No matter where your company is in terms of growth, you’re going to need SEO resources at some point. Tackling SEO can be costly, but more and more companies are investing the big bucks into it.
In fact, Statista research found that in 2019, SEO marketing spending will reach $75.23 billion. But it won’t stop there – projections show that spending will reach $79.27 billion in 2020.
Many of your competitors are likely already investing in SEO, and it’s something you should consider doing too. But what’s the best way to go about doing this? If you don’t already have an internal expert on your team, an SEO specialist might be the answer to what you need.
Why Hire an SEO Specialist
Before we dive into how to screen for SEO specialists, let’s first explore a few considerations to keep in mind. Before you go full steam ahead and just go posting a templated job description, you need to know what exactly you’re looking for.
You need to be able to answer the following question:
What Exactly Is an SEO Specialist?
I’m glad you asked, dear reader. SEO specialists on your team should be your go-to resource for all things related to boosting your ranking potential on SERPs.
Here are a few common skills worth assessing for:
One of the most important skills of an SEO specialist – keyword research involves using tools like Moz or Ahrefs to find relevant, high traffic keywords that you should incorporate into your website so you rank for them on SERPs.
All good SEO specialists should know how to create valuable content that align with target keywords. Types of content include materials like blog posts, ebooks, landing and pillar pages, and whitepapers.
Much of SEO involves combing through a lot of complex data to identify what’s working and what isn’t. In addition to analyzing keyword data, it’s also important to analyze metrics such as domain ranking, organic vs. paid traffic, backlink value, and more.
It’s important for every specialist to know how to run a full website analysis. This will include a content audit, domain and keyword ranking, developmental implementations, and any potential flaws that may be resulting in a Google penalty.
The specialist should also know how to run a competitor analysis to find opportunities that you may be missing out on, such as specific keywords that they rank for and you don’t.
Link building is an important part of improving your overall ranking. Specialists should know how to carry out best practices for scoring authentic, high value backlinks from a diverse range of high ranking websites.
They should also know how to identify and go about fixing broken links.
The best SEO specialists will possess an advanced skillset in programming languages such as HTML and CSS.
SEO specialists should know that not everyone can easily understand the ins and outs of SEO. They need to be able to present reports to audiences with varying degrees of understanding, including people who may have absolutely no knowledge of SEO whatsoever, in a way that they will be able to thoroughly comprehend the information that is being delivered.
To do this, specialists need to be able to break down complex SEO concepts into simple, digestible information.
The Importance of SEO
Simply put, SEO is important for one great big giant reason: you want to gain visibility when your target audience is entering relevant search queries. If your website pops up at the top of Google’s search engine results page (SERP), you’re going to drive a heck of a lot more traffic to your site.
In fact, Advance Web Ranking’s March 2018 research found that the first position on Google’s desktop SERPs earned a 30 percent click-through rate (CTR). Compare that to the second position on the page, and it gets cut in half – just 15 percent. That’s a significant loss of potential visitors. In SEO, it’s always best to be number one.
SEO is also vital to your marketing efforts for several other reasons:
- It’s more cost effective than many other options, such as digital advertising.
- You attract high value visitors who can turn into qualified leads and eventually convert into customers.
- SEO best practices serve more than just search engine bots; they help you deliver a strong user experience for the humans actually consuming your content.
When you finally get buy-in from your C-suite and your company agrees on the fact that you need SEO help, the next big consideration comes to light, which is: should you hire an agency or an in-house specialist?
Hiring In-House vs. Agency
Hiring an in-house SEO specialist vs. working with an SEO agency are two very different experiences, and each one comes with unique pros and cons.
Hiring an Agency
A Whole Team of Knowledge Experts
When you work with an agency, you’re not just working with one expert, you’re working with several, and each one probably has unique specialized experience that allows the agency to develop a well rounded SEO strategy for your company.
It’s the Less Expensive Option
Working with an SEO agency is definitely less expensive than hiring a full-time SEO specialist onto your team.
Working with an Account Manager
When you work with an SEO agency, you’ll likely have an account manager assigned to manage the relationship between you and the agency. Having direct contact with someone who can handle any issues you pinpoint is a great resource.
If you’re not happy with the results that the agency is delivering, then you can always terminate your contract with them, and you won’t have wasted any resources on the recruiting process and training like you would have done with hiring an in-house specialist.
You have to be especially careful when you’re looking for an SEO agency to work with, because the trustworthy companies are few and far between. The market is permeated with scam agencies who promise you guaranteed SEO results, which simply isn’t possible to deliver.
A Virtual Relationship
Unless you’re working with an SEO agency that’s down the road from you, your entire professional relationship with them will be conducted virtually, through email, video chats, and phone calls. This can make for slower communication, and even result in misunderstandings that could cause problems.
Agencies work with tons of clients at any one time, so if you’re going to hire one, you have to understand that you are not their number one priority. SEO specialized agencies don’t really care about the success of your brand, they only care about delivering on what they can, which is better SEO for your website.
Hiring an In-House SEO Specialist
A Round-the-Clock Resource
When you hire a full time in-house specialist, you’re setting yourself up with a professional who is focused on you and only you. Their attention isn’t divided by multiple clients, and it’s easy for them to stay focused on driving your company toward success.
Having a specialist in-house means that you can easily walk down the hall to talk to them about an idea or problem that has come up, or a question you might have. Having someone onsite makes communication quicker and easier, and essentially makes for much more efficient collaboration overall.
Because this specialist is an employee at your company, they’ll quickly become well versed on everything about your brand, and the products and services you offer. Spending every single day working in the same place allows them to develop a much more in depth, comprehensive knowledge about your industry and your place in it.
This will help them become specifically specialized in one unique area of SEO – yours.
Bringing a full time specialist on board is much more expensive than hiring an outsourced agency. The average annual salary of an SEO specialist is $65,000, and that doesn’t include additional benefits like health, vision, and dental insurance, and a 401K plan.
Hiring a specialist means you have a one man team, as opposed to a whole group of experts at your disposal. All of your SEO success depends on this one person, and if they fail, so does your website.
With this in mind, it’s important to make sure that if you’re going to hire a full-time SEO specialist, they’re fully equipped to manage the responsibilities of the role. You need to have some questions at the ready to evaluate the skills of the candidate you’re talking to.
SEO Interview Questions
Once you’ve decided which route to go, you’re ready to ask the right questions during the interview process.
Here’s the ultimate list of questions, broken into categories:
SEO Interview Questions for Beginners
These are questions to ask an SEO specialist who is just getting their career started. If you’re looking to fill an SEO internship or junior SEO specialist position, these questions are a great place to start in the interview.
1. How Do You Measure the Success of SEO?
Goal of the Question: To determine whether or not the candidate understands the key performance indicators (KPIs) that are essential to SEO, and how to track those metrics.
Desired Answer: The candidate should discuss important KPIs like increased website traffic from better rankings for target keywords and increased conversion rates.
2. Which SEO Tools Do You Have Experience With and Use Frequently?
Goal of the Question: To determine the level of experience the candidate has with actively using SEO tools. This will be a big indicator of how far along they are with their knowledgebase of applicable SEO tool skillsets.
Desired Answer: Ideally, the candidate will have a little experience with at least one or two tools, but take into consideration that they don’t yet have bucketloads of experience of SEO experience. They may mention Google Search Console, Moz, or Ahrefs, which are all leading SEO tools.
3. Can You Define Link Building and Tell Me Why It’s Important?
Goal of the Question: To determine the candidate’s knowledge level about link building practices and skills, which is a very important element of SEO.
Desired Answer: The candidate should explain that link building is the process by which you go about getting relevant websites to link back to your own.
They should also be able to explain why it’s important, including commentary on how search engines determine relevance and value of a site based on whether it has been linked to, and the credibility and link juice that gets passed from the host site to yours as a result.
4. What Makes a Site “Google-Friendly?"
Goal of the Question: To determine whether or not the candidate has a comprehensive understanding of how Google’s algorithm and crawlers function.
Desired Answer: The candidate should be able to list of plenty of features that are necessary for making a site “Google-friendly,” including elements such as keywords, user-friendly web design, metadata and meta tags, high quality content, page titles, and more.
5. What’s Your Process for Conducting Keyword Research?
Goal of the Question: To determine whether the candidate has a good grasp on how to conduct keyword research (and understand the metrics that are presented in that research) which is one of the most important parts of SEO.
Desired Answer: The candidate should be able to identify at least one specific tool that they use to conduct keyword research.
However, they should also be able to walk you through their process a little bit, including their thought process for how to determine which keywords to research (for example – do they use buyer personas to predict search queries?), and how they settle on a final specific target keyword based on ranking difficulty, search volume, and more.
6. Why Does Page Speed Matter?
Goal of the Question: To determine whether the candidate has an understanding of more behind-the-scenes elements that influence SEO.
Desired Answer: The candidate should be able to explain how a faster page speed directly correlates to a better user experience, which Google takes into consideration when ranking sites. They could also explain how to go about speeding up pages, like compressing image sizes, reducing redirected links, and clearing browser cache.
7. How Does Video SEO Work?
Goal of the Question: To determine whether the candidate has any knowledge about more advanced kinds of content that are useful for SEO purposes, such as video.
Desired Answer: The candidate should know that video is an increasingly popular form of content but also understand that a search engines obviously can’t crawl a video. They should be able to explain that video SEO works by assessing the backlinks to a video but that including a transcript for the video is another great way to get it found.
They should also touch upon the importance of using keywords in the title, description, and meta tags of the video.
8. How Would You Suggest Redirecting a Webpage?
Goal of the Question: To determine whether the candidate has any knowledge about how SEO works on a backend standpoint, especially in relation to the age of URLs. This is a good indicator of the start of a much deeper understanding of more advanced SEO skills.
Desired Answer: The candidate should know that implementing a 301 permanent redirect is the best way to move a page without losing any of its valuable SEO juice.
9. Please Describe Why Meta Tags Matter.
Goal of the Question: To determine whether the candidate possesses a more experienced grasp on how meta tags impact SEO as far as pages rank and appearance on SERPs.
Desired Answer: The candidate should know that the two most important meta tags are the title and description of a page because those are what display on a SERP, and search engines consider these two elements to rank the page.
They should advise you to always include your target keyword in your page title and even a semantically related keyword in the description.
10. Explain the Difference Between Nofollow and Dofollow Links and How They’re Used.
Goal of the Question: To determine the level of knowledge the candidate has about how search engine crawlers work and the importance of nofollow and dofollow links.
Desired Answer: The candidate should explain that there are some pages on websites that we simply don’t want to be crawled and considered for our SEO ranking, and thus we tell crawlers not to follow them as they make their way through our website (thus, nofollow).
They should also explain that dofollow links are simply that by default – it’s all the other links that the crawlers automatically follow unless otherwise specified.
11. In Your Opinion, What Are the Required Skills Needed in an SEO Position?
Goal of the Question: To determine whether the candidate knows what it takes to be successful in an SEO position and gauge their confidence level in their own abilities.
Desired Answer: This answer could vary greatly, but in general, the candidate will likely discuss the need for strong research and analytical skills first and foremost, as well as the ability to identify and act upon emerging trends.
Ideally, the candidate will branch into examples of how they possess and display these skills.
12. Describe On-Page and Off-Page SEO to Me.
Goal of the Question: To determine whether the candidate has a comprehensive understanding of the difference between on-page SEO that can be easily changed, and off-page SEO, which is essentially out of your hands.
Desired Answer: The candidate should be able to easily differentiate between the two, listing elements of on-page SEO such as keywords, titles, content, page design and internal linking, and elements of off-page SEO, such as backlinks, session time, and content sharing.
13. What Are White Hat and Black Hat SEO Tactics?
Goal of the Question: Perhaps one of the most important questions to ask, as this will help you determine the risk factor of the candidate and their work ethics. You’re looking to establish whether the candidate has a good grasp on the difference between SEO best practices and sketchy tactics that will result in Google penalties.
Desired Answer: The candidate should be able to describe what black hat tactics are and the goal behind them (to try and cheat search engine algorithms to gain better ranking) and then list off some of these practices, including cloaking, buying links, keyword and link stuffing, and plagiarizing content.
To counter this, they should list off some white hat SEO best practices, including link building, creating a user-friendly web experience, and producing consistently high quality content.
SEO Analyst Interview Questions
These questions are perfect if you’re looking for an SEO specialist who is a little more advanced and has a background in analysis.
14. In Your Opinion, What Kind of Analytics Is the Most Neglected?
Goal of the Question: To gauge how well the candidate can look at the wider picture of SEO and determine their level of expertise and breadth of knowledge with SEO analytics.
Desired Answer: This answer can vary greatly depending on the individual and their background, but they may talk about specific features of SEO tools that aren’t utilized enough or sidetracking for strategy as a larger issue.
15. Please Define Keyword Stemming and Explain How it Matters.
Goal of the Question: To determine whether the candidate has a more advanced of keyword use.
Desired Answer: The candidate should be able to explain the basic concept of keyword stemming, which is essentially creating variations of the same word. They should also discuss that this practice allows you to use various forms of a keyword in your content for a greater reach, but without becoming detrimental to the reader experience or slipping into keyword stuffing.
16. What Kind of Analytics Do You Have the Most Experience With?
Goal of the Question: To determine the experience and expertise level of the candidate and whether they have a specific area of specialization within SEO.
Desired Answer: This answer will vary greatly depending on the candidate. However, ideally they should be able to discuss a wide variety of analytics that they have experience with to indicate a well rounded area of expertise.
17. Describe Your Training Background.
Goal of the Question: To determine what kind of formal training the candidate has.
Desired Answer: The candidate should be able to discuss their degree experience (if relevant) and any training and certification courses that they have completed. Mentorships are also a great training experience that they may have had.
18. How Should Companies Manage Link Penalties?
Goal of the Question: To determine if the candidate knows how to handle an SEO crisis and find satisfactory solutions to problems.
Desired Answer: The candidate should discuss how they go about identifying and resolving bad links, either through manually requesting that sites remove their links or by disavowing them.
19. Explain Rich Snippets to Me.
Goal of the Question: To determine whether the candidate has an in depth knowledge of unique SERP features.
Desired Answer: The candidate should be able to explain what a rich snippet is (featured text that appears in a box at the top of SERPs) and how they help deliver better results to users.
20. How Do Search Engines Favor Mobile Sites?
Goal of the Question: To determine the candidate’s knowledge of mobile SEO, which has become increasingly important in recent years.
Desired Answer: The candidate should know that search engine crawlers now prioritize mobile sites over desktop sites when considering ranking and that the engines favor responsive mobile website designs.
21. Can You Explain the Latest Google Algorithm Updates and Show How They Impact SEO?
Goal of the Question: To determine whether the candidate stays up to date on the latest advancements and changes within SEO. This question is especially important because Google’s algorithm is always changing and improving, so it’s easy for specialists to fall behind on SEO practices.
Desired Answer: The candidate should be able to touch upon some of the major changes that were made in the past, such as the development of Panda and Penguin and the effect they had.
However, they should be able to discuss any smaller recent changes that have been made to the overall algorithm and how those smaller scale advancements can still make a difference to your SEO as well.
22. Why Should Companies Conduct Link Audits?
Goal of the Question: To determine whether the candidate knows why link audits are important and whether or not they know how to conduct them, which will directly impact their ability to develop and carry out effective link building strategies.
Desired Answer: The candidate should explain the many benefits of running a link audit. First, it’s necessary to determine whether you have any broken backlinks. It also determines the quality of backlinks to your website and is a necessary step before developing a link building campaign.
23. Describe Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) to Me.
Goal of the Question: To further gauge the candidate’s advanced knowledge of mobile SEO.
Desired Answer: The candidate should know that AMP is a Google project that enforces the development of web pages that load quickly on mobile devices. This would also be a good time for the candidate to reinforce the importance of page speeds as a contributing element to SEO.
24. How Do You Stay in the Loop on the Latest Changes to Search Engine Technology and SEO as a Whole?
Goal of the Question: To gauge how consistently the candidate stays up to date on evolving search engine technology and SEO trends, and whether they do so through a reputable and credible means.
Desired Answer: This answer is going to vary greatly depending on the individual, but they should be able to discuss a number of sources which they regularly follow to keep an ear to the ground in their field.
Technical SEO Interview Questions
Technical SEO is a big part of the SEO world, so it’s important to assess the skills and experience of a candidate or SEO agency using these questions:
25. What Kinds of Tools Do You Use for Technical SEO?
Goal of the Question: To determine how skilled the candidate is in using SEO tools, which indicates a level of technical and professional advancement.
Desired Answer: The candidate should be able to list off a few different tools like Moz and Ahrefs, and explain why they choose to use some tools over others by discussing specific features of them.
26. What Kinds of Google Penalties Have You Helped Fix?
Goal of the Question: To determine the candidate’s experience with navigating the advanced functions of Google and whether or not they’ll not only be able to avoid making errors that will cost you SEO juice, but also identify current problems that can be fixed.
Desired Answer: Any experienced SEO professional will have seen at least a couple Google penalties in their day, so the candidate should be able to clearly describe how they identified the penalty, why the error was considered a penalty by search engines, and how they helped resolve the issue.
27. What Was Your Biggest Technical SEO Mistake and How Did You Manage It?
Goal of the Question: To determine whether the candidate can identify and own up to their weaknesses, and determine if they are able to learn from their experiences and mistakes for better future success.
Desired Answer: The candidate should be honest about their past mistakes and should be able to identify what went wrong and why, as well as how the issue was resolved.
28. Please Provide Me With a Sample Technical SEO Report You Use.
Goal of the Question: To determine whether the candidate has advanced technical SEO skills and is capable of carrying out technical reports, as opposed to simply making SEO best practice recommendations.
Desired Answer: The best candidates will have a sample report available for you to get your hands on. However, if they don’t have a sample report available, they should at least be able to discuss what specific elements they pay attention to when running a technical report.
29. How Would You Describe the Process of Search Bots Crawling Sites to an SEO Novice?
Goal of the Question: To determine whether the candidate has a firm grasp on the elemental technical fundamentals of how SEO works.
Desired Answer: The candidate should be able to demonstrate a comprehensive knowledge of crawling behaviors, including, what kind of material crawlers are able to read vs. not read well (for example, text vs. images), how they follow links through your site, and the importance of creating and submitting sitemaps to Google and other search engines.
SEO Agency Interview Questions
If you decide to work with an SEO agency, you should always carefully assess all of your options before you make a final decision on which company to hire.
Ask these questions to each agency you’re considering to determine whether or not they’re credible, reliable, and a good fit for your business needs:
30. How Do You Communicate Changes to Your Clients' Websites?
Goal of the Question: To determine what the communication will be like between you and the agency and establish a line of trust.
Desired Answer: The agency should explain how they track every single change they make to your website and deliver it in monthly (or even weekly) reports.
31. Can You Provide Case Studies or Testimonials From Your Other Clients?
Goal of the Question: To determine the credibility of the agency and whether they can deliver desirable results
Desired Answer: Any reliable agency should be able to provide at least a couple case studies of some reputable companies which they have worked with and produced results for. If the company doesn’t have any testimonials or case studies, or their client list consists only of questionable businesses, that’s a pretty big red flag.
32. What SEO Tools Does Your Agency Use?
Goal of the Question: To determine if the agency uses available resources and the quality of the tools they use (white hat vs. black hat).
Desired Answer: The agency may mention a variety of different reporting, link building, and technical SEO tools. However, if they mention tools such as SE Nuke, Xrumer, or Bookmarking Demon, that’s a red flag. These are all spammy tools that scam companies use.
33. Please Show Us an Example of Your Reports You Deliver to Clients.
Goal of the Question: To set expectations for communication and the method by which results will be reported on a consistent basis.
Desired Answer: If the agency doesn’t want to hand over a sample report, that’s a pretty big red flag. Reports should include a summary of the agency’s activities, search traffic for your site, any change in ranking, and should of course track conversions.
34. Have You Helped Penalized Sites? If So, How Did You Help?
Goal of the Question: To determine whether the agency has experience with resolving Google penalties, which will indicate both their SEO skill level and their ability to problem solve.
Desired Answer: The best agencies will have some examples or case studies of websites they have helped recover from the depths of Google penalty hell.
35. What Does Success Look Like to You?
Goal of the Question: To determine what the agency considers to be a successful endeavor, vs. an unsuccessful one. This will help establish your expectations for results from the agency and whether it’s worth your investment.
Desired Answer: This answer will range a lot from agency to agency, but it should ideally be centered around establishing goals (whether it’s a specific percentage increase in website traffic, or an increase in conversions, etc.) and meeting them.
36. What Makes Your Service Stand Out From Your Competitors?
Goal of the Question: To determine why you should choose to work with this agency as opposed to one of their competitor’s who you may also be considering.
Desired Answer: Another answer that can vary greatly depending on the agency you’re talking to. But keep an eye out for red flag answers like, “We’re cheaper than our competitors,” “We can get you better, faster results,” or “We can score you more backlinks.” All of these answers indicate that the agency could be a scam and will use black hat practices which will only end up hurting your business.
37. What Kinds of SEO Work Do You Provide?
Goal of the Question: To determine the depths of SEO work you’ll have done to your site (basically, what you’re going to be getting out of this), and the breadth of knowledge and skills the agency possesses.
Desired Answer: The best, most well-rounded agencies will cover the three core pillars of SEO – technical SEO, on-page SEO, and off-page SEO. They should discuss running a technical SEO audit before doing anything else.
38. Can You Guarantee That We Will Earn Top Ranking?
Goal of the Question: This question is essentially a trap, but it’s important to ask. It helps you determine whether they’re a reputable agency or a scam.
Desired Answer: If they say they can guarantee you top ranking, walk away immediately. Reliable, trust-worthy agencies will explain to you that nobody can guarantee top ranking, as it’s impossible, but they will work to improve your overall ranking.
39. Do You Always Follow Google’s Suggest Best Practices? When Do You Deviate?
Goal of Question: To ensure that the agency only uses Google recommended practices and determine whether they engage in any black hat SEO practices.
Desired Answer: Remember that line from Pirate's of the Caribbean where they say, "The code is more like guidelines than actual rules"? Yeah, that doesn't apply here. The agency should assure you that they never stray from Google's SEO best practices because that can quickly result in a penalty.
40. What Is Your Payment Structure?
Goal of the Question: To establish expectations for payments.
Desired Answer: Payment structures vary between agencies, but the most popular formats are price per project and monthly retainers. It’s important to choose an agency that offers a payment structure that fits your company’s needs. Additionally, some agencies and individual freelancers will offer an hourly rate structure.
Always Vet Your Hires
In order for your SEO efforts to make a real, positive difference, you need to know what to look for when hiring an expert, whether it’s bringing on a full-time specialist or outsourcing to an agency.
As always, when you work with a professional to better your business, being able to spot red flags and take note of advanced skillsets is an important part of vetting who’s going to be taking a hand in your company.
These 40 questions will help you sift through candidates to find the best person to fit the needs of your company and drive your business toward those top ranks for future success.