The process of finding, selecting and hiring an SEO consultant–one whom you can work with for the long haul–is not always the easiest task for a marketing executive or business owner. Unless you’re able to get a few quality referrals from your network, your search starts from scratch. Since I’ve been in the SEO industry for over 10 years, I thought that I would offer my insight into the process that I’ve seen my clients and prospective clients go through, in addition to sharing some of my own suggestions.
How to Find an SEO Consultant
There are few main ways to find an SEO consultant. They all require some effort, but you should expect to do your due dilligence during this discovery stage. Here are five ways to find an SEO consultant that I recommend.
- Tap your professional network and ask for recommendations. Your network is your inner circle of trust. Look for at least a couple of recommendations for SEO consultants that other marketing professionals (or business owners) in your network have worked with (and achieved good results). Start with your social media network, especially LinkedIn, and Twitter. I suggest a combination of asking for recommendations via both public status updates and writing private messages to the people in your network who have likely worked with an SEO consultant.
- Look for lists of the top-rated SEO consultants. There are sites like Credo.com, Upcity.com, Thumbtack, Cluctch.co and others that can help you find reputable SEO consultants in a particular area or niche.
- Read the reviews of the top SEO consultants on 3rd party sites. For example, Kern Media is listed on Thumbtack, and marketing executives or business owners can read reviews from my clients. Investigate the types of clients that particular SEO consultants have worked with, the type of work that was done, and the results achieved.
- Go to local MeetUps and networking events to meet SEO consultants in your area. Having face-to-face time with potential SEO consultants can go a long way toward identifying the type of person that will be a good fit for you, your team, and your company’s goals.
- Review SEO Blogs to find consultants that speak your language. You likely have a sense what you’re looking for (although maybe not fully defined), and reading what professional SEO consultants blog about can help you find a good match based on the type of work that you want to be done. Browse AllTop to scan a large list of recent SEO blog post headlines and identify blog post topics that relate to the type of work that you want to be done.
Note: Notice that I don’t include “Do a Google search” as a specific recommendation. This is because a high Google ranking doesn’t always equate to a quality SEO consultant. A surprising amount of quality SEO consultants don’t rank #1 for their target keyword phrases, as they are busy with their clients’ SEO campaigns. You surely will find some excellent SEO consultants ranking highly, however, this should not be one of your top criteria.
What Does an SEO Consultant Do?
An SEO Consultant does a lot more than you might be aware of. The following list offers a glimpse at what a good SEO consultant does.
- An SEO consultant should audit your website and provide optimization recommendations. There’s a number of audits that an SEO consultant can conduct on your site. Here a few important types of audits and strategies that you should be familiar with:
- SEO Content Audit – This type of audit can include improvement, pruning, and other recommendations for the content on your site in order to both improve and refine the content that search engines have indexed. This type of audit should also provide researched keywords for (at least) your top pages.
- Technical SEO Audit – This type of audit can include recommendations to fix crawl errors, optimize your robots.txt file and XML sitemap, and implement other technical SEO best practices.
- Content Marketing Strategy – This type of strategy will (at least) help to ensure that your content marketing efforts are focused on tactics that work in your industry and that they target keywords that are actually searched for by your target audience.
- An SEO consultant provides a (keyword-researched) content strategy. This ensures that your company has a plan to create the content that your target audience is searching for. A good content strategy goes beyond keyword research, however, and should include recommended content tactics that work in your industry and for your type of business (lead generation, eCommerce, publishing, etc.).
- An SEO consultant provides on-page optimization assistance. This one is very important since good on-page SEO is critical to ensuring that your website has a chance to rank well for the keywords that have been researched. Sometimes, an SEO consultant may actually do the on-page SEO for your business. The approach to implementation will depend on your staff’s bandwidth, your comfort level with providing administrative access to your website for your SEO consultant, etc.
- An SEO consultant identifies link building opportunities. Be careful with this one, since the wrong types of links can put you at risk of Google’s algorithm updates. Avoid SEO consultants who guarantee a certain number of links per month, focus too much on anchor text and discuss directory links too much. A good SEO consultant will help to identify some topically-related websites and blogs that link to competitors, but not your website. A good SEO consultant will also help to identify contributor (guest posting) opportunities on topically-related, industry-leading websites where you can build your brand by providing expert and insightful content. Find more link building strategies that SEO consultants can help you with.
- An SEO consultant helps to ensure you have proper analytics in place. Most companies already have Google Analytics installed, but not every website has Google Search Console and/or Bing Webmaster Tools set up. Furthermore, paid SEO tools such as Moz Pro, SEMRush and others can provide additional reporting metrics that help both you and your SEO consultant ensure that you’re keeping tabs on traffic, errors, acquired links, keyword rankings and specific opportunities to further optimize existing pages on your website.
- An SEO consultant reports on specific metrics that help to measure the results of their efforts. Most companies are initially concerned with rankings for specific keywords, but a good SEO consultant will focus on the bigger picture. Overall organic search traffic and lead/revenue growth are the key metrics to measure. You want to see initial signs that these metrics are growing in a three to six-month window (maybe a little longer) after you’ve begun implementing the SEO consultant’s recommendations on a consistent basis. Don’t expect a hockey-stick type of growth. Initial growth will likely be small, but over time it will grow cumulatively. SEO is a long-term endeavor.
How to Select an SEO Consultant
Selecting an SEO consultant is tricky. You have to be engaged during the proposal process, know what to look for and ask the right questions. The more educated you are, the more likely you are at choosing the right SEO consultant for your business. Let’s dive into a couple main points to consider.
What Makes a Good SEO Consultant
A good SEO consultant will ingrain herself or himself into your business as much as possible because only this approach will allow her or him to identify a deep array of opportunities for your company to grow organic search traffic, leads and/or sales. The following attributes are signs of a good SEO consultant.
- A good SEO consultant understands your traffic and revenue goals. Without knowledge of these goals, it’s hard for both you and the SEO consultant to measure success. Sometimes, the initial goal is to simply “start growing.” That’s okay at first, but once some traction has been gained, it’s good to set some specific goals. Consider the S.M.A.R.T goal methodology from Hubspot.
- A good SEO consultant will discover your unique value proposition, and leverage it. Knowing what makes your company unique allows the SEO consultant to differentiate between different keywords, optimize your metadata with CTAs, leverage your assets during outreach, and provide suggestions for making your content more compelling and in-line with your company’s unique offering.
- A good SEO consultant should educate you and your staff on SEO best practices. It’s important for you (and your staff) to understand the recommendations that your SEO consultant is making. Wherever possible, a good SEO consultant will provide links to source documentation that back up recommendations, and cite case studies that show why specific tactics work (and are generally accepted as “safe” tactics).
- A good SEO consultant will be honest about your ranking potential. Many businesses simply don’t have the link profile authority to rank competitively for the most-searched keywords. A good SEO consultant will be honest and upfront about this, and help to identify less competitive keyword phrases that your company can rank competitively for. The key here is that your SEO consultant helps you target the keywords that are most relevant and most rank-able for your business.
- A good SEO consultant will be upfront about how long it will take to achieve results. SEO takes time. Google is slow. In my experience, it can take anywhere from three to six…even nine months for a website to see noticeable organic search traffic growth. This depends on the competition in your industry, your link profile authority, your content quantity and quality, your current technical issues, etc. Be wary of any consultant who suggests that you can rank highly in a short amount of time. SEO is a marathon, not a sprint.
What to Ask an SEO Consultant
Once you know what makes a good SEO consultant, it’s important to know the right questions to ask him or her before you get a proposal. Listen closely for confidence in the consultant’s voice, details of various SEO processes that will be conducted during your relationship, and specific case studies that back up an SEO consultant’s claims. Here are some specific questions to ask.
- “Do you have any conflicting clients with my business?” Most marketing executives and business owners overlook this question. I always make it a point to mention if I have a current client that may provide a conflict, as I don’t want to get into a situation where I have a conflict of interest with any my clients. Neither do you.
- “How long will it take to see results?” As mentioned above, you need to be aware that SEO takes time. If an SEO consultant starts talking about results in the first month or two, he or she better have a very concrete reason as to why. In my experience (both as a consultant and as an in-house Director of SEO in charge of 200 websites), it typically takes three to six…even nine months to see noticeable organic search traffic growth. And, this is only if your company implements the suggestions and recommendations made by a quality SEO consultant.
- “Can you guarantee rankings?” This is a test. If a consultant guarantees specific rankings, you should stop the conversation. It should be rare that you come across any consultants that guarantee specific search engine rankings, but it should make your stomach drop if they do. We don’t have control over the search engines, and algorithms are always changing. We cannot guarantee rankings.
- “What sort of applications and processes do you have?” This is more important than you might think because if you have any aversion to specific working methodologies, applications or communication styles, you want to know upfront whether a potential SEO consultant is going to employ them. Ensure that the applications and processes are familiar to you, and will be comfortable for you and your staff.
- “What aspects of SEO do you focus on?” You ideally want an SEO consultant that can handle all aspects of SEO advising that you will need: technical, content, link acquisition, etc. If a consultant states that he or she mostly focuses on link building, for example, this should cause some concern since SEO is much more the link building. In fact, many SEO campaigns can drive impressive results with no specific link building outreach efforts at all.
How to Hire an SEO Consultant
Hiring an SEO consultant is the final step of the selection process. Once you have identified an SEO consultant that you would like to work with, determine the following:
- Do you want an initial audit/strategy or are you looking for an ongoing relationship? Determining this will set the stage for your initial relationship. Sometimes you may want to ease into the relationship, so it may be best to get an initial SEO audit conducted (and ideally an accompanying SEO strategy). Other times, you may need a monthly ongoing arrangement in order to conduct and audit, have a strategy created, train your staff, and implement the initial recommendations. A six-month initial engagement (then monthly ongoing) is recommended in this case. A year-long commitment is only recommended if you have a six-month opt-out clause.
- What is the term length for an ongoing relationship? As I mentioned above, a six-month initial engagement is usually best for starting a new ongoing relationship with an SEO consultant. It will likely take a year to have full confidence that your organic search traffic and leads/revenue are really growing, but six months should provide enough time for you to gauge how well things are working.
- What is the cancellation policy? It’s important to have an exit strategy in case the SEO consulting relationship doesn’t work out. Even if the SEO consultant is doing a good job, your business may experience financial setbacks that force you to cut your budget. While I believe that an SEO consultant should be one of the last resources to let go of in these situations (since Google is often one of the top traffic sources for websites), your financial predicament may force your hand.
- What are the payment terms? Ensure that you and your potential SEO consultant can agree on payment terms that work for both of you. Some consultants require upfront payment, and some are okay with Net 15 and Net 30 payment terms. Don’t expect payment terms beyond Net 30, however, as it’s too difficult for the consultant to manage his or her own finances with such a lengthy payment term. I personally request upfront payment since I know that my service quality can back it up and I need to focus on my client’s SEO campaigns rather than chasing down payments. Also discuss how payments will be made (i..e – via check, credit card, etc.).
How Much Should an SEO Consultant Charge?
SEO consulting rates vary, but they usually lie in the $100-$200/hour range, depending on the reputation of the SEO consultant. Most SEO agencies will charge ~$150/hour, according to Credo.
In the same article, Credo offers an interactive graph that averages the average rates between consultants and agencies.
I recommend clicking through to the article since it will help you understand the different price points between private SEO consultants and SEO agencies. The graph shown above is interactive and has some good data to help educate you on the pricing differences between SEO consultants and agencies.
Why Hire an SEO Consultant
The fact of the matter is, SEO is often too complex for a company to handle in-house without an SEO expert on staff. The marketing staff will be at a big disadvantage and is not likely to handle all aspects of technical SEO, keyword research, on-page optimization, internal and external link building very well.
Furthermore, when your company’s website experiences organic search traffic declines or growth periods, the marketing staff likely doesn’t have the experience to review your analytics data in a manner that will tell the story of why your organic search traffic is trending in a certain direction.
Considering that Google is often a company’s top source of traffic, the opportunity cost of not having an expert SEO resource at hand is often too great to ignore. I recommend using SimilarWeb to investigate the top traffic sources of your competitors. Here is an example for REI, one of my favorite retailers. You can see that search engine traffic is clearly their top traffic source. This is very common.
Finding, selecting and hiring the right SEO consultant will help to ensure that your company makes the most of this top traffic source. If you would like to discuss further, you can ask me a question or inquire about hiring me. I have my own criteria for working with clients, so let’s see if we’re a good fit for each other.