How to Hire an SEO Consultant for the First Time

If you are considering hiring an SEO consultant for your online business, and it’s your first time doing so, it can be a daunting experience. There is no shortage of self-titled “SEO experts” out there, who use ambiguous language and broad claims to sell you their service. On the other hand, there are legitimate SEO consultants who can deliver fantastic results for your brand.

FAQ: What is SEO? 

How do you find the latter? What can you do to ensure your SEO consultant is on top of their game? In this article, we’ll give you several key tips for hiring an SEO consultant for the first time.

How much should an SEO consultant cost?

This largely depends on the consultant’s level of expertise, your project scope, and whether you’re hiring an individual SEO consultant, or an agency / digital marketing company.

The average to expect is between $80 – $150 per hour for expert SEO consultants, and around the same for an agency. With many agencies, you’ll also pay a monthly retainer, somewhere between $750 – $1500 per month.

Freelance SEO consultants can typically be found for much less, usually in the range of $50 per hour. They may or may not charge a retainer.

This is only the cost of hiring for SEO consultation. There may be additional investment costs depending on the project.

If you’re looking to hire an in-house SEO professional, the costs will vary depending on their experience and skill level. Interestingly, however, SEO analyst salaries don’t appear to vary too much depending on location. The debate between hiring in-house or using an agency has persisted for years, with the feeling that an agency provides you with more flexibility and a cost-effective solution.

Weeding out the SEO villains

To find the best SEO consultant for your project, you need to know how to weed out the bad ones. If you’re not knowledgeable in SEO, you can’t exactly grill them on the best SEO practices. There are some questions you can ask to know if your SEO consultant really knows their stuff, however.

“How fast can you rank my website on the top listings?”

This is a trick question because there’s no good answer. An SEO consultant cannot guarantee search engine rankings. Google does not publicly disclose its algorithm for ranking websites and updates the algorithm frequently to keep SEO experts on their toes.

If an SEO consultant claims they can get you a top ranking in X amount of time, they may not be telling the whole truth. SEO is unpredictable, especially considering Google constantly changes the algorithm. So if an SEO consultant promises a guaranteed ranking, it’s likely they’re using some kind of black hat seo practices that might get you temporarily ranked highly, but your website will be penalized (and perhaps even blacklisted from Google).

“What is your link building strategy?”

Your SEO consultant should be transparent in how they’re building 3rd-party links to your website. The last thing you want is a consultant who simply sends poorly spun articles to bottom-ranking guest blogs. Sure, you’ll have a ton of links pointing to your website, but they’ll be from bottom-of-the-barrel websites. Which, in Google’s eyes, will associate you with the bottom-of-the-barrel.

Ask for examples of content they’ve had published on other websites. Is the content engaging and well-written? Is it on a reputable website, or some fly-by-night WordPress blog?

“What is your process?”

While a digital marketing company may not like to give away their trade secrets, they should be reasonably transparent with how they will achieve the results you expect. An outline of their SEO strategy for your brand should touch on these topics:

  • Audit of your website/brand for SEO and user experience.
  • Their roles and responsibilities in the project.
  • Researching your competition.
  • Organic backlink strategy
  • Conversion rate optimization

There may be more to address for your SEO project, but the above are the core processes your SEO consultant should be upfront with you about.

Read the contract fine print!

Specifically, make sure they aren’t using artificial backlinks in a private blog network. Shady SEO companies can operate their own blog network to prop up your brand. They can just as easily delete your backlinks if you sever the contract with them. Which wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, because your website would probably be eventually penalized by Google once the PBN is discovered by Google.

Signs you’re negotiating with a legitimate SEO consultant

There are a number of green flags to look for when hiring an SEO consultant for the first time. You should look for:

  • A proven track record: Ask the SEO consultant to show proven results. What brands have they worked for, and what were the results of those projects?
  • They offer reputable case studies: It stands to reason that an SEO marketing agency should be doing good for themselves in their own industry. So what’s their own website ranking? Do they have case studies that are cited or referenced in SEO industry articles? Of course, great SEO consultants can simply fly under the radar of the industry at large, but our point remains.
  • A focus on conversion: While SEO stands for “search engine optimization”, a legit SEO consultant knows search-engine rankings are a fairly unpredictable thing. They should be transparent about that and mention how they convert traffic, whether its from search engines or website links, into customers for your brand.
  • Service tailored to your project: If an SEO consultant offers only tier-based service packages, be a bit skeptical. Unless that’s exactly what you’re looking for. Generally speaking, treating SEO like “X amount of $ for X amount of links” isn’t always advisable – it’s a bit robotic. It doesn’t make them a bad company, because sometimes, that’s all clients want. However, it’s worthwhile to go with a company that can tailor their services to your goals. It’s like shopping for a custom-made guitar, but the store you go to only sells Gibsons and Fenders. Gibson and Fender are great guitar brands, but they’re not the custom-made experience you were looking for. Basically, know exactly what you’re shopping for.
  • Strategic keywords and engaging content: Keywords are important of SEO, but not as important as you might think. Years ago, many SEO people thought filling articles with keywords was a viable strategy. For a while, it actually was kind of. In 2019, however, keywords are a small part of the strategy, not a core focus. When you’re done reading this article, read through it again – what are the keywords being used? You don’t know. Did we even target any keywords? If we didn’t target any keywords, what was the point of writing this article? It turns out, writing good content for human readers is a better strategy than writing keyword-laden content for search engine bots.

Final advice

Becoming knowledgeable about SEO yourself would be immensely beneficial in choosing your first SEO consultant to work with. You can read SEO for beginner articles or sign up for SEO industry newsletters on websites like Moz, and even read Google’s Webmaster blog for the latest SEO tips, directly from the horse’s mouth. Armed with a bit of knowledge, you won’t feel like a fish out of water when sitting down with an SEO consultant.

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