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Success Secrets of a High Performing SEO Team

Over the past few years I’ve had the pleasure of working for, in and then on an exceptional SEO team. Over that time I’ve noticed a few recurring patterns with those team members who washed out and those who have stayed long term. When you go from hundreds of clients to thousands it becomes exponentially more difficult to manage an expert team.

So how do you hire, train and retain top level digital experts?

Hiring: Finding the SEO Team of your dreams.

We outlined a few of the best (and worst) traits commonly found in our team.

The best SEO specialists we ever found had a few common threads:

  1. each had their own websites and had worked on the SEO themselves over a period of time. The longer the time, the more successful the SEO.
  2. each value self-education and continued learning as one of the highest priorities, often over financial gain and promotion opportunities, and
  3. each brought something new into the team that we didn’t know or couldn’t prove before they arrived.

The specialists that most frequently washed out also shared features:

  1. each did the work their own way and struggled to do tasks the way we asked and expected,
  2. each came to work and “clocked in” precisely at 9 and “clocked out” precisely at 5:30,
  3. none ever sought additional help, expressed that the work was taxing them or asked a lot of questions.

So the average SEOs on our team did their work, seemed only to need the work day to finish and never asked questions. Seems great, right? So why weren’t they the perfect hires?

Training: Who pushes for more?

The answer to that question is obvious in hindsight. Those who were struggling most were not speaking up because they were overwhelmed. The work was too much and it was easier to sweep the issues under the rug than ask for help and draw attention to their problems. The over-achievers expected to ask questions and improve. The under-achievers were afraid of being “found out” for not knowing the answers.

We offered training as frequently as possible in a busy agency. We tried twice a week in the mornings but that was difficult on everyone for myriad reasons. We tried once a week on Fridays during ‘beer o’clock’ but people get distracted and don’t retain much by Monday. And sometimes we plain forgot or didn’t have time.

What we learned from the non-training times was that excellent team members would speak up and be proactive. They asked for training, brought us ideas, and were often the first to volunteer to run their own training sessions on topics they were passionate about. If we failed to provide a session they reminded us.

Other team members waited for sessions. They never asked about training and when it was offered we saw them checking phones, sitting in the back and oops, forgetting notepads every time. I believe these team members would have been happy never being “forced” into another training session. I’d ask them but they’re sleeping in the back.


Retaining: Why do your superstars leave?

It is inevitable that you will lose some of your best performers along the way. To drive progress requires consistent work by an exceptional team. So, the goal must be to retain as many on your SEO team as possible for as long as possible.

We found that top performers leave for a lot of different reasons but the most common are:

  1. insufficient opportunity to work on projects that excite or invigorate them. Your top performers need consistently challenging and worthy projects or they become bored and stale. It’s not enough to promote as these specialists understand that titles are not their end goal.
  2. insufficient pay. Suck it up and realise that your top performers deserve far more pay than your average performers. There is no linear scale that covers every situation and if you can’t afford to lose a team member, don’t lose them because you didn’t find it in the budget to pay them.
  3. agitation and frustration with colleagues around them who desire so much less long-term. If you want your team to be its best, weed out those who do not want what you want. Give your team the best colleagues and they will thank you for it.


It can be very difficult to hire, train and retain your best employees and keep your SEO team together. Every day they are with you is one day closer to the day they leave. How you handle those days will determine how many you get in the end. Distilled superstar (and leaver) Tom Critchlow told me “You should give them a great place to work and strive to keep them but at the same time you should acknowledge that eventually you won’t be able to pay them enough to keep them around and they’ll likely leave. Allow them to leave, stay on good terms with them and it’ll come back around to you in good time.”

Don’t assume because a team member is not asking questions that they know all the answers. Do not assume your busy, talented team member is happy if their work is repetitive, easy and a bit mundane. Challenge your whole team. Their response will help you know more about each employee.

Every employee leaves eventually. When they do, be the place they remember as special and a place they would love to return to someday.

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What keeps your team motivated? How do you retain superstar performers? Can you ever keep someone on your team "forever"?

Posted by Matt Antonino on Monday, July 27, 2015

About Matt Antonino

Matt is a marketing consultant in Melbourne, Australia. He teaches businesses to market smarter and faster through multichannel marketing including SEO & Content Marketing, SEM, Email & Social Media.

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