21 SEO Interview Questions to Hire the Right Candidates
Every week we see people asking the same questions on social media:
“I’m interviewing an SEO candidate—do you have any tips?”
“How do I make sure I hire the right person for the role?”
“I messed up on my last SEO hire. How do I get it right this time?”
This article addresses these questions. We’ll discuss general best practices for interviews, as well as typical questions you can ask to gauge your SEO candidates’ abilities and experience, to make sure you’re hiring the right person for the job and build a kick-ass team (opens in a new tab).
For this article, we’ve talked to a number of people who have been hiring SEO staff for years, and followed that up with lots of online conversations, and last but not least our own hiring experiences.
Help your new SEO hires excel through tracking employee engagement software (opens in a new tab).
What makes for a great SEO candidate?
In order to evaluate whether someone is a great SEO candidate, you first need to know what expertise and traits you’re looking for. And that’s not easy, because in SEO hiring, you’re often looking for a five-legged sheep.
Are you looking for an SEO who’s going to be doing PR/outreach mostly, or are you looking for a technical SEO? Does the job involve managing other people? It’s very important to have a clear picture of what type of person you’re looking for. Check out this article to learn more about the different roles in SEO (opens in a new tab).
Let’s take a step back and see if you can answer the question yourself as the hiring manager. Do you know if you’re looking for an SEO that is content-focused or has a deep passion for technical SEO? That’s a big difference in the person that you’re looking for.
I try to get this straight for myself whenever I had to hire somebody on my team to be involved with SEO. Recently I’ve been looking for a very product/technical heavy SEO person, it doesn’t mean that content isn’t important but we’re likely better off with somebody with skills in this area.
If that means the candidate that I’m interviewing is constantly talking about the need for content, authority building and how they love optimizing things for very specific keywords it’s likely not the right fit. It doesn’t mean they’re not great SEOs, but they likely have a mindset and experience gap that doesn’t match with what we’re looking for.
Important personality traits you should be seeking in SEO candidates:
- Passion: that twinkle in their eye when they’re talking about SEO.
- Grit: the desire and fortitude to work hard and think about long term goals.
- Resourcefulness: the ability to think outside the box when they run into problems.
- Shrewdness: the ability to question information and seek evidence and other viewpoints.
- Learning: the desire to keep learning. The SEO field is constantly evolving, and so to keep sharp, you need to keep learning.
- Click: does it click with the candidate? You’re going to be working together a lot, so you need to be able to get along well with the candidate. Do they share the company values?
Important skills to seek in SEO candidates:
Soft skills: they need to be able to talk to both technical and non-technical people. Having soft skills is important: they won’t get anything done without them, as convincing others of the need to do something is an important part of working in SEO.
If they don’t “get” soft skills, then they’re probably not very good at building links either, because that’s all about understanding what the person on the other side wants.
- Technical skills: they need to have (some) technical knowledge of how the web works, how search engines work, and how websites work. But only some. Of course, if you’re hiring a technical SEO, they need to have a solid technical background; however, it’s neither a requirement nor a guarantee for being great at SEO in general.
A lot will depend on position and experience. When I used to do agency interviews it was more about personality, fit, initiative, having done some basic research, how they interact with people, willingness to learn, etc. Now it’s different because we’re looking for people with a lot more experience. To find the best candidates for your role, call the job what it is and really spell out the responsibilities and tools. If you call it a manager and it doesn’t manage people, you may have folks drop out of the process because you gave them the wrong impression. To not waste time, I try to get to “no” quickly but I really hope we can get to “yes”.
I will usually ask a basic question like top on-page factors or ask someone to run me through their keyword research process. This eliminates many candidates for me, because if they can’t explain what they do then it’s difficult to say if they know it well and I believe they will have trouble convincing others that their work is important and getting them to work towards your goals. The way they explain this is just as important. You can tell when a person is passionate when they talk about their processes and if they still have that drive after a few years of experience it’s likely this is something they want to do and not just a job for them. If it is going well, I like to throw in some curve balls like tell me something in this tool you used you think they could do better. Any hard question on the fly and shows critical thinking skills while under pressure to see how they react will do, because there will be times they need to troubleshoot and make a decision in real time while on a short phone call.
Firstly we ask applicants to fill out a form which asks them a bunch of questions related to the role they are applying for, plus the odd random question too. This gives us a much better insight into their personality and fit rather than just looking at their CV. It’s not uncommon for us to hire someone having never seen their CV! From here, not that many applicants get interviews compared to the number that fills in the form which is very deliberate. The bar is very high on purpose which means we can spend more time interviewing strong candidates. At the interview, we then look for skills in the role itself but more importantly, we look for attitude and willingness to step out of their comfort zone and learn really fast. Some of our best hires have been people with little or no digital marketing experience but we could see that they really wanted the role and to learn quickly.
To get really get under the skin of SEO folks we take our interviews to another level. We fly through the regular Q&A, where they’ll either make the grade or not. We then like to focus on an area which may not appear on a CV and is often overlooked by hiring managers but is a great indicator - the side hustle.
If someone is working on projects outside of core working hours it’s showcasing their self-learning journey. It can support the gut feel when an SEO candidate brings the otherwise intangible je ne c’est quoi we all look for!
Side hustles allow SEO’ers an opportunity to demonstrate their drive, innovation, commitment and creativity, let alone fine-tuning their own skills and experience. Whether it’s using new tools or applying new learnings, this type of self-development is what hiring managers should be looking out for.
When we know the person is a great candidate that can do the job on paper, we now need to make sure that their social skills are good enough to talk to clients in a social setting and live our company values of being collegial and humble with the team. Therefore, we take them to a hipster coffee shop and just have a chat about life, trying to steer completely clear of work based conversations. We want to hear about their last holiday, sports they are interested in, weird and wonderful hobbies they have, etc.
The reason we do this is to test the soft skills like communication and time keeping and also to get the people in the room that they will eventually be working with to have a chat and get to know one another before the final decision is made. This way the team that the new candidate is coming into have had a say in the building of their own team. This gives them personal agency and empowers them to get more involved with the running of the business and gives them a voice at all stages of the recruitment process.
I have a saying that gets repeated a lot at UpBuild: “Anyone can do SEO for two years.” Doing SEO long-term means coming to term with the fact that a lot of the tactics you learn when you’re first starting out will stop working, or change significantly, over time. Either you love that, or you’re going to burn out. So the number 1 thing that I look for in an SEO hire is: do they love learning? Do they take time out of their day, every day, to stay abreast of industry trends? Are they excited about trying new things? When they encounter something they haven’t seen before, do they get excited to research it and learn all about it? It can be overwhelming and frustrating to get “good at” SEO, only to have to learn it all over again, so the other thing I really look for is a lack of ego around what you know, and a willingness to admit when you don’t know something and ask for help. I do it all the time! My general philosophy is that I can teach someone to be better at SEO, but I can’t teach them how to love learning if they don’t already.
I always ask what aspect of SEO they are bad at. I’ve historically posed that as a question that seeks to determine where the candidate finds their passion OR where they would like to level up to, if given the chance. That tended to work for me when I was faced with hiring SEOs in a dry market. I found great content writers who wanted to learn more about the technical side of the web, and sold themselves short with their current skill level.
How to separate the wheat from the chaff
Lots of companies ask candidates to do an SEO audit of a website, to separate the wheat from the chaff. Some offer compensation, while some don’t—they see it as a necessary investment that the candidate needs to make. It’s recommended that this audit be limited in scope to just one selected aspect of SEO, namely technical foundation, content, or authority & trust, depending on what you need from the candidate. That way you can really zoom in on that aspect.
Asking your candidates to perform an SEO audit serves two purposes:
- It gives you insight into their skill set and way of thinking.
- It shows you how serious they are about the job you’re offering. Especially if no compensation is offered, this requires quite an investment, and some companies really value this.
There is, however, a downside to not offering compensation: you could miss out on a great candidate who’s not willing to do an audit without compensation. In the end, that’s up to you. You’ll know what works best for your company.
Keep in mind that you won’t be present during their work on the audit. For all you know, they could have worked day and night on it, while you had only expected it to take them two hours. Or they could have put it up on UpWork and hired someone else to do it.
Don’t obsess over the SEO audit. See it simply as a milestone to be reached before moving on to round two.
For most roles, we will set an exercise in advance of the interview which means that the applicant then has to present their answer to us. This is often a real client problem that we’ve worked on previously which means that we can compare applicants with our own team and see how they match up. This gives us a good insight into their skill set, as well as their ability to explain their thinking and answer questions.
I like to test people on their ability to audit or do research as part of the interview process. Typically I’ll pick a small website at random from the web and ask for a report on it, paying them for their time. Then I can compare their report against the other interviewees and I can quickly see where their skill set is but also review their reporting technique, their use of language, and so on. All necessary skills in both client and internal communication. I’ve seen a lot of audits and they each tell me something about the interviewee. I’ve had PDF dumps from third-party SEO audit tools, basic copy/paste Word documents, but also well-crafted PDFs or PPT presentations. In the same way that if a person arrives in messy clothes, a messy audit tells me what I can expect from the interviewee’s reports later on.
General interviewing best practices
The best practices for interviewing people in general apply for interviewing SEO candidates as well.
The whole point of interviewing people is to get to know them. To get insight into their train of thought and to gauge their abilities and experience. Your questions need to support this goal, and that’s where the STAR method (opens in a new tab) comes in.
STAR stands for situation, task, action, result:
- Situation: get a clear picture of the situation.
- Task: understand what tasks were performed in this situation.
- Action: understand in detail how these tasks were performed
- Result: understand what the outcome of the situation was and what they learned.
Structuring your questions using the STAR method helps you to get a complete picture of your SEO candidates. Not all questions have to be structured using STAR, but it pays off to use it to get detailed answers for high-level questions.
Your CV gets you an interview; your interview gets you the job. I rarely take a candidate’s CV into the room with me and I keep pretty intense eye contact when I ask them to give me an overview of their experience – communicating on paper (like you would when auditing a client’s website) is different to communicating in person (like in a meeting) – I’ve read their CV so I don’t need it reading out to me.
We do interviews in 2 stages: the first stage is usually 30 minutes on the phone and we’ll brief the candidate to prepare a presentation for the second which should be “5-10 slides including an audit of any website and your proposed strategy moving forwards”.
The website the candidate chooses makes a huge difference – I want to see candidates typically working with small clients choosing big brands to show they can do it; if they choose a brand that clearly can’t afford a large SEO agency then they’ll struggle to demonstrate key skills like prioritisation and budgeting – plus their market analysis won’t be very reflective of the work they’ll be doing.
I’m also looking for how effectively and efficiently they can communicate the problems – and how much time they spend talking about solutions. In my experience, the number of SEOs able to put an audit together is far greater than the number able to put a plan together. My first question after a presentation is almost always: “the client doesn’t have the budget for all of that, or they haven’t made the right friends, or the dev queue is a mile long – you can only do one of those things. Which would you do?”
The 21 interview questions to ask
Now on to the interview questions. We’ll apply the STAR method to one of the questions, to give you a better understanding of how you can put that method into practice. For each question we’ll mention one desirable answer.
Getting to know your candidate, focused on soft skills:
- What is your proudest achievement in SEO?
- What part of SEO do you like the most?
- How do you feel about black hat SEO?
- How do you make sure your recommendations are implemented?
Gauging your candidate’s content/relevancy skills:
- What’s your approach to doing keyword research?
- What makes for a great, optimized page?
- You’re far behind the competition in terms of content. How do you close the gap?
Gauging your candidate’s technical skills (technical SEO questions):
- Can you explain the basics of how a search engine works?
- What are the risks of having a crawler trap? How can you fix it?
- How can you prevent search engines from crawling certain URLs?
- How do you remove accidentally indexed pages from Google’s index?
- How do you optimize an image?
Gauging your candidate’s link-building skills:
- In your opinion, what’s the best way to gain links from other sites?
- As a white hat SEO, do we still need to be afraid of a link-building penalty?
- Google has hit you with a link penalty. How do you deal with this?
Gauging your candidate’s ability to think about processes and reporting:
- Your rankings have dropped. How do you diagnose what’s happening?
- What does your SEO routine look like? What do you check, how frequently, and how?
- What KPIs do you report on to show SEO progress?
Gauging your candidate’s ability to see the bigger picture:
- How do you think we’ll be doing SEO five years from now?
- 80% of your traffic comes from organic search. Are you doing great, or not?
- When is doubling down on SEO not a good strategy for a company?
There are two areas I look at when hiring an SEO in-house, and a few more when that SEO is being hired at an agency. When hiring in-house, I ask them deep questions about their experience based off of problems that we have already identified. I ask them how they would solve it, but really what I am looking for is their thought process and thinking through how to solve the problem. Also important for in-house hires is whether or not they have worked on a site driven by the same business model as the company where they are interviewing. An existing understanding of the business model expedites the value they bring to the company and helps them prioritize outstanding work as well as new discoveries so that they make the biggest impact possible.
If the SEO is being recruited to an agency in a non-entry-level role, I like to ask them SEO questions from the types of sites that the agency works with the most. It is not possible for any SEO to understand all of the nuances of all of the different types of SEO (news, enterprise, local, etc) but they should understand at least a few of them and be able to talk strategies across technical, content, keyword research, and link acquisition/promotion. I also ask them to tell me about times that they’ve been working on disparate projects. The purpose of this is to understand how they will do in situations where they have multiple clients and have to prioritize the work.
Usually when I’m interviewing someone for a more experienced role, I start out by just asking, “If you were given a website to audit for SEO, what would you do?” I’m listening for the things someone looks at to determine if a website has SEO problems. If they say something like “I put it into [tool X] and see what it says,” they’re probably not suited for a more senior role.
Instead, I’d want someone who knows how to use the information they get from various SEO tools to diagnose and fix larger site problems. For example, it’s one thing to say “here’s a list of URLs on your site that return a 404, and here’s where to redirect them to” - it’s a whole added level of value if you can also say, “here is the underlying problem that caused these 404s in the first place, and how to fix it so it stops happening.” The same goes for keyword research and content optimization. It’s easy to say “Find the keywords with the highest volume and add them to the title, h1, and content” - it takes a deeper understanding to understand how topics are related and how to do research to figure out what users want when they search that term, and the best way to make sure they get it.
The first step in determining whether someone’s a good fit for us, is doing The Lemon Test. The Lemon Test is a phone interview that is designed to workout if the person passes basic competency tests. The questions are deliberately simplistic and designed to give really obvious answers. So for an SEO person we would ask: “How do you stop Google from indexing a page”. It surprising how quickly this cuts the list of people down to only competent consultants.
The next step is the stress test; a live test where the candidate needs to complete a 8 hour task in 15 minutes. The stress test is designed to see how the candidate works under pressure. During the stress test we really only care about the persons methodologies and how their brains work, we don’t care about the finished product at the end of the test. For a tech SEO, we pick a massive global website and ask them to audit it and give us: a matrix of priority/ease of implementation for each of the fixes, reasoning on why they are important and how you would pitch it to the dev teams. 80% of the candidates flounder and can’t complete it. 20% complete the test and are able to articulately walk us through their thinking and methodology. Those are the people that we tend to hire.
1. What is your proudest achievement in SEO (with STAR applied)
The candidate will mention a certain event that they’re very proud of. With this question, you can follow up and ask about the sizes of the projects that the candidate has worked on, and what type of clients they like to work with (SMB/Enterprise). It’s also a great question to apply the STAR method to.
- Situation: Why was this your proudest achievement, and what was your role?
- Task: What tasks did you perform?
- Action: How did you perform these tasks, what methods did you apply, what tools did you use, why wasn’t tool X used, and was there a team involved?
- Result: What was the end result? What was the biggest thing you learned?
In our experience, if a candidate mentions here that successfully starting a personal blog (opens in a new tab) got them really excited about SEO, they’re likely to be more driven than your average candidate.
2. What part of SEO do you like the most?
The answer to this question will give you insight into what area of SEO your candidate is the most interested in. There are no right or wrong answers; it’s about finding out where your candidate’s heart (and expertise) is at.
There are three pillars of SEO:
- Technology: the technical foundation of the website, which influences crawling and indexing.
- Relevance: meta information and content, which explain to search engines what your website is about.
- Authority: links to your website, which determine your authority and trustworthiness.
3. How do you feel about black hat SEO?
This is always an interesting question. Some candidates will call black hat SEOs heathens, while others will say they’re SEO gods, and then there’s the most interesting—and desired—answer:
“I like to keeps tabs on what’s working for black hat SEOs. Black hats are often highly innovative because they’re playing a high-risk cat-and-mouse game with search engines, so keeping an eye on what works for them, and what doesn’t, can be really insightful.”
Example: we heard about a black hat SEO who was using negative SEO. He would briefly DDOS a competitor’s website so that their web server would return 5XX server errors, and at that exact point, he would try to get Google to crawl some of their pages. If Google hit a 5XX server error several times, they might deindex those pages.
While these practices are very questionable, and we’d never recommend doing this, it gives you insight into how they think and how they’re willing to bet—within this high-risk, high-reward environment—that Google deals with 5XX server errors. Very insightful.
4. How do you make sure your recommendations are implemented?
This question is meant to test your candidate’s ability to persuade people. To get their recommendations implemented, they need to be able to persuade people within all the ranks of an organization. There’s always someone who digs their heels in the sand when an SEO audit is done, and it’s up to the candidate to make sure that their recommendations don’t end up sitting in a desk drawer.
This one especially needs follow-up questions:
How do you persuade management?
You want to your candidate to talk about business cases and projecting growth and revenue. Management isn’t interested in technical details; they just want to know what the potential benefits (and risks) are so that they can make a decision.
And how do you persuade development?
Developers are very different from managers: they do need to hear about details. Your steps to persuade them to implement your recommendations can include e.g. sending over case studies, tests you’ve done, and articles from respected people in the industry. You earn respect from developers by discussing things on their level (or bribing them with donuts).
These are some examples of things that you want your candidate to mention.
5. What’s your approach to doing keyword research?
You want your candidate to mention that they have a well-structured workflow for keyword research, such as for example:
- Brainstorm and ask stakeholders for input
- Compile a list of keywords you’re already found for
- Compile a list of keywords you aren’t found for yet
- Merge the lists into one
- Retrieve information on keyword attractiveness
- Further expand the list of keywords with long-tail items
- Organize and enrich the final keyword set
Follow-up questions to ask:
- How do you get accurate search-volume data on keywords?
Answer: running Google AdWords campaigns, using tools such as Ahrefs that rely on clickstream data to determine a keyword’s search volume.
- What is a good keyword?
Answer: one that has business value.
- How many keywords can you optimize a page for?
Answer: potentially thousands, for long-form articles.
6. What makes for a great, optimized page?
You want your candidate to say that a great, SEO-optimized page is one that answers your visitor’s question. This can be broken down into several parts:
- The page should answer their question as quickly as possible, using the inverted pyramid approach for instance.
- The page should be well structured, with clear headings, and neatly split up into paragraphs.
- The page’s content should be written for visitors, not for search engines. Use keywords in a natural way. It’s recommended to use both the singular and plural forms of words, and to use synonyms.
7. You’re far behind the competition in terms of content. How do you close the gap?
You want your candidate to say that they’d perform a content gap analysis. This can be done either manually, or with the help of a tool such as Ahrefs. It comes down to comparing the site’s content, and the queries that it’s ranking for, to another website.
8. Can you explain the basics of how a search engine works?
You want your candidate to mention the following processes:
- Crawling: constantly checking the web for new content and updated content.
- Ranking: ranking documents for queries.
9. What are the risks of having a crawler trap? How can you fix it?
You want your candidate to mention that search engines will be wasting crawl budget on these crawler traps. They won’t be able to spend that budget on the relevant parts of the website that need to rank well.
You can combat crawler traps by keeping search engines out of these sections of the website, and—since technical mishaps can always happen—by keeping these sections of the website from existing in the first place.
The following methods can be used to fight crawler traps. Please note that, depending on the type of crawler trap, one or more methods may need to be applied:
- Implement the robots noindex directive to communicate to search engines that you don’t want the trap pages to be indexed.
- Use the robots.txt file to instruct search engines not to access those URLs. If this isn’t an option for some reason, use the URL parameter handling settings in Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools to instruct Google and Bing not to crawl these pages.
- Additionally, when these URLs are introduced via links: be sure to add the
rel="nofollow"link attribute to these links. This will result in search engines not following these links.
- Remove redirect loops.
- Fix links and remove links to sections of the website that should have never been linked.
10. How can you prevent search engines from crawling certain URLs?
You want your candidate to mention the following methods:
- A robots.txt file that disallows these URLs.
- URL parameter handling in tools such as Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools.
- HTTP authentication.
They get bonus points if they mention that the nofollow link attribute has the drawback of being link-based. Thus if a page is linked via another link without the nofollow link attribute, it will still be crawled. Also, you have to be careful surrounding the use of nofollow attributes, because they prevent the flow of authority. This is actually an SEO fail that we’ve covered in Devastating SEO fails from the front lines.
What about staging environments?
You want your candidate to mention the following methods:
- HTTP authentication—this is the preferred method, as crawlers will never be able to get past HTTP authentication.
- The robots.txt file—this is a useful second line of defense in case HTTP authentication fails for some reason.
They get bonus points if they mention adding a robots noindex to all documents (both pages and PDFs) on staging environments.
11. How do you remove accidentally indexed pages from Google’s index?
You want your candidate to mention the following methods:
- Remove the pages and make sure they serve a 404 or 410 HTTP status.
- Adding the
noindexrobots directive and letting Google recrawl the pages.
- Removing these pages in tools such as Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools.
What about PDF files?
You want your candidate to mention the
X-Robots-Tag HTTP header, as PDF files don’t have an HTML source.
They get bonus points if they know that it’s not supported by search engines other than Google, Bing, and Yahoo.
How do you prevent search engines from indexing these in the future?
You want your candidate to mention the following methods:
- If the pages don’t carry any value: having
noindexrobots directives in place.
- If they do carry value: the canonical link.
12. How do you optimize an image?
You want your candidate to mention the following methods:
- Image filename
- Context: content around the image and things like the page title
- Alt attribute
- Title attribute
- Acquiring external links
- Serving images through a CDN to speed up loading
- Image compression
Bonus points if they mention canonicalizing other images to the one you’re optimizing.
13. In your opinion, what’s the best way to gain links from other sites?
You want your candidate to mention the following methods:
- Creating valuable content.
- Having a solid content promotion plan in place.
- Actively doing outreach.
Depending on their background, they may mention grey hat or black hat tactics too. This is thus a good question to get a feel for their approach to SEO.
14. As a white hat SEO, do we still need to be afraid of a link-building penalty?
This is kind of a trick question, for several reasons. And you want to hear your candidate mention these reasons, as they’re essential to understanding how Google penalties work:
- By definition, building links that improve your rankings may be penalized by Google (opens in a new tab). Google basically says: create great content, add value, and you’ll get links organically. With that in mind, even reaching out to someone for a link may get you penalized (although it’s unlikely).
- Ever since Penguin 4.0 was released in fall 2016, Google has been discounting bad backlinks rather than penalizing for bad backlinks. Since that update, bad links just contribute little to nothing; they don’t harm your SEO or domain authority. While it’s very rare, you can still get hit with an algorithmic link penalty—but overall, when a penalty is given, it’s usually a manual one.
15. Google has hit you with a link penalty. How do you deal with this?
There’s a couple of things you want your candidate to mention here:
- They need to mention that they’d do a link audit to identify possible bad links, and then disavow these links and reach out for their removal.
- Disavowing bad links in itself isn’t enough to get a penalty lifted; you need to do everything in your power to get the links removed. Still, their removal is not always possible, so you need to at least show that you’re making an effort.
Some follow-up questions here are:
- “Have you ever dealt with a link penalty?” If they say yes, apply the STAR method!
- “What are the potential drawbacks of disavowing?” You want to hear that by disavowing, you’re discounting links that are actually contributing. Even links that look really bad can still contribute, as Google works in mysterious ways.
16. Your rankings have dropped. How do you diagnose what’s happening?
This question shows whether your candidate understands all the possible reasons why rankings can drop, and whether they can prioritize. You want your candidate to mention excluding potential causes, starting with the most important ones and then working their way down.
As for the things you want your candidate to mention, check out our 13 Easy Steps to Diagnose and Fix Your Google Ranking Drop article.
17. What does your SEO routine look like? What do you check, how frequently, and how?
There should be a clear idea behind your candidate’s SEO routine; it shouldn’t be based on “this is just the way I’ve always been doing it”. Things that you want to hear:
- Making a distinction between website audits using the three pillars of SEO approach: technical foundation, content/relevance, and authority.
- The reasons why they chose a certain check frequency and certain tools.
- That they’ve got alerts set up for massive SEO issues and ranking drops.
- That they’re keeping track of changes.
18. What KPIs do you report on to show SEO progress?
You want your candidate to mention the following methods:
- Revenue + ROI And Conversions—this is what it’s ultimately all about, so if they don’t mention that, that’s a major red flag.
- Traffic: Sessions And Their Behavior
- Search engine rankings
- Operational SEO KPI such as
- Visibility in organic search results
- Website health
- Numbers of backlinks and referring domains
- Crawl efficiency
19. How do you think we’ll be doing SEO five years from now?
Aspects of SEO that you’d want them to at least mention are:
- The need for answers: people will still search in need of answers; all that will change is their way of doing so. For example: from text search to voice search.
- Authority: what role links will still play (they’re used extensively to game search engines’ algorithms) and what role social media will play.
- Machine Learning: search engines are increasingly using Machine Learning in their algorithms. This will only increase, and at some point, the engineers working on search engines will perhaps also be trying to deduce what makes a page rank well, just like we SEO specialists do today 🙂
- User Experience (UX): SEO is all about answering questions users have, and good UX is essential to answering those questions well, within the shortest amount of time.
I usually ask how the candidate has changed what they do in the last 12 months – if the answer is “totally, I don’t do any of the same things” then I know they aren’t going to get results; if the answer is “not at all” then I’d be concerned they’re not adaptable. I’m looking for a few updates or a new technology being named.
20. 80% of your traffic comes from organic search. Are you doing great, or not?
You want to hear your candidate say that you shouldn’t be putting all your eggs into one basket. At the end of the day, search engines determine who ranks and who doesn’t. Sure, if you’re a big brand that spends hundreds of thousands of dollars per month on Google Ads you have some leverage, but overall: your rankings could drop overnight. Unfair or not, it can still happen. And you need to be able to keep your business running even in that situation.
You want your candidate to see the bigger picture and mention other traffic sources such as search engine advertising (SEA), social media (both organic and paid), and email marketing.
21. When is doubling down on SEO not a good strategy for a company?
SEO isn’t the magic bullet for every company that wants to grow, or to stay afloat for that matter. Your candidate should know that.
Here are some situations in which SEO just isn’t a viable strategy for a company:
- When you’re in a niche without any current search volume. If the niche is up and coming and there’s limited room to grow with SEO, your time and money are often better spent on Facebook ads and editorials.
- When the website you’re trying to rank has a very short lifespan. Example: you’re organizing a one-off event and want to drive traffic. After the event, the website will no longer be used. In that case you’re better off buying the traffic.
- When they’re on the brink of going bankrupt. Why? Because SEO takes time, and there’s no guarantee that you’ll actually rank. The money that’s left would be better spent on Google Ads, for instance.
Wrapping it up
Finding and hiring the right SEO candidate is fairly hard. So use these 21 questions to figure out if you’re talking to the next SEO prodigy, or to someone who looks great on paper, but knows very little in practice. Use them to hire the right person for the job.