Where Did This SEO Fail On Her SEM Interview?

Feb 1, 2011 • 8:08 am | comments (26) by twitter Google+ | Filed Under SEM / SEO Companies

IMG_2004A HighRankings Forum thread has an SEO asking where did she go wrong on her SEO interview.

Libby, the SEO interviewee, applied for an SEO/SEM job and received a list of questions. She replied to those questions and then received a response from the hiring company that her replies were "not a good fit." She is asking where did she go wrong?

The SEM Email Interview Questions:

  1. Tell me about two of your proudest achievements. Specifically detail how they impacted the organization/situation/condition you were in. Did they change something?
  2. Let's say (company name) is bidding on a keyword in Google that everyone thinks should provide a lot of orders, but after two weeks, it isn't providing any. Talk about what you'd look into to find out if the problem is with the setup of the campaign or our assumptions of the keyword's potential success.
  3. What are some ways to increase search share on a search result page for a particular keyword? (by search share, we mean the number of results for your company on a page)
  4. If you were given a bigger budget for PPC purposes, how would you figure out where to spend the extra budget?

Her Responses to the SEM Questions:

  1. My two proudest achievements in SEM would be when I got one of my clients conversions off of Yahoo! by turning off her contextual advertising (she provides info about nursing homes and senior housing and contextual is not a good fit for her). She was thinking of ending her Yahoo advertising. The second achievement would have to be when I was able to direct my boss to my former boss at companyname.com so she wouldn't have to refund a client's money. This was an online casino, which Google doesn't accept. My former boss specializes in online casinos (company name makes their money in part from going after accounts that Google does not).
  2. I would first look to see what the traffic for the keyword is. Then I would see what comes up for the keyword. What is doing well organically and who is bidding on the keyword. If the keyword gets a lot of traffic and the sites that are doing well for the keyword (and bidding on the keyword) are in the same category as Company Name then I would look at the campaign. I would look at the CTR to see how successful the ad is and at the bounce rate. That would give me an good idea of how relevant the ad copy and landing page are.
  3. Getting a Google Places account would help in increasing the share on a keyword. Also making sure that the site has good SEO to increase the organic clicks.
  4. I would do several things if I had a bigger budget. I would set up accounts on other search engines (which I know Company Name is doing as you are on Bing) and also increase my Google spend. I would then use analytics to see what converting better. I might also try new things such as Google image ads.

So where did she go wrong?

Do you believe in interviewing via email as a first step?

Who was at fault here? The interviewer or interviewee?

Forum discussion at HighRankings Forum.

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David Iwanow

02/01/2011 01:37 pm

I'm thinking number #3 if the result is not a geographic query places is not really going to help... other suggestions would be to convince Google algorithm that that's a brand/product search term relates directly to your domain/company to get multiple listings or via universal search get PR releases, youtube clips and image results into that search page to increase your search share... Answer #1 is just really confusing on any level but maybe a poor question to ask by the interviewer...

SEO Lebanon

02/01/2011 01:57 pm

i dnt think the reason was " her question were not Fit" depending wat was the Job title (smthn in PPC) and what the prerequisites ---she had a decent answer. IMO i think theinterviewer respond to her questions was more like SEE YA!!! we found a better person/more experienced/etc.. and basically there is no relation between if she did good on answering the question or not

Jordan Silton

02/01/2011 02:09 pm

As with any interview, the answer is only as good as how the interviewee understands the context of the question for what the interviewer is trying to learn. Instead of providing better answers for this interviewee, perhaps we want to think about what the interview was looking to see from the interviewee by posing these questions. (Q1) Proudest Achievements - I do not believe this question is trying to ask just about what the interviewee did at his or her last job, or something that he or she accomplished. The interviewer has already seen the person's resume, so he or she already knows that the interviewee has had some achievements related to the position. This question gets asked across many lines of work for all ranges of positions. The essence of the question is, "What makes you tick?" What really gets the interviewee excited and passionate about what he or she is working on? This is an opportunity for the interviewee to tell a story and show his or her personality in the context of the achievement(s). (Q2) The question is phrased in a way to ask the interviewee to explain the whole process of how paid search works. A good answer would include all the different assumptions along the paid search process and demonstrate an understanding about what makes a keyword "perform" or not. Although an answer could get very tactical, I do not believe that is this question's goal. (Q3) This questions essentially asks, "What do you know besides paid search?" Google Places in one factor. @David Iwanow's recommendations of universal search and page optimization are other factors. Again, I think this question is about the higher level, not the tactical recommendations. The interviewer may be trying to get at how a business/website can become relevant for the same search query in multiple ways. (Q4) If I asked this question, I would hope to receive a question right back at me: "What is the goal of the campaign?" If you do not understand the goal of the campaign, then anything else you say is really null and void. I'd love to hear everyone else's thoughts on this. Please do weigh in. -Jordan Silton


02/01/2011 02:18 pm

If she's not going to read the question properly then she's not going to get the job. #4 isn't "What would you do" it's "how would you decide what to do". And her answer to #3 isn't anything special. I would have expected her to provide two answers for this; one for brand terms (myBrand, myBrand.com) and one for none brand commercial terms. Also the term "the site has good SEO" should lead to instant disqualification if this for for a non-entry level SEO position. I don't work in paid routes so can't say anything about #2 but at a guess I'd say they were expecting an answer about the sales funnel/user journey as well as relevance. And as for #1 - well what did she actually do? If she'd said she reduced campaign cost% for all of her clients, made measurable efficiency savings or introduced the agency to a new form of advertising that directyl increased revenue then maybe I'd feel for her.But she didn't. Interviewee fault all the way. She should have spent more time on her response.

Daniel Chavez Moran

02/01/2011 05:45 pm

If question 1 is a bad question, every interview I've been in between 2000 and now has been bad. I think that it's a perfectly reasonable question. It's open-ended enough that you can test a prospective employee's ability to think on their toes and formulate well structured responses.


02/01/2011 06:55 pm

I agree with BF. The questions were not answered properly. The responses were from a beginner SEM not an SEO. 1. People want to see results. %500 increase, amazing stats, blood spilling, heads rolling etc. etc. Something eye opening. Not boring stories about a grandmas stuffed cat. 2. There are many things you can do but they should all point to what's wrong with their campaign. What does well organically will not always convert the same in PPC and visa-verse. It's all gonna come down to conversion research and what went wrong with their report. 3. Saying the site should have good SEO is not an answer. They asked a very specific question and a general answer makes you look dumb. They want to know how they can rank more than once for the same term in the serps. There are a few -specific answers- for this question. 4. Don't waste the money you're given, pressure your competition to give ground by aggressive action and squeeze all you can out of the most successful terms, when your returns cover the budget increase search for new terms etc. Wasting money on untested grounds is something a manager doesn't want to hear unless you've made the money back and stuffed everyone pillows. In my opinion the questions were not answered satisfactory and I would not hire this person either. If you don't know, learn or tell them you don't know instead of "improve seo"

Industrial Insider

02/01/2011 09:39 pm

a) The answers aren't communicated very well. b) There are errors in grammar. c) She believed that a company was actually interviewing her when in fact they were simply using an "email interview" as a way to solicit a free consultant advice. I actually wrote a great 600 word response to this that I would be interested in submitting as a guest post. Please contact me if interested.

Michael Martinez

02/01/2011 10:34 pm

The questions basically sucked. End of story.


02/01/2011 11:13 pm

I doubt very much this was meant to be free super-sneaky consulting advice email scam. Especially when they can get this kind of advice free by googling for it. I wouldn't mind giving this advice free, on a slow day, to anyone that called me since it's so basic and could convert into business down the road. If you wrote something so great and don't want to share... post a part of it and I'm sure if someone likes it they will request the rest and pay you for it if it's THAT great.


02/01/2011 11:18 pm

Industrial Insider: You have 2 Content-Type meta tags on your site and another seo issue within the fist 10 lines of your source :) One reason I don't put my business out in the open like that.


02/01/2011 11:32 pm

You're over-analyzing and philosophizing too much. Some things are simpler and more direct than they seem.

Ken Pendergast

02/02/2011 12:29 am

It could be 100 different reasons. I was told the same thing the day after an interview, then a month later I heard they hired a friend of the hiring manager. It's a quick excuse not to hire someone without making a mess. so many reasons and we will never know why.


02/02/2011 05:41 am

i wouldn' hire her based on those answers. Shows some knowledge but will do more damage than good to clients accounts - SEM/SEO.

Haseeb Najam

02/02/2011 07:56 am

well I guess its all about the individual's perception and knowledge. If an HR person is asking these questions, he/she may want to hear something different. If a CEO is asking these questions, definitely you need to talk bout % increase and ROI. If a SEM person is asking these questions, you may need details. But in the end...all it matters is CONTEXT & SITUATION. For some people these answers are perfect, for others they are not so perfect. :)


02/02/2011 08:16 am

Industrial Insider .. it would be great if you could share your views on the questions. Thanks


02/02/2011 09:38 am

I would stop reading at the end of the first question and delete the e-mail. No need to be harsh, but you work in the internet marketing industry, you should know, roughly, how to write something interesting. The second achievement would have to be when I was able to direct my boss to my former boss at companyname.com so she wouldn't have to refund a client's money. This was an online casino, which Google doesn't accept. My former boss specializes in online casinos (company name makes their money in part from going after accounts that Google does not). It looks like it's been written by a 16 year old. I sort of understand the bit about the casino thing, but a lot of people wont. tecrux.com


02/02/2011 09:39 am

I didn't mean to add techrux. com in the comment. Please remove it if you can!


02/02/2011 12:02 pm

She failed because she gave really bad answers... Good luck for the next application though;)


02/02/2011 12:44 pm

I would tend to agree with your first answer that interviewer might want to know what makes the candidate suitable for this job. Though, i am unable to figure out the paid search question. It's highly discouraged by Google unless its sole purpose is advertisement. So what's the deal behind running a paid linking campaign? The question seems vague to me because interviewer hasn't cleared either he is asking for PPC campaigns or paid organic campaign. Question 3 sounds like a trap to know overall industry knowledge of the interviewee that includes SEO/SEM etc. Any further answers would be appreciated.


02/02/2011 12:45 pm

The answers were pretty underwhelming on the whole but questions 3 & 4 are extremely poorly worded and ambiguous. Reason number one why email interviews are useless! Had it been a face to face interview then I would be asking for clarification on a number of points before being able to provide a sufficiently detailed answer. In many cases the employer will look at answers to questions such as these and dismiss potential employees based on their perceived lack of understanding when it was in fact the employer themselves that have caused the misunderstanding through the lack of knowledge themselves or clarity. I suppose you could argue that this may have been done on purpose which I doubt but if that was the case then maybe the test was to ask for more information on the goals of the project before being able to provide a clear response.

Jonathon Hewitt

02/02/2011 01:56 pm

Questions and Answers are both bogus.

Amit Bhawani

02/02/2011 03:01 pm

First of all would you hire a SEO based on a Email Interview? OMG thats a joke because no real company would do that atleast when hiring someone for dealing into website rankings.

Pete Kici

02/02/2011 09:05 pm

Send a video of herself requesting a live interview .

online coupons

02/03/2011 09:20 am

I don't think that interview should carry on via email. There is a big difference between email and face to face talk.

Ed Weidner

02/04/2011 10:46 pm

haha, of course you'd say the "question sucked". You're always THAT guy, but that attempt made me lol. The answers were very sophomoric, and with good candidates at bay, I'm sure she wouldn't be a good fit.


02/06/2011 07:15 pm

Those are the answers of high school student who got stuck doing SEO on an internship. Not a trained and experienced SEO professional.

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