This post is not written with spite, anger, or bitterness. On the contrary, it is designed to help others that might have an upcoming SEO interview with ExpressVPN or with a similar provider.
TL;DR I was rejected twice. I never got past HR; I invested a ton of time preparing for the interviews, so I thought, why let the content that I prepared to go to waste? 🙂
Lemme Just Say…
Aside from a frosty HR team, ExpressVPN is (I’m sure) a wonderful company, and if you are interviewing with them: good luck and I hope the below nudges you in the right direction.
Also, real quick, lemme also just say that I’m genuinely happy for those that got past the first HR stage; congrats!
I do not claim to be some sort of SEO guru, but I do feel somewhat of a specialist…you can see why below.
I was not assuming I’d get the job, rather, I’m just a hardworking guy with proven SEO within their niche and I was kinda hoping I’d get to talk to or interview with one of their in-house SEO guys or gals, so when it comes to you interviewing you can improve where I failed.
Anyways, let’s stop the whining and dig into what’s cool and what’s interesting about these guys.
Table Of Contents
|Their Recruitment Process|
|The “Home Test” Questions||Passed 🙂|
|The HR Interview||Failed 🙁|
|The HR Interview Questions They Asked||Failed 🙁|
|The HR Interview Questions They Should Have Asked|
I’ve done SEO for years, in fact since 2003!
The role I was applying for was as an “SEO Manager” for ExpressVPN here in Hong Kong. For those that don’t know, ExpressVPN is a privacy provider (a product and service I consider to be within “Cybersecurity”).
There are five reasons why I felt particularly suited to the role:
- I built (from scratch) two sites that dominate their niches within Cybersecurity that generated combined visits of 250,000 per annum;
- One of my sites has backlinks from the NSA, GCHQ, (even the W3!), dozens of Universities and is used by thousands of CXO-Level Cybersecurity Professionals;
- My clients include Household Cybersecurity NASDAQ corporations that all take advantage of my proven SEO skills within Cybersecurity;
- I’m a Certified Ethical Hacker (and CompTIA Sec+) so I understand the protocols and market (and mindset too!)
- As well as indexing for over 2,000 keywords, this particular site you are on ranks #1 (or at least in the top SERP) for terms like “Hacker Tools”, “Cybersecurity Protocols”, “Protocols You Have To Know” and a bunch of other terms – all 100% pertinent to the ExpressVPN vertical, i.e. I can rank keywords that would work for their brand.
So, owing to the above I felt that I was in for a fair chance.
Before I dive into the process and the interview, I just want to reiterate that I am not bitter and I’m genuinely happy for the guy or gal that got the role and likely deservedly so.
Again – the entire purpose of this post is to share my experiences.
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The ExpressVPN Recruitment Process
- Submit your CV for the role you are interested in;
- You’ll be sent a “home-test” that includes a series of questions that you have to reply to by uploading your answers in a Docx or PDF format;
- (If successful) HR will have a chat “or interview” with you;
- This leads to having an interview with the appropriate department
- Another home test;
- Meet the team in person
- Get Hired!
I failed (both times, i.e. two roles on two separate occasions) at #3, i.e. I never got past the HR “Gatekeepers” (more on that later).
The Home Test Questions
Passed: Woo Hoo!
These are the real questions asked as of January 2021 along with my legit answers.
Question 1: What’s the proper number of keywords to use around a given topic if we hope to rank well? (200 words)
Including the seed keyword, I would expect to use anywhere between 5-10 keywords to rank for a particular topic.
However, the quantity and the structure of those keywords would be entirely determined by keyword research and ensuring that the post answered the “search intent” of the topic (I address the importance of “Search Intent” in 2021, further down).
By “keyword structure” I am referring to modifiers, questions, prepositions, and comparisons that all help to structure the content.
The Importance of Topic Clustering
The “given topic” and “number of keywords” referred to in the question should be placed within an overall “content cluster” plan. Content clusters help establish authority on a range of topics.
The new topic (post) should be created with the intention of boosting, via internal linking, (“SEO Juice”) the main conversion page(s).
Search User Intent and Keywords
There are four recognized “search stages” that lead to conversions: informational, navigational, commercial investigation and transactional.
Matching “Search Intent” is a stated Google ranking signal for 2021. The new topic being proposed should contain between 5-10 keywords that 100% match the needs of the searcher.
In the screenshot below, ExpressVPN has opportunities with “informational stage”, search-intent topics that could help to power the core “What’s My IP” conversion page using content-clustering.
Question 2: We’ve written a blog post for 2020 that we plan to re-work and publish for 2021 on a new URL. The information is very similar. What SEO implications and actions should we consider to adhere to best practices?
From a technical SEO point-of-view, the negative implications of publishing “very similar” content is that the new post might be considered as being “duplicate content” and not be indexed. Whilst not considered a penalty, Search Engines might ignore the new content if it’s deemed as being “very similar”.
Said simply: Google wants to return accurate answers (data) to queries; and showing multiple and similar answers from the same domain is a negative user experience.
However, addressing the question, there are several options and decisions that would be based on the actual SERP results for the legacy post, i.e. what keywords have been indexed and in what position?
Also, how important is the indexed legacy post? Does it actually convert traffic to subscribers/customers? If so, then further care should be taken when deciding on any one of my three options listed below.
Since the question states that the content is “very similar” I would consider selecting one of the posts (the legacy or the new post) as being the canonical version and placing that within the meta data of the <header> HTML of both pages. For the most part Google will respect the author’s canonical version and since ExpressVPN.com has a DA/DR 80/83, it will almost certainly be respected.
If the legacy indexed post is deemed to contain content that is virtually identical then a 301 Redirect (placed in an .htaccess file at the root of expressvpn.com) would be the best approach since this would instruct search engines that the post (and content) has been relocated to a new location. The original post would then be removed.
However, my likely preferred solution would be to rewrite and extend aspects of the original post with content and keywords that are more inline with the original topic – and where possible – update elements of that post. Furthermore, the original post could be updated with new LSI keywords that fit within that original topic.
With prevention being better than the cure I would suggest that this question fits neatly into my “content clustering” approach cited above, i.e. structuring content within topic clusters would eliminate this issue of potential duplicate content.
Of course, what has been addressed in both these questions is entirely OnPage SEO.
There are hundreds of other signals that search engines look for when ranking content.
Here are some other vital SEO actions that I see as being important in 2021:
- Google finally using Mobile First Ranking for 2021, (fix: improve that experience);
- Search-User Intent (as mentioned above), source: John Mueller, SMX 2020;
- Semantic-search/LSI keywords concept continue to be important;
- Deploying pre-emptive content headers to increase dwell time;
- “Brand-search” to validate Google’s own EAT principles, source: Google’s Search Quality Rater Guidelines
- – and – literally another 100 or so onpage/offpage signals that all help to rank content.
The HR Interview
Failed: Boo Hoo
Following my successful questions as published above, I received an email to schedule a Zoom Call.
Fantastic! And, as you’d expect, I did a ton of preparation before hand.
Then, when the day came, the interviewer couldn’t get their Zoom App to work (!?) so we had to revert to a mobile call.
I’m not bitching on the above point (these things happen) but it’s disappointing because the call was important to me and I prefer, as was advertised, to have had a Face-to-Face video streaming call so that I can see who I am talking to, read their expressions and respond to their enthusiasm.
Also, switching from Zoom to a Mobile sucks for this reason: how do I know the person on the other end isn’t going through their personal WhatsApp messages or browsing the web for a pair of shoes whilst I am trying to sell myself? Why would I think that someone would do that? Because I’ve done it and you have too.
The Questions They Asked
I’m paraphrasing some of the questions…
[Interviewer picks a random role you’ve had] “Tell Me A Time You Used SEO At ACME job?”
That was a good question. I gave a decent response when I optimized localized Hong Kong search to match keyword intent.
What Is Your Management Style?
I answered that I’d never ask anyone to do something that I wouldn’t do. Also, I work under the premise of hard work and fun.
Have You Used Google Analytics Before?
LOL. No. Never 🙂 Of course I have!
Have You Ever Used Google Search Console?
Um, yup, I hope so! 🙂
Tell Me About A Recent Google Update
I goofed the date of my answer; I said the May 2019 Core Update instead of the May 2020 Core Update. Simple error – anyway, in the spirit of transparency I included my wrong answer in this review.
And, there were a bunch of other questions that were generic and vague and basically pretty much uninspirational.
There were a few others that I can’t remember but when they do I’ll pop them in here.
The Questions They Should Have Asked
The questions that I think ought to have been asked should have related to my specific experience within the industry.
Can You Tell Me About The Niches That You Dominate In Cybersecurity And How You Built Them?
^ That would have been spot-on, and – let’s focus on the subject-matter at hand!
What’s Your Prediction For How Google Will Rank Sites In 2021-2022?
^ This would have tested my knowledge and also would have tested my involvement within the industry.
Who Do You Admire In The SEO Community?
^ This is a great question but the interviewer knew basically zilch about SEO.
Tell Me Your Favorite SEO Growth Hacking Tools, And Why?
^ This would have been a fantastic question and my gosh I have some amazing tools I could share, but again, my answer would have been lost on someone who knows very little about Search Engine Optimization.
The HR person I spoke to was for the most part uninterested and a bit cold – something that is not that unusual for Hong Kong.
I find that in the situation I am describing above, either people find a reason to want to help and find positive or, they do the opposite. The gods of positivity were not with me.
Being interviewed by a quasi-interested, zero-subject-matter-knowledgeable HR person is a bit like having a crappy lawyer trying to get you off a murder rap that you didn’t commit; i.e. I had little faith the HR person would “sell-me” to the next person up the chain of command.
Am I disappointed? Sure, who wouldn’t be?
Did they make the right decision? In total fairness to the ExpressVPN recruitment team and to show my integrity I’d say, perhaps yes.
ExpressVPN was one of the very few jobs I applied for recently; I’m self-employed and frankly, working for other people sucks ass for the most part so I’d be best off sticking to my Growth Hacking Stuff and Cyber Stuff – and they probably picked up on that.
Again, a big congrats to the folks that got past the dreaded HR obstacle, and I hope that the above helps someone pass where I failed.
Good luck 🙂
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