Having an understanding of a candidate’s knowledge and experience is essential, and I have addressed those questions in previous posts. But knowledge and experience are only gateways to the most important thing: what the SEO will actually DO.
The following questions will help you better understand how your candidates stack up against each other and help you filter out those who are not right for your company.
1. What are three things you think are important to know before working on a new website?
The three things aren’t as important as why those things matter to them. This can tell you a great deal about how the candidate assesses a site’s needs and the responsibilities that lie ahead.
2. What is the first thing you do when you start optimizing a site?
The candidate will likely tell you that it depends on what they find out about the site, but don’t let them off the hook that easy. There are typically several things any SEO will want to do first. Encourage them to articulate what those are.
3. How do optimized pages and landing pages differ, and how do you employ these in your strategy?
Historically, landing pages are for PPC and optimized pages are for SEO. But really good SEOs think of every optimized page as a landing page. They should be able to outline what they do to treat optimized pages as such.
4. How do you go about optimizing a site with millions of pages?
You don’t need to have a million-page site for this question to be relevant. You want the candidate to provide some large-scale SEO tactics and strategies. Not every aspect of SEO needs to take a long time, and it’s these strategies that can help even small sites achieve results more quickly.
5. What do you do when your first attempt at SEO fails?
First attempts at SEO are rarely successful, at least not immediately. And this is what you want to hear from a candidate: not only what they do when their first attempts fail, but whether they allow their efforts appropriate time (and assistance) to produce the desired results.
6. How do you future-proof websites against algorithm changes?
This uncovers the candidate’s overall philosophy. Every SEO will tell you that they do SEO for the long term, but this is where you can force them to discuss specific long-term tactics.
7. Other than content, what on-page elements do you optimize?
The candidate should talk about other important factors that may not be content — or even SEO — related. Today, things such as usability, visual appeal, and other factors are just as important to a site’s success as keyword and content optimization.
8. How do you deal with duplicate content?
Most SEOs will talk about canonical tags, but those are really just band-aids. Press candidates to discuss more permanent — and effective — solutions.
9. What are some things you never want to do as part of the optimization of a site?
This is an open-ended question, which can make it difficult to answer. The candidate might revert to the more typical answers that have been a problem with SEO since the beginning. However, a more experienced candidate might go into some uncharted or more controversial territory.
10. What plugins or tools do you use?
Tools were discussed in the experience-related questions, but this time you can either dive deeper into their list of tools or how particular tools are used specifically to assess a site and implement effective strategies.
11. How do you use competitor knowledge to succeed at SEO?
Competitor knowledge can be a goldmine of information, but not always. The candidate should be able to outline ways they use competitor data, how they integrate it into their strategy, and when they ignore what a competitor is doing.
12. A client is ready to roll out a new website. What do you do?
Let the candidate detail the process of launching a new website. What steps will they go through to make for a seamless launch? Listen for them to list things that should be done long before the launch date.
13. How do you approach keyword research?
Tools, process, keyword assessment — all of these are on the table for discussion. The candidate should have one or more processes they use to find and assess keywords for optimization.
14. How do you determine which keywords to optimize and where?
Jumping off the previous question, talk deeper about how keywords are selected for specific pages. Make sure the conversation addresses searcher intent and how it factors into page/keyword selection.
15. What is your process for optimizing keywords into a page?
Encourage them to get as detailed as possible so you can determine if they attempt to integrate all the keyword phrases targeted or how they go about focusing on the overall topic.
16. How does keyword proximity factor into your optimization efforts?
You don’t need to specify proximity to what. Let the candidate do that. They should understand the various ways algorithms look at keywords in relation to other elements on the page. Let them do the talking to see if they know how to take advantage of this.
17. How do you assess the quality of inbound links?
The candidate can give you a tour of the tools and assessment they utilize to understand a site’s backlink profile. They should be able to articulate what constitutes a good or a bad link and their process for ensuring bad links don’t hurt the site.
18. How do you get backlinks?
Getting links is still important. The SEO may not want to perform actual link building, but they need to know how and be willing to if necessary. Let them take you through their process of researching, assessing, and obtaining high-quality links.
19. How have you dealt with link penalties?
Not every SEO will have experience with link penalties, but they should know what to do if they come across one. Have them discuss their process for getting out from under such a penalty.
20. Is it ever OK to pay for a link?
If this wasn’t discussed above, get an understanding of the candidate’s beliefs regarding paying for links. This can include a healthy discussion on link-related search penalties.
21. What is your internal linking strategy?
The candidate should outline a course of action to massage internal links for search engine ranking exposure. Look for a measured approach. The candidate should be able to articulate the differences between good and bad internal linking strategies.
22. How do you use redirects?
Broken links may not harm your SEO, but that doesn’t mean redirects won’t help your efforts. Let the candidate discuss when, where, and how they use redirects, the benefits of doing so, and when redirects should not be employed.
23. How would you redirect a page?
The candidate should be familiar with the multiple ways to redirect pages and the different kinds of redirects. Have them discuss where and when each type should be used.
24. How would you optimize a site for local performance?
You aren’t looking for a discussion on local search algorithm signals but more of a list of things the candidate would do and why. Have them indicate a level of priority for each action.
25. How do you configure a site for mobile?
There are mobile sites, responsive sites, and AMP sites. The candidate should be familiar with the pros and cons of each of these and indicate their preference and why.
26. How would you go about assessing and improving site speed?
This can be a detailed and technical question. Ask the candidate for the broad strokes so you can determine their assessment skills and what they can (or can’t) do to improve a site’s speed.
27. How do you use nofollow tags?
Nofollows can be used strategically for good optimization, but not as once was believed. The candidate should outline a sensible strategy for using them, which should have nothing to do with channeling PageRank.
28. How do you use analytics to assist your SEO strategy?
Every SEO should have a basic understanding of analytics and the data needed to assess and improve their SEO strategy. Don’t just discuss metrics but how they use and compare those metrics.
29. What role does the TLD play in your SEO strategy?
Search engines generally don’t give preference to one top-level domain (TLD) over another until you get into country specific TLDs for international SEO. However, some TLDs might help with branding and marketing. See what your candidate says about this.
30. How do you optimize a site that targets customers in multiple countries using multiple languages?
If you aren’t optimizing for an international audience, you can skip this question. However, it can’t hurt to get an understanding of the candidate’s knowledge and strategy. Discuss options for optimizing for various countries and multiple languages, how that would impact the existing site, and what the candidate sees as the best way forward.
31. What role do heading tags play in your SEO strategy?
Many believe heading tags have minimal impact on SEO, but “minimal” doesn’t mean “none.” Discuss how much effort the candidate will invest in optimizing headings, as well as the time versus reward factor. Get a sense of where the candidate prioritizes this over other efforts.
32. How do you use sitemaps in your SEO strategy?
The candidate should be able to discuss the two types of sitemaps, how each is used, and why. They should also be able to communicate when sitemaps are a bad idea and when multiple sitemaps are better than one.
33. How would you try to improve click-through rates?
Many SEOs think that their job stops at achieving rankings, but that’s not so. Not only do click-through rates impact rankings, it’s an important part of the business’s success. And that makes it the business of the SEO.
There are specific things SEOs can do to influence CTRs from SERPs. Find out what strategies the candidate might employ.
34. How would you try to improve bounce rates?
As with click-through rates, bounce rates impact not only rankings but the bottom line of the business. Bounces occur for many reasons, and the candidate should be able to articulate a good handful of them, but make sure they dial in on those that are specifically impacted by the work the SEO does.
35. How would you try to improve conversion rates?
While this may technically fall outside of the SEOs purview, it’s important to the company’s success, which makes it important to the SEO. They may not be conversion experts, but they should have some conversion improvement ideas.
36. How would you try to improve a site’s engagement?
This question will be the one the candidate is least likely to have in-depth knowledge in, but that makes it a great question to ask. It’s always good to have team members who can provide feedback in other areas based both on their own industry knowledge and as a general user. See what ideas they have and how much the candidate stumbles over this question, or not.
37. How do you employ microsites into your SEO strategy?
Microsites do have a place, but they are often more harmful to the main site optimization than they are helpful. The candidate should be able to explain how, when, and why to use microsites.
The Final Test
As the interviewer, you need to be confident that the candidate’s strategies are going to help and never harm the sites they are working on. Knowledge and experience questions should be asked first as they can be used to more easily weed out poorly qualified candidates. But every remaining candidate needs to pass the strategy test.
Featured Image: Image edited by Stoney deGeyter from Pixabay