Every other person you hire to help your business in some way goes through an interview process. It shouldn’t be any different for an SEO. Indeed, you should give the questions you plan to ask (and the answers you receive) a great deal of thought. Your visibility (or lack of it) in Google and the other search engines can have a tremendous impact on your bottom line; for that reason alone, you need to proceed with caution.
Fortunately, Eric Siu over at Search Engine Journal put together a great list of questions to ask any SEO you’re thinking about hiring to work on a campaign for you. The answers to these questions will give you a sense of that SEO’s philosophy, and tell you whether you’ll be comfortable working with them. Little wonder, then, that these questions sound very much like typical interview questions specifically tailored to the tasks an SEO performs. Most of these questions are open-ended, inviting long answers that will help you understand the candidate’s philosophy and approach to his field.
Tell me about your expertise with SEO. The least specific of the nine questions Siu says you should ask before hiring an SEO, any candidate can answer with as much (or as little) detail as they wish. How a candidate answers this question will give you clues as to what they consider important, and could give you ideas for follow-up questions. “It’s a question that requires people to think of a great answer on the spot,” Siu notes.
Tell me about 3 SEO projects that you’re most proud of and why you’re proud of them. Here we go from the general to the painfully specific. How your SEO candidate answers this question can tell you whether they can see the forest for the trees. Does he talk about winning a ranking with a single keyword — or improving traffic and conversion? Keywords are only a way to keep score, and as a business owner they’re probably not the one that matters most to you.
What’s your number one rule with SEO? More than any other question, this one will reveal your candidate’s basic philosophy and approach to SEO. It will also give you some idea of how experienced they are. As your candidate answers this question, whether they’re white hat, black hat, or somewhere in between, ask yourself if you can work with someone with that approach. Are they the right fit for your business?
Tell me about your biggest failure with SEO and what you learned from it. Everyone dreads getting this type of question, and with good reason; nobody likes to discuss failure. But we grow from our failures more than from our successes. How deeply does your SEO candidate examine a problem? Ask for details when you ask this question, including what they would do differently if they faced the same or a similar problem now.
What are your go to SEO tools? Nearly everyone uses tools of some kind in the SEO industry. Many are quite high profile and very popular; these include SEOMoz, Citatation Labs Link Prospector, Majestic SEO, and Raven Tools. Here, though, you’re not concerned with which tools your candidate SEO uses as much as how they’re used, and for what sorts of tasks. Used correctly, tools can speed up the process of SEO in a variety of ways; they’re a boon to research. But they’re not absolutely necessary.
How do you carry out competitive analysis of keywords/SERPs as part of the keyword research process? Since keyword research is almost always the first and most important step for any SEO or SEM campaign, your SEO candidate should be able to tell you the process they use in detail – and it better be good.
Say you’ve done six months of SEO for a site and there haven’t been any improvements. How would you diagnose the problem? Yes, this can happen, and SEOs aren’t any happier about it than business owners. What would your SEO candidate do to trouble shoot the issue? This is the kind of basic “how I do my job” question that any SEO should be able to answer – and in a way that will make you feel comfortable to put your website (and that aspect of your company’s future) into his or her hands.
Have you ever outsourced SEO work? Give me one example. SEO and SEM have grown complicated over the years. In addition to ordinary on-site optimization, there’s link building, pay-per-click campaigns, display ads, social media aspects, content creation, and more. That’s a lot of different pieces, and rare is the person who can do it all. Sometimes it’s necessary to outsource some details of a full-fledged online marketing campaign. Your SEO candidate’s answer to this question will tell you how well she can manage the whole circus.
What are effective metrics for tracking return on investment for SEO? The right answer to this question depends in part on what you’re trying to achieve with your website; if you’re an online publisher, increasing traffic may be important than increasing revenue. Listen for your SEO candidate to use words like organic revenue, organic traffic, number of organic keywords, average order value, and conversion rate.
Please keep in mind that these are by no means all of the questions you should ask an SEO who hopes to count you as a client. They should, however, give you an idea of the sorts of issues you need to consider. Use these questions as the basis for formulating your own, customized to the most important needs of your business. They should at least give you the information to help you separate the wheat from the chaff. Good luck!