by Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D.
SEO. Search engine optimization. A fairly common term in Internet circles and one you've perhaps heard in passing. But what does a job-seeker need to know about SEO? Why should you care -- and how will it benefit you?
For years now, Quintessential Careers and other career sites and experts have talked about the growing importance for job-seekers to begin building an online presence, mainly centered around the question, "have you Googled yourself?" The question is often asked as both a warning and an opportunity. It's a warning because of the fear that some digital dirt about you is lurking somewhere on the Internet, waiting to bring down your chances for that next great job offer. It's an opportunity because of the power you have to proactively sculpt and manage the information that's available about you online -- the ability to build your career persona, your personal brand, your digital presence.
But hiring managers who regularly use Google (or other search engines) and social networking sites to probe more deeply into your background -- sort of an online reference check -- do so only after you are already in the interviewing pipeline (whether as a prescreening device before an interview invitation or when making a final decision about which candidate to hire). This step is still a very important one for you as a job-seeker, but if that's all you're focusing on, you're potentially missing out on even greater job opportunities as recruiters are regularly searching the Internet looking for qualified passive job-seekers. (A passive job-seeker is someone who is not currently in the job market -- and seen as extremely attractive to headhunters and recruiters who are in the hunt to fill positions.)
How can you take advantage of these recruiting trends so that you can be found when employers are searching for job-seekers with a specific set of skills and accomplishments in addition to when a hiring manager Googles your name later in the job-search? It's all about building your digital presence -- and then using a slightly modified version of the same search engine optimization (SEO) tools that companies use to market their Websites.
Here are 10 tips for building your brand and being found online.
1. Buy Your Domain Name.
Everything about building an online presence so that your brilliance can be discovered begins and ends with having your own domain. Your first step is using a domain registrar (such as GoDaddy.com) and buying some variation of your name -- such as first and last; first, middle initial, last; first, middle, last. If you have a common name, such as John Smith, you may have a harder time finding the right combination, but keep at it. For example, my partner, QuintCareers.com Associate Publisher Katharine Hansen could not buy KatharineHansen.com because another person had already purchased the name, so she bought KatharineHansenPhD.com.
2. Establish a Basic Website or Blog... or More.
Once you have bought your domain name, the next step is developing basic content for it. Thousands of templates are available for download or purchase -- or you can even hire a Web designer -- to develop the key look and navigation strategy for your site. If you decide you want to create a blog, just a few major platforms make that possible. Whatever you decide to do, make sure you have a fairly easy and quick method of updating, revising, and adding content to your site.
At a minimum, your Website should include an index (home) page that includes your key value proposition -- typically expressed in the same way as you would verbally with an Elevator Speech -- along with contact information and a short bio. Ideally, also publish a current version of your resume or CV. More advanced job-seekers might also publish an online career portfolio, which includes key samples of some of your best work, as well as other artifacts reflecting your unique talents and abilities. Even more advanced job-seekers should consider adding a short video resume that serves as a kind of prescreening interview -- just be sure it's a good quality presentation that serves as a short (2-3 minutes), but enticing introduction. Finally, you might decide to publish additional content (articles, video and audio clips, photographs, slideshows, and the like) that demonstrate your knowledge and expertise in your field.
3. Research Keywords for Your Field.
What are some of the keywords and keyword phrases that employers in your field use to search for someone with your job -- and for someone who has the job that you seek? In other words, your goal is to uncover the qualities and qualifications that recruiters and hiring managers might use to search for qualified candidates -- so you can apply that information in the next two tips. Keywords can include job titles, company names, specific skill sets, industry buzzwords and jargon, certification names, software titles, and the like.
Your best source for a basic understanding of the types of keywords employers and recruiters might use to search for passive job-seekers is to examine a number of job postings and employment listings for jobs that are at your present -- and next -- level. Learn much more about the power of keywords, including resources for uncovering keywords, in our article, Tapping the Power of Keywords to Enhance Your Resume.
4. Publish Relevant Keyword-Rich Content.
Once you have found what you believe to be the set of keywords and keyword phrases most relevant to your career path, the next step is publishing content on your Website that uses those keywords and keyword phrases.
The most obvious content in which to use the keywords includes your elevator speech/bio, resume and online portfolio. Other types of content include blog entries, white papers, articles, tutorials, and e-books. Don't use keywords for the sake of using them, and don't overuse them in your content, but do try to incorporate keywords in your title, opening paragraph, and final paragraph. Finally, don't ever try and hide keywords -- termed keyword stuffing -- by publishing keywords that are invisible to the naked eye, because the search-engine spiders will see it and potentially ban your site from results.
5. Maximize Use of Keywords in Web Page Title and Meta Tags.
If you're not that familiar with Web publishing, you may not know about meta tags, but these tools are used to varying degrees by the search engines to understand, classify, and describe each of your pages in search results. Once you understand a few basic rules to creating meta tags, it's fairly easy to create them and publish them on your pages.
Here's a quick overview of meta tags; more details can be found in an article on my personal site, SEO Strategies for Enhancing and Optimizing Your Web Presence: A 10-Point Primer for Website Success.
Title: Descriptive name of the page, ideally using at least one keyword, and no longer than about 60 characters (including spaces).
Description: A sentence or two that utilizes keyword phrases to provide a concise overview of the page, and no longer than about 150 characters (including spaces).
Keywords: A collection of keywords and keyword phrases -- focus on the 3-4 most relevant keyword and keyword phrases -- that are used in the body of the page, separated by commas. No word/phrase should be repeated more than five times.
6. Add Website/Blog URL to Everything.
Once you've developed your Website -- even if it is not perfect or if you have not added all the content you want to add -- start a campaign to list it on anything that also has your name, such as a signature file for your email, on your resume and networking cards, and when you post content on other people's blogs or in user forums.
7. Publicize Your Site Using Social Networking.
If you're like most Web-savvy job-seekers, you probably belong to at least one professional and social networking site (LinkedIn, Facebook, for example). If you do not belong to any social networking or bookmarking sites, now is the time to find out where your friends and colleagues belong -- and join them. Most of these sites have a spot where you can list your Website, so do so -- and even invite your friends to visit your site and offer you constructive criticism on ways you could strengthen and improve the site. Learn more in our article, Five Strategies for Leveraging Your Online Social Networks.
8. Request Network Contacts Link to Your Site.
A critical component of any good SEO strategy is a linking campaign -- and if you want to increase the visibility and ranking of your personal Website, you'll need to pursue this technique, too. While online businesses have used this practice for years to help build search-engine credibility, very few personal sites have started the practice. Provide links to the personal sites of your friends, family, and colleagues -- and ask them to reciprocate with a link back to your site.
You might want to also create a "useful links" page that links only to high-quality sites related to your professional and personal interests. Most of these sites will not link back to you, but the outbound links still provide a value in search-engine rankings.
9. Submit Your Site to Search Engines and Directories.
Once -- and only once -- you have created your site, perfected your meta tags, and established at least a bare minimum of outbound and inbound links, your next step is submitting your site to the major search engines and directories. You can pay one of many online services to complete this step for you, but nothing beats the experience and personal touch of doing it yourself.
At a minimum, you want to submit your site to these search engines and directories:
(Find the entire list of best search engines and directories in my SEO Primer.)
10. Write Relevant Articles for Your Site... or Other Sites.
It's long been said that content is king on the Web -- and that saying is still true today. From an SEO standpoint, search engines love high-quality content that adds value to the Internet -- especially when other sites link to it (reinforcing that value). From a job-search standpoint, developing content that showcases your knowledge and expertise raises your value in the employment marketplace.
You can develop your content either for your personal Website and/or for other sites. For example, you could write an article for an online industry publication or blog. Or you could submit your article to one of many online article sites (such as ArticleDirectory.com, EzineArticles.com, and GoArticles.com).
Final Thoughts on Job-Seeker SEO
Job-searching has reached a point in which some of the older methods -- such as just posting your resume on a job board like Monster -- no longer work. (For much greater detail about current trends in online job-hunting, read our latest Quintessential Careers Annual Report on the State of Internet Job-Hunting.)
To effectively rise above the fray of noise and distractions cluttering the Web's current hiring and recruitment practices, job-seekers must proactively create and manage an online presence that puts their name at the top of search results -- using search-engine optimization techniques that large organizations and companies have used for years to build their brands and reputations. Following the tips in this article will have you well on your way to becoming a top brand in your field -- one ideally sought out and found by recruiters and employers via SEO strategies you implemented.
One final note. If you are willing to take the time to build your online brand by developing a Website or blog, make certain that you also conduct a search on yourself -- and clean out any digital dirt that you find so that all your hard work does not go to waste. If you can't remove all the dirt, take heart in knowing that the more proactive steps you take to build your digital presence, the further back in the results the bad stuff will appear.
See also, Job-Seeker SEO Do's and Don'ts.
Review the SEO and Web publishing terms used in this article in my Marketing Your Website Glossary: SEO, SMO, SEM Terms.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker's Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.
Enhance your career brand! Find great articles, tools, and resources for developing your personal career brand, as well as key self-marketing techniques to get hired or promoted in our Personal Branding & Career Self-Marketing Tools for Job-Seekers and Career Activists.