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Cut Through Any Bull With These 8 SEO Job Interview Questions

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The SEO job market has been on fire lately!

Companies are investing more in SEO, and agencies of all sizes are scrambling to hire new SEO pros.

I know I’ve spent a ton of time interviewing candidates lately. Separating the good candidates from the bad can seem like a daunting task.

How do you ensure the person you hire will turn into a good SEO?

How do you separate the BS artists from the practitioners?

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The secret is in the interview questions you ask!

Here are eight interview questions I love to ask SEO job candidates.

Doing An SEO Interview

When I do SEO interviews, I don’t ask standard questions that you’d get at your typical interview. Most of the standard interview questions bore me.

That doesn’t mean somebody from my team doesn’t ask them (we still need to make sure you actually know SEO), but once a candidate gets past that phase, I prefer to take a different approach.

While many SEOs will ask very technical interview questions like “what’s a canonical tag,” I’ve found that a slightly different approach works better.

Technical knowledge is great, but SEO trivia is easy to memorize and easy to train.

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If a candidate doesn’t know how to use a specific SEO tool I can show them in an hour, so it isn’t worth it to ask questions like that during an interview.

I’ve found that most technical SEO questions are usually the interviewer attempting to show off how smart they are rather than gauge the applicant’s SEO knowledge.

Too many SEO interviews are passed simply by letting the interviewer talk about himself the whole time. I’m not that interviewer. As much as I love to talk about myself, the interview isn’t the time to do it.

Instead, I’d prefer to examine their approach to problem-solving as well as their thought process, client interaction skills, and general outlook on SEO.

You can’t train critical thinking as well as you can train SEO best practices.

But if I can find somebody who thinks rationally, critically, and logically who knows the basics and has some tech skills, then I can train them up in the other stuff.

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Best Interview Questions To Ask SEO Candidates

1. Tell me about yourself. What are you looking for in your next role?

This is the first question I ask. It’s one you’ve heard in every interview.

What am I most paying attention to with this question? What the candidate thinks is important:

  • Do they talk about themselves personally? Professionally?
  • Do they go right into their work history?
  • Do they read me stuff like a checklist?

There’s no real wrong answer here – unless they recite qualifications like a checklist.

Talking about what they’re looking for in their next role immediately lets me know if this will be a role fit for the person, or if they will hate this role and be likely to quit soon.

I want to ensure that we’re not only filling our needs for the open position but also that the candidate will be happy and have room to grow. Doing this has led to much less turnover.

2. Tell me about your biggest accomplishment at your last job.

This simple question is my favorite. This answer will, most likely, instantly make up my mind about the rest of the interview.

You would be shocked at how many people can’t answer this question.

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Take a look at your average resume. Most people list what they were tasked with doing or assigned to do, but they don’t tell you what they actually did in that role.

This is the candidate’s chance to brag – to tell me about their results:

  • What ideas did you come up with?
  • What impact did you make on a client? (If you’re coming from an agency, I’ll rephrase it as “tell me about the biggest impact you’ve made for a client.”)

I will ask a few follow-up questions about whatever the candidate lists, but it’s basically just a conversation about the work to make sure he or she was actually involved in doing it and find out what part the person played.

Some great follow-up questions include: “How did you measure that success?” “What insight sparked the idea for that project?” and “What was the biggest challenge in accomplishing that?”

3. Why SEO?

I’ll only ask this question when hiring for any entry-level positions or if the candidate has less than a couple of years of experience.

I’m curious why they chose this profession. What motivates them?

If you tell me “I need a job” or “it pays well” you aren’t getting the job (or likely paid well.)

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4. Tell me about your personal projects, websites, blog, side hustle, conferences, etc.

There are two reasons for this question:

  • I want to make sure there’s no conflict of interest. I’ve interviewed a few people who wanted to keep their full-time consultancy with competing clients in addition to our full-time job.
  • I’m trying to find somebody who doesn’t turn off their SEO thinking at 5 p.m. (That’s the main reason I ask this question.)

I want somebody with a passion for search and marketing and technology.

SEO is a job where you have to keep learning and growing, and I’ve found that people with a passion for it will do that on their own. I’m looking for ambition here too.

I don’t care how that passion manifests. You don’t need to have a blog or a side hustle or a personal website or speak at conferences.

Just have the passion, and show it to me.

5. Tell me something most SEO professionals think is true that you think is BS (Or, something you think is true that most SEO pros think is BS).

This is my second favorite question to ask and one I usually reserve for near the end. It’s a modified version of a great Peter Thiel (who I’m not personally a big fan of) interview question.

I had to limit this one to SEO or marketing though, as people had a tendency to go really political on this (flat earth, vaccines, the election, etc.).

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While these are entertaining answers, they really aren’t relevant to work and I don’t want to discuss them in that setting.

Having said that, if you DO go off on a crazy tangent about something racist/sexist/bigoted, you can bet you aren’t getting the job offer.

This question helps a ton with evaluating a candidate’s critical thinking skills. I’m looking to see how they react when put on the spot. (I guarantee nobody has anticipated this question and it will take time to answer.)

I want to see the candidate uneasy – without a prepared answer – because that’s how many client interactions go.

I also want to see candidates defend their answers because I’m going to ask a few follow-ups asking them to do just that.

This is a great area to figure out if they’ll “vibe” with your SEO philosophy. You can go into things like subdomains vs. directories, or pet peeves like XML sitemaps.

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6. Given a random URL, walk me through how you diagnose it for SEO issues. What’s your first step?

I sometimes also substitute this for “walk me through your approach for doing keyword research” depending on the role and the candidate.

For SEO-specific skillsets, I like to go open-ended.

For this question, I’ll keep asking, “Then what? Then what?”

I want to see how their thought process works.

Not everybody is the same. Some will start with research or do a crawl; others will start by understanding the business goals; others will pull out their checklist. (You can earn bonus points if you mention one of my SEO tools.)

I’m not a fan of checklists.

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Also, I don’t want to hear, “I’d run this tool.” I want you to tell me what you’re using the tool to do.

For senior-level roles, I’ve often asked candidates to do a couple of slides on how they’d improve a random site.

It’s never a client site (we really don’t ask for free work). It’s usually a brand site of whatever brand of clothing I notice the person wearing or interest I see in the background of their Zoom.

Or, if they tell me they play hockey it might be a hockey equipment manufacturer, etc.

If I want to be aberrant about it, I’ll ask them to evaluate wtfseo.com or something. It’s always random.

7. Suppose the client wants to do this thing. You think it’s a terrible idea and recommend something else instead. The meeting is tomorrow to discuss. What’s your game plan for the meeting?

This is my favorite hypothetical question to ask.

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There is a right answer to this. I’m looking for a data-driven and actionable plan.

Sadly, many candidates instead give what I call an “ego response” where they say something like “I’ll tell the client I’m the expert and they should trust me,” or something similar.

That’s not the person I want to hire.

8. Do you have any questions for me?

Sometimes the best interview question is to not ask a question but let the candidate do it instead!

The main goal of this is to give them more info about the job, ease their concerns, and make sure they’re the right fit – but you can learn a lot based on the questions they ask you.

For example, if they immediately ask about raises and promotions, that’s a red flag telling me that they may be a flight risk.

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A better way to ask this question if you’re interviewed is: “What does success look like for me in this role?”

Often, candidates will ask a question about whether or not they have to do something they hate doing (like metadata or reporting), and this can help find out how they interact with teams.

(Note: It doesn’t matter what level of SEO you are, you’ll still do some of the “basic” SEO stuff from time to time.)

To Sum Up

The main goal of any interview is to determine a candidate’s skills, how loyal they will be to your company, and how well they will fit with the company culture and their future colleagues.  With the right questions, you can make sure the most qualified candidates move to the next level of your hiring process.

More Resources:


Featured Image: fizkes/Shutterstock

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Google On Hyphens In Domain Names

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What Google says about using hyphens in domain names

Google’s John Mueller answered a question on Reddit about why people don’t use hyphens with domains and if there was something to be concerned about that they were missing.

Domain Names With Hyphens For SEO

I’ve been working online for 25 years and I remember when using hyphens in domains was something that affiliates did for SEO when Google was still influenced by keywords in the domain, URL, and basically keywords anywhere on the webpage. It wasn’t something that everyone did, it was mainly something that was popular with some affiliate marketers.

Another reason for choosing domain names with keywords in them was that site visitors tended to convert at a higher rate because the keywords essentially prequalified the site visitor. I know from experience how useful two-keyword domains (and one word domain names) are for conversions, as long as they didn’t have hyphens in them.

A consideration that caused hyphenated domain names to fall out of favor is that they have an untrustworthy appearance and that can work against conversion rates because trustworthiness is an important factor for conversions.

Lastly, hyphenated domain names look tacky. Why go with tacky when a brandable domain is easier for building trust and conversions?

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Domain Name Question Asked On Reddit

This is the question asked on Reddit:

“Why don’t people use a lot of domains with hyphens? Is there something concerning about it? I understand when you tell it out loud people make miss hyphen in search.”

And this is Mueller’s response:

“It used to be that domain names with a lot of hyphens were considered (by users? or by SEOs assuming users would? it’s been a while) to be less serious – since they could imply that you weren’t able to get the domain name with fewer hyphens. Nowadays there are a lot of top-level-domains so it’s less of a thing.

My main recommendation is to pick something for the long run (assuming that’s what you’re aiming for), and not to be overly keyword focused (because life is too short to box yourself into a corner – make good things, course-correct over time, don’t let a domain-name limit what you do online). The web is full of awkward, keyword-focused short-lived low-effort takes made for SEO — make something truly awesome that people will ask for by name. If that takes a hyphen in the name – go for it.”

Pick A Domain Name That Can Grow

Mueller is right about picking a domain name that won’t lock your site into one topic. When a site grows in popularity the natural growth path is to expand the range of topics the site coves. But that’s hard to do when the domain is locked into one rigid keyword phrase. That’s one of the downsides of picking a “Best + keyword + reviews” domain, too. Those domains can’t grow bigger and look tacky, too.

That’s why I’ve always recommended brandable domains that are memorable and encourage trust in some way.

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Read the post on Reddit:

Are domains with hyphens bad?

Read Mueller’s response here.

Featured Image by Shutterstock/Benny Marty

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Reddit Post Ranks On Google In 5 Minutes

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Google apparently ranks Reddit posts within minutes

Google’s Danny Sullivan disputed the assertions made in a Reddit discussion that Google is showing a preference for Reddit in the search results. But a Redditor’s example proves that it’s possible for a Reddit post to rank in the top ten of the search results within minutes and to actually improve rankings to position #2 a week later.

Discussion About Google Showing Preference To Reddit

A Redditor (gronetwork) complained that Google is sending so many visitors to Reddit that the server is struggling with the load and shared an example that proved that it can only take minutes for a Reddit post to rank in the top ten.

That post was part of a 79 post Reddit thread where many in the r/SEO subreddit were complaining about Google allegedly giving too much preference to Reddit over legit sites.

The person who did the test (gronetwork) wrote:

“…The website is already cracking (server down, double posts, comments not showing) because there are too many visitors.

…It only takes few minutes (you can test it) for a post on Reddit to appear in the top ten results of Google with keywords related to the post’s title… (while I have to wait months for an article on my site to be referenced). Do the math, the whole world is going to spam here. The loop is completed.”

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Reddit Post Ranked Within Minutes

Another Redditor asked if they had tested if it takes “a few minutes” to rank in the top ten and gronetwork answered that they had tested it with a post titled, Google SGE Review.

gronetwork posted:

“Yes, I have created for example a post named “Google SGE Review” previously. After less than 5 minutes it was ranked 8th for Google SGE Review (no quotes). Just after Washingtonpost.com, 6 authoritative SEO websites and Google.com’s overview page for SGE (Search Generative Experience). It is ranked third for SGE Review.”

It’s true, not only does that specific post (Google SGE Review) rank in the top 10, the post started out in position 8 and it actually improved ranking, currently listed beneath the number one result for the search query “SGE Review”.

Screenshot Of Reddit Post That Ranked Within Minutes

Anecdotes Versus Anecdotes

Okay, the above is just one anecdote. But it’s a heck of an anecdote because it proves that it’s possible for a Reddit post to rank within minutes and get stuck in the top of the search results over other possibly more authoritative websites.

hankschrader79 shared that Reddit posts outrank Toyota Tacoma forums for a phrase related to mods for that truck.

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Google’s Danny Sullivan responded to that post and the entire discussion to dispute that Reddit is not always prioritized over other forums.

Danny wrote:

“Reddit is not always prioritized over other forums. [super vhs to mac adapter] I did this week, it goes Apple Support Community, MacRumors Forum and further down, there’s Reddit. I also did [kumo cloud not working setup 5ghz] recently (it’s a nightmare) and it was the Netgear community, the SmartThings Community, GreenBuildingAdvisor before Reddit. Related to that was [disable 5g airport] which has Apple Support Community above Reddit. [how to open an 8 track tape] — really, it was the YouTube videos that helped me most, but it’s the Tapeheads community that comes before Reddit.

In your example for [toyota tacoma], I don’t even get Reddit in the top results. I get Toyota, Car & Driver, Wikipedia, Toyota again, three YouTube videos from different creators (not Toyota), Edmunds, a Top Stories unit. No Reddit, which doesn’t really support the notion of always wanting to drive traffic just to Reddit.

If I guess at the more specific query you might have done, maybe [overland mods for toyota tacoma], I get a YouTube video first, then Reddit, then Tacoma World at third — not near the bottom. So yes, Reddit is higher for that query — but it’s not first. It’s also not always first. And sometimes, it’s not even showing at all.”

hankschrader79 conceded that they were generalizing when they wrote that Google always prioritized Reddit. But they also insisted that that didn’t diminish what they said is a fact that Google’s “prioritization” forum content has benefitted Reddit more than actual forums.

Why Is The Reddit Post Ranked So High?

It’s possible that Google “tested” that Reddit post in position 8 within minutes and that user interaction signals indicated to Google’s algorithms that users prefer to see that Reddit post. If that’s the case then it’s not a matter of Google showing preference to Reddit post but rather it’s users that are showing the preference and the algorithm is responding to those preferences.

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Nevertheless, an argument can be made that user preferences for Reddit can be a manifestation of Familiarity Bias. Familiarity Bias is when people show a preference for things that are familiar to them. If a person is familiar with a brand because of all the advertising they were exposed to then they may show a bias for the brand products over unfamiliar brands.

Users who are familiar with Reddit may choose Reddit because they don’t know the other sites in the search results or because they have a bias that Google ranks spammy and optimized websites and feel safer reading Reddit.

Google may be picking up on those user interaction signals that indicate a preference and satisfaction with the Reddit results but those results may simply be biases and not an indication that Reddit is trustworthy and authoritative.

Is Reddit Benefiting From A Self-Reinforcing Feedback Loop?

It may very well be that Google’s decision to prioritize user generated content may have started a self-reinforcing pattern that draws users in to Reddit through the search results and because the answers seem plausible those users start to prefer Reddit results. When they’re exposed to more Reddit posts their familiarity bias kicks in and they start to show a preference for Reddit. So what could be happening is that the users and Google’s algorithm are creating a self-reinforcing feedback loop.

Is it possible that Google’s decision to show more user generated content has kicked off a cycle where more users are exposed to Reddit which then feeds back into Google’s algorithm which in turn increases Reddit visibility, regardless of lack of expertise and authoritativeness?

Featured Image by Shutterstock/Kues

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WordPress Releases A Performance Plugin For “Near-Instant Load Times”

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WordPress speculative loading plugin

WordPress released an official plugin that adds support for a cutting edge technology called speculative loading that can help boost site performance and improve the user experience for site visitors.

Speculative Loading

Rendering means constructing the entire webpage so that it instantly displays (rendering). When your browser downloads the HTML, images, and other resources and puts it together into a webpage, that’s rendering. Prerendering is putting that webpage together (rendering it) in the background.

What this plugin does is to enable the browser to prerender the entire webpage that a user might navigate to next. The plugin does that by anticipating which webpage the user might navigate to based on where they are hovering.

Chrome lists a preference for only prerendering when there is an at least 80% probability of a user navigating to another webpage. The official Chrome support page for prerendering explains:

“Pages should only be prerendered when there is a high probability the page will be loaded by the user. This is why the Chrome address bar prerendering options only happen when there is such a high probability (greater than 80% of the time).

There is also a caveat in that same developer page that prerendering may not happen based on user settings, memory usage and other scenarios (more details below about how analytics handles prerendering).

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The Speculative Loading API solves a problem that previous solutions could not because in the past they were simply prefetching resources like JavaScript and CSS but not actually prerendering the entire webpage.

The official WordPress announcement explains it like this:

Introducing the Speculation Rules API
The Speculation Rules API is a new web API that solves the above problems. It allows defining rules to dynamically prefetch and/or prerender URLs of certain structure based on user interaction, in JSON syntax—or in other words, speculatively preload those URLs before the navigation. This API can be used, for example, to prerender any links on a page whenever the user hovers over them.”

The official WordPress page about this new functionality describes it:

“The Speculation Rules API is a new web API… It allows defining rules to dynamically prefetch and/or prerender URLs of certain structure based on user interaction, in JSON syntax—or in other words, speculatively preload those URLs before the navigation.

This API can be used, for example, to prerender any links on a page whenever the user hovers over them. Also, with the Speculation Rules API, “prerender” actually means to prerender the entire page, including running JavaScript. This can lead to near-instant load times once the user clicks on the link as the page would have most likely already been loaded in its entirety. However that is only one of the possible configurations.”

The new WordPress plugin adds support for the Speculation Rules API. The Mozilla developer pages, a great resource for HTML technical understanding describes it like this:

“The Speculation Rules API is designed to improve performance for future navigations. It targets document URLs rather than specific resource files, and so makes sense for multi-page applications (MPAs) rather than single-page applications (SPAs).

The Speculation Rules API provides an alternative to the widely-available <link rel=”prefetch”> feature and is designed to supersede the Chrome-only deprecated <link rel=”prerender”> feature. It provides many improvements over these technologies, along with a more expressive, configurable syntax for specifying which documents should be prefetched or prerendered.”

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See also: Are Websites Getting Faster? New Data Reveals Mixed Results

Performance Lab Plugin

The new plugin was developed by the official WordPress performance team which occasionally rolls out new plugins for users to test ahead of possible inclusion into the actual WordPress core. So it’s a good opportunity to be first to try out new performance technologies.

The new WordPress plugin is by default set to prerender “WordPress frontend URLs” which are pages, posts, and archive pages. How it works can be fine-tuned under the settings:

Settings > Reading > Speculative Loading

Browser Compatibility

The Speculative API is supported by Chrome 108 however the specific rules used by the new plugin require Chrome 121 or higher. Chrome 121 was released in early 2024.

Browsers that do not support will simply ignore the plugin and will have no effect on the user experience.

Check out the new Speculative Loading WordPress plugin developed by the official core WordPress performance team.

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How Analytics Handles Prerendering

A WordPress developer commented with a question asking how Analytics would handle prerendering and someone else answered that it’s up to the Analytics provider to detect a prerender and not count it as a page load or site visit.

Fortunately both Google Analytics and Google Publisher Tags (GPT) both are able to handle prerenders. The Chrome developers support page has a note about how analytics handles prerendering:

“Google Analytics handles prerender by delaying until activation by default as of September 2023, and Google Publisher Tag (GPT) made a similar change to delay triggering advertisements until activation as of November 2023.”

Possible Conflict With Ad Blocker Extensions

There are a couple things to be aware of about this plugin, aside from the fact that it’s an experimental feature that requires Chrome 121 or higher.

A comment by a WordPress plugin developer that this feature may not work with browsers that are using the uBlock Origin ad blocking browser extension.

Download the plugin:
Speculative Loading Plugin by the WordPress Performance Team

Read the announcement at WordPress
Speculative Loading in WordPress

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See also: WordPress, Wix & Squarespace Show Best CWV Rate Of Improvement

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