Recruiting the right SEO candidate is tough. While there are plenty of entry level candidates on the market, many with useful skills and education, finding an experienced recruit who's going to do a good job is far from easy.
The magnitude of the task is increased if the hiring manager doesn't have SEO experience - as is the case in many businesses. But these are often really important recruits.
Get it wrong for an in house hire and at best, you'll make little or no progress. At worse, your new hire might even damage your website. Get it wrong for an agency hire and you might end up with a host of disappointed clients who lose faith in your service.
But getting a great SEO candidate through the door can have a massive impact on the return from your marketing spend.
Here are some questions to ask in your next SEO interview:
1. How do you measure success with SEO?
This question gives you the opportunity to find out whether their view of success is the same as yours. If they're talking about search impressions and rankings and stopping there, it's possible there's a gulf between what they consider a good job and what you do. Look for the candidates that are talking about traffic, sales, revenue and return on your investment.
A senior hire, particularly an in house hire who will be the most experienced in the business, should be able to match up their activity and plans with metrics that everyone on the board will understand. SEO is a marketing channel, after all.
2. Where do you start with an SEO campaign?
Someone who launches in with writing page titles and building links is missing out the foundation stages and could potentially invest a lot of time with little return.
For me, I'm always looking for people who start with:
· Setting clear, measurable and realistic objectives
· Expectation setting
· Audience, product and service research
· Competitor analysis
· Keyword research
Only when you understand the product or service, the competitors, the potential buyers and the way in which they're looking for this product or researching it can you truly set about SEO.
3. How many keywords should I be ranking for?
When I ask this question, I don't want a numerical answer. I want someone who will explain that the number of keywords could easily run into the hundreds or thousands. A candidate who talks to me about long tail keywords, about research stage searches and who essentially maps the buying cycles to keywords and phrases has my attention here.
4. How do you set about optimizing the website itself?
This gives them an opportunity to talk you through their understanding of on page SEO and technical factors. They should be talking about site structure, navigation, titles, descriptions, content, headings, load speed, doing away with internal duplicate content issues and a host of other things.
Often, I'll give a candidate a website in advance and ask them to prepare to talk me through the SEO problems on that website.
5. How do you build links?
This question will offer you insight as to how up to date their methods are. Since 2012, link acquisition has changed phenomenally, with a heavy leaning on digital PR led tactics to acquire links. This follows updates to Google's algorithm that penalized older link building tactics such as article spinning, directories and paid links.
So you'll want to see evidence that their methods reflect the modern day landscape. But what you should also be looking for is multiple tactics rather than all eggs in the content marketing basket.
6. What's the worst campaign you've ever managed?
Everyone is happy to discuss their successes at an interview. And while I love to give people the opportunity to tell me about their best work, I'm equally as curious to hear about campaigns that didn't to go plan.
I don't expect any SEO professional will ever be 100% happy with every campaign they've managed. But what I want to hear about when a candidate is talking about failed campaigns is:
· How they recovered it/made the best of a bad situation
· How they set the expectations of their boss/client
· How they set about figuring out what the problem was
· The lessons they took away from it and implemented in future work
The willingness to talk about failures demonstrates an honest, grounded candidate, in my view. And some of the best lessons we can learn come from our own failure and bad experiences.
7. If you had a business and you had a budget for 4 people to run your SEO, what skills would you hire?
I would opt for:
· A strategist to set the direction and handle the reporting
· A technical SEO specialist who can carry out some of the wider tasks too
· A copywriter
· A digital PR specialist
That's a matter of opinion though. I imagine everyone will have a different answer to this. But what I'm looking for is acknowledgement that there are indeed a variety of skillsets needed to carry out an SEO campaign today.
8. How do you keep up to date with the pace of change in SEO?
The speed of change in this industry is phenomenal. Switch off for a month and you've probably missed something important. So you're looking for an answer here that indicates someone who is aware of the rate of change and who can reel off a number of resources they use to make sure they stay on top of their game.
9. What do you include in an SEO Report?
This is important regardless of whether it's an in house or an agency role. The ability to write a solid report that anyone within the business can understand is vital.
It has to tell the story of progress so far against named objectives while highlighting secondary, often more technical KPIs in many cases. Ultimately, this is a candidate's opportunity to demonstrate that they understand what key stakeholders will want to see and they're going to be reporting on metrics that matter even outside the SEO team (sales, revenue, conversion rate from web visitor to sale, core rankings that senior members of the team might consider big wins etc).
SEO Interviews Shouldn't be a Breeze
Interviewing a senior SEO hire shouldn't be easy, either for the candidate or the hiring manager. You have to test people to understand their ability to perform under pressure and it often takes a lot of digging to really get to know someone's strengths and weaknesses.
But let's not forget that even in a 2 or 3 stage interview, you still won't fully get to know a new hire. It will be in the opening months of their career with you that you truly get to know a colleague. Nonetheless, a solid set of interview questions is a great start.