Written by Ryan Jones. Updated on 22, November 2022
Back in the early 2000's, it was possible for an SEO professional within your team to understand all levels or disciplines of SEO. You may hire one person within your team to take care of everything when it comes to the SEO for your website.
In 2022, this (in most cases) is just not possible anymore. More and more specialist roles are popping up, and SEO teams are now made up of multiple people, all working towards the same goal in completely different ways.
In this article, we're going to talk more about the 'Technical SEO Specialist' and their role. What's more, we're also going to give you the questions you should be asking a prospective technical SEO specialist and the answers they should be ideally giving.
First things first, what actually is a technical SEO Specialist?
Essentially, someone joining your team as a technical SEO specialist is going to be focused primarily on the crawling and indexing of your website. This person will be responsible for ensuring the key pages of your website are crawlable and indexable so that Google has no issues rendering and ranking them.
You may also find they are going to be the main contact point between your development team and your SEO team, organising work on the importance of it being completed.
They'll also be focussed on other key areas of your website's technology, including making it faster and organising the site architecture in a coherent way.
Given that the role of a technical SEO specialist is, in itself, incredibly technical, we're going to be kicking off with some specialist questions that all technical SEO specialists should know how to answer and answer well.
There are a couple of ways to answer this question, and what you're looking for from your technical SEO specialist here is that they can explain both ways.
The first, and perhaps easiest, way to find out if a URL has been indexed by Google is to use the "site:" search operator. Using this with your or your client's URL is a great way to get Google to show all of the URLs Google has indexed for a particular site.
If the candidate really wants to show more initiative, too. They can then mention they can download the search results from Google into a spreadsheet file and find the URL this way.
The second way to find a particular URL that has been indexed by Google is to use Google Search Console (GSC). Here you can also find a list of URLs that have been indexed by Google and you can search this way.
For extra points, the candidate may well explain they'd use the "site:" search operator if they did not have access to a client's GSC account.
This is quite a nuanced answer, and there are going to be a couple of things here, the first thing mentioned will more than likely be the use of a website's robots.txt file. The candidate will most likely also mention the noindex tag too.
The key point for you to look for from your candidate is they know the difference between these two key technical directives.
A robots.txt file is only used to let Google know how their bots can crawl a website, it will not stop URLs being indexed by Google if they are crawled. A noindex tag will stop a URL from being indexed, even if it is crawled by Google.
The candidate may also explain that you can use canonical tags to stop duplicate pages being indexed by Google. This is particularly useful for ecommerce websites where there may be an abundance of filter or faceted search type pages that you may not want to be indexed by Google.
In reality, canonicalization is pretty simple to understand, so answering this question should not be difficult for a technical SEO specialist to answer.
Essentially, canonicalization works by telling Google which page should be treated as the "main" page, so the page you want to be indexed, when there are instances of duplicate or very similar content.
Correct use of canonicalization is absolutely crucial for ecommerce websites where filters and faceted search is a key feature on the website. You can canonicalize the filtered pages to the main URL to stop any of these pages being indexed if this is what you desire.
Note: It use to be best practice to canonicalize paginated pages to the first one of the sequence, but this guidance has changed based on the official Google pagination documentation. Look out for this incorrect answer.
Log file analysis is a crucial tool for almost every technical SEO specialist, and if it isn't, then it probably should be.
In its purest form, log file analysis allows a technical SEO specialist to see how search engine crawlers like Googlebot and Bingbot access it.
This process will allow them to find which pages are being crawled regularly and maybe recommend some changes to make better use of this crawling, such as adding or removing internal links etc. It will also allow them to establish which pages on a website are not being crawled at all. These are referred to as 'orphan pages'. Recommendations can then be made to add internal links to these pages to ensure they are crawled, rendered, indexed, and ranked.
Essentially, log file analysis allows you to see a website from the POV of a search engine, and this is the answer you should be looking for.
This is possibly the first question within this article that does not have a right or wrong answer. This is a chance for the candidate to explain their process for carrying out site audits, which is especially useful if you are an agency hiring for a technical SEO position.
What you are looking for here is for the candidate to give more information like:
This will allow you to gain more insight into a candidate's way of working and allow you to establish if they are a good fit for your company and your technical SEO team.
In the next section of the article we will go through questions that do not necessarily have right or wrong answers but will allow you to establish more about them as a person and establish whether they are the correct fit for your company at this point in time.
It will be obvious to most of you reading that most people do not start out doing SEO because they've always known it is what they want to do. For most of us, we did not even know what SEO was when we were starting our careers.
What you are looking for here is an honest answer that gives more insight into the candidate and their background. Perhaps they started off as an IT support specialist and then transitioned into SEO roles over time, perhaps they started off in a content-based writing role and then realised they enjoyed the technical side of the work more than the writing side.
There really is no right or wrong answer here.
This is, perhaps, my favourite question to ask in all SEO interviews as it really gives the candidate a chance to show their passion for the role.
It does not matter here what the candidate says as their favourite thing, really. What you are looking for, ideally, is that they do not say they enjoy the money. Obviously. But you also should hopefully find that they enjoy the technical aspect of the role the most. This is a position for a technical SEO specialist, after all.
For some, they may enjoy making technical changes to make a site faster, others may love solving technical problems which solve crawling and/or indexing issues. Others may love the fact that SEO is data-oriented.
Again, there is no right or wrong answer here.
But what you are looking for, especially as you are interviewing for a technical SEO specialist, is that they mention at least one website crawling tool like ScreamingFrog, Sitebulb, or Botify. These are crucial tools that will allow a technical SEO specialist to perform their duties to the maximum, so it is critical they mention a crawling tool.
Beyond that, there is a large number of other tools they could mention. They could, perhaps, mention their favourite CMS to work on. For some it may be WordPress, it could be BigCommerce for others, and it could be Magento for another individual. This is all down to preference and what the candidate has worked on the most in the past.
Other tools may be mentioned. If testing and reporting are going to be a large part of the role, then software like SEOTesting could be mentioned as an option, especially for agency-side work, given it is incredibly cost-effective and simple to use as part of client communication and reporting.
As we all know, SEO is an ever-changing field, and what worked six months, six weeks, or even six days ago may not work today.
Because of this, it is crucial for a technical SEO specialist to stay up-to-date on the latest news in the industry. How they do this, really, is up to them. Some candidates may use trusted people on "SEO Twitter" to stay up-to-date. Lily Ray, Kevin Indig, Marie Haynes are all really good people to follow if this is the case.
We here at SEOTesting love two newsletters in particular:
SEOFOMO - A weekly newsletter, run by the wonderful Aleyda Solis which includes links to news you may have missed and people to follow within the industry!
Marketing on Mondays - Marketing on Mondays is a weekly newsletter, run by Ryan Jones, which includes detailed write-ups on technical SEO topics, content marketing, interviews with successful marketers and rants too.
For other candidates, they may prefer to use trusted sites like Search Engine Journal or Search Engine Land and others may prefer podcasts.
The only caveat I would mention here is that podcasts and "SEO Twitter" are mostly opinions, so it is useful to look for official data or quotes from company officials like John Mueller to use as sources rather than the people outside of Google's ecosphere.
So there you have it, some interview questions we would recommend adding into your program for interviewing technical SEO 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.