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A Guide From A Hiring Manager

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A Guide From A Hiring Manager

I have interviewed many people for SEO roles during my time as a manager.

I can say that certain mistakes are made during interviews that can easily be avoided.

Unfortunately, all of those generic “top tips for interviewing” guides out there don’t tend to address them due to the specificity of SEO interviews.

During the heat of an interview, it can be easy to lose focus, ramble, and appear unsure of your SEO knowledge.

If you are looking for a job currently or want to brush up on your interviewing skills for your next opportunity, take a look at these SEO interview-specific tips.

I’ve approached them from the perspective of a hiring manager who has seen her fair share of probably great candidates lose out on a role due to a bad interview.

1. Research The Role

This may sound like an obvious tip, but you’d be surprised how many people will turn up to an interview with little knowledge of what they are interviewing for.

If you are in the position where you are being interviewed for an SEO role, this can be even more important. Our industry is a multi-faceted one; “SEO manager” means something different at every company.

It can be obvious when a candidate has been referred to the role through a recruiter who doesn’t really understand what an SEO professional does.

If you are in a position where the job has been explained to you by the recruiter, make sure you do a bit of further research yourself.

In general, it’s a good idea to check the following;

  • What are the key skills the company requires for the role?
  • Does it lean toward any particular SEO focus, e.g., local SEO, technical SEO, or digital PR?
  • What is the current team structure – is this the only SEO pro or one of many in the company?
  • Does the role report to a manager with SEO experience, or will this role be the most senior SEO pro in the business?

In addition, you may want to find out:

Why Is The Role Available?

In your initial conversations with recruiters or contacts at the company you have applied to, try to ascertain why the role is available.

Is it a new role due to expansion, new markets, or new clients? This will help equip you during the interview to answer questions from the right perspective.

For example, if you are asked about a time when you have successfully completed a technical campaign, and you know from conversations that the role is coming about due to the company’s expansion into Europe, it would give you the right context to talk about that tricky hreflang tag implementation or French keyword research that you had success with.

Who Has It Already?

Is there someone else in the company that does this role already? Are you expanding the team or taking over from an incumbent?

If so, see if you can find out some information about what sort of experience they have. This might mean looking on the company’s website for their bio or even looking on LinkedIn.

Be respectful, though; not everyone wants a ton of new LinkedIn contacts from people who are after their job!

Are You Taking Over From An Agency?

If the role you are applying for is at a brand, you may find it useful to identify if the role has been created due to the company bringing it in-house.

For example, is the work this new employee would be doing replacing that of an external agency?

If so, it would be prudent to know so you don’t end up talking about how much you would want to rely on agencies for support if you land the job.

What Industry/Clients?

One of the most important pieces of research you can do is around the industry, or industries, the company operates in.

If you are applying for a role at an agency, their website is a good place to start to see what industries they work in.

They may specialize in one vertical, for example, or their case studies may show a variety. This knowledge will allow you to tailor your answers with their target industries in mind.

2. Reach Out To The Hiring Manager To Ask Questions Ahead Of Time

Some hiring managers love this approach. Others do not.

Ask your recruitment contact at the company if the hiring manager is happy to take questions before the interview before you go outside of the prescribed hiring process!

I’ve had some great conversations with candidates via them reaching out on LinkedIn or through SEO groups we’re a part of.

It has allowed both me and them to get an idea of whether they might be right for the role before they go into the trouble of applying.

3. Prepare 5 Examples Of Successful Projects

During the pressure of the interview, it’s easy for your experience and knowledge to fly out of your mind.

A good tip for anyone interviewing for an SEO role is to write down five examples of clients or projects they’ve worked on that directly relate to the skills and requirements listed in the job advert.

This has saved my bacon personally when interviewing for SEO roles!

It can help with your confidence when answering interview questions and will likely result in you providing an answer that is clear and directly applicable to the question.

This will help you to avoid the dreaded situation where waffling takes over!

4. Be Specific And Use An Answer Structure

Be specific when you are answering questions. It is horrible as an interviewer to have to dig through a verbose answer for the piece of information you are hoping is there.

I’ve had candidates answer in such a confusing manner that I’ve struggled to identify if they answered the question or not. This can often result from nerves or not fully understanding the question. It doesn’t have to happen, though.

There are several techniques for structuring answers to interview questions. A well-known one is “STAR,” which stands for “situation,” “task,” “action,” and “result.”

It allows a candidate to ensure their answer includes the key details needed.

Whichever one you choose, make sure you are picking up on the intent behind the interviewer’s question.

Remember, interviewers often have no training in interviewing skills. We can be quite bad at it! It is okay to ask clarifying questions if you’re unsure of what the interviewer is trying to ascertain.

Once you are clear about what skill or experience they are trying to uncover, you can directly tailor your example to showcase the relevancy.

This is particularly important during SEO interviews because the projects we might want to use to showcase our experience can be complex, containing many stakeholders, activities, and results.

Using an answer structure can make sure you include everything that is pertinent to the question.

Choosing a technique and practicing answering questions with it can help you overcome the initial panic during an interview. It will enable you to provide clear and structured answers.

5. Be Prepared For Not Having An Answer

You may be asked to give an example of a time when you have carried out an SEO task that you simply haven’t done before.

Don’t worry. No one matches a job description 100%.

What I look for during interviews, especially with candidates who are new to the industry, is their ability to think around a problem.

This is especially the case if they haven’t directly encountered a situation before.

Some of my best hires have been people who have said, “I haven’t dealt with that before, but this is probably the approach I would take.”

You can use examples from case studies you have read about or draw from presentations you’ve seen at conferences. You can talk about how you would go about finding an answer to that issue or resources that you might use for help.

SEO is an incredibly broad discipline. It’s unlikely you have encountered every SEO issue out there! However, theoretical knowledge applied well can be just as effective as experience.

Draw on your knowledge and understanding of a situation if you can’t draw on your experience of it.

6. Consider Your Answers To Probable Questions

You are likely to encounter similar questions across SEO interviews.

Typically, you will be asked to give examples of times you have worked well with stakeholders or solved a complex technical issue.

You may be asked about a time when a project did not go to plan and how you handled it.

If you have been interviewing for a while, you might want to list some of the questions you notice you get asked often. Practice those answers. Ask your wider SEO network to help you refine them.

There will always be nuances to how interviewers interview, but there is a limit to how off the wall the questions are likely to be and still be relevant to SEO!

7. Don’t Criticize A Potential Colleague’s Work

Sometimes, interviewers will ask candidates to audit their company’s or their client’s website. You may choose to do so unprompted.

Be careful if you are likely to be pointing out errors or missed opportunities with a site someone on the interview panel may be working on.

As we all know, there are often internal processes and problems that impact an SEO pro’s ability to fix glaring issues.

When answering these types of questions, just be aware that you don’t have the full context of why the hreflang tags are missing, or there are terrible cannibalization issues.

Don’t be afraid to highlight these improvements and opportunities; just do it sensitively. Lean on the side of caution.

Assume that you are not uncovering some previously undiscovered technical issue. Presume that the SEO expert in charge of that client’s account isn’t lazy or incompetent.

Even if you are correct and they have missed an issue or made a mistake, no SEO pro wants their work criticized on a call with their superiors. Instead, take an empathetic approach.

Don’t forget, it’s not just your practical SEO knowledge that is being tested at the interview, but your approach and team fit also.

8. Tailor Your Answers To Who Is In The Room

It is a good idea to be aware of who is interviewing you generally, not just so you don’t accidentally criticize their work but also so you can tailor your answers appropriately.

There is a big difference between being interviewed by someone with specialist SEO knowledge and without. It is likely that you will be interviewed by both during a company’s hiring process.

If your interviewers are SEO pros themselves, you can afford to go more into the technical details of your experience.

You can discuss the impact a content pruning exercise had on the crawling and indexation of your site. Or explain how you handled a tricky website migration. You can discuss these with some assumption that they will know what you are talking about.

If your interviewers are not au-fait with SEO, you may want to focus more on the business impact your changes made.

They may not want to hear about how going from client-side to server-side rendering impacted the visibility of your pages in the search engine results pages (SERPs).

They may be more interested in how you brought stakeholders along on your project and the impact on revenue your changes had.

You may need to explain the activity in a bit more detail than you would with another SEO.

9. Demonstrate Your Desire To Learn And Develop

Our industry is one that is changing a lot. One thing I tend to look for when interviewing SEO candidates is their attitude to learning and development.

I will ask questions to see how they solidify and expand their knowledge.

Good answers will often show that a candidate takes responsibility for their own learning and growth.

Everyone learns differently, but good SEO professionals are always trying to learn more about their discipline.

Whether you are an avid reader of case studies or listen to all the SEO podcasts out there, just be ready to explain your process for keeping up with industry developments.

10. Use It As An Opportunity To Learn About The Company And Refine Your Choices For Your Career

You’ll often hear it said that interviews are just as much about the candidate deciding if the company is right for them as it is the other way around. In SEO, this is extremely important.

You could be fighting a battle to get your recommendations implemented. You may be faced with strong stakeholder opinions and push-back.

Whilst you are interviewing with a company, use it as an opportunity to understand what level of SEO-literacy the team has.

  • Is SEO something that is new to the company, and your focus will be on training and selling in the benefits once you join?
  • Are they already aware of the importance of SEO and have been working towards a goal for a while?
  • If so, are your ideas going to be welcomed, or will you be expected to just continue your predecessor’s work?

Questions you could ask during your interview include:

  • “What is your company’s current approach to SEO?”
  • Or, “What importance does the senior management team give to SEO as a growth lever?”

The answers will help you determine whether the issues and opportunities at that company are the sort you want to face.

Conclusion

SEO interviews can feel overwhelming.

There are so many aspects to SEO that it can feel impossible to showcase your strengths in all of them.

Take some time to review the above tips and practice your interviewing where possible.

Most mistakes in interviews seem to be the result of nerves. Good interviewers will understand that.

Do yourself a favor and prepare for these interviews so that you can reduce the nerves as much as possible and feel confident in your ability as an SEO professional.

More resources: 


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Gen Z Ditches Google, Turns To Reddit For Product Searches

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In this photo illustration, the Reddit logo is displayed on a smartphone screen.

A new report from Reddit, in collaboration with GWI and AmbassCo, sheds light on the evolving search behaviors of Generation Z consumers.

The study surveyed over 3,000 internet users across the UK, US, and Germany, highlighting significant changes in how young people discover and research products online.

Here’s an overview of key findings and the implications for marketers.

Decline In Traditional Search

The study found that Gen Z uses search engines to find new brands and products less often.

That’s because they shop online differently. They’re less interested in looking for expert reviews or spending much time searching for products.

There are also frustrations with mobile-friendliness and complex interfaces on traditional search platforms.

Because of this, traditional SEO strategies might not work well for reaching younger customers.

Takeaway

Companies trying to reach Gen Z might need to try new methods instead of just focusing on being visible on Google and other search engines.

Rise Of Social Media Discovery

Screenshot from Reddit study titled: “From search to research: How search marketers can keep up with Gen Z.”, June 2024.

Gen Z is increasingly using social media to find new brands and products.

The study shows that Gen Z has used social media for product discovery 36% more frequently since 2018.

This change is affecting how young people shop online. Instead of searching for products, they expect brands to appear in their social media feeds.

1719123963 547 Gen Z Ditches Google Turns To Reddit For Product SearchesScreenshot from Reddit study titled: “From search to research: How search marketers can keep up with Gen Z.”, June 2024.

Because of this, companies trying to reach young customers need to pay more attention to how they present themselves on social media.

Takeaway

To succeed at marketing to Gen Z, businesses will likely need to focus on two main things:

  1. Ensure that your content appears more often in social media feeds.
  2. Create posts people want to share and interact with.

Trust Issues With Influencer Marketing

Even though more people are finding products through social media, the report shows that Gen Z is less likely to trust what social media influencers recommend.

These young shoppers often don’t believe in posts that influencers are paid to make or products they promote.

Instead, they prefer to get information from sources that feel more real and are driven by regular people in online communities.

Takeaway

Because of this lack of trust, companies must focus on being genuine and building trust when they try to get their websites to appear in search results or create ads.

Some good ways to connect with these young consumers might be to use content created by regular users, encourage honest product reviews, and create authentic conversations within online communities.

Challenges With Current Search Experiences

The research shows that many people are unhappy with how search engines work right now.

More than 60% of those surveyed want search results to be more trustworthy. Almost half of users don’t like looking through many search result pages.

Gen Z is particularly bothered by inaccurate information and unreliable reviews.

1719123963 785 Gen Z Ditches Google Turns To Reddit For Product SearchesScreenshot from Reddit study titled: “From search to research: How search marketers can keep up with Gen Z.”, June 2024.

Takeaway

Given the frustration with search quality, marketers should prioritize creating accurate, trustworthy content.

This can help build brand credibility, leading to more direct visits.

Reddit: A Trusted Alternative

The report suggests that Gen Z trusts Reddit when looking up products—it’s their third most trusted source, after friends and family and review websites.

1719123963 403 Gen Z Ditches Google Turns To Reddit For Product SearchesScreenshot from Reddit study titled: “From search to research: How search marketers can keep up with Gen Z.”, June 2024.

Young users like Reddit because it’s community-based and provides specific answers to users’ questions, making it feel more real.

It’s worth noting that this report comes from Reddit itself, which probably influenced why it’s suggesting its own platform.

Takeaway

Companies should focus more on being part of smaller, specific online groups frequented by Gen Z.

That could include Reddit or any other forum.

Why SEJ Cares

As young people change how they look for information online, this study gives businesses important clues about connecting with future customers.

Here’s what to remember:

  • Traditional search engine use is declining among Gen Z.
  • Social media is increasingly vital for product discovery.
  • There’s growing skepticism towards influencer marketing.
  • Current search experiences often fail to meet user expectations.
  • Community-based platforms like Reddit are gaining trust.

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Google Clarifies Organization Merchant Returns Structured Data

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Google updates organization structured data for merchant returns

Google quietly updated their organization structured data documentation in order to clarify two points about merchant returns in response to feedback about an ambiguity in the previous version.

Organization Structured Data and Merchant Returns

Google recently expanded their Organization structured data so that it could now accommodate a merchant return policy. The change added support for adding a sitewide merchant return policy.

The original reason for adding this support:

“Adding support for Organization-level return policies

What: Added documentation on how to specify a general return policy for an Organization as a whole.

Why: This makes it easier to define and maintain general return policies for an entire site.”

However that change left unanswered about what will happen if a site has a sitewide return policy but also has a different policy for individual products.

The clarification applies for the specific scenario of when a site uses both a sitewide return policy in their structured data and another one for specific products.

What Takes Precedence?

What happens if a merchant uses both a sitewide and product return structured data? Google’s new documentation states that Google will ignore the sitewide product return policy in favor of a more granular product-level policy in the structured data.

The clarification states:

“If you choose to provide both organization-level and product-level return policy markup, Google defaults to the product-level return policy markup.”

Change Reflected Elsewhere

Google also updated the documentation to reflect the scenario of the use of two levels of merchant return policies in another section that discusses whether structured data or merchant feed data takes precedence. There is no change to the policy, merchant center data still takes precedence.

This is the old documentation:

“If you choose to use both markup and settings in Merchant Center, Google will only use the information provided in Merchant Center for any products submitted in your Merchant Center product feeds, including automated feeds.”

This is the same section but updated with additional wording:

“If you choose to use both markup (whether at the organization-level or product-level, or both) and settings in Merchant Center, Google will only use the information provided in Merchant Center for any products submitted in your Merchant Center product feeds, including automated feeds.”

Read the newly updated Organization structured data documentation:

Organization (Organization) structured data – MerchantReturnPolicy

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What Is It & How To Write It

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What Is It & How To Write It

In this guide, you will learn about alternative text (known as alt text): what it is, why it is important for on-page SEO, how to use it correctly, and more.

It’s often overlooked, but every image on your website should have alt text. More information is better, and translating visual information into text is important for search engine bots attempting to understand your website and users with screen readers.

Alt text is one more source of information that relates ideas and content together on your website.

This practical and to-the-point guide contains tips and advice you can immediately use to improve your website’s image SEO and accessibility.

What Is Alt Text?

Alternative text (or alt text) – also known as the alt attribute or the alt tag (which is not technically correct because it is not a tag) – is simply a piece of text that describes the image in the HTML code.

What Are The Uses Of Alt Text?

The original function of alt text was simply to describe an image that could not be loaded.

Many years ago, when the internet was much slower, alt text would help you know the content of an image that was too heavy to be loaded in your browser.

Today, images rarely fail to load – but if they do, then it is the alt text you will see in place of an image.

Screenshot from Search Engine Journal, May 2024

Alt text also helps search engine bots understand the image’s content and context.

More importantly, alt text is critical for accessibility and for people using screen readers:

  • Alt text helps people with disabilities (for example, using screen readers) learn about the image’s content.

Of course, like every element of SEO, it is often misused or, in some cases, even abused.

Let’s now take a closer look at why alt text is important.

Why Alt Text Is Important

The web and websites are a very visual experience. It is hard to find a website without images or graphic elements.

That’s why alt text is very important.

Alt text helps translate the image’s content into words, thus making the image accessible to a wider audience, including people with disabilities and search engine bots that are not clever enough yet to fully understand every image, its context, and its meaning.

Why Alt Text Is Important For SEO

Alt text is an important element of on-page SEO optimization.

Proper alt text optimization makes your website stand a better chance of ranking in Google image searches.

Yes, alt text is a ranking factor for Google image search.

Depending on your website’s niche and specificity, Google image search traffic may play a huge role in your website’s overall success.

For example, in the case of ecommerce websites, users very often start their search for products with a Google image search instead of typing the product name into the standard Google search.

Screenshot from search for [Garmin forerunner]Screenshot from search for [Garmin forerunner], May 2024

Google and other search engines may display fewer product images (or not display them at all) if you fail to take care of their alt text optimization.

Without proper image optimization, you may lose a lot of potential traffic and customers.

Why Alt Text Is Important For Accessibility

Visibility in Google image search is very important, but there is an even more important consideration: Accessibility.

Fortunately, in recent years, more focus has been placed on accessibility (i.e., making the web accessible to everyone, including people with disabilities and/or using screen readers).

Suppose the alt text of your images actually describes their content instead of, for example, stuffing keywords. In that case, you are helping people who cannot see this image better understand it and the content of the entire web page.

Let’s say one of your web pages is an SEO audit guide that contains screenshots from various crawling tools.

Would it not be better to describe the content of each screenshot instead of placing the same alt text of “SEO audit” into every image?

Let’s take a look at a few examples.

Alt Text Examples

Finding many good and bad examples of alt text is not difficult. Let me show you a few, sticking to the above example with an SEO audit guide.

Good Alt Text Examples

So, our example SEO guide contains screenshots from tools such as Google Search Console and Screaming Frog.

Some good examples of alt text may include:

”The
”Google
”List
”Screaming

Tip: It is also a good idea to take care of the name of your file. Using descriptive file names is not a ranking factor, but I recommend this as a good SEO practice.

Bad And/Or Spammy Alt Text Examples

I’ve also seen many examples of bad alt text use, including keyword stuffing or spamming.

Here is how you can turn the above good examples into bad examples:

”google search console coverage report
”google
”seo
”seo

As you can see, the above examples do not provide any information on what these images actually show.

You can also find examples and even more image SEO tips on Google Search Central.

Common Alt Text Mistakes

Stuffing keywords in the alt text is not the only mistake you can make.

Here are a few examples of common alt text mistakes:

  • Failure to use the alt text or using empty alt text.
  • Using the same alt text for different images.
  • Using very general alt text that does not actually describe the image. For example, using the alt text of “dog” on the photo of a dog instead of describing the dog in more detail, its color, what it is doing, what breed it is, etc.
  • Automatically using the name of the file as the alt text – which may lead to very unfriendly alt text, such as “googlesearchconsole,” “google-search-console,” or “photo2323,” depending on the name of the file.

Alt Text Writing Tips

And finally, here are the tips on how to write correct alt text so that it actually fulfills its purpose:

  • Do not stuff keywords into the alt text. Doing so will not help your web page rank for these keywords.
  • Describe the image in detail, but still keep it relatively short. Avoid adding multiple sentences to the alt text.
  • Use your target keywords, but in a natural way, as part of the image’s description. If your target keyword does not fit into the image’s description, don’t use it.
  • Don’t use text on images. All text should be added in the form of HTML code.
  • Don’t write, “this is an image of.” Google and users know that this is an image. Just describe its content.
  • Make sure you can visualize the image’s content by just reading its alt text. That is the best exercise to make sure your alt text is OK.

How To Troubleshoot Image Alt Text

Now you know all the best practices and common mistakes of alt text. But how do you check what’s in the alt text of the images of a website?

You can analyze the alt text in the following ways:

Inspecting an element (right-click and select Inspect when hovering over an image) is a good way to check if a given image has alt text.

However, if you want to check that in bulk, I recommend one of the below two methods.

Install Web Developer Chrome extension.

Screenshot of Web Developer Extension in Chrome by authorScreenshot from Web Developer Extension, Chrome by author, May 2024

Next, open the page whose images you want to audit.

Click on Web Developer and navigate to Images > Display Alt Attributes. This way, you can see the content of the alt text of all images on a given web page.

The alt text of images is shown on the page.Screenshot from Web Developer Extension, Chrome by author, May 2024

How To Find And Fix Missing Alt Text

To check the alt text of the images of the entire website, use a crawler like Screaming Frog or Sitebulb.

Crawl the site, navigate to the image report, and review the alt text of all website images, as shown in the video guide below.

You can also export only images that have missing alt text and start fixing those issues.

Alt Text May Not Seem Like A Priority, But It’s Important

Every source of information about your content has value. Whether it’s for vision-impaired users or bots, alt text helps contextualize the images on your website.

While it’s only a ranking factor for image search, everything you do to help search engines understand your website can potentially help deliver more accurate results. Demonstrating a commitment to accessibility is also a critical component of modern digital marketing.

FAQ

What is the purpose of alt text in HTML?

Alternative text, or alt text, serves two main purposes in HTML. Its primary function is to provide a textual description of an image if it cannot be displayed. This text can help users understand the image content when technical issues prevent it from loading or if they use a screen reader due to visual impairments. Additionally, alt text aids search engine bots in understanding the image’s subject matter, which is critical for SEO, as indexing images correctly can enhance a website’s visibility in search results.

Can alt text improve website accessibility?

Yes, alt text is vital for website accessibility. It translates visual information into descriptive text that can be read by screen readers used by users with visual impairments. By accurately describing images, alt text ensures that all users, regardless of disability, can understand the content of a web page, making the web more inclusive and accessible to everyone.

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