The following questions are a list pulled together from various interviews I have been through throughout the years. My answers are from recent work, and from past, in order to best portray my experience and knowledge for the work I would be performing for my potential employer. I also added some notes to give insight into what the interviewer might be looking for, and why I choose the answer I used.
For SEOs Looking for Work
The point of this blog post is to give you some insight into how a seasoned SEO might answer these questions. Please... please, please... do not use these for your own answers. A lot of what is in here is very specific to my experience, and will not be beneficial for you to use yourself during an interview. These answers might not necessarily be best for all positions with every company either. The idea here is for you to take these questions and formulate how you might answer them, helping you to be more prepared when that time comes.
For Companies Hiring an SEO
The idea behind the questions is to help you start drafting the basics of what an SEO could be asked, and examples of what the answer could be. Please don't base your hiring an SEO on what my answers are. SEO is part art and part science. Every answer from any SEO will be different, as all SEOs have a different approach to how they optimize. The main goal for SEO is that rankings increase, traffic increases, and therefore revenue increases. How you get there is all subjective, just as long as you know the SEO will be able to get there.
- Tell me about yourself.
- Explain the difference between Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM)
- What is your SEO Super Power?
- What does your typical work day look like?
- What tools do you use and why?
- What SEO Blogs and authors do you follow?
- Give an example of how you increased SEO for your recent employer.
- How do you measure success?
- What sort of issues have you faced with SEO, and how did you resolve them?
- Give an example of how you developed a strategy for SEO and championed it through.
- You found an issue with the site that can be very detrimental to SEO, how do you come up with a solution and get work prioritized to get completed?
- If someone within the company doesn't agree with what you recommend how do you deal with them?
- Key stake holders find SEO to be very important, how do you communicate with them in a way they understand what you are working on, and how it will (and did) benefit the business?
Note: In some cases I get the "How did you get into SEO", but in most cases the usual "tell me about yourself" is what starts off most interviews. In general I usually try to throw them 3 words that describe me and then follow-up with a bit to highlight my experience and skills that will fit the position they are looking for. This answer could change if the job description focuses more on a certain personality or skill trait.
Answer: Well, I'm Fun, Organized, and Passionate. I generally love the people I work with. I have, in the past, become very close with my team, and cross other teams. I believe in order to get work done for SEO, you must have a good relationship with everyone in the organization. Being a part of the team that helps plan fun activities, or just plan lunches, happy hours, etc myself allows me to really get to know everyone. My organizational skills have allowed me to be able to function well in SEO. To prioritize and organize the tasks and projects needed to get done for SEO. Understanding the impact to level of effort has been important to getting buy in, and championing work through. My "Passion" as I put in quotes comes from a few of my previous bosses. I was called a "bulldog" by my CEO at Classmates.com and my previous boss at ADP braked at our agency to "show the same passion that Jennifer has". I am passionate about SEO, about the company I work for, and want to drive them both to success.
Note: I have found quite often that if you are going through a recruiter, being hired as an SEO where there are no other SEOs within the organization, or the hiring manager (potentially your boss) is not an SEO and does not understand SEO may not know that all of search marketing or what they call "Search Engine Marketing" includes both paid and natural search. In fact, in the past I have been asked paid search questions like "What process do you usually follow to determine how you set your bids?" when interviewing for an SEO position. Quite a lot of companies nowadays will consider SEM or "Search Engine Marketing" to be paid search (Adwords, Bing Advertising, Yahoo! Advertising) and SEO or "Search Engine Optimization" is considered natural search optimization. What I usually do is simply explain what I see as the difference between the two giving a bit of the history to show my years of experience.
Answer: It used to be that Search Engine Marketing was considered all of paid and natural search. Paid search or PPC eventually became SEM, and now people refer to natural search as SEO which is more on-site work and link building to get the website to show up without having to pay per click.
Note: This question isn't asked often, but can come up in this form or another. What they are looking for are possible strengths or approaches for SEO. Every SEO has a different approach. Some focus heavily on link building, some on database development, some on user generated content, etc.
Answer: My approach is highly content and structural based. I highly believe that a well structured site followed by unique content is key to success for SEO. The content can be written by hand, or developed from a database with thousands of pages produced with data driven content unique to each page. What I have become known most for in my years of optimizing is local SEO. At the agency in 2004 our team managed to optimize a lot of local lawyers, Realtors, and various businesses for local terms. I later translated what we did on a larger scale for Classmates.com as we optimized for what they called "affiliations" which where high schools, colleges and universities. There was a page for each one developed from the database and structured by location. So you could search any school in a city and/or state and see the page for that school show up. I carried that to my savethebreakfastsandwich.com site that was started in an attempt to convince Starbucks to keep the breakfast sandwiches. The site had gotten quite a lot of press, and was even mentioned in Howard Schultz's book. I had pulled a database of every city and state from the USPS.com site, and optimized pages for the term "starbucks in.." followed by each of those city and states. Then most recently I optimized the usedcars.com site at ADP to show up for "used cars in..." followed by any city and state. So if you search "used cars san jose" in Google you will see that page showing up in the results. In some instances you will also see a city page show up for the city you are in when you search just "used cars" because Google recognizes your location. I have been able to translate what works for local SEO to other projects such as optimizing for brands of cars for usedcars.com, and into more general terms. The core of what has worked is based on a structure and focus that makes sense for those set of terms.
Note: What the interviewer is looking for with this question is how much of your day is spent focusing on SEO and the business. I will usually roll in how I approach all of my positions at any company and then move into my most recent work with reporting since that was a huge focus at ADP and tends to be important to a lot of larger corporations these days. The trick s to look at what appears to be most important to the hiring company in their job description and align your typical work day happenings with that they are looking for.
Answer: I'm a pretty early riser so I get in around 8 am, sometimes as early as 7 am. I like to use that part of the day in the office before meetings start and everyone gets in to go through all my check points for SEO. I will of course check email and answer any that need immediate attention. Then open up Google Analytics and look at the numbers for the day before. I open up Webmaster Tools and look for any warnings, or any issues that might stand out. If a Moz report has ran, I will look at that and dig into any issues that might come up. If all checks out OK, or the issues are pretty quick to deal with, I will look at the SEO groups I belong to for any updates in the industry, check my Twitter for updates from Google, Matt Cutts, and other SEOs. Then browse through articles and blogs to see if there are any updates or forecasts that I might need to pay attention to. My most recent position at ADP required me to manage all of the reporting and analytics for the usedcars.com website. So, I would update what we called the "daily reports" with traffic numbers, spend, lead volume, and update revenue. Then report on trending numbers, week over week, projected revenue for the month, etc. A report would go out in email every morning with the numbers and any details as to why, if there was a noticeable rise or fall.
Note: Believe it or not, this one used to stump me. I've never been a huge fan of automating SEO for any reason, so tools was one of those faux pa questions for me. My answer would be "I don't use tools, I optimize naturally". Well, that was wrong... Because I did, and still do, use tools to help me do my job. In this case now, I mention everything that I use to help me monitor, optimize and evaluate for SEO.
Answer: Most of the tools I use are to help me gain insight into what is going on with a website. I believe it's important to be able to evaluate how a crawler sees a site before launch preventing any issues, perform keyword and competitive analysis, and to monitor performance regularly. I have a Moz account, and have had one for years. I use that to check for Errors and pinpoint what the source of the error is so that the fix can get prioritized. I use webmaster tools to monitor for messages from Google, to track performance, and to watch for errors that Moz did or did not catch. I use xenu to crawl the site, or a section/project before launch to gain insight into how the bots will crawl and address any issues that might show up. I use Google Analytics, Omniture (or other analytics tool), and internal reporting to monitor performance. I also use the analytics tools to gain insight into what is working and where there might be any room for improvement. I look at Adwords campaigns to identify what terms perform well, ad messaging with a high click through rate for meta tags, and see if there are any highly expensive terms we can target for SEO that we could get for free to maximize revenue. When performing a competitive analysis I have a few tools to check keyword count and densities of ranking pages, I will also often look at spyfu to evaluate how the competition is doing.
Note: This question can go one of two ways, either the interviewer is an experienced SEO, or is learning SEO and knows who they pay attention to. So if I were to miss any of the ones they follow then that's a bad sign. The other possible scenario is that they do not know SEO at all and they were instructed to ask this question. If that is the case, then they might have the basic few that should be mentioned written down somewhere. In either case, I always make sure I answer with the important basics to follow for SEO. Another thing to note on this, in the years I have learned that even though a lot of the people I follow are acquaintances, friends, or even very close friends I have in the industry, I leave the name dropping and association out of it. I'm not getting hired because I know people, I'm getting hired because I know how to optimize a website.
Answer: I mostly focus on the Google Webmaster Tools and Matt Cutts blogs, and the Search Engine Land, CLickZ, and Moz publications. I will occasionally pay attention to Ian Lurie, Bruce Clay, and Barry Schwartz for insights and updates on algorithms. I also hit up the SEO Group on Facebook that includes a lot of the thought leaders that participate regularly. If I have a complex question I usually go there for help or verification that I'm making the right decision.
Note: I honestly haven't gotten this question a lot. I found it off of a couple of articles that had questions to ask during an interview for hiring an SEO, and it also came up in a recent interview with a pretty large company. If you are hiring someone as an SEO, I would recommend asking this one, and listen for numbers. This way you know they really pay attention to the business and their impact on it. As an SEO, you should be able to answer with key numbers to back up your statements.
Answer: I would have to say my most recent success was the usedcars.com website for ADP. When I started the site had taken a huge hit from the Panda and Penguin updates by Google in 2011 to 2012. The site had dropped by roughly 80% in traffic from SEO and while an agency and a consultant were both working on it, the traffic was dropping daily and even more with each update. I spent some time digging through the analytics for the past 2 years, and looking at each section (or keyword category) of the website and quickly identified that the local focused pages were the largest driver for SEO traffic and had taken the biggest hit. Since location is my strength, and I noticed the exact same drop around the same time for one of my other sites, I met with the CEO and we quickly developed a plan to fix the pages immediately. In 3 weeks the project was complete, but there were so many other issues with the site that still needed fixing, so the pages took some time to show results. In the 2 years I was there, the location pages jumped to providing over 45% of the traffic from SEO, and overall traffic increased to over 85%.
Note: Most SEOs look at traffic and keyword ranking reports. I add a bit of a different approach that shows growth from SEO. If you are someone interviewing, it's good to come up with your own unique approach that makes sense that will set you apart from the rest. If you are interviewing an SEO to work for you, the basic traffic increase and ranking reports will suffice, but if the position is a more advanced role then look for someone that thinks outside the box and is passionate about the numbers when it comes to reporting.
Answer: I mostly look at the usual traffic increases as well as revenue increase from SEO, and occasionally look at keyword ranking reports for newly release projects. But what I look at most for myself, not usually reported up, is the growth in the number of keywords driving traffic week over week. I also do this with the number of pages indexed and referring traffic week over week for new projects that are rolling out. This way I know that the work we are doing is grabbing new opportunities and growing the business. With usedcars.com and the hit they took from the updates, I looked at the number of pages with duplicate content, too many on-page links, the number of pages with paramaters, and anything that reflected improvements on the issues we were finding.
Note: With this I tend to focus on issues I have faced within the company websites I worked with. Sites in which I have full freedom to optimize, and stay within the SEO rules, tend to stick around well when it comes to rankings. So the usedcars.com site getting hit by Panda and Penguin before my hiring really gave me some great experience in addressing issues for SEO. I detail out what the main issues where with the site, and follow-up with some of the technical aspects that went into the corrections to demonstrate my level of knowledge of SEO from the technical side.
Answer: I was hired on at ADP in 2012 to address the hit that usedcars.com took from the Panda and Penguin updates. A majority of what issues that caused the drop where too many links on a lot of the pages, top level file structure with parameters. no site hierarchy, there were 48 million pages indexed and only roughly 300 thousand really existed on the site causing a webmaster tools warning of "an extremely high number of URLs" every month, a large chunk of duplicate content as a result of the too many URLs and the parameters, and not enough unique content. It took the majority of the first year to get everything cleaned up from redirecting how the bots crawled the site, removing a mega menu, cleaning up the use of parameters, rewriting URLs and setting a validation, and then building out new content after a massive database overhaul and pages developed from syndicated and data driven content.
Note: I happened to have an example of a major project that I worked hard to push through at ADP. This, for me, is my usual answer to this question, and it is a question I get just about every time I interview for an SEO position. I recommend, if you are an SEO looking to ideas on what to do during an interview, to find that one project you conceptualized, planned out, championed through with stake holders and teams, and saw to completion. If you don't have one, come up with one in your current role so that you have that one project you can use as an example.
Another note with this answer, I try not to give away any secrets to the business's success, especially to the public in a blog post such as this. So this answer is a bit vague in detail and items changed so that it protects the company I worked for.
Answer: One of my favorite projects that I started from concept to near completion is a major project I worked on in my last position. In speaking with a few friends of mine in the business and looking at traffic outside of the location pages, I noticed that searches for a very specific type of terms in exact match and longtail were very prominent. I created a large excel document that listed out every keyword in three hierarchical categories for each term and began completing a keyword analysis report for every one of them. It took me a couple of months to get through all of them in-between my usual daily tasks, but in the end I found that there were millions of searches total for all three categories, and was able to even see which terms within the three categories were the most popular. I used that data to calculate current traffic from those terms against potential by figuring out what percentage of the terms we had rankings for, current click through rate for those terms, and conversion rate from those terms. It allowed me to show the gap of what traffic we were missing out on by not doing the project, and then show incremental growth both in traffic and revenue as rankings improved. I also completed a full competitive analysis for the top 20 terms and documented it all. I developed a plan based on what data, structure, and content we had available and presented it to my boss. After discussing it, he wasn't too thrilled with the idea, so I worked with our current consultant to break down the project into a workflow that was a bit easier to digest. I went back to presenting it to my boss again revised and he was thrilled with the project. I then presented it in our bi-weekly SEO meeting in which my boss, his boss, a few developers, the consultant, and the head of Engineering attended. After some questions were answered the project was given the green light to go ahead. It took months of working through a lot of the database development that was headed up by another team member and overseen by myself, then developing the pages to incorporate the information from the database. The project still wasn't complete upon my leaving, but was about 80% done and gaining some traction when I left.
Note: This is one of the questions I love. It clearly shows my ability to catch issues with SEO hopefully before they become too detrimental, and demonstrate my ability to state my case, champion the work, and show my ability to work with whomever I need to resolve it quickly. This is a key trait that every SEO needs, not just fully grasping the technical side of SEO, but to be able to work with other people to get what needs to get done quickly.
Answer: Yes, well sadly this has happened often. After spotting an issue, what I like to do is determine who it is I will need to work with on the issue to get resolved in the end. It could be something that was there for usability sake and is hurting the site for SEO, a business decision that caused the issue, or a simple bug or oversight during development that is causing it. Of course, I always go to my boss first for communication purposes and show them what I am seeing. If usability, then I go to the ones responsible for user interface design, if a business decision then I more often than not will just show my boss the issue and the numbers of potential impact to the business, If a development bug or oversight I will take it to the lead developer or possibly the one that worked on the piece that caused the issue and let them help me come up with a solution or perhaps they can determine a quick fix. My approach is different depending on how big, who, and what part of the business the issue affects. Then I either act as the trusted expert that I was hired to be, or a part of the team that works together to come up with a solution.
Note: Sadly this happens oh so often to an SEO. Whether it is as an in-house SEO as I tend to work in, or even as an agency SEO. Gaining trust in your ability, stating your case, and championing work for SEO has a direct affect on your ability to do your job. You aren't always going to agree with everyone, and not everyone is going agree with you. The finesse in getting buy in from them, or at least working with you somehow is going to make or break SEO.
Answer: I have found a way throughout the years of approaching each situation and person differently. If I have done my due diligence in stating my case for SEO and someone still doesn't see the benefit, or agree with my recommended approach then I will try my best to work with them as much as possible on a compromise or allow them to help me come up with another solution. I find that involving them in the process and perhaps showing them what I see, how I see it, and then giving them the opportunity to present their solution has always been the best approach. The outcome to the solution may in-fact change as I see their solution might actually be better, but in the end, as long as it works and is best for the business, I am more than happy to work with them. If what they propose just isn't going to work, I will usually let them know why and perhaps show them examples of case studies or where sites have tried that already and failed to help them see what I have been seeing that got me to my conclusion. Either way, my take is that what is best for the business is what we all should be working towards.
Note: Yes, the stake holders. SO many companies place so much value on SEO, and for good reason. The work the business puts in now can have a huge return long term. Some businesses thrive on traffic from SEO and simply supplement the traffic with some advertising and even paid search. But that all costs money, and traffic that comes for free is nearly 80-100% profit (taking into account the salary and time spent getting the work done to get those rankings). So it shouldn't be any surprise that key stake holders (executives and CEOs) all know the importance of SEO, and want to understand it as much as possible to know that the business is growing, and will continue to grow. If an SEO cannot clearly articulate what work is needed and what the impact is for SEO then they shouldn't be working in SEO.
Answer: My approach to working with key stake holders is to use visuals, numbers, and typical business terms. I leave the technical side of SEO, development needs, and so on for the other teams that I need to work. Occasionally I will get an executive that really understands SEO, and in that case I will dig into more detail with them. Though really focusing on the impact to the business and keeping things as visual as possible has worked best. When working on the location page drop and the example I used for concept to completion, I had dug deep into the data and truly understood the business and the competition for my own benefit. When I presented the projects to the stake holders I mainly focused on the total numbers as impact to the business in terms of traffic and revenue. Often times showing where we are today with traffic and revenue for those terms the project is targeting, and potential incremental growth (since SEO doesn't happen overnight). I then leave opportunity for questions and be fully prepared to answer the why, how, what if, and so on always knowing the numbers to back up my statements.
I'm sure I am missing a question or two (or three) in here, and of course, every role is completely different from the next, so each potential employer is going to have their own set of questions to gauge whether the SEO they are looking for not only really knows their stuff, but will fit what they are looking for in a role, and the personality of the company and team. I have to admit, there are positions I have interviewed for that I was a perfect fit for as far as ability was concerned, but my quirky personality doesn't always mesh well with very serious environments. Don't get me wrong, I can be serious and am very professional, but I do like to have fun and really get to know people on a personal level. So, during the interview process I look at the personality of the hiring manager, and try to gauge the dynamic of the team I will be working with before making any decision to work there.
If you are an SEO and have experienced other questions you feel should be added to the post, please add them in the comments below, along with your example answers. The more we can help our fellow SEOs the better this world can be.
The other articles I grabbed some of these questions from:
Competency Based Interview Questions for Hiring SEO Professionals