Hire an SEO Specialist: How to Land a Search Expert

Published: January 26, 2015  by 

More and more companies are looking to onboard SEO specialists as they realize the significant return on investment they can get from hiring search engine optimization in-house.

About twice as many of the SEOs at Mozcon this year reported being in-house SEOs as last year.

With more employers looking to hire SEO experts it’s no wonder that the talent pool for search professionals is stretched thin.

Know What You’re Looking For

If you want someone to optimize your site from scratch you will need to hire SEO experience. The more competitive your niche, the more experience they will need.

Broadly speaking you’re looking to hire a pro with for the following SEO skill set:



  1. Keyword research (don’t underestimate the importance of this)
  2. Able to recommend and implement on-site changes
  3. Link building
  4. Analytics
  5. Local SEO (if your business has one or more physical locations)

Core Skills

When it comes time to evaluate what your new SEO Hire is going to bring to the table I like to think of the core competencies as follows:

  1. Marketing – can they grasp your business fundamentals and how to drive search traffic to increase profitability?
  2. Copy Writing – Can they use words to communicate in a professional manner whilst spinning them for SEO. Don’t hire somebody you wouldn’t be comfortable writing content on your site.
  3. Technical Skills – Do they understand the principles and tools of SEO? Do they have the required HTML, Analytics and CMS skills?


Your SEO should have all of these skills to some degree. If they don’t you might be looking at somebody who would be a better fit for another role.

Communicate Your SEO Position Clearly

Sounds simple, but it’s amazing how many poorly communicated SEO job descriptions there are out there. A lot of them seem to be written by people who don’t know what SEO is, let alone how to execute a competent strategy.

Take the time to learn the verbiage then write a clear and concise SEO job description laying out the skills needed. Anything less will turn a good SEO off. We all want to work for a company that understands and values us – put the right foot forward when it comes to employee onboarding. Finding a new SEO hire is hard enough, once you’ve got them, you’ll want to do your best to keep them.

Get your SEO Job Listing Out There

You’ll want to get your position out into the usual job aggregation and websites. It’s also a great idea to improve your website’s authority to get an anchor text link in this and other job postings.

Cast your hook where the fish are:

  1. blind-searchesPost to the SEO and Internet Marketing Websites and forums expert SEOs use. SEOMoz used to have a strong jobs board, but it was decommissioned in favor of this useful LinkedIN page. Dice.com is really the best bet if you want to cast a wide net for IT professionals including SEO specialists.
  2. Post to local marketing and advertising society boards.
  3. Search for talent in your area, a search like “SEO expert Oklahoma” might provide you with some valuable leads – at least you’ll know your new hire has managed to optimize something.
  4. If your need isn’t urgent you might be able to find a local college student making some money off of SEO in their spare time.  Considering offering them an internship and grooming them as an SEO specialist.
  5. If you have a high-profile site consider a gimmick. A British newspaper once hid an SEO job posting in their robots.txt and received some coverage for it on SEO blogs – what better place to turn up an SEO expert?

Everything in SEO Is Measurable So Pre-Screen

The best thing about hiring an SEO is that a good SEO will have been measuring their success all along the line and should be ready to dazzle you with core metrics about how effective they are. For instance on my Linkedin SEO profile I share the following:

  • 840% average client increase in 1st place rankings in Google over 6 months
  • 472% average client increase in monthly non-branded search visits over 1 year

Must-Ask Questions

  • Ask for URLs of websites, or at least pages they optimized
  • Ask what keywords they were optimizing for
  • Ask what rank changes they tracked
  • Ask them to share analytics screenshots showing traffic increases

Potential hires may be reluctant to do so because of client confidentiality and that may or may not be a legitimate protest, but quite often this question will bring to light a gap in their knowledge.

Get Example URLs and Evaluate Them

Once you have those URLs from your potential SEO hire run them through SEMRush to see what those sites rank for and how much traffic they get.


Responses you don’t want to hear from your would-be SEO Hire:

  • I don’t have anything to show you.” – Forget it, an SEO specialist without experience isn’t an SEO yet. Hire an SEO specialist instead and save yourself the headache.
  • I wasn’t targeting any specific keywords”. – Forget it. There are too many good tools out there for predicting keyword traffic for that to wash.
  • I didn’t want to go after the keywords with traffic because they were too competitive. – You probably want an SEO with a viable alternative up their sleeve in all situations. Keywords without traffic don’t count.
  • I didn’t track rank improvements” – Then how do you know what’s working? This SEO will know much less than they should about every SEO project they’ve ever completed.
  • I don’t have any analytics data.” – Same as above.

Interviewing an SEO Specialist

Here are a few interviewing tips I’ve picked up since I’ve been hiring SEOs:

  1. Ask the difficult questions and give them the opportunity to stun you with a brilliant answer.
  2. Get a live demonstration so you can watch how fast their fingers and their mind works.
  3. Make them uncomfortable, if they’re used to working on a PC, have them show you what they can do on a Mac, if they say they’re on-site specialists ask what link building strategies they would use.
  4. Ask for a list of the SEO tools they use them for and the jobs they have used the for. An SEO expert is only as good as his tools.
  5. Get concrete examples of what they have done for past employers or clients.
  6. Ask about the latest Google update to see if they keep up with developments in the SEO profession. If you intend to be aggressive you will want to hire a SEO expert, a pro who is ready for whatever is coming down the pipeline.

More Responsibilities, More Value – Right?

If your site isn’t big enough to warrant one FTE whose sole responsibility is SEO, you’re probably planning to lump a few other functions into their job description. Maybe PPC management, web design, reporting, email blasts, social media. Well don’t if you can possibly avoid it. A talented SEO’s time will be best spent optimizing your website, if you have them managing a PPC campaign, your Facebook account and updating your website they won’t have time to be effective.

globe-searchIf they’ll try and juggle all of the above, they probably aren’t a very good SEO anyway, because Generalists don’t make good specialists. In general.

If your budget won’t stretch to hiring a professional SEO specialist, a good strategy is to hire an agency SEO expert and look to bring the work in-house in year two, once you understand it a little better. A good SEO company won’t be shy of knowledge transfer, they know how hard it is to get this stuff right.

Prepare to Hire from Out of Market

Unless you live in a tech-hub like Dallas, San Fransisco or Seattle, prepare to hire SEOs from out of market, and consider onboarding remote workers.