Hiring Your Own SEO

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If, despite your best efforts, your website is not making the inroads you would hope in the search engine rankings, it may be time to consider recruiting an SEO to the team. Hiring a professional gives you the benefit of their expertise and will ease the workload of team members currently required to carry out SEO-related tasks that they may not be fully trained to do.

However, the job of hiring an SEO is a tricky business, especially since their knowledge will often be far superior to your own. That can make the interview process difficult, as you do not want to be blinded by science or thrown off course by the interviewee’s use of technical jargon. If you’re unsure of your own knowledge base, it can also be difficult to ask the right kind of probing questions to ensure that your new hire is capable of doing the job. So, what qualities do you need to look for in an SEO expert and how should you go about interviewing one?

1. Are they up to speed?

SEO consultancy is a crowded and competitive marketplace, so you shouldn’t have any problems attracting applicants to your newly advertised vacancy. Because SEO changes so quickly, you’ll want your new hire to be on top of their game. A great opening question is to ask the candidate what new techniques they have added to their optimization repertoire in the last 3 months. Although search engines like Google keep their algorithms a closely guarded secret, a good SEO will constantly be adapting and updating their methodology. Asking for recent examples of new skills, techniques, or tests they have run will assure you that the candidate is up to date with ever-changing search engine requirements.

2. Where do they think the industry is headed?

If your candidate has been able to answer question one in full, they shouldn’t have any problems in widening the discussion to include their take on industry developments and where they feel the industry is headed. These first two points are important to set the scene – you’re looking for answers that demonstrate complete engagement and awareness of best practice and changing requirements. After all, you wouldn’t hire a delivery driver with an out-of-date license, so don’t hire an SEO consultant with out-of-date knowledge.

You may want to clarify which blogs, sites, and industry magazines the candidate reads regularly or subscribes to at this point to add further definition to their answers. Make a note of the titles and check out the websites for yourself after the interview – look for sites that are updated often, cover latest news stories or offer in-depth articles and white papers from respected industry professionals.

3. Can they critique your website?

If possible, ask candidates to produce a brief report focusing on problems and opportunities with your current website in search engine optimization terms prior to the scheduled interview. If that hasn’t been possible, have a laptop or PC set up in the interview room with your website loaded up. Spend 15 minutes critiquing your site with each candidate. Are they able to talk comfortably and identify possible barriers to stronger rankings? Do they approach the site in a methodical and logical manner? Do they ask questions to get some background to the site and previous SEO efforts?

4. Can they identify their own strengths and weaknesses?

We all go into job interviews expecting to have to sell ourselves by highlighting what we are good at, but can the candidate also recognize areas for development? You need to know if they are weak at technical SEO for example or prefer to focus on link building and code rather than copywriting. Armed with this knowledge, you’ll be able to make an informed choice as to the suitability of the candidate and decide if there is any need to bring in freelancers or other professionals to aid SEO efforts after employment. Asking about weaknesses also gives you an opportunity to assess how proactive the candidate is. Do they recognize that they need to work on their copywriting skills and so have enlisted in a training course for example? Have they decided to brush up on programming so started a evening class in the discipline? SEO is ever-changing so demonstrating a willingness to learn and up-skill is an essential attribute.

5. What kind of backlink strategies do they advocate and what is their position on link buying and link bait?

The importance of an experienced link builder cannot be underestimated, so have a detailed discussion about the candidate’s preferred methodology and previous experience. Look for an emphasis on relevant links and tactics to increase inbound links from sources likely to drive good quality traffic to the site. This question is also a sneaky way to introduce the white hat/black hat discussion. If they advocate paid links, be sure to probe further. In what circumstances and to what ends have they used this strategy in previous positions? What was the outcome? Would they do it again or do something differently?

6. Are they familiar with reporting and analytics packages and which packages have they used previously?

You’d expect any direct hire to be able to report back to you about job progress and tasks completed, so don’t expect any less from your new SEO recruit. Getting candidates to namedrop packages they have experience with will allow you to assess their experience levels and may raise further questions such as if you need to budget for newer reporting tools.

7. Do they have experience in competitor analysis and what tactics have they used in previous roles?

Keeping an eye on the competition is a must in any well-executed SEO campaign, so you’ll need to know that your SEO consult can bring competitor analysis skills to the table if they’re successful in their application. Don’t just ask them how they have researched competitor sites in other roles – you need to know how the knowledge was then used. Did they actively pursue websites linking back to competitors to secure a link for their own site? Did they adjust keywords thanks to competitor insight?

8. Do you have experience in email marketing, affiliate advertising, and paid search?

If your company is taking the step of hiring a dedicated SEO, it’s likely that either now or in the future, you’ll want to expand your web marketing efforts, so it pays to know that your candidate can grow with the organization and contribute to increased online efforts. If you’re already running a paid search or affiliate campaign, you’ll also need synergy across your online marketing with knowledge shared between organic and paid search campaigns.

About the Author

Rebecca is the managing director of search engine optimization agency Dakota Digital a full-service agency offering SEO, online PR, web copywriting, media relationship management, and social media strategy. Rebecca works directly with each client to increase online visibility, brand profile, and search engine rankings. She has headed a number of international campaigns for large brands.

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5 Comments

  1. Great post! This is excellent information for any type of company that is looking to hire an SEO firm. Not every SEO firm is equal or the same so it is a great practice for companies to really understand and select the firm that is the best to meet their needs and business goals. I just referenced this blog post as an excellent post that I just wrote on my SEO blog as well: http://www.searchengineoptimizationjournal.com/2009/11/19/interviewing-seo-firms/

  2. Hi Nick, thank you for the lovely comments, I'm glad you found the article useful! You're right to say these are a starting point and then to make it more in-depth. I think the key is also to decide what you want from your SEO - is it full service, just on-page, just link building etc as that will also determine the direction your questions take.

  3. Nice point specially "Do they have experience in competitor analysis....

  4. Good post, a must read for anyone thinking of hiring an in-house SEO. I have run into quite a few human resource specialists that have no idea of what to ask a potential SEO hire and most don't even know what SEO is. I did a recent post on the value of an in-house SEO you might want to check it out http://www.torontoseofirm.com/the-truth-about-in-house-seo-it-is-a-secret-weapon/ .-= Toronto SEO Guy´s last blog ..Good News from SEMPO Report =-.

  5. I agree with Nick @ Brick Marketing. Great post with insightful questions to ask any SEO or link building company you 'interview'. I'd also suggest looking up the companies success online. Look at their onsite SEO, where do they themselves rank, etc. These are important: if they can't do SEO for themselves how can they do it for you? :) .-= Kaila S | Vertical Measures´s last blog ..PubCon 2009 Las Vegas – A Guide To Competitive Analysis =-.