What is SEO grading and why you should have incorporated it yesterday?

Polina Kuchkovskaya
18 June 2020

How do you evaluate the level of an SEO specialist at hiring objectively? How do you understand that an employee has stepped at a new level and has earned a promotion? How can you be sure that your SEO specialist is getting fair compensation? We are sure that each and every team lead and HR manager who have faced the issue of hiring and developing SEO specialists at least once are concerned with these questions. And what is aimed at providing answers to these questions is the SEO grading system.

What is grading

Grading is the system of evaluation that allows one to objectively define a skill level of a specialist and assign it to one of the grades (junior, middle, senior) due to the clearly set criteria.

Grading is widely spread in IT companies. This is particularly relevant for the developers as most of the time, their grade is determined in their job title, and the grading criteria are relatively similar within the entire market.

However, for other positions, various complications arise. In particular, Boosta has faced the fact that approaches to the SEO specialists’ evaluation significantly vary in different companies. Sometimes, a candidate who has the “Middle SEO specialist” level of job experience defined in their resume may not make it even to the Junior level in our understanding. At the same time, a person who considers themselves as a Junior specialist can easily claim to the Middle level.

The reason for that is the lack of a universal understanding of what skills and on what level should an SEO specialist of a certain grade possess at the market. What can we tell about all companies if the opinions varied even among our internal representatives of 10 SEO teams? At a certain moment, we’ve come to the understanding that the further development and growth are impossible without the averaging and systematization of SEO processes. All specialists should have a similar understanding of every process, even the smallest one, starting with writing a technical inquiry for content and tending with the implementation of a strategy for the product entry into new markets. Otherwise, too much time and effort will be wasted on reaching this understanding in each individual case.

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What is the value of grading for SEO specialists

Grading is the educational system that will help specialists in improving their skills, help managers to see the picture in a more complex way, and help the company to have a more transparent scheme of interaction with employees.

SEO grading will help to solve these tasks:

  • Define the job description of different levels

The specifics of the different teams’ work and their subjective perception of the professional duties create a number of complications not only within the working process but also at the hiring stage. With the help of grading, you will build a shared understanding of the job description.

  • Shape stages for career development

There are cases when an employee comes to you and says that he or she already knows everything about their current level and is curious about when he or she can get to the next one. Grading will provide answers to such questions.

  • Improve the compensation structure

Grading will allow you to reach greater fairness in the compensation-related issues. You’ll be able to avoid situations when one of your specialists feels demotivated due to the fact that, having a greater knowledge and skill level, he or she receives lower compensation than a specialist with a lower qualification.

  • Create a base for fair compensation review decisions

Imagine a situation where your Senior SEO specialist is asking you to raise their compensation. That would be fair is their qualification is higher than the one of their colleagues at the same position. But how can you evaluate it without having universal standards?

  • Increase the transparency of processes for managers and specialists

It is much easier for an individual to work within the existing rules and policies that describe the processes that are taking place and provide answers on how does one behave in certain situations.

Benefits for employees:

  • Increased motivation
  • Clear perspectives of a career and professional development, together with the compensation increase
  • Individual development plan
  • The decrease in the ‘burnout’ effect among employees who stay in the same position for a long time
  • The transparency of the evaluation

Benefits for a company:

  • Simplification of the selection procedure
  • The shaping of the employees’ development strategy
  • Getting a method for recognizing talents талантов
  • Provision of the effective compensation scheme

How to start and introduce SEO grading

The process of the grading introduction can be divided into the following stages:

  • shaping the competencies and criteria;
  • checking out how realistic the criteria are and developing the attestation process;
  • working with feedback from the project participants and analyzing the experience gained;
  • specifying criteria and the attestation process;
  • conducting a second attestation.

In Boosta, the realization and the rollout of the project took 10 months. The work started with describing a portrait of a perfect SEO specialist for every level: Trainee, Junior, Middle, and Senior.

Basing on the discussion results, we’ve received the following list of the evaluation criteria (all possible SEO competencies):

Direction

Skill

Explanation

Basic skills

English knowledge level

The knowledge of a foreign language on a certain level (proved by passing a test)

Typing speed

The speed of text typing (proved by passing a test)

Basing technical skills

The knowledge of Hot Keys, the ability to learn new programs fast and to handle little technical complications

The knowledge of Excel

The knowledge of a number of formulas and the ability to use pivot tables

Background

Work experience

The previous experience of working in the SEO sphere

Work with sites

The knowledge CMS / WordPress

The ability to perform a certain set of tasks in CMS / WordPress

The knowledge of web pages structure

The understanding of what elements does a web page consist of

Inspection of pages

The ability to check and analyze page elements

Source code navigation

The ability to open source code, find the necessary elements of it, and conduct the analysis

Knowledge of the adaptation materials for SEO specialists

The learning of Boosta internal adaptation knowledge base materials

Conducting a competitive analysis

The research of competitors, their strategies and methods

Shaping a technical enquiry for content

The creation of a technical inquiry for the preparation of SEO content

Creating a plan of work

Planning tasks for sites with the correct definition of priorities and resources

Creating a site promotion strategy

The strategy of a site promotion covers the development of a detailed plan of actions basing on the individual peculiarities of a site that is being promoted

Education of co-workers

Sharing expertise with the co-workers of a lower grade

Finances control

Budgeting, controlling promotion spendings, controlling income from a site

Technical audit

The ability to conduct a technical audit of sites

Creation of guides and instructions for a team

The ability to develop instructions and policies for a team/ colleagues/ subordinates/ freelancers

Interaction with other teams/ freelance specialists

Results of the 360 interaction evaluation

Knowledge of the promotional processes

Full understanding of the promotional process elements

Knowledge of the corporate processes

The knowledge of Boosta corporate processes

General strategy creation

The ability to create a general strategy for a site promotion

Responsibility for a team

The readiness to shoulder responsibility for the results delivered by one’s team (subordinates)

Autonomy

Work management level

Directive / mentoring / supporting / delegating style

Research

Micro niche Research

Understanding of the ‘micro niche’ conception, the ability to define and analyze these micro niches

Market Research

The ability to analyze market tendencies and customer behavior

Niche Research

The ability to provide a full algorithm of an abstract niche research

Content

Keyword Research

Work with keywords

Publishing and Formatting

Knowledge of text formatting and publication tools

Meta Tags

The ability to work with meta tags

Text Optimization

Understanding of criteria of the optimized text

Internal Linking

Knowledge of the internal relinking

Content Gaps

Ability to conduct a content audit on the subject of the optimization to meet the request/ request of the target audience

Content for Linkbuilding

Ability to extract content to build the links that require content elements

User-Oriented Content (convert, link-bait, dwell time)

Ability to work with the listed content types

Rich Snippets

Understanding of what Rich Snippets are, what are their types and methods of influence

Featured Snippets

Understanding of what Featured Snippets are and optimization of content to fit in this format

Schema org

Ability to incorporate a layout in a page code

Growth-Hacking Research

Ability to work with non-standard methods and approaches to the projects’ promotion

Resource Management

Rational resource management

Revise Approaches

Ability to find new approaches and solutions for the projects’ promotion

Link building

Basic Link building (What? Why? How? Where?) / Live Links

Ability to work with links

Find, Analyze + Add to DB new donors

Ability to formulate search requests correctly

Main SEO Service Metrics Understanding

Metrics that help in analyzing the quality of the potential of a platform

Types of Link building techniques

Knowledge of N link building techniques

Competitors Backlink Research

Analysis of the competitors’ links

Anchor List

Ability to analyze and create anchor lists

Add/ Link/ Banner Placement

Ability to work with banners

Competitors Link Strategy Research

Ability to create a link strategy basing on the analysis of competitors

Research new link opportunities

Search for new link building methods

Long term link building strategy

Creation of a long term link building plan

Tier 2 (3) Link building

Understanding of the second and third level of links

Advanced Link building Techniques/Types: 301, PBN, etc.

Knowledge of complicated link building techniques and the ability to apply them

Revise Approaches

Understanding of the wholesome picture of the work of sites

Tools

Spreadsheets (google)

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/

Link tools (Ahrefs, Semrush, Majestic)

https://ahrefs.com/

https://www.semrush.com/

https://majestic.com/

JIRA

https://www.atlassian.com/ru/software/jira

Keyword Planner

Tools for the planning of keywords

GWT

http://www.gwtproject.org/

Google Analytics

https://analytics.google.com/

Screaming Frog

https://www.screamingfrog.co.uk/

Semantics analysis

Tools for the analysis of the semantics

Sitechecker

https://sitechecker.pro/

Tracking codes

Knowledge of tracking codes of the main tools

Aff Programs

Programs for the search for partners

We have defined the minimal level of coverage of each point for every grade. The higher the level of an employee is, the bigger is the amount of skills he or she has to possess, and the deeper their expertise is to be.

The next stage is the development of practical cases for evaluating the level of specialists.

Together with the questions and tasks, we have also developed the lists of sources that can be used for studying the theoretical aspect of every block that includes articles, books, videos, and even online courses. This way, the grading was transformed from the list of requirements into a wholesome knowledge base and made into a system of not just evaluation but also development.

The evaluation experience and practical advice

During the preparation, it may seem that after the mutual approval of the list of skills and criteria for the evaluation, the job of the SEO grading incorporation is done. However, in practice, it appears to be only the first stage.

It is necessary to develop and tune a wholesome business process since otherwise, the list of criteria is risking staying just a theory in the general knowledge base of the company.

In Boosta, it was decided to conduct the evaluation once per quarter by assessing all the SEO specialists who have expressed their desire for that and assigned during that period.   

Just like for any new process, the rollout was conducted via the test launch.

The team leads who were involved in the development of the competencies and criteria selected each one SEO specialist from their teams. This is how the first 4 candidates appeared. During the pilot, we wanted to check if it is possible to evaluate employees based on the prepared criteria at all and to make sure that these requirements are not too perfect and are relevant in practice.

Each of the grading participants has received a table with a list of competencies that he or she had to prepare a presentation about their skills and results on. They have put on slides examples of their real work tasks, and this approach made it possible to make sure that a person does not only know the theory but is also able to apply it in practice.

Apart from the examples that were prepared in advance, the specialists were getting small tasks right during the evaluation process. For example, they had to open a site and analyze its semantic core. In the cases when specialists succeeded, the skill was proven.

As a result, even within such a small group, the test grading has shown completely different outcomes: 2 specialists have passed the exam and proven or increased their levels, and 2 others have received individual development plans (the description of skills that should be improved, the criteria that the progress will be checked basing on, and the deadline) and have started the preparation to the next assessment.

The pilot has shown some limitations to the developed system. In the case of Boosta, these are the issues that were found:

  • Not all SEO specialists had experience in public performance, and the commission that they were facing consisted of numerous people, including the company owners. That creates rather stressful conditions, and this fact has to be taken into consideration.  From now on, the commission is to consist only of 3 people.
  • The direct manager of one of the examined specialists wasn’t present at the evaluation. It appeared to be a disadvantage because it is the manager who shoulders responsibility for the development of an employee. Also, it is the manager who should be evaluating the skills of their subordinate in the first place, while other team leads or top-level managers can join afterward.
  • The conduction of the evaluation appeared to be more time consuming than expected. Basing on that, it was concluded that the analysis of the wrong answers of each person and the shaping of their development plan should take place not on the exam but after it, at the specialist’s and their manager’s 1-on-1.

This way, the first experience let us make certain conclusions and introduce changes to the process before putting it on a large scale.

The outcomes of incorporating grading in Boosta

As of today, grading has already solved a number of issues and brought positive changes to the company. Recruiters got to develop and analyze vacancies faster since, due to grading, it has become easier to define if a candidate corresponds to the internal requirements at the beginning. SEO specialists have got an opportunity to introduce roadmap requests for their development and master new competencies. Team leads have got a tool for the effective evaluation of their teams and further strategic planning.

The experience has shown that grading in IT companies is a necessity not only for developers but for other positions as well, and SEO specialists are at the top of that list.

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