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What questions should you ask when interviewing in-house SEO candidates that really separate the A+ SEO experts from the rest?

  • MG

    matt gratt

    about 6 years ago #

    So the big question is "what do you need in an SEO?"
    - Do you need someone who can create a lot of content and start 'inbound marketing'-type programs?
    - Do you have a lot of pages and need someone more technically-oriented who can act as a PM on developing new page types, increasing crawl, and doing a lot of other more technical work?
    - Do you need something in the middle?

    If you're looking for someone to do content creation, 'inbound', stuff, ask them for a portfolio or sample pieces.

    If you're looking for someone more technically oriented, I'd ask them about how to manage and do SEO on very large websites. A good start is asking about they do log file analysis (Splunk or 'i write a script' is a good answer, "what's a log file" is a bad answer), and how to handle pagination on, say, a very large product category page. (The best answers here will include some discussion of speed, rel=canonical, rel=prev and rel=next - it's a good question to see how much someone actually knows.)

    I'd probably also ask some product management-type questions, because often getting SEO done is harder than knowing what to do.

    And finally, if you're hiring someone to do link development/content promotion, I wrote an article on how to interview for that - http://www.buzzstream.com/blog/link-building-interview-questions.html

    Just as a side note, there are a lot of people who say they do or know SEO, and there are far fewer people who can deliver on it in a way that creates enterprise value. Typically people with these track records have a surplus of good opportunities available to them, so they can be hard to hire.

  • AL

    Austin Lilley

    about 6 years ago #

    What is a use case for 404? 503? 301? 302?

    What is naked link building?

    You see in webmaster tools that your indexed pages have dive bombed... what are you looking for? Walk me through your process.

    You get a manual google penalty. What's your process? Do you disavow or conduct removal? In what order?

    You are battling a wikipedia page to out rank, what's a tactic you could use to weaken that wikipedia page?

    What is a canonical?

    I have 2 pages battling in rankings internally... what are some techniques I could use to make the page I want to rank actually rank? I don't want to lose the other page so 301ing is not an option, what else could I do?

    those are some examples. You really want scenario based not yes or no or definition questions to really understand someones capabilities. You want someone who can think clearly in an "oh shit" situation.

    • VB

      vincent barr

      about 6 years ago #

      Hey @austin I'm curious: how would you 'weaken' a Wikipedia page?

      I can only think of some minor, unethical ways: report issues with the page to Wikipedia, sabotage it with spammy links (which Wikipedia would quickly take down), or make minor edits to its content steering it away from the set of target keywords.

      • AL

        Austin Lilley

        about 6 years ago #

        @vincentbarr yeah this question is more just to see how creative they are since it's not really ethical. The answer I usually look for is reducing internal links to the particular page.

        This answer lets me know they have an understanding of internal linking and how to leverage their existing internal resources.

  • AG

    AJ Ghergich

    about 6 years ago #

    This is tricky because it depends on what type of SEO you are talking about, and how you even define SEO.

    However, for this case I will assume you want an all around SEO who can do the on-page stuff as well as earn links.

    I once interviewed a person for an SEO position who was doing decent so far in the interview and knew all the correct terminology…until I asked them who Matt Cutts was and they didn’t know. They didn’t get the job.

    However, I don’t always look for perfect technical SEO know how. My main concern would be how they are with content creation/promotion.

    You can teach SEO but it’s very hard to teach creativity.

    Ask them for 5 examples of content they either produced or directly oversaw that produced kick ass results. Think articles, infographics, ebooks, slideshares etc.

    You are going to want to see how many social shares these pieces received (use something like http://muckrack.com/whoshared/), how many unique root domains linked back (use Moz or Ahrefs) to these promotions, and traffic generated.

    Look very closely at those links...are they real sites? Are they all infographic directories? Are they stuffing keywords in the anchor text? What you want to see is real bloggers and journalist linking back to their content.

    Not every link needs to be the Wall Street Journal, they just need to pass the smell test.

    Next, ask them for a few sites they have done on-page optimization or an SEO audit for. Look at those links, are they stuffed with keywords. That is a red flag unless they tell you how they did a massive link removal campaign for the client and disavowed the rest of the keyword rich/spammy links.

    After doing their improvements they should be able to show you some organic traffic uplift as a result of their efforts.

    Next I would ask them tons of questions about how they….

    Generate Topic Ideas – I want to see that they know about sites like buzzsumo.com at the very least.
    How they pitch bloggers
    How they pitch editors – Pitching bloggers and editors are many times two very different things.
    How they handle reporting
    SEO & Content Marketing are so intertwined I would want to see their taste level to see if they understood good design from bad. Content is now so visual that poorly designed work = zero links.

    I would also want to know if they could write quality content themselves. An English major can make a great SEO/Content Marketer with proper training.

    I could go on, but this comment is getting really long already lol…this is just scratching the surface but I hope it gets to the spirit of what I look for when hiring an SEO.

  • VB

    vincent barr

    about 6 years ago #

    Hey X,

    Please bring your laptop and the setup (OS, browser, devices) with which you're most comfortable.

    0. Fire up Google.com and run the following query: related:mycompanyname.com.
    1. Click the first result. Walk me through how you would quickly assess the strength of this domain. What opportunities exist?
    2. Click through to a page within the site. Walk me through how you would quickly assess the strength of this page. What opportunities exist?
    3. Imagine that you could pursue these opportunities. Which do you pursue first? How would you measure their impact?
    4. Sign-in to our web analytics tool. What 3 metrics or reports are you most interested in grokking?
    5. Sign-in to WebMaster Tools
    6. Imagine that you want to capture the name, phone number, and address of every yoga studio within a 30-mile radius in a spreadsheet. Where do you start?
    7. Write a meta title and description for the room we're sitting in.
    *PR team-member enters*
    8. Please explain image alt tags - what they are, if we should care, and how to use them - to PR team-member.
    *PR team-member exits*
    9. Browse mycompanysite.com for a high-leverage technical SEO opportunity. If you find one, please draft and submit a JIRA ticket for our team of developers.
    10. Imagine that you just hired me as your first analyst. What is the first thing that you would teach me?

  • AL

    Amy Lynn

    about 6 years ago #

    Do you use a proxy?

  • ET

    Everette Taylor

    about 6 years ago #

    Great question @elan-mosbacher - nice to see you back on GH! Going to try to pull some people in with some more expertise.

    • SE

      Sean Ellis

      about 6 years ago #

      Just tweeted the question. Hopefully I'll get some answers from people like @hiten @caseya @nichole @webroi .

      • SE

        Sean Ellis

        about 6 years ago #

        In the meantime, I found this article on Wordstream http://www.wordstream.com/blog/ws/2012/12/17/seo-job-interview-questions#. It's taking it from the opposite direction. Essentially telling SEOs to prepare to be asked these questions.
        1) What is you SEO super power?
        2) What is your SEO workflow?
        3) How do you measure SEO success?
        4) How do you conduct an SEO experiment?
        5) What SEO tools do you use and why?
        6) What SEO blogs do you read?
        7) Show me your analytics.

        Click through to the article for more context on each question.

      • CA

        Casey Armstrong

        about 6 years ago #

        @sean - I think @mattgratt nailed it perfectly above.

        Often, SEO is a catch-all for content/copywriting, inbound, link building, semantic SEO, technical SEO, google analytics, PR, CRO, etc, etc.

        Plus, is it desktop, mobile, or both?

        Figure out what pain(s) you'd like the "SEO" to solve first.

      • ND

        Nichole Elizabeth DeMeré

        about 6 years ago #

        Re: @sean: I can test someone all day long on technical SEO (and they could've just read a manual before interviewing with me), but what I really want to know is if they know how SEO/organic ties into revenue accountability and/or other KPIs for different business models and company stages and how to accordingly build and discuss an SEO ROI dashboard. Really, SEO is just one growth channel for a business, so how do we take advantage of that growth channel to help accomplish growth goals for that business? Those are the kinds of questions I want answered if I'm planning to hire someone. Everyone can learn how to do 301 redirects but not everyone can frame SEO in the context of business growth and focus on it that way.

        • MG

          matt gratt

          about 6 years ago #

          I just wanted to leave a note of agreement here on Nichole's comment - while there are lots of people who can do search engine trivia, there are not a lot of folks who can use that knowledge to solve business problems.

          On the agency side, the question here is "Can you have a good, valuable conversation with a marketing director without talking about 301s, link equity, that sort of thing, and instead talk about the business/marketing problems you can solve with search?"

          Personally I find case interviews valuable for this sort of thing.

          • ND

            Nichole Elizabeth DeMeré

            about 6 years ago #

            Yeah absolutely. The thing is, you can have someone learning technical SEO while doing it. There's a massive amount of documentation out there. What people don't know how to do is use it to solve business problems, like you were saying.

  • EM

    Elan Mosbacher

    about 6 years ago #

    Hey Everyone!

    So far, this was incredibly helpful! To answer some questions about what we're looking for:

    1. This is our current job description:
    http://spothero.com/careers#job-senior-seo-channel-manager

    Any feedback on how we could make it better?

    2. In terms of skills needed:

    - We have PR in house
    - We have content in house
    - We have 2-3 people in-house who know 75 - 90% of SEO really well, we're looking for someone who:

    1. Knows the last 10-25% really well
    2. Wakes up each morning and only thinks about SEO
    3. Is especially strong with problem solving, technical, semantic, & product (e.g. defining what it should look like from an SEO perspective and collaborating with product in general). Strategic link building & content strategy would be nice, but not required
    4. Can handle a site with 10,000 - 100,000+ pages
    5. Can make hard calls
    6. Knows desktop & mobile well
    7. Expert on geo (e.g. We're a hyper-local company)

    Pluses:
    1. CRO expert
    2. Analytics expert (beyond a normal SEO's level)
    3. B+ at another marketing skill set (e.g. paid search, affiliate, etc)

  • SL

    Stuart Langridge

    about 6 years ago #

    There are some very interesting answers here!

    For me, as a professional SEO, I wouldn't be able to answer most of those suggested questions - I have never learned to code! I generally think that the reliance most SEO folks place on techie stuff is wrong. There are plenty of people that can code but know nothing about SEO or how it fits into a business as a marketing channel, I have a rolodex full of them!

    I'm not sure I could set up a 301 redirect if my life depended upon it.

    I have a friend that is a super genius technically and the most gifted SEO I have ever met by many many multiples. He doesn't tend to earn all that much. When you get to be as good as he is, SEO is really an academic challenge, like cracking a code. We have a joint friend that is like me and can't code for anything but he earns upwards of $50k per month. Who is the better SEO...?

  • MH

    Martin Hookem

    about 6 years ago #

    What's the difference between a site that gets traffic from search, and a site that's made for driving traffic to?
    Answer requires reference to search engine optimisation only.

  • JK

    jay kapupara

    almost 6 years ago #

    did u know about google sandbox effect?

  • SR

    sourabh rana

    almost 6 years ago #

    Which is better form of seo for international sites. Use of direct google translator & this will translate your content in any regional language or creation of local folders according to specfic country ?

    & if we use specfic folder for particular country in which language content need to show? In their local language or english language ?

    Kindly help me in this ?

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