Hiring

How to Hire an SEO Manager for B2B SaaS

Done right, SEO can be a huge growth driver for saas businesses. It compounds over time, and carries no long-term ongoing cost like PPC. It’s no wonder why SEO & content specialists are one of the most sought after marketing roles right now.

If you find yourself responsible for hiring an SEO manager (without being an SEO expert yourself), then this post is for you.

We’ll cover:

  • Which skills you need to look for
  • Is saas-specific experience necessary?
  • The tools you should look for experience with
  • How to assess a candidate’s ability
    • Using a screening test
    • Interview questions you can ask
    • Trial tasks you can assign
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Which skills should you look for?

SEO, although a seemingly niche area of marketing, can still be broad. Within SEO, there’s room for different specialisms. As with any job, there’s also the subject-specific skills, and the broader skills.

SEO-specific skills

These are the ‘subject matter’ skills to look for. It’s absolutely normal to have expertise in only one or two of these:

  • Technical SEO- technical audits, fixing core web vitals issues, using site audit tools like Screaming Frog (or the equivalent feature of Ahrefs, Semrush etc. – likely able to converse easily with devs
  • Content SEO- keyword research, content planning, writing briefs for writers and/or managing content teams
  • Link building- outreach, relationship management & other link building tactics to acquire quality links to rank for more competitive keywords
  • Strategy- a high-level overview, with experience in decision making and directing resources (link builders, content writers, and technical work)

If you can find all of these skills in one person, that’s amazing. Make an offer!

Most likely you’ll be trying to find a person who is 80-90% of the way there, with some ambition to learn quickly and get to 100%. The most common gap you’ll find is likely to be with link building, from my experience. 

Where possible, SEOs love to outsource link building, so you might find that candidates have experience managing an agency rather than doing it themselves.

Let’s face it, cold outreach is not most people’s idea of fun. Think ahead, and discuss it with candidates. Do you (and they) foresee link building being a significant part of your SEO efforts? Will you have a budget to outsource it? For a solo SEO manager, it’s rarely a smart use of their time to hammer cold outreach all day.

Other skills

Naturally, to succeed in any role there’s more to it than just those subject-specific skills. An in-house B2B SEO manager will also need to be able to:

  • Navigate internal resources
  • Handle & interpret data
  • Communicate well (internally and  + externally)

Any initiatives an SEO manager puts forward will need resources. That could be budget, writing, design, development or anything else. The person will need to have a good understanding of effort vs impact, and be able to build a business case for allocating these resources.

Kevin Indig of Shopify articulated this perfectly recently. He describes how SEOs give recommendations to other teams, and how there’s a relatively small number of things we do fully ourselves. Like a product manager, coordinating other internal resources is a big part of an SEO’s role.

As well as generally being competent across marketing fundamentals, being skilled with data is a big plus too. Like with any growth-based role, data will inform decision making as much as possible. As a minimum, experience with Google Analytics & spreadsheets is necessary for tracking impact and prioritising work.

Ideally, the person will also be comfortable with using customer data platforms like Segment or Rudderstack, and Amplitude for measuring activation and retention from organic conversions too. Especially relevant for a product-led business model.

Is SaaS experience necessary?

No, but it’s helpful. Many of the fundamental principles from other business models do apply. The basics of on-page SEO, technical audits, link building strategies & keyword research will all be similar. 

There are some saas specifics the candidate might not be familiar with if they aren’t from a saas background:

  • SaaS metrics: from a non-saas background, there may be some foreign metrics. Check for an understanding of ARPA, CAC, LTV, churn, and all our other wonderful acronyms
  • High intent keyword research: this might be slightly different, especially vs something like local SEO. Think bottom-of-funnel content like ‘best tools’ lists, ‘alternatives’ lists, ‘tool a vs tool b’, templates, and so on
  • Sales led vs product led: does the candidate understand the differences? Do they understand how to measure conversion quality? E.g. MQLs, SQLs, PQLs

Applicants’ experience will also vary depending on the company size they’ve worked in. There’s clear differences in tactics with enterprise SEO vs startup SEO, for example.

Have a conversation with the candidate, learn about their background, and their level of saas knowledge.

Tools & software you should look for experience with

A lot of SEO job descriptions I’ve seen have strangely specific requirements. 

An example would be:

Candidates must have 5+ years of experience using Screaming Frog’.

Since there are so many different site auditing tools, it’s simply unnecessary to be so specific. Rather, you can broadly look for someone who has experience with any popular SEO toolkits, e.g.

  • Ahrefs
  • Semrush
  • Nightwatch

Anyone with in-depth experience in something like site auditing (as one example), can easily get used to another tool that can achieve a similar job. In fact, if you’re not a technical SEO expert – perhaps it’s better to let them tell you which tool is best for the job.

SEO software

Stating the obvious, let’s start with SEO software. Tools in this category will be all-in-one toolkits, or built for a specific purpose. Most popular are the all-in-one toolkits. These cover multiple functions within SEO. That could be related to rank tracking, competitor analysis, keyword research, backlink monitoring, site auditing, link building, and so on. Examples include Nightwatch, Ahrefs, Semrush, and Moz.

Other than that, you may find candidates have used tools specific to one purpose. An example of this would be AccuRanker or ProRankTracker for rank tracking.

Experience using at least one of these tools is absolutely essential.

Data & analytics software

Google Analytics, Google Search Console, and use of spreadsheets are all basic essentials. On top of that, here’s some ‘nice-to-haves’:

  • Customer data platforms (Segment, Rudderstack, Snowplough)
  • Product analytics tools (Mixpanel, Amplitude)
  • Split testing software (Google Optimize, Optimizely)
  • Heatmaps software (Hotjar, Mouseflow)

Other software

Outside of SEO tools & data, here’s a few other more general things I’d ideally look for experience with:

  • Project/task management (Asana, Trello, Monday)
  • Documentation (Notion)
  • Email outreach tools (Mailshake, Pitchbox)
  • Automation tools (Zapier, Integromat)

This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it does cover a lot of the categories of software that an SEO manager might use in their role.

How can you assess candidates’ ability?

Of course, a resume with an impressive history of growing organic revenue numbers in a saas is always a major plus. Arguably the #1 thing to look for, even. 

That being said, it can still be difficult to figure out that individual person’s contribution. If the person was in an SEO role at a hypergrowth saas, their numbers will look very different compared to someone at a small bootstrapped product. Someone in a funded hypergrowth company can be doing a remarkably average job, and get (what looks like on paper) amazing results.

So what can you do?

Start by screening candidates

You can save yourself a lot of time and frustration by asking candidates to complete an online skills test.

These can usually be completed by a candidate in 15-20 minutes, and it’s generally a more pleasant experience than going through the traditional method of writing a resume & cover letter. 

The result is that you’ll only invest your time and energy in those candidates who have proved a minimum level of competency through your test. You can choose to filter out all low quality applications (for example, those scoring below 80% on your test).

Toggl Hire lets you create these skills tests in just a few clicks. There is a bank of existing test templates you can use (including for an SEO specialist!), or you can customize the test to add in your own questions.

You can sign up for free with no credit card required and give it a whirl for yourself.

Interview high scoring candidates

Now that you’ve filtered out the low quality candidates through your screening test, invite any promising applicants to interview.

In addition to your company-specific questions such as culture fit, equip yourself with some SEO-specific questions. Here’s some examples you can use.

5 Example SEO Interview Questions

If you Google ‘SEO interview questions’ now, you’ll find articles that recommend you ask rubbish like:

  • What is SEO
  • What is a nofollow link
  • How long should a meta description be

Unless you’re hiring for the most basic entry-level role, skip all that. You’re not writing a quiz; rather, you need to figure out how people think, and how they’ll approach the task of growing your organic KPIs.

Here’s 5 sample interview questions you could ask prospective hires, why they’re worth asking, and what to listen out for.

1. How would you determine search intent for {example keyword}?

Search intent is a crucial thing to understand in SEO. If Google decides people are looking for a listicle, you need a listicle to rank. An example would be ‘trello alternatives’. You’ll notice that, rather than product homepages or other landing pages, there’s just a ton of lists.

With some searches, you’ll see the reverse. And with others, you might find videos ranking #1 or in the featured snippet. Most times, it’s simply a case of seeing what’s currently ranking to understand what people are looking for.

2. How would you analyze keyword difficulty?

Keyword difficulty is an SEO metric that is notoriously tricky to interpret. Ahrefs keyword difficulty is one of the more well-known ones. It’s generally useful, but it’s not enough to rely entirely on that number.

Every keyword will be given a KD number between 0 and 100. It only takes into account how many backlinks the current ranking pages have. This could be an entire article on it’s own, but for now, just understand that the answer is to manually review the SERP.

Look at the domains that are ranking, how many backlinks they have, how many unique referring domains there are, their quality, and how many are dofollow vs nofollow. 

3. How would you measure the success of your SEO efforts?

This question has multiple layers to the answer. Initially, we’re thinking about things like rankings / position tracking, and increases in traffic.

Secondly, we’re looking for conversion tracking. Which KPIs / goals will be tracked & prioritised?

Ultimately, we want to find a way to tie efforts to revenue. With a sales-led model, it might be MQLs or SQLs. With a product-led model, it might be PQLs or something else based on the activation & retention of sign ups.

Look for depth beyond just traffic.

4. Which of these keywords would you prioritize?

Here, you can present the candidate 2 (or more) keywords to consider pursuing. Ask which they would prioritize, and why.

You can choose how much information you provide up front — the candidate might need to ask questions to come to their decision.

The choice should be based on factors like:

  • Average search volumes per month
  • Levels of competition
  • Existing topical relevance
  • Level of intent & likely conversion rate
  • Other internal goals / priorities

5. Which SaaS brands are doing great things with their SEO?

This question will help you to understand if candidates know the saas landscape, and whether they’re aware of industry-leading tactics & trends.

Examples might include:

  • Zapier– rapid growth with integration pages & keywords
  • Visme– successful design template galleries
  • Hubspot– free tools like their email signature maker attracts traffic, backlinks & leads

Assign a trial task

Next, we recommend assigning a trial task at some point in the hiring process.

If you can, pay candidates for their time on this task. It sets the tone right from that start that you respect their time. Secondly, you won’t feel bad about saying ‘no’ if you end up rejecting the candidate. Sure, you’ve asked for their time & work through the process – but they’ve been paid. No hard feelings.

Here are two examples of trial tasks you could assign. You could ask for:

A content plan

This should detail plans to produce new content (and perhaps update existing content) based on keyword research. This might be for a 1, 2 or 3 month period. Here, you should look for:

  • A mix of long-term potential and quick win opportunities
  • An understanding of the KPI / growth  potential each action could bring
  • An understanding of the resources involved (writing, design, dev)
  • Asking for questions & data to guide their decision-making

A technical audit

This could be sitewide, or for part of a site (depending on how big the site is!). The candidate would identify technical issues that may be holding back organic performance. Here, you should look for:

  • Communication skills- both the ability to help non-technical people understand the issues, and to help direct devs on how to fix them
  • Issues explained and prioritized (which are the highest priority issues?)
  • An understanding of resources needed to resolve each issue

Summary

Hiring for any role can be tricky, and SEO managers are no different. It’s hard to find someone who has the right skills, experience, and culture fit for your team.

Screen candidates to save yourself time, ask the right questions during the interview, and assign a trial task. Anyone who’s still impressing you by the end of the process is most likely a great fit for your team.

June 15, 2021