Hiring an SEO Consultant: Discerning the Good from the Bad
Hiring a good SEO consultant successfully is the culmination of various carefully considered parameters. A good SEO(or search engine optimizer) is a person who can work towards making your site rank #1 on search engines such as Google, in a spot where an unbiased customer would like your site to be seen. A good SEO also likes to improve your site's entire searcher experience, from search results to clicking on your website and potentially converting. He or she will also recommend best practices for a search-friendly site, from basic things like descriptive page titles for a blog or business to more complex things like language markup for a multi-lingual global site. In most cases, SEO's need four months to a year to help your business first implement improvements and then see potential benefits. The SEO should also corroborate their recommendation with a documented statement from Google, either in a help center article, video, or Googler response in a forum, that supports both the SEO's description of the issue that needs to be improved to help with ranking and the approach they prescribe to accomplishing their task.
General SEO Hiring Involves the Following Process
1. Conducting a 2-way Interview with Your Potential SEOCheck that they genuinely seem interested in you and your business. In the interview, here are some things to look for. A good SEO doesn't just focus on good search engine ranking, but how they can improve your business. So they should ask you questions like what makes your business, content, and/or service unique and therefore valuable to customers. They want to know this information to make sure it's highlighted on your website for your current and potential new audience. A committed SEO will also ask what does your current customer look like and how do they currently find your website. The SEO will be curious how your business makes money and how does search help. They will inquire about what other channels you are using, such as offline advertising and social networks, and lastly, who are your competitors and how do they do well online as well as potentially offline. If the SEO doesn't seem to be interested in understanding your business from a holistic standpoint, look elsewhere.
2. Check Their ReferencesIf your potential SEO provides prior clients, be sure to check their references. You should be able to hear from past clients that the SEO was able to provide useful guidance, and worked effectively with the developers, designers, UX researchers and their marketers. A good SEO should look like someone you can work with, learn from, experiment with, and who genuinely cares about you and your business, not just getting your site on the highest rank, as those techniques generally don't last long if they work at all. The SEO will want to educate you and your staff on how search engines work so that search engine optimization becomes a part of your general business operations.
3. Ask for (and You'll Probably Have to Pay for) a Technical and Search AuditIf you trust your SEO, give them a restricted (not a full view) access to your Google Search Console data or analytics data. Before they actually modify anything on your website, have them conduct a technical and search audit to give you a prioritized list of they think should improve your SEO. In the audit, the SEO should prioritize improvements in a structure. Such as the issue, the suggested improvement, and an estimate of the overall investment. The SEO should be able to talk to your developers regarding the technical constraints that may exist. The estimated positive impact on the business might include a ranking improvement that will lead to more visitors and conversions, or a positive impact may come from a back-end change that perhaps cleans up your site and help your brand be agiler in future. Lastly, they should have a plan of how to iterate and improve on the implementation or how to experiment and fail fast should results not meet expectations. In the technical audit, your SEO should be able to review your site for issues related to internal linking, crawlability, URL parameters, server connectivity, and response codes, etc. If they mention that your site has duplicate content problems that need to be corrected, make sure they show you the specific URLs that are competing for the same query or that those should be cleaned up for long-term site health and not initial growth. In a search audit, a good SEO will likely break down your search queries into categories, like “branded” (example: Gmail) and “unbranded” (example: email). Your SEO should make sure that for branded queries, your website is providing a great experience that allows customers who know your brand or website can easily find what they need and potentially convert. They might recommend changes that improve the entire searcher experience, from what the searcher sees in search results to when they click on your website and see search results. For unbranded queries, the SEO can help you better make sense of the online competitive landscape. A good SEO's unbranded/general keyword ideas would invariably include updating obsolete content, improve internal linking on your website, generate buzz through social media, and importantly, learn from the competition.
4. Check If the SEO is Able to Align KPIs with Your Business GoalsA good SEO should be able to align your KPIs with your business goals by working in tandem with you to define your business objectives, as well as figuring out when you have accomplished your goals. For E-Commerce, your SEO will drive your attention to the metrics that illustrate revenue, orders, conversion rates, profits, average order and profits per visit. For a content portal, the SEO will focus on your traffic and track metrics such as actions per visit, overall page views, subscription conversion, returning visitors' percentage, and more. For lead generation, the SEO will concentrate on metrics related to leads, such as conversion rate, cost per lead signups, materials downloaded, and registrations. For a customer support website, the SEO will choose the KPIs that will allow you to measure the effectiveness of your efforts in online customer support.
ConclusionThe biggest hold-ups to an SEO's recommendations on improving your website isn't their own fault, but it's the businesses taking the time to implement their ideas. If you are not ready to commit yourself to making SEO improvements or getting an SEO audit done that might be helpful, your SEO improvements may be non-existent, regardless of who you hire. So you need to make sure that your entire organization is on board.
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