How to Hire an SEO Partner

True story.
Not long time ago, I was asked by a digital agency to perform an SEO audit for a well-known organisation based in Dublin. The agency I was in touch with wanted me to provide them with a complete SEO audit, on-site and off-site, to pitch their client for a website redesign and to improve their current search engine ranking, mainly on Google. They were looking for a quick job, to persuade the client for the new improvements.
Once I received the email with the domain name listed, I had a quick look at their current rankings and realised that the site, several years old, didn’t rank for almost any keyword.
I had a look at their robots.txt file:

User-agent: *
Disallow: /

For those who don’t know how to read it, the meaning of these two lines is: “Search engines, please don’t index my pages”.

The original agency who made the first site forgot a detail: changing two lines of text.

Choosing a good SEO Consultant or Agency is, besides being a strategic part of the business, a very delicate aspect which can change the way a business can make or lose money.
In the above example neither the client or the digital agency realised that, for months, the website had been inhibited to be reached by Google, other search engines and, most importantly, its prospective customers.

Support and Help: Consultancy

BrightEdge Research found that, with 51% of the total websites’ visits, Organic Search dominate traffic in 2017.
This figure shows how important Search Engine Optimisation is for any business.

A large number of organisations choose to outsource this aspect to SEO Consultants or Agencies. These external partners can provide them with a skill set the company can’t manage internally for a number of reasons.

Choosing a great SEO partner can be tough if you’re just starting to look around with no clue of what your website’s company really needs. Realising the difference between a legit SEO Agency or someone looking just for easy money can be pretty difficult.

Google itself provides some tips for hiring the right SEO agency for you, so I’d suggest you look at the following video.

Given the huge amount of SEO Experts on the market, with similar looking services and skill sets, choosing the right partner is not an easy job.

I’d like to give you some advice how to choose the right SEO partner.

I’ve been using the term “partner” numerous times so far, some of the reasons are:

  • SEO isn’t a one-off campaign
  • It’s going to be a long-term relationship
  • You’ll need to work with your SEO partners regularly
  • The feedback, from both sides, should be clear and honest
  • It’s a matter of trust, you need to rely on their work

What is SEO consulting?

Consulting in SEO supports your efforts and helps to reach your business goals.
It can help you to increase brand awareness, improve the revenue, refine the customer retention, generate new business, and so on.

Defining the goals you want to reach across your website is up to you, and having a clear vision of them put you in the position to find the right consultant or agency.
If you plan on hiring an SEO Consultant you need to give them a clear idea of your company and see if their vision fits with what you’re looking for.
Consulting means that they’ll be your partner, you’ll spend a lot of time with them, your trust and a shared vision are key factors. You don’t want to start over again soon.
It’s important to get a feeling that the agency or the consultant you are working with is focused on high-quality work, being fair and being honest with you.

SEO as Investment

SEO as an investment

When you choose to do SEO you should think of it as a medium or long-term investment.
You want your website to be an asset, you want it to generate revenue and get a positive return on your investment.
Working with SEO is a long-term process. Quick wins and tactics work when supported by a broader and solid plan.

Getting a good high-quality backlink can take weeks or months and generate a business relationship. Getting a bunch of low-quality backlinks can take a few minutes and as little as €10, but they can also affect your site negatively. A good SEO knows what a good backlink is.
SEO is composed of a multitude of variables. A change usually takes time to reach the expected result, and one single action doesn’t have a clear outcome, if not supported by an overall strategy.
Cheap SEO is not the best way to start with, you pay what you get. And a good SEO consultant has several years of experience and their expertise is something you should rely on for your business to grow.

That’s the reason why the most important factor is your trust towards your new partner.

Understanding the basics

The best way to hire an SEO Expert is to have some SEO knowledge yourself.
I’m not saying you should become an expert in Search Engine Optimisation. But you should know what SEO is nowadays.
Your remembering about that conversation you had about SEO in 2008 doesn’t count, as well as that 2013 blog post with a great tactic to game Google and rank #1. You don’t want to get banned from Google, don’t you?
Forget it and read something updated. Invest a few hours educating yourself. Great starting points are the latest version of the Google Starter Guide, some blog posts published by industry related tools like Moz, Ahrefs and Yoast, or speakers at conferences like SearchLove, SMX, BrightonSEO, MozCon, they’re usually authoritative voices in the industry and you can’t go wrong.
Also, attend SEO related meetups on Meetup.com or conferences like Learn Inbound.

This will help you to make the right questions. Learn the different aspects of SEO at a broad level.

  • Why creating good content matter?
  • What content is and “good” mean?
  • Why backlinks matter and what’s a good backlink?
  • Why should I improve my site speed?

Hiring an SEO partner is a time and money investment, spending a little of yours will be a great investment to get the best fit for you!
Hiring a wrong SEO consultant can be very as well as expensive. Without the right knowledge, it takes time to recognise how things are really going.

SEO Consultant vs Agency

What an SEO Expert do

A solo freelance SEO consultant works on their own, often primarily on strategy and recommendations, to help you to increase your targeted organic traffic and reach your business goals organically.
Many times a freelance consultant works as SEO project manager, to make their recommendations implemented, for example, by a copywriter or web developer.
Every time you work with a freelancer you work with the person in charge of the strategy, with all the knowledge you’re paying for.
An SEO Consultant relies on, most of the times, word of mouth for getting new clients, this makes them work at the best with you.

What an SEO Agency do

An agency employs several kinds of professionals, such as account manager, copywriter, SEO, web developer, graphic designer, and so on.
With an agency, you can have a full range of services but it can cost much more. You should deal with the account manager, which is the man in the middle between you as a client and the executives which actually do the job. More than one person can work for you, which is a positive and negative aspect. The time the agency spend on your project usually depends on your budget.

A good analogy I’ve found for explaining the difference between an SEO consultant and an agency comes from Brendan Hufford.

“The difference between a consultant and an agency is the difference between an architect and a contractor. If I need somebody to properly design and lay out the strategy for a building, I’m going to seek out an architect. However, if I get the strategy, do not know how to implement it, and I need somebody to actually build it for me, it’s time to hire a contractor.

Sometimes, you have all the resources to create a successful campaign and you need somebody to create an effective strategy for you. In that case, a consultant would be the best. In other cases, you need a high-level effort and don’t have the internal manpower to pull it off. In the latter case, an agency may serve you better.”

Search for [best seo agency in town]

Don’t just rely on who ranks better for [seo agency] on Google.
Agencies and consultants that rank in top positions may show you their talent to show up for such important keyword, no doubt.
Such investment of time should be employed towards their clients rather than their own website, and many of the most important SEO consultant and agencies rely on word of mouth or salespeople, rather than getting clients with this keyword on Google.

Get (unbiased) references

The best feedback comes from personal connections you have or you can get.
Former colleagues, suppliers, partners, industry-related and networking events, LinkedIn. Unbiased references based on first-hand experience.
Your needs are different from any other company and you can’t discuss the specifics.
But what you should figure out how they work, their pricing model, how they give you feedback and their daily communication process.

Meet them

Finding out more about each consultant or agency is something you should do in advance. Think of the way you work, your values, your company culture and learn if your future partner fits in what you’re looking for. A phone call or a coffee meeting would help you to find out the values they are after or if they’re just looking at your bank account.

List all of your decision criteria a see how many of them you feel can be filled.
Make a list of questions and expectations you have and ask them how they’d feel about it. Ask them how they could achieve them and if they have past experience with similar tasks.
Give them the time to properly answer.

Meeting your SEO

Red flags

Promises of short-term results. There are quick wins and tactics in SEO, but reaching results for competitive industries takes time: a strategy is a mix of short and long-term activities. If the tasks they talk about refer only to short terms’, tactics, quick wins and solutions to game Google to get great results, this is the time to look for the exit door.

Check if you will be in touch with the people taking care of you, or if you can just talk to the account manager.

References to a specific number of backlinks per month, ‘buying backlinks’ or any arithmetic calculation to get easy results should be automatic grounds for disqualification.

Consultants or agencies that claim they can start in a few days. For any service you ask for, they need to know better your company, your services/products, your culture. This takes time.

Set your (realistic) expectations

Increase your traffic, your sales and leads, your brand awareness and authority in the industry, change your domain name, migrate your site to https are realistic expectations.
Ranking for ‘car insurance’, ‘vacuum cleaner’ or ‘hotel dublin’ globally with the one-page site you went live with two weeks ago, and whose only visitors are your colleagues is not.

In SEO guarantee doesn’t exist. Asking to rank for a precise set of keywords you’re interested in is, most of the time, very difficult. As well as reaching any goal with little or no consideration of internal or external, controllable or uncontrollable aspects.
SEO also means dealing with many unknown areas and variables.
If they tell you ‘I can guarantee #1 position in Google’, especially with no knowledge of what you are looking for from a business perspective, well… you should leave the room as soon as possible.

Keywords and topics you’re interested in should be shared and agreed with the SEO executives. Discussing keywords doesn’t work anymore. You need to approach any topic you’re thinking about with the intent they relate to and with a short, medium and long tail keyword approach.
Rely on your new consultant, discuss with them and be flexible about it. Trust is the real keyword.

Any good consultant starts with a discovery session(s) and a detailed set of questions to learn more about your business. So they can understand your issues and your goals, some of them you still don’t know you have, leading to a proposal outlining the details.

Ask your consultant or agency to explain all aspects of their proposal you don’t understand, and feel free to ask anything.

Learn more about the process

How to Choose a Good SEO Company for Your Business or Website – Whiteboard Friday
How To Hire an SEO Consultant or Agency: Dos, Don’ts & Processes
How to Hire and Manage an SEO Consultant

Questions to ask to an SEO Consultant

Hiring a SEO Expert or Consultant – 13 Questions to Ask
12 Questions You Need to Ask Before Hiring an SEO Company
34 Questions You Should Ask Before Hiring an SEO Agency

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