How to Hire the Perfect Person to Run Your SEO_FI

Having good content goes a long way to being found on the web, but you can sweeten the odds with well-executed search engine optimization (SEO). And to make that happen, you need to find and hire the right SEO talent.

Over the last decade, marketing departments across the world have had to adapt to the changing landscape of online marketing. As the importance of online marketing channels continues to grow, so does the pressure to have the most optimal online presence. When a searcher asks a question, and your content is the best answer, you dearly want search engines to recognize your content as the best fit.

The hiring tips and resources in this post are a great start to discovering the right SEO expert for your company. Remember: “Great vision without great people is irrelevant” – Jim Collins, Good to Great.

Crafting Your Ad & Attracting SEO Talent

The first step to any great hire is figuring out what your goal is, and the talent it will take to achieve the goal. Will this person be expected to take you to the top spot on page 1? How competitive is your market?

Now write out the best job description you can for the role.

  • Determine the right job title. There are many options, from Director of SEO to SEO Specialist. Depending on the level of experience you’re looking for, determine the best job title. It should reflect the nature of the duties, be pretty much self-explanatory, rank correctly with other jobs, and not exaggerate the importance of the role.
  • List the duties of the role. Make this detailed enough to illustrate the role, but as concise as possible. If you’re a smaller company it’s likely your list of duties will be quite long; that’s fine! A good rule of thumb is to stick to 15 or fewer.
  • List skills and competencies required. The right candidate should be able to illustrate their ability to meet your requirements in skills and competencies.

Job Description

Not a wordsmith? Gather expert advice to help you craft the right job description. This will help refine the skills, duties and competencies you’re looking for, too. Here’s help in writing a job description specifically for SEO:

What kind of salary do we pay an SEO?

Figure out the range of salaries you’re willing to pay and it will help you to understand the level of experience you can expect as well. The titles generally go in this order:

  • SEO specialist
  • SEPO analyst/strategist
  • SEO coordinator/associate
  • SEO account manager
  • SEO marketing manager
  • Director of marketing

The national average salary for a search engine specialist ranges from $40,000 to as high as $67,000, depending on how much experience the person has and which city you’re in. Many resources are available to help you understand the right salary ranges., and are the top resources many hiring professionals use today. An infographic from Conductor shares that the average salary can range from $52,613 to as high as six figures for more advanced roles in this field.

Salary Rand for a Search Engine Specialist

Job Postings & Networking

Post open positions on your website and promote them via social media so you can draw in traffic from users searching online. Use job posting sites to help get the word out as well. Each has their pros and cons, largely of which is centered around cost and reach.

LinkedIn ads have served me well for several years. I often find great candidates and, best of all, I am able to quickly and easily see if we have contacts in common and if they are recommended by others.

Facebook Groups and LinkedIn Groups in your local area for marketing professionals are ripe with job postings. Here in Phoenix, I’m part of a group called B.A.M. (Branding, Advertising & Marketing). Over 1,400 members are active within the group and they are happy to help. From hiring to resource planning, groups like these are great to source help from. Do some research and find one near you. Some of the best candidates may come from an employee referral or other source, so it’s important to look beyond just job posting sites, too.

Last, but certainly not least, is getting out there and hitting the pavement. Attend a local marketing event and ask your table if they know any SEOs looking for a job. Head out to a chapter meeting for your local non-profit marketing association and ask for referrals that way. Send your staff reminders of the open position and ask them to share on social media, or mention at networking events, too. This approach will leave no stone unturned.

Narrowing Down Candidates: Resume & Cover Letter Review

If you’re lucky, you’ll receive a flood of resumes and cover letters to your inbox. Where does one even start?

It starts with looking at each resume and pinpointing, quickly, those that just aren’t a good fit. They may not have the experience you’re looking for, or the right education, or they may have a resume ripe with grammatical errors and other indications of lacking attention to detail. Weed these out first. Don’t waste valuable time feeling bad or trying to convince yourself a candidate might fit anyway.

Next, email candidates a series of questions (5-6 works best for me). Ask them to write responses and send them back to you before continuing on in the interview process. That way you’ll see their writing skills, their ability to follow directions, and how quickly they respond with their information. These are all ways to filter out the good candidates, the ones worthy of a phone or in-person interview.

Some additional things to consider as you sift through resumes and cover letters:


SEO hasn’t been around for decades, therefore you’re not likely to find candidates with a long tenure in the field (although they do exist!). Candidates with less than 2 or 3 years of experience can be worthwhile candidates, depending on what you’re looking for.

Many SEOs who have been in the industry for 3-5 years or longer have seen the worst of the worst when it comes to penalties, spam, and the surge of content marketing. Having been in the industry during this time, I can tell you that it allowed SEOs to get good hands-on experience pulling clients out of penalty, future-proofing strategies, and mitigating risks. Can someone with less experience do these things? Certainly! It’s simply something to consider when vetting experience in resumes in relation to your needs.

Ask for a portfolio. Get examples of their work or prior PowerPoint decks they have developed to get insight into their experience. Don’t be shy about asking someone for these things or setting up tests to test them on their knowledge yourself first-hand.


SEO hasn’t been around long enough for major universities to offer degrees in it. Having a marketing-focused or other college degree is not a prerequisite for a great SEO expert, but might be useful. In particular, look for candidates who have degrees with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) influence. These degrees focus on skills an SEO will need.

That said, there are many successful SEOs who have had amazing careers without a college degree. I highly recommend looking at candidates with and without degrees, because you may uncover talent that exceeds what a resume can show. True hands-on experience and excellent on-the-ground results are hard to beat.


Words sprinkled throughout resumes can be a great indicator of a person’s keyword sensibility and fit for your SEO needs. Someone who understands the depth and breadth of online marketing can be an added benefit. Look for experience with content marketing, web development, social media, pay-per-click, email marketing, marketing automation or information technology and related roles within their resume – in addition to experience with SEO, of course.


Candid, unbiased feedback is useful to determine if someone is the right fit or worth the time to interview. References on a resume or LinkedIn recommendations are a good place to look. The best feedback, however, comes from a personal contact you have at the company they used to work at, or work at currently. Many states regulate what an employer can and can’t say about a former employee; make sure you’re aware of the laws in your state to understand what employers can and can’t share.

Social media and a Google search for an individual can provide an unfiltered view of a prospective employee. Should those pictures from Spring Break 2007 affect your decision to hire someone in 2016? Or how about that negative review they wrote about their old company? Depends on your company, your culture and your gut. Other things to look at may include indications of how much attention they pay to details, their professionalism, or even their ability to handle stress. Caveat: do read what Monster has to say about using social to research a potential employee. While you can learn that a potential hire loves all things marketing, you might also learn about that person’s “protected characteristics.” It’s not difficult; just be aware of what’s legal (just as you need to be aware of what you can and cannot ask in an interview).

Red Flags

Even the savviest hiring managers may miss common red flags to avoid when hiring. These red flags include:

  • Someone promising they can get you to #1 in the search engine results, guaranteed. There are no guarantees in SEO. Avoid these candidates.
  • They practice only search engine directory submission services. These are outdated tactics. SEO morphs constantly, your good candidates will be current.
  • Their secrets are proprietary and they cannot share details of what they do as an SEO. This lack of transparency isn’t likely to be what you want in a candidate.
  • They claim a special relationship with Google. Sure, many in the industry have networked with the likes of Matt Cutts, but an in-line to Google? Not very likely.
  • They suggest buying links or link three-way trades as a strategy to improve rankings. This is an outdated that can result in penalization if Google notices.
  • They suggest putting a directory on your website for reciprocal linking opportunities. This is a spam practice and should be avoided at all costs. (As should be anyone who suggests this tactic.)

To get your business found on the web, you’ll need a well-executed SEO strategy. And to make that happen, you need to find and hire the right SEO talent.

Formal Interview: Phone, In Person & Video Conferencing

Once you’ve narrowed down your candidates and are starting the interview process it’s time to think about the types of questions you’ll ask prospective candidates. These questions should include an examination of the candidate’s skillsets, experiences and indications of culture fit. We’ve compiled a few resources to help.

Soft Skills vs. Hard Skills of SEO

Hard skills usually take analytical intelligence, or IQ/left-brain activities. Often, hard skills don’t change company to company or based on circumstance. Soft skills usually require emotional intelligence, or EQ/right-brain activities, and the rules can sometimes change depending on the company or the culture.

A mixture of both is ideal for many positions, and this is especially true in SEO. Try developing your questions around the types of hard and soft skills you require for the role.

Ask questions around these skill sets:

  • Offsite SEO – executing link building campaigns, blogger and influencer outreach, social media, backlink analysis, create disavow files, inbound link strategy development and Penguin penalty analysis.
  • Onsite SEO – conduct keyword research and mapping, collaborating with PPC regarding keyword strategies, examine website architecture, search accessibility, meta data strategies, keyword mapping, canonicalization strategies, duplicate content checks, algorithm changes and ranking analysis.
  • Local SEO – citation claiming and building, structured and unstructured citations, name/address/phone clean up, submitting to local directories and review generation strategies.
  • Technical SEO – redirect management for URLs, rich snippets and Schema, page load speed, server optimizations, mobility, and website crawl and analysis.
  • Internet Marketing Generalist – analytics and reporting, content marketing, social media marketing, and methods for driving traffic.

Complementary, nice to have skills

  • Web Development – someone with experience in web development environments could help implement SEO recommendations and lessen the barrier between recommending and implementing.
  • Pay-Per-Click – running a PPC campaign aids in an SEO’s understanding of how to perform keyword research, observe search patterns, understand search user intent extensively and focus on ROI activities.
  • Marketing Automation Certification – knowledgeable about implementing code and set up onsite for a proper marketing automation campaign.
  • Excel mastery – so much of SEO involves downloading reports, looking at lines of code and sorting, resorting and sorting some more. Excel experts who understand advanced pivot tables, concatenation, VBA, macros and statistical analysis could be beneficial in an SEO role.
  • User experience and user interface affect how long a user stays on your site, how engaged they are, and which links they click. All these factors are important for SEO today. A UX/UI expert could provide additional skills to help improve your audience’s onsite performance.
  • Experience with servers and server analysis – understanding what server code errors are, how to fix them, how to improve server speed and troubleshooting caching issues are an incredibly technical skillset and very valuable in this field.
  • Conversion Rate Optimization – CRO strategy and experience implementing tests can come in handy. Having one person handle the optimization of your site, including CRO, might mean you could consolidate two positions.
  • Google Analytics Certified – forensic SEO often requires a baseline level knowledge of Google Analytics, but a deeper understanding can help uncover more opportunities for SEO improvement.

Interview Questions

Need some help coming up with actual questions to ask? Here are 15 to help you get started, and links to a few sites with more. Note that if you decide to hire an agency rather than add an employee, all these questions will serve your goals for those interviews also.

  • Explain your methodology for increasing rankings for a website.
  • What clients have you worked with in the past?
  • Have you worked on a site that has been penalized?
  • What is your process for remedying a penalization?
  • Explain the value of SEO like you would to someone unfamiliar with what SEO is.
  • Do you handle development and code implementation?
  • What is your specialty in SEO?
  • How strictly do you adhere to search engines’ Webmaster guidelines?
  • What are the differences between strategies for Local SEO and a national SEO strategy?
  • How do you measure the success of your SEO work?
  • What tools do you use and how do you stay on top of new tools?
  • List the ways in which you set client expectations about SEO efforts.
  • What common SEO spam tactics are you familiar with, and when is the last time you implemented a spam tactic, if ever?
  • Tell us what you know about LSI.
  • How do you conduct competitive analysis for SEO?
  • Tell us about the biggest SEO project you’ve ever worked on and what your contributions were to the project.
  • How do you scale SEO activities?

Interview Question Resources


Hiring the right person to handle search engine optimization or oversee your SEO team is an important decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly. If you are ready to hire an SEO take these tips into consideration to hire the best fit for the role. Good luck in finding your next hire!

Have an expert hiring tip or favorite interview question? Share with us in the comments below.