SEO Marketing

The SEO Interview: Questions to Prepare for Before Your SEO Job Interview

By Larry Kim December 17, 2012 Posted In: SEO Marketing Comments: 44

 

SEO Job Interview

As the founder of a search marketing startup, I’ve had the opportunity to interview, hire and work with some of the most amazing SEOs on the planet. I am so proud to have worked with people like Tom Demers and Ken Lyons, who not only helped me turn wordstream.com into a website that holds its own against domains like google.com for SERP rankings, they went on to found a successful internet marketing consultancy of their own!

Because WordStream’s business is in the internet marketing industry, the competition for SEO keywords in this vertical is incredibly fierce. We’re always competing against other search agencies, or search marketing product companies who obviously know a thing or two about SEO. If you think your insurance or travel industry has fierce competition, try competing in an industry where everyone does search for a living! I’m pleased to say that our SEO is very strong, thanks to the great SEO talent on our team.

Recently, I’ve met with many other founders and heads of marketing at VC-backed startups hoping to scale their lead generation efforts, and a question that always comes up is: How do you find/identify such great SEO talent? In my article today, I’ll describe in detail my interview process for separating the SEO heroes from the SEO fakers!

My Top 7 SEO Interview Questions

Working in SEO requires a certain mindset and skills – It’s like a game where the rules are always changing. But unlike Calvinball, we don’t get to make up the rules!

SEO Calvinball

Because search engine optimization requires this game-like mindset, the questions I ask any SEO interview candidate are mostly situational and behavioral as opposed to factoid-based questions like “What is PageRank” or “What is Panda,” etc. I do expect anyone who does SEO daily to know these facts and the basic lingo, but it’s less important than gaining an understanding of how the person attacks challenges and where their actual skills lie (if they have any). These strategic questions help me figure out if the person is really cut out to join my elite team of Internet marketing ninjas.

1. What Is Your SEO Super Power?

First, I try to figure out what they do. SEO is rarely a one-person thing, and when it is, one area or another tends to suffer. There are different specialties in SEO: blogging, link building, social media, SEO strategy. At WordStream, our SEO work is distributed among a few key players with different areas of expertise. When talking to a new candidate, I try to figure out what their role would be on my SEO team in order to ask the right questions for the rest of the interview. Experience is of course a factor here, but I’m also looking for passion and potential.

2. What is your SEO workflow?

Say you get in to work on a Monday at 9 AM – what does your day look like, and your overall week? This of course depends on what their role is; for example, if they’re primarily doing content marketing and blogging, I’d ask them, How do you determine what to write about next? How do you prioritize tasks? If you’re a link builder, I’d ask, How do you prioritize your link opportunities? This is super important because in SEO, you have an infinite number of things you could potentially do on any given day, and only 8-10 hours in the day to get something done. I want to see their attack plan. They should have an internal system and be able to take initiative – I don’t want to hire an SEO who needs constant hand-holding from a manager.

3. How do you measure SEO success?

What are the SEO KPI’s (key performance indicators) you track? What is a reasonable goal for a month? There’s really no right answer here because it depends on the client’s objectives, and the guy’s role. What I’m hoping for is that they say something intelligent about different KPI’s like counting and tracking links, social shares, unbranded organic traffic, referred visitors, engagement metrics, conversions, etc. (Hint: “mad hits” and “keyword rankings” are not metrics I care about.) Even better if they have tried out different metrics and changed them over time, and can explain why.

SEO interview experiments4. How do you conduct an SEO experiment?

Tell me about an SEO experiment that you’ve run recently. What was the result? If you’re in the trenches doing SEO, a key to success is being able to figure out what works and what doesn’t. I’d like to know how they run their experiments, and if they don’t run experiments, that’s a red flag. Ken Lyons kept an SEO log where he tinkered with various SEO experiments, sometimes dozens at a time. I love an SEO with a bit of mad scientist in them.

5. What SEO tools do you use and why?

If someone says they don’t use SEO tools, it’s an automatic fail. Why? It means you’re an incredibly inefficient person or that you have never done a significant amount of SEO work in your life. There’s no way to do serious SEO without introducing some automation. For this question, I’m wondering what tools they use for keyword research, blogging, link analysis, social media, etc. The more obscure the better. And I’m not just looking for a list of tools, either – I want to know why you use them, what you love and what you find annoying. Sometimes I even learn about cool new tools this way! (Bonus for me whether I hire them or not, bwahaha.)

6. What SEO blogs do you read?

As I mentioned above, SEO is always changing. Tom Demers used to come in early every morning and spend an hour or so just reading. Keeping up with the industry is crucial both to stay current on news and various Google updates as well as to get new strategic ideas and tips for increasing efficiency. So I ask job candidates to tell me what SEO blogs and sites they read. But anyone can list out a few blogs. I’m looking for something beyond the bare-minimum basics (like Search Engine Land). I then follow up with another question: What’s an interesting article you’ve recently read on one of those blogs and why did you find it interesting? This tells me whether they actually read any blogs, how often, as well as why they read.

7. Show me your analytics.

I guess this isn’t a question so much as a demand and egregious breach of privacy (ha ha). If possible, I ask them to log into their Google Analytics so I can see what’s going on with the site they currently work for. Is the site doing well? Did it get killed by recent penalties like Panda or Penguin? Were they able to recover? Are there spikes in traffic? If so, I ask what they did to achieve that. (Crazy linkbait schemes?) I look at their traffic sources – are they diversified? Is there referral traffic from social media sites like Twitter and Facebook? What do the engagement metrics look like (are people reading their content or just bouncing away?) Forget all the preparing they’ve done for the interview and the rehearsed answers about where they see themselves in five years – I can tell in about 1 minute if they’re any good just by looking at their analytics.

prepare for seo job interview

During my interview with Ken Lyons, he showed me his AdWords accounts. Every keyword in his client’s accounts had Quality Scores of 10/10.  I was just floored. I immediately thought to myself, “Hire this guy, quick!”

Even if the candidate is unable to show me their Google Analytics, I can get a good sense of how they operate. If you’re an SEO, your fingerprints are all over the internet. For example, I:

  • Read their blog posts: Does he/she actually blog? Are the posts engaging? Do they offer in-depth insight? A unique point of view? Do they generate shares and reader comments? Do they blog regularly? Do they have a personal blog?
  • Look at their Social Media: How is the guy using Social Media? Are their Twitter/Facebook/Linkedin/Google+ pages thriving communities, or a ghost town? Have they claimed their vanity URL? Do they have a YouTube channel? A Pinterest page? Because this stuff is all public, it’s easy to look at.
  • Do a Link Audit: I look at what kinds of links they’ve been able to acquire – are they editorial links from A-List publications? Or just spammy link dumping grounds?
  • Crawl Their Site: Sometimes I’ll even look over their website structure and look at the different types of content they produce and how it’s all linked together.
  • Analyze Web Presence: Tools like compete.com and alexa.com can help you figure out if their site is doing decent in terms of traffic.

All of this stuff tells me a lot more about their real ability to do SEO than the self-reported stuff from the resume and interview. If you’re applying for SEO jobs, you should have this kind of evidence of your ability to show the hiring manager. It’s the equivalent of a portfolio for a design job. You need to prove you can do SEO.

Bonus Skills

Having a bonus skill or two can really help push an application over the top. Things I look for are any experience in managing:

  • Paid Search (such as AdWords, Facebook Marketplace, etc.)
  • Email Marketing
  • Public Relations
  • Web Design/Development, etc.

These types of skills are becoming increasingly important as SEO evolves. These days, an SEO increasingly needs to be an expert in internet marketing in general.

The SEO Interview: Next Steps

If they’ve survived all the questions and I think they’re a strong candidate, I then shift gears and talk about what a great place WordStream is to work at. The way I look at it is, if the person is qualified for the job, the interview goes both ways – they’re also interviewing us. So I try to allocate at least half of the time answering questions about our company, our values, our trajectory, our interesting SEO projects, and basically try to convince them to work with us.

Come Work at WordStream!

WordStream is growing fast. We’ve added over 30 new hires to our Boston office in 2012 so far, and we’re still going. We are hiring for several open positions, including roles in engineering, sales, marketing, and client services. Plus, if you’re applying for an Internet marketing job here, I’ve already given you all my questions! If you think you’re cut out for the work, I encourage you to apply. Send me an email at lkim at wordstream dot com. I look forward to meeting you!

Bonus - We've outlined what it's like to have an online marketing job.

Hit me up on Twitter

AdWords Performance Grader




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Comments

Monday December 17, 2012

Hire Full Time SEO Experts India (not verified) Said:

You are a blogger and now my inspiration. I just love the blog post. Its very informative, interactive and quality content. I wish you all good luck for your coming blogs and posts. Keep sharing!

Monday December 17, 2012

Nate Shivar (not verified) Said:

Great post - and FYI, your Title Tag has a typo (Interivew).

Monday December 17, 2012

Elisa Gabbert Said:

Yikes! Just fixed that, thanks!

Monday December 17, 2012

Tom Demers (not verified) Said:

Thanks for the mention Larry! 

For potential applicants: it'll be good to have a cheat sheet, and make sure there aren't any tall tales on your resume: Larry's a tough interview :)

Tom

Monday December 17, 2012

James Norquay (not verified) Said:

Questions are decent, I use most of them for my interviews, plus a few others. Only one I think would be hard would be the analytics one becuase if you work for more large ciompanys they will make you sign NDA's. I don't think any one would breach an NDA with another company. That been said you could also do the same with your own website's if they have personal sites.

Tuesday December 18, 2012

Larry Kim Said:

Hi James! thanks for stopping by and great point about the NDA's. In that case i would do as you suggest, like look for personal blogs, or just do an external review of their site using publically available data. 

Monday January 07, 2013

Rank Watch (not verified) Said:

Especially the 4th and 5th ones are really important question that would analyse a potential SEO expert. And yes, do prepare your SEO analysis based on the current trends and future strategies.

Monday December 17, 2012

Christopher Regan (not verified) Said:

Yes to "let me see some Analytics (I won't care nor remember whom you're showing)".

More questions:

What is Google Knowledge Graph, and which clients have you secured that for?

What are Freebase, Schema.org and Good Relations?

What are three RegEx operators and where/why did you use those?

How do you leverage GWTools? Bing's Webster Tools?

 

Tuesday December 18, 2012

Elisa Gabbert Said:

"How do you leverage Webmaster Tools" is a great addition!

Monday December 17, 2012

Dana Perez (not verified) Said:

What I like the most about this post is that you feature the use of Google Analytics. I have been using GA for quite a long time now and it helped me alot when it comes to targetting those markets that my business works best.

 

Thanks!

 

Dana

Tuesday December 18, 2012

job search engine (not verified) Said:

that was i need, thanks for your article very helpfull

Tuesday December 18, 2012

Larry Kim Said:

thanks job search engine!

Tuesday December 18, 2012

Cameron Whitaker (not verified) Said:

It almost seems like you are simply interviewing SEO experts to find out exactly what they are doing to achieve their clients results. Great strategy for seeing what the competition is up to :)

Tuesday December 18, 2012

Larry Kim Said:

yes that is a bonus for me regardless of if i hire them or not! (ha ha)

Tuesday December 18, 2012

Matthew (not verified) Said:

I just love this blog post , very interactive and intresting points that we can focus on while selecting a SEO person 

Tuesday December 18, 2012

Pramod Kumar (not verified) Said:

Larry, nice article on an interview. This guide will help most of the SEO Consultants and SEO Company to prepare for an interview.

Tuesday December 18, 2012

Larry Kim Said:

thanks pramod!

Tuesday December 18, 2012

eSparkInfo (not verified) Said:

Thanks for providing individuals with a really wonderful chance to browse from this website. It's sometimes thus nice and jam-packed with amusement on behalf of me and my workplace colleagues to go looking your blog a minimum of thrice per week to examine the most recent stuff you've got. And after all, i am additionally definitely fulfilled for the wonderful tricks you serve for interview special helpful for freshers in seo field. many thanks most all over again.

Tuesday December 18, 2012

Tim_Britt (not verified) Said:

 

Very interesting post and a great insight into what makes a hirer hire! I think the point made about measuring SEO is a really important one especially seeing as the amount of pressure being placed on digital marketers, and marketers in general is at an all-time high. A recent poll conducted by Fournaise showed that 73% of CEO's believed that marketers lack business credibility. I think the fact that marketing relies heavily on what happens in the digital industry these days shows a real demand for skilled SEO's so it's really useful to get some idea as to what employers are looking for when they recruit.

Tuesday December 18, 2012

Elisa Gabbert Said:

Yes, marketers should be able to show they can achieve ROI and that it's not all fluff. I also think a question like that shows how you think -- whether or not you have the perfect answer, it's pretty clear if you're talking from experience or just regurgitating something you've heard or read.

Tuesday December 18, 2012

preeti (not verified) Said:

thanks for wonderful article. not only for interview,but  we can also keep ourselves updated all the time in seo field with these type of blogs.thanks once again

Tuesday December 18, 2012

SEO (not verified) Said:

great one :)

Tuesday December 18, 2012

Ken Lyons (not verified) Said:

Hey, Larry.

Thanks for the shout out. I remember you being a pretty tough interview way back when, but for good reason. 

BTW congrats on the continued growth and success.

Cheers!
Ken

Tuesday December 18, 2012

Elisa Gabbert Said:

Ah, yes, the Larry interview, who could ever forget it ...

Tuesday December 18, 2012

Larry Kim (not verified) Said:

Hi ken,

you are the best SEO i've ever interviewed!

Hope you're doing great.

Larry

Saturday December 22, 2012

Gabrielle F (not verified) Said:

This is a must read for all who are planning to land on an SEO job. SEO is a great paying job and it is one of the latest trend in e-commerce which almost all companies need. 

It is a must to impress the employers so better start reading on some SEO blogs and all the guidelines here. ;)

Monday December 24, 2012

Gregory (not verified) Said:

Yeesh, I need to blog more if I want to get hired by someone else, apparently. I love my work now, but this thing totally just fell into my lap. Wordstream has pretty high standards it seems, haha.

Wednesday January 16, 2013

Brian (not verified) Said:

Nicely say..I had several SEO position interview and failed..this would been help a year ago.  I like a part of efficiency by using SEO and KW tools.

Also Using Analytics and interpret data would be great skill as well..

Dose your seo guy has have a great writing skills?  I usually outsource writing contents.

Thursday January 17, 2013

seogirl (not verified) Said:

Situational and behavioural based questions are most engaging interview questions.

Very easy topics of discussion for a genuine SEO who faces these everyday.

Its frustrating when you are being asked - What is SEO? kind of questions.

The problem with these if you by chance fumble on any of them, you tend to loose confidence and fumble on the 

rest too. Where as situational based are mere discussions, where you confirm your SME by explaining how well you

have implemented it.

 

Wednesday January 23, 2013

Perry Belcher (not verified) Said:

Great information really appreciate it!

Sunday January 27, 2013

SEO Tips (not verified) Said:

Excellent post. It will be useful to everyone who will be able to use this information, including myself. Keep up the good work.

Monday February 25, 2013

sbellast (not verified) Said:

 

It is a great article. It will take a lot of work.
 

Thursday March 21, 2013

logodesigngeek (not verified) Said:

Your blog contain very good SEO information exactly what I need.All SEO professional get lots of tips from this post.

Thanks for sharing this good informative post.Keep it up.

Thursday April 25, 2013

MLM Software (not verified) Said:

Hi friends

Q. difference between canonical and 301 redirect

Q. what is ethical seo technique

Q. Types of ethical seo

Q. Keyword Proximity

 

 

Wednesday May 22, 2013

Jake media spider (not verified) Said:

Be great to get your thoughts on if a candidate sent you screen shots of analytics and blog posts, Adwords data etc within a resume would you get annoyed or welcome it? Personally if it became standard practice I think it would help the industry as everyone would be fully accountable..

Thursday May 23, 2013

Listz (not verified) Said:

Thats really a great article. some of my tips are

  • SEO interviews are like a tough job interview. We expect applicants to be as prepared to meet with us as they would be with one of our partner companies.
  • Some interviews are in two or three stages. First you may be selected for a phone screen or one-on-one. After the phone screen you may be invited for an in-person interview. You will receive separate invitations for each. For some internships there may be follow-up phone screens or other assessment activities.
  • We host interviews at a variety of locations across the United States.  You will have an opportunity to schedule an interview for the location that is most convenient to you as long as spots are available.  Because we are a nonprofit organization, travel to your interview location is at your own expense.

Friday July 12, 2013

cameron (not verified) Said:

I have a interview coming up next week .  Your article gave me perspective on what I should expect. thanks

Friday September 06, 2013

Australian SEO Company Online Specialists (not verified) Said:

Tough interview but piece of cake for real SEO experts. SEO is a tough job; it needs a lot of strategising and analysis, but I would not mind hiring an aspiring SEO expert. I will be more than happy to train him.
 

Saturday September 07, 2013

Custom Web development (not verified) Said:

In a interview i got a question that " what is the diffrence between cashing and indexing?" i have replied that 1st google cash your web page but interviewer was not satisfied with my answaer so please tell me right answer

Tuesday December 03, 2013

Spook Seo (not verified) Said:

Hi Larry,

You just nailed the best SEO interview questions. I bet your company is doing great right now. Anyway, I like your answer in question number 4. SEO’s should not get tired of doing various tests. It’s the only way to formulate an effective technique. Thanks a lot for sharing!

 

Thursday January 09, 2014

Mahendra (not verified) Said:

Nice and informative tips about SEO interview. Really helpfull.

 

 

Wednesday April 23, 2014

Pradeep Govindaraju (not verified) Said:

Most of the questions here are pretty good and are 'askable'. Wanted to add couple of my favorite SEO interview questions that I ask everytime 
 
1. Experience handling SEO for site migration projects - this happens all the time when a website goes through a redesign or development. The client will want the  agency to preserve the  SEO value of the site post live and the SEO resource is required to be ready with the transition plan - primary of which is the 301 redirects
 
2. Views on how the SEO had shaped in the last few years - I expect the candidate to talk through the Google algorithm updates, industry's approach towards link building etc.,
 

Monday June 09, 2014

William Hammer (not verified) Said:

Wow, Such an impressive post!! This will help most of the SEO consultants to prepare themselves for their job. I really appreciate you for posting this kind of valuable blog.

Monday July 07, 2014

Chad Parker (not verified) Said:

Epic Question: What is your SEO Superpower!?

I really enjoyed this post I have a friend applying for a job as a PPC Specialist and this certainly was a help in her preparation.

Thanksc,

Chad

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