55 SEO Interview Questions

Interviewing and hiring SEOs has been on my mind recently as my team has been actively looking to expand. Such thoughts are part of what prompted me to update and re-publish an old post of mine on why a career in SEO may be a bad move. I'm not sure that all of the people that read my article also read my counter argument on why a career in SEO can also be a good move, but it certainly inspired some discussion, mostly disagreement. If you're inclined to pursue an SEO career either in-house or at an agency, one of the most important obstacles you'll need to get through is the barrage of interview questions that will be thrown at you.

About a third of these 55 interview questions are ones I thought of. The rest I picked from various postings around the web from people I think are worthy of attention. Credits are at the bottom.

Technical / Tactics

Every SEO prefers certain tactics over others, but familiarity with many could indicate a deeper understanding of the industry. And while every SEO doesn't need to have a web developer background, having such skills can help set someone apart from the crowd.

  1. Give me a description of your general SEO experience.
  2. Can you write HTML code by hand?
  3. Could you briefly explain the PageRank algorithm?
  4. How you created any SEO tools either from scratch or pieced together from others?
  5. What do you think of PageRank?
  6. What do you think of using XML sitemaps?
  7. What are your thoughts on the direction of Web 2.0 technologies with regards to SEO?
  8. What SEO tools do you regularly use?
  9. Under what circumstances would you look to exclude pages from search engines using robots.txt vs meta robots tag?
  10. What areas do you think are currently the most important in organically ranking a site?
  11. Do you have experience in copywriting and can you provide some writing samples?
  12. Have you ever had something you've written reach the front-page of Digg? Sphinn? Or be Stumbled?
  13. Explain to me what META tags matter in today's world.
  14. Explain various steps that you would take to optimize a website?
  15. If the company whose site you've been working for has decided to move all of its content to a new domain, what steps would you take?
  16. Rate from 1 to 10, tell me the most important "on page" elements
  17. Review the code of past clients/company websites where SEO was performed.
  18. What do you think about link buying?
  19. What is Latent Semantic Analysis (LSI Indexing)?
  20. What is Phrase Based Indexing and Retrieval and what roles does it play?
  21. What is the difference between SEO and SEM?
  22. What kind of strategies do you normally implement for back links?
  23. What role does social media play in an SEO strategy?
  24. What things wouldn't you to do increase rankings because the risk of penalty is too high?
  25. What's the difference between PageRank and Toolbar PageRank?
  26. Why might you want to use nofollow on an internal link?

Analysis

A big part of SEO involves assessing the effectiveness of a campaign both relative to past performance as well as to competing sites.

  1. Are you familiar with web analytics and what packages are your familiar with?
  2. From an analytics perspective, what is different between a user from organic search results vs. a type-in user?
  3. How do you distinguish the results of your search optimization work from a seasonal change in traffic patterns?
  4. How do you evaluate whether an SEO campaign is working?
  5. What does competitive analysis mean to you and what techniques do you use?
  6. If you've done 6 months of SEO for a site and yet there haven't been any improvements, how would you go about diagnosing the problem?
  7. How many target keywords should a site have?
  8. How do *you* help a customer decide how to their budget between organic SEO and pay-per-click SEM?
  9. You hear a rumor that Google is weighting the HTML LAYER tag very heavily in ranking the relevance of its results - how does this affect your work?
  10. Why does Google rank Wikipedia for so many topics?

Industry Involvement

Is SEO just a job to pay the bills? Nothing wrong with that, but some senior positions can benefit from more enthusiasm and interest that can be measured by work done outside of the office.

  1. If salary and location were not an issue, who would you work for?
  2. In Google Lore - what are 'Hilltop', 'Florida' and 'Big Daddy'?
  3. Have you attended any search related conferences?
  4. Google search on this candidates name, (if you cannot find them, that's a red flag).
  5. Do you currently do SEO on your own sites? Do you operate any blogs? Do you currently do any freelance work and do you plan on continuing it?
  6. Of the well-known SEOs, who are you not likely to pay attention to?
  7. What are some challenges facing the SEO industry?
  8. What industry sites, blogs, and forums do you regularly read?
  9. Who are the two key people - who started Google?
  10. Who is Matt Cutts?
  11. If you were bidding on a contract, what competitor would you most worry about?

Open-Ended

These questions are more about how an answer is given rather than the actual answer. They often scare interviewees, but with no wrong answer they're actually a good opportunity to shine.

  1. Tell me your biggest failure in an SEO project
  2. What areas of SEO do you most enjoy?
  3. In what areas of SEO are you strongest?
  4. In what areas of SEO are you weakest?
  5. How do you handle a client who does not implement your SEO recommendations?
  6. Can you get "xyz"? company listed for the keyword "Google"? in the first page?
  7. What do you think is different about working for an SEO agency vs. doing SEO in-house?
  8. Why are you moving from your current position and/or leaving any current projects?

Some of these questions were blatantly copied from the The Mad Hat's list. Others came from Greg Meyers, Director of Search at Commerce360; Stoney deGeyter, Owner at Pole Position Marketing; and Liana Evans, Director of Internet Marketing at KeyRelevance.

Have any you'd like to add to the list?

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31 Comments

  1. These are great questions. A buddy of mine took this list and now emails it to every hack SEO who stumbles on his Website and emails or calls him looking for business. He has yet to get a response with any answers. :) Intimidation CAN be fun!

  2. I answered some of them when I did the first iteration of the interview questions. http://www.themadhat.com/search-marketing/seo-interview-questions-part-ii/

  3. Nice post, but, will you provide theoritical and practical answers, if not possible than its just a useful informations for only interviewer, they will ve a list of bullets to fire on job seekers...:(

  4. Marios, Where's your follow-up post? 55 SEO Interview Answers? :)

  5. Excellent Post! Very useful for clients and I have been questioned from the same. Great that we have passed and bagged the project.

  6. Marios Alexandrou

    David, I don't think anyone asks ALL of these questions. The ones you want to ask will depend on what level you're hiring for. The questions selected will also depend on any particular gap you're looking to fill on your team. For instance, if someone with a particularly strong technical background has just left the team and you're looking to replace that person, your questions will probably skew more to the technical. Also, these are interview questions for hiring an employee, not questions that a client should necessarily be asking a vendor.

  7. Great list but does anyone hiring an SEO ask all these questions? I would want a boatload of $$$s if someone started asking me any of these questions. Most people who come to me want to learn all the new stuff and not seo speak OR they've been screwed by someone with a major believable sales pitch.... My 3 cents :)

  8. Marios Alexandrou

    Shell, These aren't questions for hiring an SEO firm, but for hiring an individual SEO i.e. an employee. I think a couple of other readers had the same interpretation as you, but I'm not sure where things get muddy as I say at the beginning that I'm expanding my SEO team, I mention a previous post about a career in SEO, and that these are for getting through an interview.

  9. that is quite a list of questions. To be honest, if a client asked me all of those questions I would probably decline to work with them. That would be a red flag for high maintenance. I'd rather spend my time performing SEO work than answering questions that take me away from my business. The one question that really bothers me is the PageRank algo question. Who cares? We all know PR is just one of a hundred things that matter.

  10. Hi good post. Even Dougie is here. Ha Ha Dougie .... whitehat as always.

  11. Thank goodness most people hire on previous results or as a result of finding you by ranking position. That said, what a fantastic post and I think it is time to take a refresher course!

  12. Thanks for including that question I added :)

  13. Marios Alexandrou

    Gregg, Sadly just hearing the right answers doesn't guarantee anything. I like to think that I pick up on non-verbal cues to help with the hiring decisions because as you've discovered, some people are good at "sounding" great. Good luck!

  14. Very useful post if about 10 or 15 minutes late. Just spent a half hour interviewing an SEO, blindly I might add. The challenge seems to be that they all sound good and all say the same thing. While I am convinced that at least one of them can do what they say, it is so very difficult to tell who is who. You questions should help me figure it out.

  15. I think it would be better to hire the SEO company that came up number 1 in google for first page results organically first page organic results If I was a business looking to be on the first page of the natural search. I would use those terms. Somebody actually asked me this Who are the two key people - who started Google? Larry Page, is the easy one and the other I forgot. Maybe they should start a deck of google trading cards

  16. Marios, Nice post. I'm really glad you weren't around to interview me though. Haha.

  17. A very well done compilation of questions. Have been into SEO for past 2 years, these actually made me reflect on my capabilities and assess myself. Thanks a lot. Looking forward to your next post.

  18. Nice list. I have been responding to SEO job postings and have a considerable list myself. The hardest part is knowing the answers they expect. A problem I have come into is the amount or the level of expertise the questions asker knows. I typically answer with blanket statements my grandmother would expect. If I am talking to someone, mostly over e-mail, it is hard to get an understanding of their level of knowledge. So my default has been to either share the answer technically or in layman's terms. If any one else shares my sympathy or has a clear answer I would appreciate some answers. Any advice would be appreciated for a 2 year in-house seo looking to pickup freelance work on the side and hopefully make it a more full-time down the road. Cool list I am going to print this list and fill in my answers so I can be ready next time. I have three interviews under my belt and only 1 is still in talks so I gratefully need help or morale booster!

  19. This list will help companies HR Who is going to hire SEO.

  20. Very useful post. I am looking for your next post. Many thanks.

  21. Great list of questions and kudos to those who contributed. These are great questions to ask as an interviewer and to be asked if you are an SEO job candidate. I've added a link from the Reality SEO Job Search Engine.

  22. Marios Alexandrou

    Doug, Interviewing is a lot about how people answer and not entirely about the actual answer. It's also about forming a picture of the candidate in a short period of time from which you can decide what role someone might fit in. For example, if you're looking for a public figure for your team, then attending conferences is important. As for the question about who one would listen to, that's a lead in to other questions. If someone says they'd list to person xyz then you follow it with a "why". But hey, you don't have to agree with me. I'm just glad I provided some entertainment. Something you've done for me in the past on many occasions...

  23. "Of the well-known SEOs, who are you not likely to pay attention to?" How about NONE of them? So you think a good SEO pays attention to self-proclaimed "known" people? Tell you what; if I were hiring for my firm, I'd ask them the exact opposite question: "Do you know of any known SEO's out there who you would listen to?" If that answer was "no", I'd hire that person.

  24. LOL I guess I wouldn't be hired by anyone then. If you actually believe that a person should know the answers to some of those questions, or know how to do them in order to be a good SEO, I have some swamp land I can sell you as well. Or how about a person needing to attend conferences or even give two shits about this web 2.0 crap? You have got to be kidding me. How about this? How about a person being surrounded by others who DO know the technical stuff? How about the SEO being able to tell others what to do? That SEO does NOT have to know hardly a damn thing other than how to tell others how to do something. As far as software? Gee; if you can read stat programs, that's about all the software you need. It's lists like these that keep me rolling on the floor with laughter day to day, and keep the days from being boring.

  25. This is great list of professional questions. You might add to the list those microsoft's like why are the windows on a boat round for in depth-analyses.

  26. I really hope no SEO employers see this. If I ever have to sit through a 5 hour long SEO interview I'll know who to thank :) But seriously, if you have answers to most or all of these questions, you will likely be a leg up on the competition. Nice list.

  27. Very useful. Lookout next interviewee!

  28. Thanks for the credit link. I gave this post a stumble and a sphinn!

  29. Thanks for giving me some cred! Great expansion from the list I put together.

  30. Marios Alexandrou

    Thanks Tamar! Sorry about not following you on Twitter anymore. There were just too many inside conversations during Pubcon. I felt so left out :-)

  31. I just found this and added it to my best blog posts of 2007. Wanted to make sure you saw it. ;) Of course, it would have been easier for me to contact you if you were still following me on Twitter (but you're not) :( Anyway, nice list! :)