Richard Kraneis (@rkraneis ) is a good friend of WordStream, a frequent reader of and commenter on our Internet Marketing Blog  and runs a site offering online  GED  services. Like many, Richard is curious about learning the ropes of search engine marketing (SEM). His questions about SEM are always well-thought out and intriguing and often result in some great dialogue. So we thought it would be interesting to post some of Richard's questions and follow along in his quest for SEM knowledge as he seeks answers from:
- His own research - Richard's own research will fuel his SEM education
- The staff at WordStream  - We'll offer our own thoughts on Richard's questions and answers
- Your feedback - feel free to weigh in and give your thoughts too
This Month's SEM Question from Richard
I'm in the process of looking for prospective employers and an in-house SEM position. I find myself looking not only at the job advertisements but also at the prospective employer's websites. Before I apply for a position, I make my own assessment as to whether or not a company’s website has a good foundation and whether or not I can help a company improve its website.
So that got me wondering: Do search marketing professionals choose prospective employers by looking at their website?
Like I said, when I’m responding to an online marketing manager advertisement, I am looking for websites that I can improve. I read the ad and then study the website. I have a four website criteria when applying for the job:
- TKDU rule: If a website isn’t showing forethought with their <title>, <keywords>, <description> and url name, I know I can improve that website.
- Rank Checker research: I take a few obvious keywords  that seem important and research them through Rank Checker. If a website spent a lot of effort making a page attractive for the term "platinum ice skate blades," for example, then I use Rank Checker  to see if they spent as much time pushing that keyword to the first page of their SERP.
- Google PPC: If a website doesn’t rank well for an obvious keyword, and the company is not using Google PPC, I know I can immediately help the company.
- Google Analytics and closing the sale: I look for Google Analytics in the HTML of the website. I also look for whether the site is B2C or B2B and how it closes for a sale or an appointment. I know I can help websites that aren’t quantitatively based and/or not closing cleanly on their website.
Strangely enough, if a website passes all four of my technical assessments, I’m not interested in the position. I want websites where I believe I can increase traffic and/or conversions. I also don’t want websites that are too chaotic. I guess I’m looking for a website that you might call a “nice fixer upper.”
So my question to other search marketers is, when you look at potential in-house online marketing positions, do you quickly assess the website technically? If so, what are your techniques for evaluation? Do you see a potential employer's website as a “house” you’d like to own and improve?
It's interesting you should mention this because I was approached about a job at popular travel company recently about heading their US search efforts. I wasn't interested for a number of reasons. For starters, I really enjoy working at WordStream, so that made it a no go right there. Additionally, and along the same premise as your article, I learned that the company's online marketing goals involved what was (on a personal level) a massive undertaking for minimal return. This travel company's website is an SEO machine that ranks top 3 (usually position #2) for thousands of head, mid and long tail keywords . They're main competitor is another SEO powerhouse that ranks # 1 in the majority of the same verticals. The primary and basically only objective of the company that approached me is to outrank and unseat the competitor site. The amount of effort it would take to outrank the competitor and move from #2 to #1 would be a colossal undertaking. Plus, it's not like the competitor site is standing still waiting for insurgents to sneak up and outrank them. They're also working hard at SEO to maintain their #1 status and they're damn good at what they do.
Now, don't get me wrong, I love a challenge and I'm confident in my ability. But even if I was looking for a job, there wouldn't have been enough value or reward in this particular challenge on a personal level. Moving from #2 to #1 in the SERPs doesn't do it for me. A far more worthwhile, appealing and gratifying opportunity would be to take a site with no presence or a poor presence and be able to explode their traffic and conversions. So I can relate to where you're coming from.
I actually have a slightly different view of things: I think a site doing some things right from an SEO perspective means there's internal buy-in at the company, which I think is really vital. I think the ideal job opportunity is a site that is doing everything well but your area of expertise. There are a lot of different types of "search marketers" and each discipline has the capacity to help drive results. So if you're technical and have a core competency in content organization and generation, look for a large site with a lot of strong public relations but bad architecture/technical flaws. If you're particularly good at launching link baits, look for a site with a lot of great content that is doing things the right way from an on-page standpoint (which lets you know there is internal buy-in) that doesn't have a great promotion strategy/link profile.
I see both Tom's and Ken's sides here. I'd personally be most eager to take a position with a company that was clearly on the right path (not a total fixer-upper) but also not already doing pretty much everything right. So somewhere in the middle: a good foundation with room to grow. But I'll add that I think it makes a difference if the companies you're looking at fall in the search marketing sector themselves or not. If I were applying for search marketing positions at companies outside the search industry, I'd expect less thorough optimization on their sites. If I were applying for a search job at an SEM consultancy or a company that makes SEO software tools, I'd be looking for the site to show obvious search expertise. If a search firm has a fixer-upper of a site, that just seems like a bad sign. Challenge or no, who wants to be surrounded by incompetence, right?