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What to look for when hiring an SEO consultant

01 Jan 2017

Finding a genuine SEO consultant can be tricky. You don't want to get burnt after all. So if you are looking to hire someone, what sort of things should you be looking for? This post looks at some of the main issues you should consider before letting someone loose on your website

Don't Find Out The Hard Way

I have been working in the seo industry for over a decade. In that time, I have worked on the front line in pretty much all areas of the industry.

From server set up and site content architecture through to link building and spam cleanups, I have built a solid skill set up that I transfer to my client projects. This means my clients get that experience and usually the results too.

They can often get these results through simple changes that don't require much of my time or much of their money.

But it is tricky to find true consultants - those people who can make a genuine difference to your business. This post is designed to help you identify a true pro who will:

  • Quickly identify your main problems. 
  • Give you a clear plan of what needs to be resolved.
  • Help develop a long term plan for seo.
  • Help you get changes implemented with your web team.
  • Get the job done professionally. 

Saying you are a consultant is easy. You can pass for a consultant through following industry blogs and using software tools. It looks great, can read great - but the underlying knowledge just isn't there.

Unfortunately, like many other industries, you can get burnt. SEO is particularly bad. It is still a new industry, it changes very quickly and the barriers to entry are low. It is a critical part of your marketing mix but our industry lacks professional qualifications that you can use as a trust mark. 

So you have to rely on good old investigative research. Hopefully this post can help you pull all the clues together!  

The Acid Test Interview

The acid test for any web professional is simple. When something has gone wrong, how will you fix it? I apply the same test to any web developer I work with and you can do the same for your website SEO.

Chat through your issues with the consultant. See what sort of feeling you get from them. 

You quickly learn the pro's from the rookies this way. When others are running around talking algorithms and jargon, a real pro keeps calm and keeps it simple. Look for someone who seems level headed and is talking common sense. 

If you are struggling to follow them, stop the consultant and ask them to explain in a jargon free way what they can do to help. 

Don't expect a consultant to tell you all the issues you have without a fee. You CAN expect though for them to tell you how they plan to uncover the problem(s).

Normally, this should start with taking a brief as to what has happened. Then you would usually move on to analytics analysis and a Google Search Console review. A full audit may be needed if the consultant feels you have many issues to resolve.

In some cases, not much analysis is needed - a simple mistake has been made by a web designer or site admin. In more serious cases, you may have employed a cowboy agency and you have been left a legacy of spam to clean up. 

Ok, but even in these cases, the plan should remain simple and easy to follow.

Promises Promises

If you are promised or guaranteed rankings. Run.

If someone talks about 'secrets'. Run.

You are dealing with a cowboy.

Google warn about this themselves so pour scorn on anyone promising you the earth or eluding to them having the algorithms nailed down.

A real pro will give you the facts, often served cold and with no punches pulled as to the level of effort needed to sort out the situation.

The Free Audit

If your relationship starts with a free audit, then be every careful.

Firstly audits are mainly done by software tools and they rarely get to the root of the problem. Second they are used as sales pitches to a foot in the door. 

Often they run to pages and pages of 'faults' which look scary - but many of them will be red herrings and minor issues. Be careful with these as they can be misused and designed to scare you into a deal.

Longevity

I have seen quite a few guys disappear after 18 months. Why?

Because its easy to enter search....but not so easy staying in it. 

Personally speaking, I would want someone who has demonstrated at least 2-3 years hands on experience before I considered them for my project. This would need to be backed by a CV and references from past clients. Again, I would expect that to be over a sustained period of time.

Are They Published, Trainers Or Speakers?

We don't always get much time to write as consultants but using people who have been published  is a very helpful guide to how good they are. I have been published in a few places so checking into this area can help see if you are using a respected consultant or a newbie.

I have been lucky enough to be asked to train and speak on behalf of many organisations. Being asked to come back and do it again is a real insight into how valuable your advice is to those receiving it. 

Especially when it comes to the Q & A at the end!

Professional Insurance

As SEO's we are dealing with sites that can sometimes be generating millions of pounds of revenue. That is a serious responsibility and although none of us want to make mistakes, they can happen.

I personally have insurance cover through Hiscox up to £1m. If you are taking on a consultant and trusting them to help you, then look for one that also takes the responsibility seriously.

Conversing With Other Professionals

A decent seo will be comfortable in talking through what needs to happen with your web dev team. If they can't or start talking jargon, you have a possible problem. A real seo should be happy to talk to the tech team about:

  • Site structure and architecture
  • Improving site performance
  • Usability / accessibility
  • Sharing ideas and discussing ways forward

On the last one, we might not share everything - we do need to get paid :-).

Project Management

A solid seo will help distil the issues into a sensible, actionable plan. A rookie will send you a blizzard of changes that break the heart of everyone on the job, as well as confuse and make progress difficult to measure.

Look for a real pro who can identify where the serious wins will come from and how to manage available resources. Cowboys/rookies will have you running around fixing all sorts of things they have learnt on a blog somewhere.

Keeping It Simple

In my experience, most seo problems are not complex ones.

They can often boil down to simple mistakes that have been made. Look for a pro who will keep it simple.

If a pro sees a traffic drop - their first reaction shouldn't be 'it's a penalty'. You can often solve issues by looking for the simple solution. Amateurs don't because they simply haven't got the experience to know where to start. Back to the acid test again.

Web Build Knowledge

Having project managed many website builds over the years, you get experience in seeing where the seo errors come from, you understand the pitfalls and can more easily spot them in 3rd party work.

Look for a consultant that has code experience. Either direct themselves or via working in bigger teams delivering project work.

References

Ask for references. Make sure these are genuine by following them up and speaking to past clients. They will give you a feel for the quality of the person you are thinking of trusting. Some useful questions to ask:

  • How did 'x' help you solve your problems?
  • How did your organic traffic improve?
  • Beyond consultancy, what other fees did you pay?
  • Would you use them again?

Location

Not essential in every case, but its very handy to know where the consultant is based. It's not essential for people to have an office, but its a sign the consultant is serious and you have a place where you can meet to discuss strategy.

The Website

Have a good look at their website. Check out any available blog posts. Do they offer genuine insight or are they simply amplifying information from others or Google themselves?

Again, anyone can do that and its not a great measure of people's ability. Also watch for the quality of the written word - do they seem to repeat keywords a lot? maybe they seem to shoehorn keywords into their site? if that is happening, move on quickly.

Useful Resources

Try these resources for other tips before you commit to hiring a consultant (read the first one fully and the comments)

Moz: How To Choose A Good SEO Company For Your Business

Google: Do You Need An SEO

Quicksprout: Don’t Get Fooled: 17 Questions to Ask Before Hiring an SEO Company

Entrepreneur.com: 10 Questions to Ask When Hiring an SEO Consultant

Conductor.com Hire an SEO Expert: 10 Great Tips

Kissmetrics: How To Know If Your SEO is Hurting or Helping you

The article was written by Jon Colegate. Connect with Jon:

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