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Update: SEO Issues - is it Penguin? Is it Panda? or is it me?

It was a little over a year ago that I posted the " SEO Issues - is it Penguin? Is it Panda? or is it me? " in which I detailed o...

Monday, February 19, 2018

Keyword Categorization

What is Keyword Categorization?

Simply put keyword categorization is the process in which you organize search phrases by common words. Organizing keywords helps structure your website capturing all phases of the buying process.

As mentioned in my post in 2013 "Categorizing Keywords" I cover the importance of categorizing keywords, but also a quick way to do it in Excel. This is a great strategy when working with a smaller set of terms, but what happens if you need to focus on larger sets including millions of terms to categorize that will most likely break you excel document?

There are tools like Conductor's Searchlight and Keylime that are great for dynamically tagging your terms with common words so that you can quickly categorize them. As more terms are added to your searches the dynamic tagging will add them without any additional effort from you. So easy!

Not every business has the thousands per month budget to shell out for these awesome tools so manually or setting up your own means of tagging is going to have to be done. Using Excel you can export your terms from Google Search Console and a simple sumif formula will pull in the totals for your terms.

For this lesson I am going to use my keyword list around auto make, models and year make model searches to categorize with the three distinct categories, and additional tagging to understand how many terms are reviews or the long tail and "for sale" that would be a high intent to convert.

We'll start with our exported CSV file that you'll pull from Google Search Console, Keylime, or or Keyword Planner. It should look something like this when you first open it up:
Downloaded CSV File from Google Search Console
Downloaded CSV File from Keyword Planner
 As you can see you will have three or 5 important columns. The Keyword column holds the list of terms you're going to set your lookup against. The data following falls under your Impressions, Clicks and additionally Click Through Rate and Average Position. We're going to focus on Impressions and Clicks for this exercise and use a formula to calculate the CTR from there.

Start by saving your document as an Excel Workbook. Formulas won't work in CSV.
Saving CSV as Excel WOrkbook
 Next up you'll want to create a new tab. I usually name the tab "Lookup" so that I know that this is where all my criteria I want to lookup is located.
Adding a new tab in Excel called "Lookup"
To make it easier to type in formulas and manage then I like to name the criteria that I will be using. In this case we are naming A2 through A55 "Make", doing the same with "MakeModel" and "YearMakeModel". I additionally will name the "All" tab columns as "Term" for the Keyword list, "Impressions", and "Clicks".
Excel naming feature

How to Sum Cells by List of Criteria

Using this formula and method only looks for exact match phrases to the keyword phrases in the cell and adds up all into a total. 

The formula will look like this:

=SUMPRODUCT(SUMIF(Term, Make, Impressions))

How the formula works is by using the first array which contains the TRUE / FALSE values that result from the expression (SUMPRODUCT) then using the SUMIF criteria to lookup the range (Term), Criteria (Make) and finally Sum Range (Impressions). Only the Terms that include the list of the criteria will be added up, or "summed".

Excel Sum cells by list of criteria

Excel Sum Cells by List of Criteria and is Included (not Exact)

In this case we want to add up all the keywords that include a few specific words within them. So we need to use the SUM formula to add up each of the words we have in our Lookup. In this case we have set three terms that we believe have a high user intent to purchase that are "for sale", "used" and "priced under".

A normal SUMIF sets the Range we want to lookup, the criteria of what to look for, and then what we want totaled. In this case the criteria involves a word that is located somewhere in the phrase so we will be using a wild card before and after. Ex: SUMIF(Term,"*for sale*",Impressions).

Because we are using criteria in a cell we need to concatenate the star to complete the formula. Ex:"*"&Lookups!E2&"*"

Since the Intent list just includes three words we'll SUM all three as a total.

=SUM((SUMIF(Term,"*"&Lookups!E2&"*",Impressions)),(SUMIF(Term,"*"&Lookups!E3&"*",Impressions)),(SUMIF(Term,"*"&Lookups!E4&"*",Impressions)))
Excel Sumif list within terms in cell
In order to calculate the Click Through Rate we'll just divide the Clicks total by the Impressions and format at a percentage.
=C3/B3

I have saved the excel document I used for this example in my Google Drive so you can download and play with. The numbers for the terms are completely falsified, so don't be using them to optimize your auto site. 

Depending on what data you need to look at for your terms, you can use these formulas to quickly add up totals to help you understand how your SEO is working, and determine what you will need to build out to capture new opportunities.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Enterprise SEO - Four Pillars to Making In-House SEO a Success

I began my career as an in-house SEO in 2006 and while I have worked in a few roles as Director of all of Digital Marketing for startups and for an agency. However, I prefer working as an Enterprise SEO in-house. While there are many pros and cons to working for agencies (which I covered in 2009 SEO Career - Agency vs. In-House SEO) I have really found my place and have had great successes in-house for enterprise organizations. One major factor in this decision is that I have just one client and (usually) one website to focus all of my energy and efforts on. In the case at Nordstrom, in which I was the SEO Manager, I had an entire team helping me manage many aspects of the site. As the site gets larger, more complex, more people and other teams to work with and more revenue generating it becomes imperative that there are more people involved with SEO that specialize in key aspects that make the channel successful for the business. The main reason is that there are four major pillars to making SEO a success in an enterprise organization. Those four pillars include:

  1. SEO Mitigation - error management and/or technical SEO
  2. SEO Analysis/Reporting - calculating assumptions and reporting on successes
  3. SEO Project Management - determining growth and managing projects for SEO
  4. Relationship Building for SEO - Championing SEO to stakeholders and other teams

Some larger enterprise organizations will have robust teams that support the big four, with addition of SEOs that have expertise in various fields (for example an SEO that is focused on local in the U.S. or perhaps outside the U.S. for a specific country, LATAM, EMEA, etc). Some medium sized corporations or startups will often just have one SEO Manager that acts as an individual contributor that will cover all four of the key aspects on their own until the organization supports bringing on more people to take on one or a few parts (that was me in my early years). Whatever the structure for the SEO or the SEO Team in a startup, medium sized company or enterprise organization the success of SEO within that company relies on managing all four aspects successfully.

I'll dive into each one a bit more to help explain how each plays a role in making an enterprise SEO successful.

SEO Mitigation - error management and/or technical SEO

Engineers will overlook what's best for SEO.
It's up to the SEO to mitigate any issues that might arise.
No matter how supportive companies are of SEO within the organization, there are always going to be issues that come up that will negatively affect SEO. Whether it be a video project that one team launches in which the videos are in an iframe with no JSON or Schema to support them or a set of pages that generate filter URLs causing duplicate content.. The issues not only need to be identified quickly before causing any possible damage or inadvertent spamming, but they need a solution that is fully acceptable (white hat) and prioritized with assumptions associated in order to mitigate the situation.

In my experience, Since SEO equals revenue for the business, I have found it best, in an enterprise situation, to get the teams responsible for key components of the website that effect SEO to become the bestest of friends to the SEO involved. In most cases the individuals responsible for these parts of the site value SEO and understand that if they play by the rules set by Google that they will be successful in their roles. The struggle they face, though, is that they just don't know what all of the rules are; and they shouldn't be expected to. While an SEO might not know what color a button should be and where in order to drive conversions; or what merchandise should appear on what pages linked to from top navigation that an expert hired does, those experts shouldn't be expected to understand SEO at the level that a highly technical SEO does. Therefore, those teams may have a difficult time understanding the impact some of their decisions can make both negatively and positively for SEO, and look to the SEO to help them understand.

The SEO tasked with technical SEO should insert themselves into meetings, gaining trust, and being viewed as an authority in SEO to help mitigate any potential issues within the enterprise SEO landscape. In addition, staying on top of the landscape of the site and how it pertains to SEO is key. Tools like Moz (for medium sized companies), Botify, Deepcrawl, Conductor and Brightedge  allows the SEO to really dig into the site to identify any issues. For smaller sites that don't have the large budgets for enterprise SEO simply using Google's Search Console is a great way to see into how Google is viewing the site. SEOs can manage parameters, identify server code errors (,404, soft 404, and 500), understand page indexing, incoming and internal links, schema markup and many important factors that Google takes into consideration.

Let's say an SEO identified a set of pages that are extremely valuable to the business in which they generate traffic from SEO but the average position is low as a result of issues with duplicate or very similar content, and even thin content (falling under Google's Penguin updates). Ecommerce websites are the biggest culprit of developing hundreds of thousands (or even millions) of URLs that are all similar to one another. Because of the way users browse of search for products in different ways, most product teams want to develop multiple touch points in which the user can access products. Let's use a simple heel shoe for example. A user that is searching for a specific shoe like a dress shoe with a thick block heel might search "block heel pumps" but they also might search "chunky heel pumps" or "block platform heels". Unfortunately you end up with search results that look like this:
All of these pages are from the same website that all have the same (or very similar) content on them because block heels, chunky heels and block heels for women are all essentially the same.

Most enterprise companies will have a dedicated SEO focusing on the technical side of the SEO, but smaller companies that don't have the budget for large teams will most often hire just one SEO in which that person should be spending a good amount of time monitoring and mitigating any issues that might come up.

SEO Analysis/Reporting - calculating assumptions and reporting on successes

Identifying growth for SEO and reporting on successes
 are key to gaining buy in from stakeholders.
Proper SEO should never be focused just on identifying issues and fixing them. A really good SEO and SEO Team will be more proactive than just reactive. In order to grow traffic and revenue from SEO a company needs to constantly innovate and add to it to grab new opportunities.

Keyword analysis plays a major role in identifying opportunity for SEO. Using a tool like Conductor or Brightedge allows you to plug in a few terms that are driving traffic to the site and suggest additional terms that the site may not show up for that are similar. By bucketing those terms you can develop a strategy around a set of high volume and additional long tail terms with a strong user intent to purchase that will grab searches you might not necessarily show up for. With these reports come average search volume that will give you an estimated number of how many times those terms are used in a search. By using these numbers, an SEO can calculate an estimated percentage of ranking that they believe the site could obtain the first month (and subsequent months as Google indexes and places the pages of site for these terms). This number with a break down from an estimated click through rate and conversion rate with average purchase number will allow the SEO to show what the value would be if a project for those terms were to be completed. A great example of this is a keyword analysis I had completed around search for car makes, models and the long tail high intent to purchase year make model (ex: 2012 honda accord). During my research I had identified additional terms around reviews, for sale, used, and more that all would provide value to the user, but the website wasn't generating much traffic from SEO for. Using this analysis in conjunction with a report on what traffic and revenue the site was generating for these terms I put together a presentation for the company's VPs and CEO. The numbers generated from this report were also used to report against after the launch of the project.

In addition to a Keyword analysis a good enterprise SEO will know how to draft up assumptions of revenue increase when any work around SEO is done. Even the fixes that are talked about above that mitigate SEO for issues. Using the duplicate and similar content mentioned before, knowing how to fix this isn't enough. SEOs know just by looking at the situation that the issue is a problem and by making the corrections there will be an increase in traffic. However, expressing what the increase in traffic will be when the issue is resolved is what is required by an enterprise SEO. By understanding how much the click through rate will improve with an average position increase the SEO can then calculate the current click through rate adding the percentage increase if the average position of those pages saw an improvement. From there the SEO would take the average conversion rate with average order value to show the estimated revenue increase if the correction were to be made.

The SEO isn't finished with estimations and assumptions. Most enterprise SEOs are asked "what happened with that project we did?" or "How did that fix we did impact the business?". Using tools like Google Analytics in conjunction with Conductor the SEO can then report against the assumptions originally set. Conductor even has a great tool in Searchlight for Business Cases in which you plug in your estimates and it will track performance for you. For smaller sites setting up custom reports in Google Analytics works, and monitoring average position for a set of keywords that include a common word (or a few) as well as pages in Google Search Console will work.

SEO Project Management - determining growth and managing projects for SEO

SEO isn't just about being reactive.
It's about being proactive with projects that capture new opportunities.
Using the keyword analysis an SEO will often complete a full evaluation of a set of terms that could potentially constitute a project. In my role at Classmates in 2006 I had developed two major projects around developing pages for schools (we called "affiliations") and a set of pages around people's names. The idea behind the two was to have a page show up in the search results when a user would search for their school or an old friend. We even set the pages up so that they would also show for users that would be trying to find an old friend from school in a specific city.

Knowing that we wanted to target those search terms wasn't enough for SEO. I was tasked with writing up a project brief that would detail out exactly everything that was needed in order to get any sort of results. With SEO, content is key so I had added requirements around content that was valuable to the user. Working with other teams we brainstormed what users might find valuable that the business would allow us to expose outside of being logged in. I even had our legal team in the room to weigh in on what was legally allowed to expose to the public. Unfortunately, there wasn't much we could use that was provided by users so we identified data driven content (ex: people with similar names from different schools, nearby schools, rival schools, etc)  that would provide value and would be unique to each page. Requirements around friendly URLs with a hierarchy (directory to file structure), breadcrumbs, etc all were added to the project brief. I was assigned a Project Manager who I worked closely with to ensure the project was moving along and all things SEO were being addressed.

At every enterprise company I have worked with in SEO I have developed major projects. From the names and schools at Classmates to location pages at usedcars.com and Nordstrom, and even the make model and year make model project from the keyword analysis example I mentioned earlier. Each and every one of the initiatives was set up with a Project Brief and managed through a Project Manager for SEO and overseen by myself.

Relationship Building for SEO - Championing SEO to stakeholders and other teams

Nothing will ever get done for SEO
if there isn't buy-in from other teams.
One of my favorite lines to say is "90% of an in-house SEO's success stems from relationships." I covered this a bit in my post in 2007 "In-House SEO Isn't Just Optimizing" in which I state:
But what I am most thankful for is the ability to communicate and work with other individuals within the company. While my main responsibilities may be to not only increase traffic to the website through natural search marketing, my success stems from the success of others.
I wrote that post during my time at Concur in which I was on a team that was extremely collaborative. We all seemed to help each other out with our roles even though we had specific responsibilities. There were a few people on the team that knew SEO and that I could bounce ideas off of. We would work together to come up with a plan. The team included the engineering team, designers, copy writers, and paid media channels. I specifically remember a project in which the directive came from above to create a community website around travel stories for our users. Using Eloqua as an email marketing tool we all sat in a room and developed a plan around user sign up with email touch rules that encouraged engagement. I was representing SEO, but was asked to provide ideas in all aspects, even the emails (which had nearly no value to SEO, though I snuck in some ideas around link sharing encouragement).

While I wrote my post while at Concur, my realization of how much the success in my role was reliant on others was years before while working at Classmates. I found myself in heated discussions with the head of engineering and often pushing the analytics team out of their comfort zone that wasn't getting me very far. I soon took the approach of  inviting key stake holders to lunch and even set up weekly happy hours every Thursday that the CEO would attend to help build relationships I needed to gain buy-in for SEO. I soon became everyone's closest friend and was able to work through issues identified without arguing. As a result, over 10 years later I am still very close friends with quite a few people I worked with and had the head of engineering speak at one of my conferences a few years back.

During my time at Nordstrom I set up the goals of the team around strengthening relationships with other teams and being viewed as one voice of authority around SEO. I encouraged each team member to communicate often and stressed the importance of grabbing a cup of coffee or inviting people on other teams to lunch from time to time. I even found by going to lunch with a few of the stakeholders they worked in conjunction with me to prioritize projects where the team had gotten empty promises or push back in the past. Had I not have built those relationships and gotten to know the people I would not have the friends I have now, nor the support that SEO needed during my time there.

I'm not quite sure how most enterprise SEOs structure their work, if they focus on the four key aspects that I mentioned or if they have other structures they have established that work for them. I do know that after nearly 20 years working in SEO that the success that comes from SEO stems from these four key parts. For without one or another SEO would be simply just rolling along relying on the brand that a company has established as authority. But to show actual growth in enterprise SEO outside of the usual industry trends and relying on social media or PR to do it, a successful SEO will have a keen ability to mitigate SEO issues,  analyse and report on SEO, develop and manage projects for growth and have strong relationships with others within the organization.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Updated: Looking for a Position in SEO? Interview Question Examples and Answers

Whether you are looking to hire someone in SEO or you are an SEO looking for work yourself this post should hopefully help you gain some insight into the most common questions asked during an interview, along with some sample answers I will tend to give based on my experience.

The following questions are a list pulled together from various interviews I have been through throughout the years. My answers are from recent work, and from past, in order to best portray my experience and knowledge for the work I would be performing for my potential employer. I also added some notes to give insight into what the interviewer might be looking for, and why I choose the answer I used.

For SEOs Looking for Work


The point of this blog post is to give you some insight into how a seasoned SEO might answer these questions. Please... please, please... do not use these for your own answers. A lot of what is in here is very specific to my experience, and will not be beneficial for you to use yourself during an interview. These answers might not necessarily be best for all positions with every company either. The idea here is for you to take these questions and formulate how you might answer them, helping you to be more prepared when that time comes.

For Companies Hiring an SEO


The idea behind the questions is to help you start drafting the basics of what an SEO could be asked, and examples of what the answer could be. Please don't base your hiring an SEO on what my answers are. SEO is part art and part science. Every answer from any SEO will be different, as all SEOs have a different approach to how they optimize. The main goal for SEO is that rankings increase, traffic increases, and therefore revenue increases. How you get there is all subjective, just as long as you know the SEO will be able to get there.

  1. Tell me about yourself.

  2. Note: In some cases I get the "How did you get into SEO", but in most cases the usual "tell me about yourself" is what starts off most interviews. In general I usually try to throw them 3 words that describe me and then follow-up with a bit to highlight my experience and skills that will fit the position they are looking for. This answer could change if the job description focuses more on a certain personality or skill trait.

    Answer: Well, I'm Fun, Organized, and Passionate. I generally love the people I work with. I have, in the past, become very close with my team, and across other teams. I believe in order to get work done for SEO, you must have a good relationship with everyone in the organization. Being a part of the team that helps plan fun activities, or just plan lunches, happy hours, etc myself allows me to really get to know everyone. My organizational skills have allowed me to be able to function well in SEO. To prioritize and organize the tasks and projects needed to get done for SEO. Understanding the impact to level of effort has been important to getting buy in, and championing work through. My "Passion" as I put in quotes comes from a few of my previous bosses. I was called a "bulldog" by my CEO at Classmates.com and my previous boss at ADP barked at our agency to "show the same passion that Jennifer has". I am passionate about SEO, about the company I work for, and want to drive them both to success.

  3. Explain the difference between Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM)

  4. Note: I have found quite often that if you are going through a recruiter, being hired as an SEO where there are no other SEOs within the organization, or the hiring manager (potentially your boss) is not an SEO and does not understand SEO may not know that all of search marketing or what they call "Search Engine Marketing" includes both paid and natural search. In fact, in the past I have been asked paid search questions like "What process do you usually follow to determine how you set your bids?" when interviewing for an SEO position. Quite a lot of companies nowadays will consider SEM or "Search Engine Marketing" to be paid search (Adwords, Bing Advertising, Yahoo! Advertising) and SEO or "Search Engine Optimization" is considered natural search optimization. What I usually do is simply explain what I see as the difference between the two giving a bit of the history to show my years of experience.

    Answer: It used to be that Search Engine Marketing was considered all of paid and natural search. Paid search or PPC eventually became SEM, and now people refer to natural search as SEO which is more on-site work and link building to get the website to show up without having to pay per click.

  5. What is your SEO Super Power?

  6. Note: This question isn't asked often, but can come up in this form or another. What they are looking for are possible strengths or approaches for SEO. Every SEO has a different approach. Some focus heavily on link building, some on database development, some on user generated content, etc. 

    Answer: My approach is highly content and structural based. I highly believe that a well structured site followed by unique content is key to success for SEO. The content can be written by hand, or developed from a database with thousands of pages produced with data driven content unique to each page. What I have become known most for in my years of optimizing is local SEO. At the agency in 2004 our team managed to optimize a lot of local lawyers, Realtors, and various businesses for local terms. I later translated what we did on a larger scale for Classmates.com as we optimized for what they called "affiliations" which where high schools, colleges and universities. There was a page for each one developed from the database and structured by location. So you could search any school in a city and/or state and see the page for that school show up. I carried that to my savethebreakfastsandwich.com site that was started in an attempt to convince Starbucks to keep the breakfast sandwiches. The site had gotten quite a lot of press, and was even mentioned in Howard Schultz's book. I had pulled a database of every city and state from the USPS.com site, and optimized pages for the term "starbucks in.." followed by each of those city and states. In 2013 I optimized the usedcars.com site at ADP to show up for "used cars in..." followed by any city and state.  In some instances a user would see a city page show up for the city they are in when searching just "used cars" because Google recognizes the location. I have been able to translate what works for local SEO to other projects such as optimizing for brands of cars for usedcars.com, and into more general terms. In 2018 I directed the team at Nordstrom around a local initiative that not only included reworking the local landing pages that were in existence, but to incorporate a strategy for listings in sites like Yelp and Google My Business with a vendor called SweetIQ to help manage. The project also included the Nordstrom Rack team, and initiatives around the various services Norstrom has to offer (alterations, spa, restaurants, cafe, etc) as well as drive product encouraging users to reserve online and try in-store to bridge the gap between online and offline shopping. 

  7. What does your typical work day look like?

  8. Note: What the interviewer is looking for with this question is how much of your day is spent focusing on SEO and the business. I will usually roll in how I approach all of my positions at any company and then move into my most recent work with reporting since that was a huge focus at ADP and tends to be important to a lot of larger corporations these days. The trick s to look at what appears to be most important to the hiring company in their job description and align your typical work day happenings with that they are looking for.

    Answer: I'm a pretty early riser so I get in around 8 am, sometimes as early as 7 am. I like to use that part of the day in the office before meetings start and everyone gets in to go through all my check points for SEO. I will of course check email and answer any that need immediate attention. Then open up Google Analytics and look at the numbers for the day before. I open up Webmaster Tools and look for any warnings, or any issues that might stand out. If a Moz report has ran, I will look at that and dig into any issues that might come up. If all checks out OK, or the issues are pretty quick to deal with, I will look at the SEO groups I belong to for any updates in the industry, check my Twitter for updates from Google, Matt Cutts, and other SEOs. Then browse through articles and blogs to see if there are any updates or forecasts that I might need to pay attention to. My most recent position at ADP required me to manage all of the reporting and analytics for the usedcars.com website. So, I would update what we called the "daily reports" with traffic numbers, spend, lead volume, and update revenue. Then report on trending numbers, week over week, projected revenue for the month, etc. A report would go out in email every morning with the numbers and any details as to why, if there was a noticeable rise or fall. 

  9. What tools do you use and why?

  10. Note: Believe it or not, this one used to stump me. I've never been a huge fan of automating SEO for any reason, so tools was one of those faux pa questions for me. My answer would be "I don't use tools, I optimize naturally". Well, that was wrong... Because I did, and still do, use tools to help me do my job. In this case now, I mention everything that I use to help me monitor, optimize and evaluate for SEO.

    Answer: Most of the tools I use are to help me gain insight into what is going on with a website. I believe it's important to be able to evaluate how a crawler sees a site before launch preventing any issues, perform keyword and competitive analysis, and to monitor performance regularly. I have a Moz account, and have had one for years. I use that to check for Errors and pinpoint what the source of the error is so that the fix can get prioritized. Unfirtunately Moz doesn't work for larger enterprise SEO though, so tools like Botify and Deepcrawl are great for getting into deeper insights. Conductor, Brightedge and Searchmetrics are all very good for reporting on SEO, quickly gathering opportunity data and helping to strengthen relationships within an organization by giving others access. I also use webmaster tools to monitor for messages from Google, to track performance, and to watch for errors that the other tools did or did not catch. For enterprise SEO it is good to have a Keylime account to capture more data from Google Search Console and to be able to run comparison reports that are older than just 90 days. I use xenu to crawl the site, or a section/project before launch to gain insight into how the bots will crawl and address any issues that might show up. I use Google Analytics, Adobe Anlytics/Omniture, Coremetrics, Tableau (or other analytics tool), and internal reporting to monitor performance. I also use the analytics tools to gain insight into what is working and where there might be any room for improvement. I look at Adwords search terms reports for campaigns to identify what terms perform well, ad messaging with a high click through rate for meta tags, and see if there are any highly expensive terms we can target for SEO that we could get for free to maximize revenue. When performing a competitive analysis I have a few tools to check keyword count and densities of ranking pages, I will also often look at spyfu to evaluate how the competition is doing.

  11. What SEO Blogs and authors do you follow?

  12. Note: This question can go one of two ways, either the interviewer is an experienced SEO, or is learning SEO and knows who they pay attention to. So if I were to miss any of the ones they follow then that's a bad sign. The other possible scenario is that they do not know SEO at all and they were instructed to ask this question. If that is the case, then they might have the basic few that should be mentioned written down somewhere. In either case, I always make sure I answer with the important basics to follow for SEO. Another thing to note on this, in the years I have learned that even though a lot of the people I follow are acquaintances, friends, or even very close friends I have in the industry, I leave the name dropping and association out of it. I'm not getting hired because I know people, I'm getting hired because I know how to optimize a website. 

    Answer: I mostly focus on the Google Webmaster Tools blogs, with some on Search Engine Land, ClickZ, and Moz publications. I will occasionally pay attention to Ian Lurie, Bruce Clay, and Barry Schwartz for insights and updates on algorithms. I also hit up the SEO Group on Facebook that includes a lot of the thought leaders that participate regularly. If I have a complex question I usually go there or to my closest SEO friends for help or verification that I'm making the right decision. 

  13. Give an example of how you increased SEO for your recent employer.

  14. Note: I honestly haven't gotten this question a lot. I found it off of a couple of articles that had questions to ask during an interview for hiring an SEO, and it also came up in a recent interview with a pretty large company. If you are hiring someone as an SEO, I would recommend asking this one, and listen for numbers. This way you know they really pay attention to the business and their impact on it. As an SEO, you should be able to answer with key numbers to back up your statements.

    Answer: I would have to say my most recent success was the usedcars.com website for ADP. When I started the site had taken a huge hit from the Panda and Penguin updates by Google in 2011 to 2012. The site had dropped by roughly 80% in traffic from SEO and while an agency and a consultant were both working on it, the traffic was dropping daily and even more with each update. I spent some time digging through the analytics for the past 2 years, and looking at each section (or keyword category) of the website and quickly identified that the local focused pages were the largest driver for SEO traffic and had taken the biggest hit. Since location is my strength, and I noticed the exact same drop around the same time for one of my other sites, I met with the CEO and we quickly developed a plan to fix the pages immediately. In 3 weeks the project was complete, but there were so many other issues with the site that still needed fixing, so the pages took some time to show results. In the 2 years I was there, the location pages jumped to providing over 45% of the traffic from SEO, and overall traffic increased to over 85%. 

  15. How do you measure success?

  16. Note: Most SEOs look at traffic and keyword ranking reports. I add a bit of a different approach that shows growth from SEO. If you are someone interviewing, it's good to come up with your own unique approach that makes sense that will set you apart from the rest. If you are interviewing an SEO to work for you, the basic traffic increase and ranking reports will suffice, but if the position is a more advanced role then look for someone that thinks outside the box and is passionate about the numbers when it comes to reporting.

    Answer: I will most often look at revenue generated from organic traffic. I will also look at the usual traffic increases from SEO, and occasionally look at keyword ranking reports for newly released projects. But what I look at most for myself, not usually reported up, is the growth in the number of keywords driving traffic week over week. I also do this with the number of pages indexed and referring traffic week over week for new projects that are rolling out. This way I know that the work we are doing is grabbing new opportunities and growing the business. With usedcars.com and the hit they took from the updates, I looked at the number of pages with duplicate content, too many on-page links, the number of pages with parameters, and anything that reflected improvements on the issues we were finding.

  17. What sort of issues have you faced with SEO, and how did you resolve them?

  18. Note: With this I tend to focus on issues I have faced within the company websites I worked with. Getting buy-in and communicating effectively across teams and working with sites in which I have full freedom to optimize, and stay within the SEO rules, tend to stick around well when it comes to rankings. The Nordstrom project prioritization and the usedcars.com site getting hit by Panda and Penguin before my hiring really gave me some great experience in addressing issues for SEO. I detail out what the main issues where with the site, and follow-up with some of the technical aspects that went into the corrections to demonstrate my level of knowledge of SEO from the technical side.

    Answer: Upon starting my time at Nordstrom I got a good sense of what the team was working on as well as what projects they would like to do. Local was on the roadmap, and had been for a couple years. Local is extremely important for brick and mortar businesses that have eCommerce as well so I knew immediately that Local needed to be prioritized for the year. I worked with the team to calculate the assumptions for not just the site, but for the entire business (Estimating SEO's influence for in-store purchases). With that we came up with an estimated increase that would be upwards of several hundred million in revenue per year. I used those numbers to prioritize the project with key stakeholders gaining buy-in that supported an additional head count of 4 people (including a PM and Devs) to it. The project prioritization alone is a huge success as gaining buy-in from executives and other teams is crucial to the success of SEO.

    Another great example is upon my hiring at ADP in 2012 to address the hit that usedcars.com took from the Panda and Penguin updates. A majority of what issues that caused the drop where too many links on a lot of the pages, top level file structure with parameters. no site hierarchy, there were 48 million pages indexed and only roughly 300 thousand really existed on the site causing a webmaster tools warning of "an extremely high number of URLs" every month, a large chunk of duplicate content as a result of the too many URLs and the parameters, and not enough unique content. It took the majority of the first year to get everything cleaned up from redirecting how the bots crawled the site, removing a mega menu, cleaning up the use of parameters, rewriting URLs and setting a validation, and then building out new content after a massive database overhaul and pages developed from syndicated and data driven content.

  19. Give an example of how you developed a strategy for SEO and championed it through.

  20. Note: I happened to have an example of a major project that I worked hard to push through at ADP. This, for me, is my usual answer to this question, and it is a question I get just about every time I interview for an SEO position. I recommend, if you are an SEO looking to ideas on what to do during an interview, to find that one project you conceptualized, planned out, championed through with stake holders and teams, and saw to completion. If you don't have one, come up with one in your current role so that you have that one project you can use as an example. 

    Answer: One of my favorite projects that I started from concept to near completion is a major project I worked on in my last position. In speaking with a few friends of mine in the business and looking at traffic outside of the location pages, I noticed that searches for a very specific type of terms in exact match and longtail around year, make and model (ex: 205 Toyota Corolla) that were very prominent. I created a large excel document that listed out every keyword in three hierarchical categories for each term and began completing a keyword analysis report for every one of them (you can view that document from my Google Drive). It took me a couple of months to get through all of them in-between my usual daily tasks, but in the end I found that there were millions of searches total for all three categories, and was able to even see which terms within the three categories were the most popular. I used that data to calculate current traffic from those terms against potential by figuring out what percentage of the terms we had rankings for, current click through rate for those terms, and conversion rate from those terms. It allowed me to show the gap of what traffic we were missing out on by not doing the project, and then show incremental growth both in traffic and revenue as rankings improved. I also completed a full competitive analysis for the top 20 terms and documented it all. I developed a plan based on what data, structure, and content we had available and presented it to my boss. After discussing it, he wasn't too thrilled with the idea, so I worked with our current consultant to break down the project into a workflow that was a bit easier to digest. I went back to presenting it to my boss again revised and he was thrilled with the project. I then presented it in our bi-weekly SEO meeting in which my boss, his boss, a few developers, the consultant, and the head of Engineering attended. After some questions were answered the project was given the green light to go ahead. It took months of working through a lot of the database development that was headed up by another team member and overseen by myself, then developing the pages to incorporate the information from the database. The project still wasn't complete upon my leaving, but was about 80% done and gaining some traction when I left. 

  21. You found an issue with the site that can be very detrimental to SEO, how do you come up with a solution and get work prioritized to get completed? 

  22. Note: This is one of the questions I love. It clearly shows my ability to catch issues with SEO hopefully before they become too detrimental, and demonstrate my ability to state my case, champion the work, and show my ability to work with whomever I need to resolve it quickly. This is a key trait that every SEO needs, not just fully grasping the technical side of SEO, but to be able to work with other people to get what needs to get done quickly.

    Answer: Yes, well sadly this happens often with SEO. After spotting an issue, what I like to do is determine who it is I will need to work with on the issue to get resolved in the end. It could be something that was there for usability sake and is hurting the site for SEO, a business decision that caused the issue, or a simple bug or oversight during development that is causing it. Of course, I always go to my boss first for communication purposes and show them what I am seeing. If usability, then I go to the ones responsible for user interface design, if a business decision then I more often than not will just show my boss the issue and the numbers of potential impact to the business, If a development bug or oversight I will take it to the lead developer or possibly the one that worked on the piece that caused the issue and let them help me come up with a solution or perhaps they can determine a quick fix. My approach is different depending on how big, who, and what part of the business the issue affects. Then I either act as the trusted expert that I was hired to be, or a part of the team that works together to come up with a solution. 

  23. If someone within the company doesn't agree with what you recommend how do you deal with them?

  24. Note: Sadly this happens oh so often to an SEO. Whether it is as an in-house SEO as I tend to work in, or even as an agency SEO. Gaining trust in your ability, stating your case, and championing work for SEO has a direct affect on your ability to do your job. You aren't always going to agree with everyone, and not everyone is going agree with you. The finesse in getting buy in from them, or at least working with you somehow is going to make or break SEO.

    Answer: I have found a way throughout the years of approaching each situation and person differently. If I have done my due diligence in stating my case for SEO and someone still doesn't see the benefit, or agree with my recommended approach then I will try my best to work with them as much as possible on a compromise or allow them to help me come up with another solution. I find that involving them in the process and perhaps showing them what I see, how I see it, and then giving them the opportunity to present their solution has always been the best approach. The outcome to the solution may in-fact change as I see their solution might actually be better, but in the end, as long as it works and is best for the business, I am more than happy to work with them. If what they propose just isn't going to work, I will usually let them know why and perhaps show them examples of case studies or where sites have tried that already and failed to help them see what I have been seeing that got me to my conclusion. Either way, my take is that what is best for the business is what we all should be working towards. 

  25. Key stake holders find SEO to be very important, how do you communicate with them in a way they understand what you are working on, and how it will (and did) benefit the business?

    Note: Yes, the stake holders. SO many companies place so much value on SEO, and for good reason. The work the business puts in now can have a huge return long term. Some businesses thrive on traffic from SEO and simply supplement the traffic with some advertising and even paid search. But that all costs money, and traffic that comes for free is nearly 80-100% profit (taking into account the salary and time spent getting the work done to get those rankings). So it shouldn't be any surprise that key stake holders (executives and CEOs) all know the importance of SEO, and want to understand it as much as possible to know that the business is growing, and will continue to grow. If an SEO cannot clearly articulate what work is needed and what the impact is for SEO then they shouldn't be working in SEO. 

    Answer: My approach to working with key stake holders is to use visuals, numbers, and typical business terms. I leave the technical side of SEO, development needs, and so on for the other teams that I need to work. Occasionally I will get an executive that really understands SEO, and in that case I will dig into more detail with them. Though really focusing on the impact to the business and keeping things as visual as possible has worked best. When working on the location page drop and the example I used for concept to completion, I had dug deep into the data and truly understood the business and the competition for my own benefit. When I presented the projects to the stake holders I mainly focused on the total numbers as impact to the business in terms of traffic and revenue. Often times showing where we are today with traffic and revenue for those terms the project is targeting, and potential incremental growth (since SEO doesn't happen overnight). I then leave opportunity for questions and be fully prepared to answer the why, how, what if, and so on always knowing the numbers to back up my statements.

That's It?


I'm sure I am missing a question or two (or three) in here, and of course, every role is completely different from the next, so each potential employer is going to have their own set of questions to gauge whether the SEO they are looking for not only really knows their stuff, but will fit what they are looking for in a role, and the personality of the company and team. I have to admit, there are positions I have interviewed for that I was a perfect fit for as far as ability was concerned, but my quirky personality doesn't always mesh well with very serious environments. Don't get me wrong, I can be serious and am very professional, but I do like to have fun and really get to know people on a personal level. So, during the interview process I look at the personality of the hiring manager, and try to gauge the dynamic of the team I will be working with before making any decision to work there.

If you are an SEO and have experienced other questions you feel should be added to the post, please add them in the comments below, along with your example answers. The more we can help our fellow SEOs the better this world can be.

Other Sources:


The other articles I grabbed some of these questions from:
The SEO Interview: Questions to Prepare for Before Your SEO Job Interview
Competency Based Interview Questions for Hiring SEO Professionals