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Cut Through Any Bull With These 8 SEO Job Interview Questions

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Cut Through Any Bull With These 8 SEO Job Interview Questions

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?

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.

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.

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.

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.)

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.).

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.

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.

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.

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.

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:


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How do you hire an SEO manager?

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How do you hire an SEO manager

30-second summary:

  • Business leaders struggle to hire SEO managers, and often wonder if they need one
  • SEO visibility is key to business success and is hard to increase your customer base and sales
  • SEO is a great contributor to brand growth and essentially needs the right mindset
  • This is a checklist to help you hire the right fit for your business

If you’re looking to improve your website’s search engine ranking, you may be wondering how to go about hiring an SEO manager. It can be a daunting task, but with the right information, it can be more straightforward than you think.

In this article, we will discuss some of the things you should consider when hiring an SEO manager. We’ll also provide some tips on how to make sure your team works well together and gets the most out of your SEO manager.

Why hire an SEO manager?

Without an SEO manager, it’s often difficult to know where to start when it comes to improving your website’s search engine visibility. And without valuable organic traffic, it’s hard to increase your customer base and sales. SEO can be a big contributor to brand growth.

An SEO manager can help you identify the best strategies for improving your website’s search presence. They will also be able to monitor overall performance, spot potential improvement opportunities, and create effective tactics to get the best results from your website’s content.

This includes conducting keyword research and creating SEO content, optimizing existing website pages, analyzing traffic sources, managing link-building campaigns, monitoring search engine performance, and regularly reporting on the progress of organic traffic. An SEO manager will ensure that your business sees SEO progress much more quickly.

What responsibilities does an SEO manager have?

The primary responsibility of an SEO manager is to ensure that your website ranks as high as possible in search engine results (not just Google, but Bing, and Amazon too).

If you’re not on the first page of Google for your most important keywords, you’re missing huge sales opportunities. This is particularly true for ecommerce SEO, where a poorly-performing website and SEO strategy can literally be the difference between a thriving business and bankruptcy.

It is crucial to hire an SEO manager who understands all aspects of SEO, including technical SEO, content-related tasks, analytics tracking, website performance, and link building.

They should have the ability to assess the current health of a website, developing plans to improve ranking in organic search results. The successful candidate should also be able to track and analyze performance metrics, such as click-through rates, conversion rates, and bounce rates.

What characteristics make a good SEO manager?

When looking for an SEO manager, you’ll want to find someone who is knowledgeable in the field, has good communication skills, is a self-starter, and can work independently.

Personality traits are key too. The person should be creative, persistent, and have a passion for problem-solving. They should also have good organizational skills and the ability to prioritize tasks.

It is important that the SEO manager you hire is a team player, and can take direction from upper management. Having the ability to build relationships with stakeholders and clients is also essential.

The importance of project management

Project management skills are essential for an SEO manager as they will need to coordinate activities between multiple teams and departments, manage timelines and budgets, and report on project progress.

Without good project management skills, an SEO manager will struggle to get results and could cause delays in achieving desired outcomes.

How can you ensure that your team gels well?

The key to creating a successful SEO team is finding people with complementary skills who work well together. This involves looking for individuals who have experience in different aspects of digital marketing, such as content writing, web design, and analytics.

You don’t want to hire a team of people who are all experts in the same field, as this will limit your team’s ability to think creatively and come up with innovative ideas.

It is also important to ensure that your SEO manager has good interpersonal skills. Having an open-door policy where everyone can easily communicate with each other is essential. This will help build trust between team members and ensure everyone is on the same page.

Having an open dialogue between all team members will also be crucial. This will ensure their feedback and input on how best to optimize the content or improve strategies.

Ideas for welcoming and onboarding your new hire

This could include creating an onboarding checklist, setting up regular meetings, assigning tasks to the team members, and scheduling time for team-building activities. Do make sure your SEO manager has face time with key leads from across the business to get a strong understanding of the business and its needs. This pays off in the long run.

Hiring in-house vs SEO outsourcing

When it comes to deciding if you should hire an in-house SEO manager, outsource the work to an SEO agency, or simply get a freelancer – you need to gauge the pros and cons.

Hiring in-house may be more expensive but can provide a greater level of control and allows for closer collaboration with the team. You totally own your processes and have granular input on everything.

On the other hand, outsourcing to an agency or freelance professional may be more cost-effective and can provide specialized skills that are not available in-house. Many SEO providers will offer types of monthly SEO packages, which make costs predictable and controllable. And depending on the terms of a contract, you likely have the freedom to cancel whenever you like. This can be much less hassle than employing someone ­– a poorly-performing employee, which can be more troublesome to resolve.

  Hiring in-house Hiring an SEO agency or freelancer
Pros • Greater control and collaboration

• Easier to monitor progress

• Assign tasks quickly

• Affordable

• Access to specialized skills

• High level of expertise and experience

Cons • Can be more expensive

• Limited experience level

• Can be difficult to find the right candidate

 

• Lack of control over the process

• Communication can be more difficult

• Accountability can be less clear

Interview questions to ask your potential SEO manager

When interviewing a potential SEO manager, you should ask some specific questions to make sure they are the right fit. These can include questions about their experience with SEO, how they stay up-to-date on algorithm changes, and what strategies they would use to improve your website’s ranking.

Example starter questions

  • What experience do you have with SEO?
  • How do you stay up to date on algorithm changes?
  • What strategies would you use to improve our website’s ranking?
  • How would you optimize our content for search engine visibility?
  • What kind of link-building tactics do you employ?
  • What do you consider to be the most important SEO trends?

Common mistakes to avoid when hiring a new candidate

When hiring an SEO manager, there are some common mistakes you should avoid:

Not understanding the responsibilities of an SEO Manager

It is vital you have a clear idea of what the job entails and that the candidate has the relevant skills for the position.

Not considering the team’s current culture

When bringing someone new onto your team it is important to consider how they will fit in with existing colleagues.

Not asking enough questions during interviews

Make sure you ask any potential candidates about their experience and qualifications, as well as their ability to work with the team and manage client relationships.

Not setting clear goals for the role

Setting clear expectations will ensure that everyone is on the same page from the outset and that any targets are achievable.

Not agreeing on a budget

Before you start your search, make sure to set a realistic budget for this role. This will help you determine how much you can afford to pay, and what kind of person is best suited to the job.

Not conducting background checks

Background checks are important when hiring an SEO manager as they will provide insight into their past experience and any qualifications they may have. It’s also a good way to make sure that there are no discrepancies in their resume.

FAQ

Q: How do I find an SEO manager?

A: You can look for SEO managers on job boards, or hire a freelancer or agency. Make sure to ask them questions about their experience and qualifications, as well as their ability to work with the team and manage client relationships.

Q: What should I look for in an SEO manager?

A: A good SEO manager should have experience with SEO, and up-to-date knowledge of algorithm changes and strategies to improve a website’s ranking. They should also be able to optimize content for search engine visibility, employ link-building tactics and keep track of the latest SEO trends.

Q: How much does it cost to hire an SEO manager?

A: The cost of hiring an SEO manager will depend on the level of experience, skills, and services required. Generally, in-house managers can be more expensive than agencies or freelance professionals. It’s important to set a realistic budget before you start your search.

Q: Is it a good idea to hire an SEO manager overseas to work remotely?

A: This depends on the situation. Hiring a remote SEO manager can be beneficial if they are highly experienced and able to deliver results, however, communication and accountability can be more challenging with remote workers. It’s important to weigh up the pros and cons before making your final decision. There may also be legal or compliance issues when employing internationally.

Closing thoughts

Finding the right SEO manager is an important step in ensuring your website’s success. Make sure to ask potential candidates plenty of questions and take into account their skills, experience, and ability to fit into the team culture before making a decision. Consider both the benefits and disadvantages of hiring an in-house employee or outsourcing to an agency or freelancer, and don’t forget to set a budget. With the right candidate on board, you’ll be well on your way to achieving long-term SEO success.


Joe Dawson is Director of strategic growth agency Creative.onl, based in the UK. He can be found on Twitter @jdwn.

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