Hiring an SEO Consultant can be one of the more time consuming but most rewarding things to do as a small business or start up. The rewards can be anything from generating more traffic from Google, Facebook & Twitter to ensuring that the traffic generated is converting well on your site, ensuring you are collecting data points for growth and of course a growing business.
Back in 2009, I wrote about "how to hire an seo company" over on the boagworld blog. The world of SEO has changed so much since then, but my view hasn't changed - when you hire an seo, it is all about trust - why you should trust that SEO consultant or SEO company.
Why You Should Hire an SEO
I am always an advocate for DIY SEO, I don't ever believe that an organisation should be "hands off" in the marketing of their own services, products or other offerings. This said I do believe that everyone needs a helping hand, and that is exactly what your perfect SEO Consultant or agency would be.
SEO Andy, as an SEO Blog and Marketing Blog is (we like to think) a great resource for helping start up businesses, SME's and community organisations to move forward with DIY SEO. But the reality is that as an organisation grows, the assistance offered by a blog post or video can be fairly limited - you can't often ask it questions and you can't let it get to grips with your business & your plans already in place.
Hiring an SEO, for me isn't about saying "you don't need to do that anymore". It's about becoming a partnership where the SEO helps guide you, may do some or much of the work, but helps to build your skills or that of your team. The reality is that YOU are the one with a passion for your business not the SEO, we may love your product but rarely is that passion as huge as your own will be - without you and your team's passion involved in the process it won't come across in the marketing and the success may be reduced.
SEO Consultant vs SEO Agency?
For the most part this article and the hiring process remains the same, but this is one key question that needs careful thought. To remain objective as possible I've put together this pro's and con's list to help - at the bottom of this section I explain how SEO Andy as works.
SEO Consultant Pro's
- Specialists in their work & markets
- One to One professional support from the person doing the work
- Each campaign is unique
- SEO Consultants see campaigns as a whole (holistic) view rather than it's components.
- One to One nature means you build a relationship with your SEO
- May cost less than an agency due to less over heads
- Flexibility to work with you and your team
SEO Consultant Con's
- Often a longer lead time to work with a consultant (due to capacity)
- Limited capacity may mean reduced testimonials/reviews
- Had many hats to wear & has to prioritise
- Single person, single set of skills
SEO Agency Pro's
- Structured Processes
- Dedicated Account / Client Project Manager
- Cumulative knowledge within team
- More staff = More clients = More testimonials
SEO Agency Con's
- Pitched by Senior Staff, Work done by Junior Staff
- Work often parted out to Jr Staff - often lacks full oversight
- Structured processes often aren't flexible
- Big emphasis on reporting data & not giving clients insight and skills
- Small Budget = Little Attention
- To be sustainable the larger overheads mean a larger cost
SEO Andy = SEO Consultant ... or is it?
Whilst the blog has multiple authors from across the world, SEO Andy as a service offering is an SEO Consultant - Andy Kinsey (me).
Well kind of...
The reality is that for around 80% of projects I do operate as an SEO Consultant. A single person helping a business to grow their online business, giving them the direct attention they need, getting to know their business and helping to up skill them.
For the remaining 20% SEO Andy operates as a small agency using trusted partners for specific tasks or parts of a project that need specialist knowledge or it is more cost-effective for the client to use an external offering.
What To Look For In A Great SEO
I said earlier that when you hire an SEO, it's all about trust. Finding the ideal SEO for you can still be a bit like the old saying goes "You can't see the wood for the trees". Below are the things I would suggest looking for when hiring an SEO - whether consultant or agency.
Experience Counts in SEO
The fact is that anyone can set up a website that says they are an SEO consultant, there are services that even offer that. But that doesn't mean what you will get from them is any good, or actually SEO is really what is on offer. With SEO and Digital Marketing there are thousands of tiny things which make up the bigger picture that affects how your website(s), your business and your plans develop & grow - an SEO with year's of experience knows this and is therefore unlikely to sell you on a single service such as link building as a 'be all' to help you grow.
The single best way of knowing about an SEO's experience is to talk to them, ask them about it and how it will help your business grow. The second way is to look at who they have worked with and the testimonials they give - they will rarely be bad reviews but it's more about the content that differs between SEO's that can make the difference. This also shows a proven track record of working well with clients.
A Holistic Approach to SEO
SEO has 3 levels technical (site structure, code, indexability etc), on-page optimisation (html tags, content, microformats etc) and off-site optimisation (link building, guest blogging etc) - it's important to ensure your SEO has a clear working knowledge of all 3 sections, if they don't then they don't really understand the full workings of a website and how search engines interact with the code or the content.
The second section of a holistic approach is to have an understanding of how your other marketing work may or may not affect the SEO work they do - this is especially the case with social media.
The third part for a truly holistic approach is that from the moment you approach an SEO they should be asking you as many questions as you ask them. In some cases, depending on the project more. I've spend whole days in meetings just asking about the background of a business, it's set up and it's unique selling points so that I could get to grips with the project - it's not needed in most projects but if you are doing something large-scale and they aren't asking questions be worried. This asking of questions and conversation also will give you a clear indication of whether that SEO has a good fit with your business.
Realistic Expectation Setting
Realistically, if you are doing only organic SEO (non-paid traffic driving) then it will take a while for this to ramp up anywhere from 3 to 6 months in general to start with - and even longer if works are required on the site which they often are at the outset.
The reality is that there isn't a perfect SEO strategy for your website or business, anyone who sells you one or thinks so is wrong to do so. SEO and Marketing Strategies, like business plans, are all about development over time and not about being static - what works one month may not the next, it may be that a search engine or social media giant has changed an algorithm to affect your traffic or it may be that you've implemented a change on your site that works one month but the next change the next month causes damage to lead generation.
SEO strategies are should never been seen as static documents.
The best way to measure the performance of an SEO Consultant, at least for the first few months, is to set some clear Key Performance Indicators (KPI's) based off the tasks that are needed - one-off, weekly and monthly. Also set up monitoring for things like traffic and campaigns, ensuring that it is all tracked correctly and in full.
Remember, if someone sells you no#1 on google for "online shop" or "nike shoes" tomorrow they are lying - it won't happen. Nor should you believe that your SEO is some kind of wizard that can give instant results - there may be some quick-wins but don't expect miracles.
What NOT To Do When Hiring An SEO
1) Don't Buy 'Automated' or 'Packages'
When you see a set price it sounds lovely, you will get all this for this price - wow what an offer. It's great because normally on these packaged you can compare them - but whilst they are easy to buy (a button and paypal often) the service behind them is rarely as slick.
Remember what I said earlier, there is no one-size fits all for SEO strategy and unless you are an SEO yourself then buying a package like those on offer it will likely lead to issues further down the line.
You should always start your project with an SEO consultant or SEO agency by talking with the SEO about your project, what you need, what your objectives are and let them organise a package around that - not something made up because it looked good on a website. Any SEO that won't offer a customer seo service should in my view be discounted.
2) Don't Buy What You Can Do Yourself
Earlier I spoke about how a good SEO is also about increasing skills within your team, the reason is so that they can do what they are good at and what you are paying for and not the things that you are good at and have a passion for (eg you have a passion for shoes perhaps, and with the right training would be great at writing blogs - one job off the list).
The other reason to be clear about what you can do, and the skills you will develop is that as they are developed either that time / budget is given to other tasks (the norm) or in the long-run you can reduce the cost of your service.
3) Don't Buy A Promise of Search Rankings
There are many thousands of services out there and unscrupulous SEO agencies who will sell your businesses services based on a promise of ranking 1 or 2 on Google for X keyword.
The reality is that the promise isn't worth the piece of paper it is written on, and there is always some clever get out clause in the small print. Also as most of these services are built on automated link building services, they can be very dangerous for your site and Google often punishes sites seen to be doing this.
Remember - Ranking #1 looks great but even if it delivers thousands of visitors it's useless unless your SEO has also ensured those thousands of visitors convert when they visit your site.
4) Don't Spend Your Budget On One Thing
Putting all your eggs in one basket can often be dangerous. When you look to hire an SEO, I advise you split your budget either with them (eg 75% on the website and google, 25% on social) or select separate service consultants for different needs (eg seo and social media) but remember the later needs close co-ordination and the two consultants to work together.
5) Don't Just Go With a Nice Looking Site
Searching for "[location name] + seo" will give you probably hundreds of SEO consultants, agencies and other related industry websites. 90%+ of them will look ok, a few will look great, but don't expect that because it looks great they are good at SEO. There are many an agency with a great looking site that offer second rate services.