Written by Ryan Jones. Updated on 18, October 2022
It's 2022, we all know the importance of a link building specialist within an SEO team now so I am not going to go into any further detail here.
What I will say is that gone are the days of purchasing 100 links from a PBN (Private Blog Network) and ranking. No, Google is too smart for this now.
Bottom line. If you are going to require ongoing link building for your company and you don't want to hire an agency to do this, you need a link building specialist.
In this article, we're going to go through some of the interview questions you should be asking all link building specialists that come through your door and the answers they will ideally be giving.
Without any further build up, let's get to it.
First thing first, we need to establish what a link building specialist is within the SEO team. Essentially, a link building specialist is someone who's sole role is building links back to your website and your client websites if you have clients on your books.
There are many ways to achieve this, but they will spend most of their days working with content teams to draft content pieces that are "link worthy" and then they will organise outreach campaigns to webmasters, journalists and content managers to get links built.
As with most SEO-based interviews, we will start off with some specialist questions which will allow you to properly gauge a link building specialist's skill level when it comes to performing the job at hand.
Nothing in the questions below should catch a true specialist out and they should be able to answer with ease.
What you are looking for from a candidate here is that they explain that, even in 2022, links are generally still the most important needle movers within an SEO strategy. Of course, your technical SEO, site speed, site architecture and many other factors will still play a part. But nothing will move the needle as much as a good link building campaign.
If a candidate is going to get "extra credit" from an interviewer when answering this question then it is key that they mention it isn't the number of links obtained that move the needle the most. In 2022 it is the quality and, more importantly, the relevance of the links that are being built.
If you are a home decoration company, a link from a pet supply store is not going to move the needle at all. However, a link from a paint supplier will move the needle a good way as this is a nice relevant link. As long as the quality of the link is good too.
It seems that over the course of the last decade there has been an abundance of new tools coming into the industry, all with the aim of helping you with your link building campaigns. Tools like Pitchbox and BuzzStream will help you manage outreach campaigns directly, tools like Ahrefs and Semrush will help you monitor backlinks that your website obtains.
In answering this question, the candidate should mention enough tools across the range. They should mention a tool that allows them to properly manage outreach for one or more websites. They should also mention a tool such as Ahrefs or Semrush that will allow them to monitor new backlinks your business is generating.
If the candidate wants to go even further, they may even mention tools like Hunter that allow you to scrape websites for email addresses. This is key for a lot of successful link building campaigns as it allows you to improve the send success rate of all of your campaigns.
If you have a candidate in front of you who is truly "next level" they may mention an SEO testing and reporting tool like SEOTesting. A tool like this will allow you to see the impact of link building on a specific page or groups of pages on your website. You'll be able to see the impact of these new links on average ranking, impressions and page clicks. This is incredibly helpful to all link building specialists.
When answering this question, what you are looking for from a candidate is the relationship-building aspect of link building that is so crucial nowadays. They don't even need to mention specific ways of building backlinks, digital PR or skyscraper link building for example, but they do need to stress the importance of building good, long-lasting relationships.
If you are interviewing a candidate and they brag about how many emails they send per campaign, this may not be the candidate you want to progress further with as it shows they are employing a "see what sticks" approach which is not successful in link building in 2022.
A candidate may also mention websites like HARO, Response Source and Source Bottle as viable ways to build backlinks. This is perfectly acceptable too.
This should be a very easy question to answer for whoever you are interviewing.
No. It is not acceptable to purchase backlinks in 2022. It is, quite clearly, against Google's Webmaster Guidelines and you run the risk of having a manual action imposed on your site which is incredibly difficult to get removed.
A candidate may go into further detail and explain that you need to put money into the creation of great content which has a chance of building backlinks. This is completely acceptable. You are allowed to spend as much money as you want building resources, and in some cases it is encouraged (especially in data-backed content), but you should never pay a webmaster money exclusively to have a link added to your website.
Whilst this answer does carry some nuance, the short answer is very simple. Even in 2022, a link from a website that has been tagged as 'nofollow' will still carry advantages. Not to the same level as a backlink that hasn't been tagged this way, but advantages either way.
Overall, most forms of link building are against Google's guidelines, but it is perfectly natural for a webmaster to link out to a piece of content that adds value to their readers and is relevant to their website. There is nothing wrong here. In some cases, they will tag these links as nofollow. To use a horrid term, it does not pass any link juice.
It has been said that Google considers nofollow links as hints, but if you are looking for more than just anecdotal evidence, Sarah Fleming did an amazing experiment that she presented at BrightonSEO in early 2021. That is well worth checking out.
So if your candidate explains that nofollow links still hold value, even if it isn't to the same level as a "normal" backlink, they have answered the question well in my book.
Now standard practice in all job interviews, next we'll go through some non-technical questions that will allow you to gauge more about a candidate themselves and whether they are right for your business or not.
Of course, SEO and link building changes a lot each and every year, but some changes are larger than others. What you're looking for from a candidate here is they know what works today may not work in 5 years so they cannot rely on the same tactics working at all times.
Because of this, they may explain how they like to stay on top of link building trends, newsletters and podcasts to ensure their knowledge is in top shape at all times. They may also follow influential people on "SEO Twitter" to keep tabs on what they are achieving with their link building methods.
Another thing a candidate could mention here is digital PR. Digital PR has grown rapidly over the last 5 years and is now one of the main methods companies use to build links for their business. Over time, it could be that digital PR becomes the only thing that works and other methods such as building niche edits or guest posting may stop working altogether. It could also be mentioned here that digital PR may stop being a viable link method in the future.
Whilst there is no right or wrong answer here, it will help a candidate's case if they explain what works today may not work tomorrow, so it is always best they keep their knowledge levels in good shape for the future.
Boy, has this question been asked a lot over the last 5 years. The simple answer you are looking for from a candidate here is... No. Guest posting is not dead.
There are a couple of caveats here that your candidate needs to mention. They need to ensure that they are not having guest posts published on PBNs and they also need to explain that no money can change hands for having a guest post placed on another website.
Beyond this, guest posting can still be an incredible way of building links for businesses. Especially as it gives the best chance of these links being relevant to your business. It makes sense for an interior designer to write a guest post on a paint supplier's website, it makes sense for a home builder to write a guest post on an estate agent's website. Guest posting will give you the best chance of succeeding here.
This is another question that does not have a correct answer. What you are simply looking for here is that the candidate has seen success with link building before.
The way they built these links does not matter so much as long as they are not hosted on PBNs and as long as they were not paid for. They may have had a digital PR campaign land incredibly well and be picked up by lots of national publications. They may have seen success with a targeted campaign of guest posting outreach, or niche edits.
The method doesn't matter, but if you can verify (using Ahrefs or Semrush) generally that these campaigns did in fact build links, you are on to a winner with your candidate.
So there you have it, some interview questions we would recommend adding into your program for interviewing link building specialists. Some questions require specific answers whilst others are completely candidate-specific.
You may have noticed we mentioned SEOTesting within the article. If you're interested in seeing how SEOTesting would work for your business, you can sign up for a 14-day free trial with no credit card required. Or feel free to get in touch with us directly for further information.