Hiring an SEO professional can be one of the best decisions you make for your business. SEO is crucial to driving online traffic to your website and helping your business succeed.
But how do you choose the right SEO?
In my 8+ years at Conductor, I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of building 3 teams. My most recent is our professional services team, which bridges the educational, analytical SEO skills and capabilities gaps we often find among our clients and prospects.
We’ve grown fast (from 2 people to 10+) as we carefully select and hire new talent to complement our current team of SEO badasses. And people frequently ask me what makes a good SEO hire — so I decided to nail down some rules, with the help of some friends who have done their fair share of SEO hiring.
You can download a printable version of this guide here:
Without further ado, I present to you:
Where should you start? First up, you need to make sure you ask the right questions of your candidate.
What questions should you ask in an interview?
When I asked talented industry leaders which SEO interview questions they ask, their responses centered around three main lines of questioning. First and foremost, you need to find out how your SEO candidate thinks and solves problems when they occur. The mind behind the techniques.
- • Can you give me an example of an instance in which you identified an SEO issue, how you identified it, what you did to address it, and what the results were? – Kara Alcamo, VP, Digital Activation, R2integrated
- • What was the last thing you searched for on Google? Why did you click on the result you did? Did you find what you were looking for? How could have the results been even better? – Grant Simmons, VP of Search Marketing, Homes.com
- • What do you read in the marketing space and what do you like about their points of view? What do you disagree with? – John Doherty, Founder GetCredo.com
- • Explain to me how you optimize a website. What tactics do you use and why? – Sarah Dryden, SEO and Social Media Director, Path Interactive
You’ll also want to be sure that your candidate is up-to-date with his or her technical knowledge. Are they staying on top of the advancements and news in the field? Are they consistently growing and learning?
- • What is your favorite grey-hat SEO technique that still works? – Morgan Chemij, Director of Marketing & CRM North America, HP
- • Out of the three skillsets that make-up SEO (technical, on-page optimization, off-page linking), which of these do you consider your strongest and weakest skill? – Stephan Mack, Sr. Manager Search Marketing, Getty Images
- • How do you forecast organic search revenue for both on-going and new projects? – Adam Dince, Director of Digital Marketing, Arrowhead Holdings
But, technical skill and knowledge will only get someone so far. It’s important you choose someone who can work well with the rest of your marketing teams – product, demand and content.
And you’ll need your hire to be able to communicate projects and wins across the rest of your organization. Can your candidate communicate both with your team and with external and internal stakeholders?
Your SEO hire needs to be detailed-oriented and inquisitive, and have strong analytical skills to match. So, I asked our experts, “What are the top 3 skills you look for in a professional SEO and why?”
- • Attention to detail – I need someone to start by disregarding any assumptions and inspect everything to understand where they are starting and what they are being asked to accomplish. – Jason Monaghan, SEO Manager, Fortive Sensing Technology Platform
- • Cross-department skills. Someone who’s had experience in paid search, PR, organic social, copywriting, or other areas that SEO touches on not only makes an SEO more effective in their job, it speaks to a broader view of marketing and seeing the big picture. – Herndon Hasty, SEO Manager, The Container Store
- • Willingness to add deliverable checks / balances (client work output review & approval) in ongoing contracts. Ability to deliver progress and report results. – Alan Bleiweiss, Contractor, Alan Bleiweiss Consulting
- • Ability to manage both projects and their own time. Someone who is able to create a realistic approach to manage the project to ensure all the goals are hit within the timeline. – Saurav Rimal, Digital Marketing Manager, Gazelle/ecoATM
And again, it came down to the technical skills. How deep is your SEO candidate’s knowledge base?
- • Knowledge of HTML. So much of SEO’s success starts in the back end or the design phase, where the magic happens. A strong technical knowledge of a clean HTML structure can go a long way in securing the future of the SEO program. – Missi Carmen, Senior Marketing Manager, Time4Learning
- • Search engines work within a system of algorithms. To master and manipulate that system, you really need a great understanding of the components those algorithms analyze. Nobody understands those components better than developers. – Dan Cristo, Director of SEO Innovation, GroupM
- • With tools being as sophisticated as they are now, almost anyone can pull data and make it look pretty. And that’s fine for the CEO who just wants to look at impressive charts. But in the end, I look for people who can dive into the data, look at the numbers and give me something that is actionable. Something that will move the needle. – Eric Richmond, Principal, Expert SEO Consulting
- • You also need someone with relationship-building skills. The ability to remember the user behind the data. They know how to build quality outreach. The ability to really build relationships, not just get quick fixes, are the SEO skills you should be looking for. – Wil Reynolds, Founder, SEER Interactive
While you determine if this candidate has the qualities you need, don’t forget to watch for the red flags.
- • Guaranteed rankings. There are too many factors involved to know how you will rank for sure. – Frank Pipolo, Director of Digital Marketing, SalonCentric
- • Lack of very recent examples of content wins, ranking wins, innovation, etc – a good SEO should always be on top of things. – Morgan Chemij, Director of Marketing & CRM North America, HP
- • Talking about penalties / what is or isn’t fair with Google. Penalties are about tricks, algorithms, and Search Engines. Not about people or revenue. – Wil Reynolds, Founder, SEER Interactive
The dangers of a bad SEO hire are numerous. Hiring the wrong SEO professional not only wastes your company’s time and money, but could lead to unforeseen penalties with search engines or technical errors that could even shut down your site.
Your online presence says a lot about your brand and often serves as the only way for you to showcase your brand voice to potential customers.
You need an SEO expert on your team who can see the larger purpose of your online efforts. Not one who falls for spammy short-term results that only cause damage overall.
Use these bits of wisdom from those in the field to hire an exceptional and talented SEO team player that will help you reach your audience in a cost-effective manner.
If you take the time to choose the correct hire from the beginning, the ROI will be worth it. After all, content may be king, but only if properly executed.
Bringing in the right talent is just the first step. Do you have the technology to drive results?
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