibility of agency (ok you may not do as many hours but still… it all has to be weighed up).


Long may this fast paced ever changing industry remain. An industry that is constantly re-inventing and innovating due to the product becoming ever homogenous.  It’s a pleasure to deal with these folk both as clients and candidates on a daily basis.


For market info either as an employer or a candidate please don’t hesitate to reach out to me for a coffee!