Do things that work for you is a motto that I love to live by, but you have to understand when certain things have to be taken a bit more seriously. For example, if you like to cook, there’s going to be a time in your cooking life that you’ll meet someone that does things so backwards, it ends up better than anything you’ve ever done. For me, this was the realization that tinfoil on baking pans makes cleanup a breeze.
Cooking aside, the reason for this necessity to recognize areas to take seriously is all in regards to places where people are self-taught. That night I learned about the beauty of tinfoil in the oven came from a night back in college where my friend had run out of any cooking medium. Instead of letting his chicken bake to the pan, he decided he’d rather cut off a centimeter of chicken that the foil attached to rather than bake it to his pan. Little did he know that it would also double as a cleanup dream?
Many SEO professionals are self-taught from other disciplines, and thus their skillset may deviate greatly from their resume. I have been on interviews with people with an impressive resume that had no idea what “rel=canonical” was, and also interviewed someone with no SEO experience desperate for a job that had elite-level server side cache experience. So here are a few things that every SEO should know about, and how to ask in an interview.
1) How do you keep Up with Changes in Search?
I love this question as an icebreaker, as it’s an easy one for the interviewee, and lets you get in his head a little more. For the most part, you’ll hear the Google Webmaster Blog, SEOMoz, Search Engine Journal, Search Engine Land, and SEOBook.com
After they name drop, always ask about an article on one of the sites that really helped them move forward. It not only lets to check to see if they do actually follow those blogs, but it will give you a glimpse into what kind of SEO they are. Some people love to chase algorithms, while others try to find Paradigms that stay consistent through algorithm changes; the latter will always make for a stronger employee.
2) How would you handle this situation?
As much as I’d love to be able to sit someone down with a computer opened to Google Analytics and ask them to do a few things, most interviews don’t allow for this type of technical interface with a potential employee. Instead, I like to throw up a little something on the whiteboard, and ask them to take a look at it and give me their opinion. I purposely choose a topic that isn’t one of their strengths, because the point of the exercise to see how they get through a thought process.
For example, I sometimes put up this little doohickey:
Keyword Clicks PPC Conversion %
Brand 100 $100 2%
Umbrellas 70 $70 2%
Rain Coats 200 $150 3.5%
There is no right or wrong answer here, although I tend to like hearing people talk about the LACK of information in the graph. I like to hear people talk about Target Networks, Margin per conversion, and the basic inherent advantage of focusing on Umbrellas because of its 30% lag behind its more expensive competition. It’s nice to hear what the person has to say about a particular project.
3) What is Canonicalization? Why is it good? How is it Misused?
Google has a severe hatred for duplicate content; that much is pure fact. With every algorithm change we hear about more sophisticated filters that make better relationships between spun articles, and plenty about how the entirety of the link profile for every site is being examines.
The way to deal with this on your own site is Canonicalization, and if you consider how much Google hates duplicate content, it’s a necessity for SEO’s to know about. Canonical urls allow for you to designate duplicate content and aggregate it to a single source.
The wrench in the spokes is asking how it is misused. Many people can read and simply recite how something works, but when you make them break it, you really get a handle on how well they understand that piece of code. My ideal answer is to distinguish the use of Canonicalization as best for blogs and non-eCommerce sites. For the opposite, rel=next/prev is far more appropriate to help spread rank to interior pages for products and categories.
Pete Wise is a White-Hat SEO Jedi working for Customer Paradigm. The Internet Marketing team here are experts in SEO Optimization backed by some of the best Magento Developers on the planet.
- Press Releases and the Duplicate Content Penalty Issue (virtual-strategy.com)
- The SEO versus Content tension: a dialogue (onemanandhisblog.com)