5 questions to ask an SEO candidate

February 9, 2021 - 7  min reading time - by Julien Deneuville
Accueil > Technical SEO > 5 questions to ask an SEO candidate

Recruiting for an SEO position is not easy. The way Google works often seems mysterious, especially when you don’t practice this somewhat cryptic job yourself.
Both during my previous experiences in agencies and when assisting clients in their recruitment, I have had the opportunity to test many candidates for SEO positions.
From these interviews, here are 5 questions that you can ask an applicant to get a better idea of their SEO skills.

Tell me about your background

Although there are still only a few specialized SEO courses, some courses of study prepare candidates better than others for working in the SEO profession. On this subject, the Journal du Net detailed a great evaluation matrix for SEO courses (in French): they should cover a solid technical background, group projects and project management, a strategic an e-business vision, a significant SEO section, general material as well as hands-on practice, and an overview of the legal implications of SEO.

Having done an internship or a work-study program in SEO is a big advantage, especially when it has been supervised by an SEO professional. In addition to an appropriate career path, give preference to candidates who have experimented on their own on a personal website. This is probably the best way to have to learn to deal with the way search engines work. If you offer a remote job for SEO specialists, it will expand your possibilities to find an experimented candidate.
In the same way, keep an eye on candidates who have chosen to seek out additional education and training (outside of their curriculum) and/or obtained an SEO certification, or who regularly participate in professional events on the subject: here again, this is a sign of real interest in the profession.

The more experienced candidates will sometimes not have had the opportunity to earn a certification or diploma from a web-oriented course of study, let alone an SEO one: this type of course has not been around for very long. Many of my co-professionals in this field have followed educational paths that were not intended for SEO at all and have trained on the job. So don’t just stop at diplomas, because SEO is above all a profession of experience.

In such cases, you will need to focus more on previous positions. Time spent working for a specialized SEO agency is often the guarantee that your candidate will have already dealt with a variety of issues and subjects, and will be able to adapt and be responsive… On the other hand, an experience in-house will have allowed them to face additional issues: defending and advancing their projects within the company, raising awareness and educating their interlocutors, etc.

A good compromise is experience in management: a consultant who worked several days a week in-house with the client.

What can you tell me about PageRank?

The PageRank is one of the essential algorithms to the way Google works; it makes it possible to judge the popularity of a page according to the pages that link to it, and the popularity of these pages. The bottom line is that the more links a page receives from other pages with a high PageRank, the more its own PageRank will increase.

We do not know the PR of individual pages, as calculated and used by Google. Until a few years ago, Google communicated a rough score called Toolbar PageRank, because it was available via the Google Toolbar (yes, it is old).

A common misconception is that PageRank is no longer used by Google, especially since the Toolbar PageRank no longer exists. But that’s not the case!

The details of how it works may have evolved over time, for example, to take into account the position of links on the original page, or the theme of the pages that send and receive links. This last is known as thematic PageRank.
In any case, PageRank remains an essential positioning criterion.

How can I prevent Google from indexing a set of pages on my site?

There are many reasons why you might choose to de-index a set of pages, or why search engines’s access to them should be denied: areas for connected users, technical errors, internal search results… It can also be that a feature can no longer be effectively maintained and that you choose to hide it. This is often a good thing for the SEO performance of the website in question, since it will allow focusing Google’s crawling to be redirected to more useful pages.

Adding a meta robots tag (or the HTTP header X-Robots-Tag, which works the same way) on the necessary pages will indicate to bot not to index them. In parallel, the robots.txt file will be able to prevent the crawl of this set of pages: Googlebot will not visit the forbidden pages but will be able to index them anyway if it finds links to them. The two solutions are complementary, and should be adapted according to each situation.

This is a subject that every candidate must master.

To go further, we can consider simply deleting these pages: in this case, returning an HTTP 410 error code will allow Googlebot to take their disappearance into account more quickly.

[Ebook] Technical SEO for non-technical thinkers

Technical SEO is one of the growing SEO fields today. It involves finding SEO solutions based on the how and why of how search engines–and websites–work. This ebook is everything you’ve always wanted to share with your clients, your friends, and your marketing teammates.

What tools would you like to have available for this position?

It is always interesting to discuss the tools your candidate is used to using.
More than the names of the tools, it’s their functionality that matters. I think it’s important to have in your arsenal:

  • A traffic tracking tool, such as Google Analytics: It’s often the justice of the peace as far as the performance of the different acquisition channels is concerned.
  • Google Search Console: A bit unclassifiable, but it’s a mine of information on how Googlebot views your site, and your visibility in Google results pages.
  • A crawler: This will be the most complete tool at your disposal to analyze the technical aspects of your pages. Coupled with a log analyzer, it will allow you to understand how Googlebot behaves on your site. And if you’re looking for one, you’ve come to the right place 🙂
  • A visibility tracking tool: A great way to complement traffic data or data provided by Google. This can be useful to monitor the rank of your competitors as well.
  • A backlink analysis tool: Whatever your opinion on the subject, external links count a lot in SEO, and can make the difference between you and your competitors.
  • A semantic analysis tool: In 2021, there is no better way to make sure you are using the right vocabulary, and thus be competitive for the queries you are targeting.

Also, take into account that an SEO needs to have tools at their disposal to work efficiently: it is an additional budget to take into account for your recruitment, but the investment will quickly prove to be profitable!

What is your advice for keeping up to date on new information in the SEO field?

There is, of course, no miracle method for staying perfectly up to date but we can still cite several sources of information.
Some blogs are major references, such as Search Engine Land in English or Abondance in French.
Many SEO professionals are active on Twitter, and this social network allows you to take the temperature of SEO in real-time: news, updates, clashes, and gossip… everyone will find what they’re looking for. I also appreciate the active presence of Googlers, like Martin Splitt who covers technical topics, such as Google’s approach to JavaScript.
Finally, attending conferences (whether face-to-face or remotely) is a great way to learn at a lower cost, and to keep up to date with best practices in all SEO specialties. These days, face-to-face conferences seem to be a long way off, but I am looking forward to the next editions of WeLoveSEO or Brighton SEO!
In the meantime, there have been more and more initiatives for live broadcasts and online conferences. Let’s mention for example the admirable work of Frédérik Bobet who proposes a weekly live event (in French) with numerous speakers on a wide variety of subjects.

Don’t hesitate to write down the candidate’s answers if you have any doubt, so that you can check for yourself afterward if they were valid. If you don’t feel comfortable enough with these subjects, it is also possible to be assisted by an external consultant.
To conclude, keep in mind that a candidate’s business skills are not the only criteria to be taken into account: will he or she be able to adapt to your company, get along with future coworkers? I consider good integration with the existing team to be more important than skills: these can be acquired later on if necessary.

Julien spent several years working for some of the best SEO agencies in France, before creating his own company Databulle in 2017. Julien specializes in Technical SEO and Data Analysis, and is considered an expert in log analysis, crawl and advanced technical topics. He also shares his few Python skills on several open-source projects. He was awarded the Young Search Personality Award at SMX Paris in 2018. He is also a staff member of Web in Reims, an annual webmarketing event in Reims, France.
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