To go in-house, or to not go in-house, that is the question many companies are asking these days. According to a recent study, we’re seeing a 50% increase in enterprises moving SEO in-house in 2020, which is not a trend that can be ignored.

This statistic proves that the in-housing movement is growing and is likely to continue in the future, as companies recognize the benefits of having an SEO team within their own walls. If you are just getting started head over to our Learning Center and download our SEO Specialist Job Description Template.

But how do you choose the right SEO expert?

In my more than 12 years at Conductor, I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of forming three teams, and people often ask me what makes a good SEO hire — so I decided to lay down some rules, with the help of some friends who have done their fair share of SEO hiring.

The “First-Hand” Experience SEO Hiring Guide

Where to start? First, make sure you ask your candidate the right questions.

What SEO interview questions should you ask?

When I asked talented industry leaders what SEO interview questions they ask, their answers focused on three main questions. First and foremost, you need to find out how your SEO candidate thinks and solves problems when they occur.

The Mind of an SEO Candidate

  • Can you give me an example of a case where you identified an SEO problem, 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 the results have been better? – Grant Simmons, VP of Search Marketing,
  • 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
  • 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 also want to ensure that your candidate is up-to-date with their SEO technical knowledge. Are they staying on top of the advancements and news in the field? Do they grow and learn continuously?

Technical Knowledge and Skill

  • What’s the difference between a 301/302/307 redirect and when do you use them? – Jason Monaghan, SEO Manager, Fortive Sensing Technology Platform
  • What’s your favorite grey-hat SEO technique that still works? – Morgan Chemij, Director of Marketing & CRM North America, HP
  • What is a Canonical Tag and how do you use it? – Herndon Hasty, SEO Manager, The Container Store
  • Out of the three skill sets 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 ongoing and new projects? – Adam Dince, Director of Digital Marketing, Arrowhead Holdings

But, technical skill and knowledge will only get someone so far. It is important that you choose someone who can work well with the rest of your marketing teams in terms of product, demand and content.

And you need your SEO hire to be able to communicate projects and successes throughout the company. Can your candidate communicate with your team as well as with external and internal stakeholders?

hire seo professional

Communication and Teamwork

  • Explain something to me… Anything as if I know nothing about it, in under 5 minutes. – Wil Reynolds, Founder, SEER Interactive
  • Explain this ______ SEO problem to 1. CMO 2. Developer 3. Business Owner – Bill Hunt, Global Strategy Consultant, Back Azimuth Consulting
  • Suppose I’m a potential customer: Why does SEO matter for my brand? – Khrysti Nazzaro, Vice President Brand Strategy, Morevisibility

Your SEO hire needs to be detail-oriented and inquisitive, with strong analytical skills, so I asked our experts, “What are the top three skills you are looking for in a professional SEO and why”?

The Detailed, Analytical, Multi-faceted Mind

  • 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 with experience in paid search, PR, organic social, copywriting, or other areas that affect SEO not only makes an SEO more effective in their job, it speaks to a broader view of marketing and the overall 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 develop a realistic approach to manage the project to ensure that all goals are achieved within the timeline. – Saurav Rimal, Digital Marketing Manager, Gazelle / ecoATM

And again it came down to the technical skills. How deep is the knowledge base of your SEO candidate?

The Best in Technical Prowess

  • Knowledge of HTML: Much of SEO’s success starts in the back-end or design phase, where the magic happens. A strong technical knowledge of a clean HTML structure can go a long way to securing the future of the SEO program. – Missi Carmen, Senior Marketing Manager, Time4Learning
  • Search engines operate within a system of algorithms. To master and manipulate this 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 determining whether this candidate has the qualities you need, don’t forget to pay attention to the red flags.

SEO Practitioner 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 takeaway

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 also lead to unforeseen penalties for search engines or technical errors that could even cripple your website.

Your online presence says a lot about your brand. In fact, your position in search represents your position in the market. Thus, modern consumers evaluate brands and make decisions by who shows up for what they are looking for.

You need an SEO expert on your team who recognizes the overarching purpose of your online efforts and is able to quarterback the SEO process across the finish line. Not one who falls for spammy short-term results that are generally harmful or unable to work with key stakeholders within your organization.

Use these SEO interview questions to hire an exceptional and talented SEO expert to help you reach your audience in a cost-effective way.

If you take the time to choose the correct hire from the start, the ROI will be worth it. After all, content may be king, but only if it is executed properly.

Bringing in the right talent is just the first step. Do you have the technology to deliver results? See what Conductor can do for your global digital marketing strategy.

Would you like to hear more from the Conductor team? Sign up to hear from us!

3 Responses to How to Hire an SEO Professional: SEO Interview Questions From 19 Experts

  1. Awesome article! Definitely gonna show this to prospects and clients! Thanks!

    • Avatar Stephan Bajaio says:

      Glad you liked it. Check out our salary guide as well, we update it each year and it can be very helpful when validating spends.

  2. Avatar r1seo says:

    Thank you Stephan! Very interesting to see what is in the minds of potential clients on hiring what they consider to be a good service.

    I would seriously hope that unless a potential service provider cited “None, I never use them” in answer to Morgan Chemij’s question “What is your favorite grey-hat SEO technique that still works?”, that whomever was doing the hiring just ran!

    Great article, great insight for SEO consultants and hiring firms alike.

3 Answers from Wil Reynolds on SEO Skills & Hiring Talented Marketers

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