Anyone can hire an SEO person or company to help increase organic traffic for themselves or their clients, but if you’re looking to hire an insanely great SEO, then this episode is for you.
It was an honor to speak at BrightonSEO, the largest SEO conference in Europe, where I shared my seven-step process to hire a Search Engine Optimization practitioner who truly knows their stuff and can have a measurable impact on your business. I discuss the art of writing the kind of ad that will not only attract super-qualified applicants but also weed out people who are not at the top of their game. I share tips and tricks you probably never thought of, like using A/B testing for your ad and interview questions that are trick questions that don’t sound like trick questions. Having been down this road and successfully hired quality people who really were game changers for my agency and our clients, it was a great experience to share my best tips and tricks to find someone outstanding to work with. So now, without further ado, on with the show!
In This Episode
- [01:33] – BrightonSEO podcast host, Kelvin Newman, introduces Stephan in this seven-step guide to hiring an SEO employee.
- [03:37] – Step One: Get the garden to weed itself. How to write a job posting and where to post job advertisements.
- [08:13] – Stephan gives tips on how he does the screening process when hiring someone for his team, especially weeding out the not-so-qualified candidates.
- [12:21] – Step Two: Review the candidates’ special media profiles. Stephan provides some guidelines for checking their profiles.
- [15:05] – Step Three: Use A/B testing for your job postings. Stephan emphasizes the need to optimize whom you attract by running tests on your job postings.
- [17:16] – Step Four: Use trick questions in the first interview. Stephan explains the importance of throwing trick questions to the candidates. Then, he and the participants give examples of the trick questions they’re using.
- [21:51] – Step Five: Ask specific questions that can prove expertise. How does Stephan filter those with SEO expertise from the fakers by asking specific questions and examples?
- [23:43] – Step Six: The second interview – Bring in an expert. Stephan elaborates on the importance of having an expert sit in the second interview phase to judge the candidates’ abilities.
- [23:57] – Step Seven: Confirm the fit during the trial period. Why is it necessary to give a trial run with the candidate? In this step, Stephan also measures the candidate’s values. Find out the assessments he uses.
Hi, my name is Kelvin Newman, and welcome to The brightonSEO podcast, where we share talks from one of the world’s popular search marketing conferences. The event started with a few people meeting at a pub’s upstairs room and is now attended by over 3000 people worldwide. This episode is a recording of one of the speakers at our recent event.
We’re going to start with Stephan, who will talk about how to hire an insanely great SEO. We’re then going to move on and talk about GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), which I know is worrying lots of you, and then we’re going to talk about doubling close rates and chat about that more.
It’s my pleasure, first of all, to bring Stephan Spencer up to the stage. Join me and give him a round of applause. Thank you.
I’m Stephan Spencer. These are some of my accolades, blah, blah, blah, but you don’t care about that. These are my books. Who wants a book? Does anyone want a book? I bought a couple. This is the one I’m most known for—The Art of SEO. Who wants a book enough to come to get it? Fortune favors the bold.
Should we try this again? Who wants a book? That’s Social ECommerce, so all about how to leverage Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and all that.
And then Google Power Search. I’m going to hold on to this one. I’ll give out more later. In fact, if you post a cool tweet, you might get a book. I brought some more with me.
These are my podcasts. You should subscribe because they are awesome. First, this is Marketing Speak and then The Optimized Geek (now Get Yourself Optimized) because I’m the optimized geek. This is not an SEO podcast but a life-hacking and biohacking.
Question for you, who’s in the market to hire an SEO employee? How many to hire a contractor? How many to hire an agency? This is going to apply regardless of which category you fit in. That’s cool.
I’ve got a seven-step process. This is what we’re going to do. We’re going to go through these seven steps. We’re going to start with how to get the garden to weed itself and get people to exclude themselves by making stupid mistakes.A bad hire can cost you both money and time. Click To Tweet
Who’s familiar with the band Van Halen? David Lee Roth famously had this clause in his contracts that required a jar of M&M’s in his dressing room, and it had to not have a certain color of M&M in there.
Why would he be so anal about that? It’s odd. It wasn’t weird at all. It was really smart because if he saw that color of M&M in there, he knew that his contract was not read, and all the special lighting effects they needed were probably not done correctly. A lot was riding on concluding actual lives. We’re riding on the correct wiring and lighting, so he would check out the lighting if the M&M’s weren’t right.
It’s smart to include special clauses in the contract for job postings.
Think of it this way. If you have special clauses in your contract, but it’s in the job posting, isn’t that clever like the M&M’s? The job posting is their first contact and impression of you, so you must also present a positive front for yourself. Think of it as your opportunity to sell them and their wanting to put their best foot forward.
When you write your job posting, tell a story and make it more of ‘me too’ than about ‘so what.’ In fact, all copywriting should be this way. Think of it this way. If people are reading it and thinking, so what, there’s not a lot of connection there.
For example, if I (in my job posting) talk about how I started doing computer stuff when I was a kid, started programming when I was 13 years old, and taught myself machine language, programming, assembly language, and stuff, they might not connect with the assembly language piece, but they might connect with being a real geek and being on the computer all the time when they were a kid.
I tell that little story and say, “Look, I turned that little hobby into a business, and now I’m employing a wonderful team of people. I would love for you to be on that team.” See how that’s ‘me too’ instead of a ‘so what?’
If I said we have X clients, and it’s all about me, my accolades, and my successes, there’s no connection. It’s all about the ‘me too,’ not the ‘so what.’ After you’ve sold them how amazing it is to work for you, you’ll incorporate some cool stuff into the job advertisement, like the M&M’s.
Now, where do I post this job advert or job posting? I post to Craigslist. I’ve tried a lot of different places, and Craigslist works like gangbusters. Do you guys have Craigslist here in the UK?
How many of you are looking for people potentially overseas? How many only want to hire people in the UK? Okay, so it’s a mix. If you’re open to hiring people outside of the UK, Craigslist is in the US. I would target bigger college towns, Boston, New York City, and Chicago, rather than smaller cities. Small college towns like Madison, Wisconsin, are not a great fit because even though it sounds good, there’s not enough volume.
You’ll weed out many candidates quickly using my M&M’s process, so we’ll find out. So that’s an effective place.
Now, if you’re looking to hire people out of the Philippines, you can get great people out of the Philippines. Is anyone interested in hiring out of the Philippines? For those who are, go to onlinejobs.ph, which is essentially Craigslist for jobs in the Philippines. If you’re looking to use a service like a recruiting firm, there’s a great service called Virtual Staff Finder, also in the Philippines.
We got the job posting, but we’ll insert the M&M’s clauses there, so stay tuned for that. I want to delegate the screening process because that’s a headache. It’s really simple to check for the M&M’s. You don’t need a rocket scientist to do that part of the process.
I have a virtual assistant who goes through the initial screening process. I don’t even look at the CVs or resumes when they come in. All I do is jump on the interviews once they’ve passed the initial screening. Delegate that.
You can weed out inattentive candidates using a process that requires them to pay attention to details, such as giving them riddles or test assignments.
I also have a riddle or test assignment that I incorporate into it. Here’s where the M&M’s come in. If you have some sort of process that they have to pay attention to details, now you have something going for you where you weed out many people who are not that attentive to detail.
I’ll incorporate a problem-solving riddle, which goes like this (this is just an example): We have a child, a convict, and a policeman on one side of the river. The boat only fits two people. All three need to get across. You can’t leave the convict alone, the child alone, and so on. The parameters are to get them all across and show your work.
If somebody sees that in the job advert, many people are lazy and won’t bother filling out the job advert. They won’t apply. That’s great. I don’t want them because if they’re lazy, I don’t want them working for me. If they’re not attentive to detail and just blasting out all the stuff without paying real attention to the job advert, I don’t want them either. See how powerful this is?
Another way you could do this without using a riddle is to incorporate something into the instructions, like putting a certain keyword in the email you’ll send me in the subject line. So, for example, you put the word squirrel, cheetah, or whatever in the subject line.
Another way you can do it is only to allow them to apply via voicemail. You have to give these certain details in the voicemail. Do not email me. I will not consider any emailed CVs. You must leave a voicemail first or a combination.
I don’t want people working for me who are lazy and inattentive.
A question for you. What are some test assignments that you might give as a way to weed out the not-so-qualified candidates? Some tests, riddles, or challenges of some sort. Any ideas?
Via format, send the CV in a PDF.
Send the CV in a certain file format, like a PDF. We’ll only accept PDFs as attachments. Cool. Other ideas?
For our writers, we give them a paid test brief of one piece of content.
A paid test brief of one piece of content. They get paid for that, but they must do that before getting hired. Awesome.
Here’s the deal breaker for sure. Did they defend the wrong answer? I think it works if you do this with the boat and blah, blah, blah. No, because if that’s how they operate before they get hired, I don’t want that kind of headache once they’re on board.The U.S. Department of Labor estimates the cost of a bad hire to be more than 30% of a person's annual salary. Click To Tweet
Step two is to review their social media profiles. There’s gold in those social media profiles. As part of the process I require in the job advert or posting, I say, “Send me at least one social media profile.” It could be their own personal, their company, or one that they work on for their employer. I don’t care. I want to see a social media profile. Ideally, if they send me a personal one, I can get a lot of dirt on them.
Here’s what I do. I ask myself the following questions. Are they connected with and active in the SEO community? Do they seek out opportunities to answer SEO questions or at least participate in the conversation by asking questions? What kind of content are they sharing? Is it remarkable content?
By the way, I have already uploaded this to SlideShare, so you don’t have to take notes unless you want to. If you’re wondering what my SlideShare is, it’s slideshare.net/stephanspencer.
Okay, more weeding-out questions. Have they publicly criticized or bashed their employers, co-workers, or clients? That’s a bad one. Is there evidence that they participate in SEO conferences, training, events, meetups, and discussion groups? That’s a good one. I really want to see some of that.
How are their spelling and grammar? Are they attentive to detail? Are they swearing in their social media posts? Do they participate in volunteer opportunities? Are they giving back? Do they have personality flags and things that don’t seem cool, like antisocial behavior and mood swings? Are they racists? Are they prejudiced? Is there evidence of illegal activities, illegal drugs, et cetera? Other red flags are not a good fit culturally.
Be careful because I don’t know what the laws are here in the UK, but there are discrimination laws in the States. So if you use this in a way that discriminates, you’re in dangerous territory.
Step three is A/B testing. You’re A/B testing all sorts of other stuff. Why aren’t you A/B testing your job advertisements?
Who has ever A/B tested a job advert? Two of you, okay. You’re going to get books. How many books do I have behind there? They’re really heavy because I am not taking them back. I’m not going back to LA.
How would you A/B test a job advert? What would you put into an A/B test?
Job titles.A job posting is an opportunity to filter potential candidates for a position. Click To Tweet
Job titles, yup. Some of the stories I talked about with either the ‘me too’ or the ‘so what.’
The description of the job itself.
The description of the job itself. The job duties and responsibilities, yeah.
The image of the employee.
The image, right. Are you going to put a picture of happy staff, stock photos, or whatever? Heaven forbid that.
The jobs are slightly different levels, maybe a CEO in a junior position.
The minimum requirements of their past experience in the senior leadership level versus junior level. Perfect.
Get candidates to rank themselves out of 10 regarding SEO knowledge and see if they’re overly arrogant or full of hubris.
Cultural elements, team behaviors, or things that you’re looking for.
Cultural elements, behaviors, and things that I’m looking for.
Leave a one-minute video talking about the roles and what the culture is like.
Nice. A one-minute video showed what it’s like to be at that company. Test the different videos and see which one performed the best.
Bullet points versus continuous prose. These are great tests. I love it. Any others?
Testing the tone of voice and how it is used to describe everything.
The tone of voice and how you describe stuff. If you’re using passive voice versus active voice or a third person instead of the first person. I love A/B testing. It helps you hone in on the best-performing job ads.
The next step is to use trick questions in the first interview. Often, I’m not even conducting the first interview. So instead, I have one of my team do it. They’re armed with certain trick questions that will help them weed out the fakers and the charlatans.The best indicator of future behavior is past behavior. Click To Tweet
A question for you. What are some trick questions that you might consider asking in an interview?
For a link-building specialist, what if somebody offers you a link by paying you?
You give a scenario. If you’re a link-building specialist, what do you do if somebody offers you a link by paying for it? You have to buy the link. What do you do? An ethical scenario. I like it.
Get them to rank their knowledge of SEO out of 10.
I want trick questions that anybody could ask. They don’t have to have any SEO knowledge, and they can weed out the candidates.
Get them to rank themselves out of 10 regarding SEO knowledge and see if they’re overly arrogant or full of hubris. Nice. I like it.
What’s the last thing you read about SEO?
What’s the last thing you read about SEO? Perfect.
These are great trick questions. Let me give you a few more. What’s your process for optimizing meta keywords? These are trick questions because there’s only one right answer. I want trick questions that anybody could ask. They don’t have to have any SEO knowledge, and they can weed out the candidates.
What’s the right answer to what’s your process for optimizing meta keywords? If they say anything along the lines of, “Well, meta keywords don’t count so much anymore, they’ve been discounted over time,” or “Google doesn’t count them so much,” all those are wrong answers because the only right answer is meta keywords never counted in Google. They were never a positive ranking signal. If they say anything to the contrary, then they’re out.
Here’s another one. What’s a good keyword density to aim for? Seriously? Who’s measured keyword density in the last decade? It’s just ridiculous.
What’s the difference between Panda and Penguin? That’s a good one. If you don’t know that, you’re out. You can easily explain this to the first interviewer: Google Panda is about low-quality content, and Google Penguin is about links. They can’t fake that. So if the person is talking about, “Well, Panda and Penguin are pretty similar, but they’re different,” and they’re just going on some tangent about it, and it’s not well, content and links, or they get it wrong, and they put it the other way around—I’ve had that happen.
Google Panda is about low-quality content, and Google Penguin is about links.
Here’s another one. What’s more important, attention to detail, honesty, dedication, technical acumen, or creativity? Let’s try this exercise. What’s more important? I’m asking you. You’re my candidate. Attention to detail, honesty, dedication, technical acumen, or creativity? They’re all important. Pick one.
Let’s do a little poll. Who says attention to detail? Who says honesty? Okay, a bunch of you. Dedication? Also, a bunch of you. Technical acumen? Creativity? Not that many in creative. We don’t need anybody clever.
What’s the right answer? It’s actually honesty. This is called the honesty test. If somebody is not honest, they’re out. That’s not their highest value.
I have had staff before where I don’t know what they were thinking, but I could see their computer screens reflection behind them on the window as soon as I started walking up. What the hell, do you think I’m stupid? They’re hiding windows as I’m walking up. I don’t want that. Honesty is number one.
If somebody is not honest, they’re out. That’s not their highest value.
Here is a cool free bonus for you guys. I have two things, but the SEO BS Detector has more trick questions. So if you want these powerful trick questions with the answers, there you go, stephanspencer.com/brighton. Then, I also have SEO Hiring Blueprint with a seven-step process. That’s pretty cool.
What is the most important of the five qualities? Honesty.
Step five, ask specific questions that can prove expertise. I ask them, what’s your wellspring? In other words, what is your gift? What are you so amazing at?
Then, what’s your quicksand? Where do you get stuck? Where is it hard for you? Where is it a big challenge? Powerful questions.
When you are interviewing people, always ask specific questions and examples.
I’m looking for specifics. This is super important. When you are interviewing people, always ask for specific examples. Don’t just say, “Tell me what’s more important, creativity or attention to detail. Tell me about a time when your creativity saved a project or changed an outcome. Give me a specific example.”
Suppose I’m starting to develop this picture of them. In that case, I ask for contrary evidence because I want to flip that and see if I can find evidence to the contrary that says, “oh, wow, they don’t seem attentive to detail.” I think that in my head. Tell me about a time when you were super attentive to detail, and that saved a project. So I’m looking for contrary evidence.
Keep your mouth shut. They should be talking 80% of the time, you 20%. I’m looking for opportunities for them to show their desire to learn. What training have you gone on? Tell me some of the things you’ve learned at some conferences. You were at brightonSEO, tell me about that. What were some takeaways? Where are you teaching other people? Your retention rates go sky-high at 97% when you intend to teach something to others as you’re learning it versus just regularly listening to it.
Your retention rates go sky-high at 97% when you intend to teach something to others as you’re learning it versus just regularly listening to it.
Then, what’s their link-building philosophy? That goes into the ethics question. What’s legit in terms of link-building, and what’s not?
Then step six is the second interview — bring in an expert, such as myself. So I would come in, and for my clients, I would participate in the second interview process and weed out a lot of fakers that way.
Step seven is to confirm the fit during the trial period. What are their strengths? I use StrengthsFinder 2.0. It’s $15 or $18 for that test. Awesome test. I find out their primary and secondary advantages using the Fascinate test from Sally Hogshead, and I have them do a DiSC assessment.
That one’s free. You can go to tonyrobbins.com/disc for that one. You’ll find out how introverted or extroverted they are, how dominant they are, how steady they are, how attentive to detail they are, and then their highest values.
Then, I define their roles, responsibilities, handoffs, and success metrics collaboratively with them. Finally, I have them take this test, which is also free. It’s the Demartini Values Determination. I know their hierarchy of values, and I’m just asking a question. What’s your highest value? Is it family, church, children, travel, or job? What is it?
Does anyone want to throw out what their highest value is? Kids. Anyone else? Anything different? Job and family. Everybody has different values, and their hierarchy is different, so I match their job duties and description with those highest values.
For example, if their highest value is a travel and one of their jobs as a virtual assistant working for me is booking my travels, it’s like you can become a travel ninja. I will show you how to get the best deals on Priceline, Orbitz, and so forth that blow your mind. You can travel for half the price you’d normally have traveled for. You could travel the world potentially with this knowledge. Wow, that sounds cool. That’s what I do.
Another quick question, what’s the best indicator of future behavior? Any ideas?
You cannot instill new values and attributes in them. You can only teach them the job and the skills.
Past behavior. You get a book, so come up afterward. The best indicator of future behavior is past behavior. You’re looking for evidence that they’ve achieved these things and have these qualities, traits, and attributes in past jobs throughout their life because you cannot instill new values and attributes in them. You can only teach them the job and the skills.
There we go. Again, here’s the URL, stephanspencer.com/brighton. Besides the Hiring Blueprint and the BS Detector, you get some other stuff. For example, you get chapter seven of the book The Art of SEO, which is all about content marketing and other cool stuff. Thank you very much.
Dave Asprey – previous episode
Tim Ferriss – previous episode
Dave Asprey – GYO previous episode
Tim Ferriss – GYO previous episode
Your Checklist of Actions to Take
- Ensure my job posting will filter and highlight the best candidates for the SEO position. Set up deliberate hurdles for the applicants to jump over; it’s an immediate red flag if applicants cannot overcome these hurdles.
- Review the applicant’s social media profiles. An applicant’s social media profile is a great and quick indicator of their credibility. However, be careful not to use social media to discriminate against any applicants.
- Use A/B Testing in my job posting. Run some tests to check out which applicants might apply. Examples of features to test are job titles, job descriptions, tone of voice, etc.
- Use trick questions in the first interview. Trick questions are designed to trick an applicant’s up-to-date knowledge about good SEO. Here are a few great examples: What’s your process for optimizing meta keywords? What’s a good keyword density to aim for? What’s the difference between Panda and Penguin? What’s more important, attention to detail, honesty, dedication, technical acumen, or creativity?
- Ask specific questions to prove expertise. A good SEO candidate needs to have a wide range of knowledge in SEO. Here are some questions to highlight an applicant’s expertise: What are your favorite SEO tools? Can you give me some of your SEO successes? What’s your philosophy and approach to link building?
- Bring in an SEO expert for a second interview. This will help me weed out fake SEO applicants because an expert will know the best practices, algorithm updates, and recent advances in the industry.
- Confirm whether an SEO candidate is a good fit during the trial period. For the trial term, give the candidate a well-defined set of duties and projects to complete. Also, have the candidate take tests to determine their values, personality, etc. Examples of helpful personality tests include DISC Assessment, Demartini Values Determination, StrengthsFinder 2.0, and Fascinate test from Sally Hogshead, etc.
- Discover why my rankings are so low by taking Stephan’s free SEO quiz. Take advantage of Stephan’s free consultation to discern how I can fix my site errors.
- Use the SEO BS Detector and SEO Hiring Blueprint when hiring an SEO expert for my business.
- Check out and read chapter 7 of The Art of SEO. This chapter teaches the fundamentals of SEO.