by Juan Robin II
Use this guide to create an SEO skills test and hire the most qualified SEO Manager for your team!
I was a new team lead. I knew the ins and outs of being a good SEO and a good content creator, but within my first month as a manager I faced a challenge I had never had to tackle before…
Someone left and I had to find a backfill.
I started desperately Googling things like “interview questions” and “what to look for in a new employee” but quickly realized that was too generic for what I needed. There was really no guidance available on what makes a good SEO manager. I had to wing it.
What I wish I would have thought of back then was creating an SEO assessment. My organization had test projects for content developers based on writing prompts, but there was really nothing comparable to gauge a prospective SEO’s skillset.
An assessment like this might be good for a second stage interview after your candidate has passed a basic round one interview. If you already know you like this person, the next step is to make sure they can walk the talk.
What to cover in an SEO skills test
There are so many things you could cover in an SEO quiz for your prospective new hire.
Generally though, there are three main pillars that I think represent SEO well on the whole: technical (the foundation), content (the house), and links (authority — yeah, yeah… I couldn’t keep up with the house analogy).
A good test of your prospective SEO manager’s skills should hit somewhere in the middle.
Just keep in mind that, while I think this is a good representation of SEO on the whole, it’s not comprehensive. For example, local SEO isn’t addressed here, so if you run a local SEO agency then you could choose to focus on GMB optimization, NAP, etc. Cater your assessment to your unique needs.
How to structure your SEO skills test
There are three main types of SEO assessments that I’ve seen:
- The multiple choice test: These are the types of tests that ask things like “what’s a robots.txt file”? These tests gauge someone’s head knowledge (or their Googling prowess), but don’t gauge their practical, rubber-meets-the-road skills.
- The checklist: These types of tests give someone a list of tasks to see how well they’re able to perform them. For example, “change this title tag.” These tests stop short of gauging someone’s problem-solving abilities.
- The ambiguous audit: This might involve handing someone a website and saying “see what you can find.” These can be highly subjective: your candidate might focus on the “wrong” things (things you don’t care about your new hire knowing), and the candidate could just end up relying on tools to do a lot of the work for them.
While all have their merits, none of them felt 100% appropriate for gauging a potential new hire’s SEO chops. That’s why I landed on a hybrid.
You’re not just handing your prospect a website and saying “see what you find,” but you’re not just having them color-by-number either. What you’re doing is asking them guiding questions about a specific website, such as “what’s wrong with this?” “Why?” and “How would you fix it?”
Setting them up for the test
There are a few considerations you need to make before handing them the test and wishing them good luck. For example:
- How much time do they have? Decide whether you want to bring your candidate in for a 3-hour window (good if you’re watching out for the Costanzas of the bunch) or whether they can take the assessment home and email it back by a certain date.
- What website will they be evaluating? You’ll have to decide whether you’ll be giving them a website you control or picking a random website. If it’s a website you control, try not to choose an immaculate website — give them something to find.
- What tools can they use? You might want to let them use their preferred auditing tools or you can suggest they use your team’s preferred tools (if you have any).
- Will you pay them for their time? There are differing opinions on this, but if you’re giving them a project that you know will take more than a few hours (especially if you might end up using their findings to improve the website) I would consider paying them for their time.
Content: Can your candidate discern high quality?
This section will focus on gauging how well your candidate understands what type of content it takes to perform well in the search engines for particular queries.
Here’s what I might suggest asking:
- Find the low-quality content on example.com and list some examples here. Why are they low quality?
- How would you recommend fixing the low-quality content? Why would that method work?
This will show you if they have a good grasp of what search engines like Google consider low quality content, and what viable courses of action exist for remedying it.
For example, you might expect to get back something like this:
Example.com/page-two/ is low quality because it is a near-duplicate of example.com/page-one/. It’s also getting little-to-no organic traffic. If it’s necessary to keep /page-two/ on the website, you could add a rel=canonical to indicate which version of the pages is the primary/original. If /page-two/ needs to remain in the index, consider modifying the content so it’s unique. If it’s not necessary to keep /page-two/ on the website, consider 301 redirecting it to /page-one/.
Again, you’re just looking for whether they understand what low-quality content is, how to find it, and how to address it.
Other content-related questions you might want to consider asking:
- What topical gaps (if any) exist in this website’s content?
- What are some reasons their competitor’s content might be performing better?
Links: Does your candidate know how to build authority & avoid penalties?
This section would focus on gauging how well your prospective SEO Manager understands inbound links (backlinks) and their effect on a domain/page’s performance in search results. Again, without giving too much away, I would instruct them to:
- Find any inbound links that might be harming example.com’s performance. Why are they harmful?
- What action would you recommend taking to address the harmful inbound links? Why?
For these types of questions, you might expect to get something back like this:
Example.com has a number of inbound links utilizing exact-match anchor text that are not nofollow and appear to match Google’s definition of a link scheme, specifically “low-quality directory or bookmark site links.” They do not appear to be harming the site’s performance in search results, but you could add these links to their disavow file preemptively.
Other link-related questions you could consider asking:
- What’s one strategy you would recommend using to help this site get more links? Why?
- Benchmark this site’s links against its competitors and list out any key insights you find.
Technical: Does your candidate know what makes a strong website foundation?
“Technical” is broad and not everyone agrees where the lines are drawn between technical and non-technical activities, but here, I’m using “technical” to refer to uncovering your prospective SEO Manager’s competence at diagnosing and fixing any barriers to crawling, issues with the indexing of a site’s content, areas for improving how a search engine understands the website, and areas for improving the user experience.
- Are there any crawl inefficiencies/problems with this website? If so, please describe what they are and how you would fix them.
- Are there any issues with how the pages appear in the index? If so, please describe what they are and how you would fix them.
In response, you might expect to get an answer such as:
As is common with many e-commerce websites, this one uses a faceted navigation. However, because these filters are open to crawlers, crawl budget is being wasted on non-unique, thin pages. Disallow crawlers from crawling non-valuable facets in robots.txt to save crawl budget.
Other questions you might consider asking to gauge their technical chops:
- How does this site utilize (or fail to utilize) structured data? Why is that significant?
- What (if anything) is harming visitor experience on this website? How would you fix?
The work doesn’t stop there…
I hope these tips on developing an SEO assessment help not only make the hiring process easier, but help you get the best SEO talent you can — your team deserves it!
But we also know that adding a new member to your SEO team involves so much more than this. You’ll need to work with your organization’s hiring manager to put together the job posting and you’ll also need to invest in training this new employee so they can hit the ground running quickly to start making an impact for your team.
We hear ya — that’s why we also put together “The Agency’s Guide to Finding & Onboarding New SEO Managers” white paper.
If you’ve ever been tasked with finding, assessing, hiring, and training a new SEO manager, we’d love to hear from you! What methods have been successful for you in the past? What mistakes can you help others avoid? Share them in the comments.