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How to hire an SEO consultant

By Alexandra Gavril - February 27, 2017

“If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”

This age-old adage couldn’t be more fitting for the world of online marketing today, where every business out there is competing for the top spots in the search engine results.

We all know that proper search engine optimisation (SEO) is critical to boosting brand awareness and increasing the number of visitors to your site, which can lead to higher sales and profits for your business. But when you’re running a small business is it better to go at it alone or should you hire an SEO consultant?

Trusting an outsider with SEO for your site is difficult as they can make or break your business. With so many self-proclaimed “SEO experts”, who can take your money and fail to deliver, how do you know which ones are experienced and reliable, and which ones are just selling search marketing snake oil?

In this post we will:

  • Explain the difference between a SEO and a search enginge marketing (SEM) specialist so you know which one to hire depending on your needs
  • Teach you which skills to look for when reviewing SEO expert resumes
  • Advise you on the right time to switch from doing your own SEO to hiring a specialist or even an agency
  • Inform you on the costs so you can make an educated decision
  • Share the vital questions you should be asking an SEO to ensure they can deliver real results
  • Advise you on the warning signs that can help you avoid getting ripped off

Let’s get started.


While a good SEO consultant should be a jack of all trades in the sense that they can tie in different disciplines with SEO, that doesn’t mean they’ll also take care of designing pages or writing content for your site, or running paid search campaigns.

There is a difference between SEO and SEM. A while ago SEM included both SEO and paid search activities. But over time, the industry has started using the SEM acronym only in reference to paid search advertising.

So if you need help creating and running paid ad campaigns on Google, you’ll need the help of an SEM consultant. But if you’re looking to organically increase your visibility in the search results, then an SEO expert is more suitable for the job.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s look at the different types of SEO consultants so you know which ones to choose.

What type of skills should you be on the lookout for when reviewing SEO specialists?

Understanding the skills that a good SEO should have can help you make the best decision when it comes to the one you hire to work on your site.

So here are the key skills that your SEO consultant needs to possess:

  • Analytical mind-set – Your specialist should be able to carefully analyse data and use it to come up with ideas that can improve your site. Those colourful reports filled with numbers and stats are worthless unless they also include actions that need to be taken to better your site. A real expert will know where to look to determine whether there’s a penalty lingering, which pages have issues, and what improvements can be made and where.
  • On page experience – They should be able to audit a website and highlight strengths and weaknesses, as well as being good at creating a website’s architecture. They should have HTML knowledge in order to suggest various tags that are needed. Words like “schema mark-up” or “rich snippets” should be part of their resume.
  • Off page experience – This is an invaluable skill if your website has a links related penalty. It’s also a great skill for earning new backlinks, analysing where competitors get theirs and finding new opportunities that can help you get ahead of the competition.
  • Content – Although this is part of the on-page experience, pay special attention to how your specialist optimises content. Keyword research is vital and you should look to see if they list various tools to help in this process.
  • Technical SEO – The skills of such a specialist should cover anything from fixing broken URLs to optimising websites for better speed, mobile friendliness and better UX. An SEO who has technical skills will also have a very good understanding of the various Google algorithms and will be able to investigate what issues cause your website to lose rankings.

Should you hire an SEO consultant?

If you’re just getting started online, you might be able to do some basic SEO yourself without the need to hire help. But as your business grows, you might discover that a consultant or an agency can prove to be invaluable to your success online.

So when it is time to hire an SEO expert?

If you’re a new business

If you’re just launching your business online, and are willing to learn how to do basic optimisation for your site, hiring help might not be necessary at this point.

Make sure to read our guide which outlines the first SEO steps to follow to optimise a new website. If you don’t have technical skills or SEO skills, our Search Engine Optimiser tool can simplify the entire process by walking you through all the aspects of a website.

Starting at just £9.99 per month, the tool gives you actionable SEO advice and also explains the importance of the various elements found on a website. Give it a try with our free SEO website report and see how easy it is to get started with SEO when you have a little help from 123 Reg.

If your business has been growing

If your business is steadily growing but mainly from paid ad campaigns and social media, it might be time to move to the next level. This is when you’ll need an SEO expert to help grow your site organically and get ahead of competitors in the search results.

One important thing to consider is this: a great SEO will never charge low prices. If you’re hunting for a £20 job, chances are you’ll end up with an SEO who cuts corners and hurts your site in the long run.

That said, a high price doesn’t guarantee great results. Luckily, you’re not an average website owner. At the very least, just by reading this guide, you’ll have the information you need to be able to weed out bad SEOs.

To get a better feel of the rates you’re expected to pay for the services of an SEO consultant, review this salary report from PayScale that reveals the average rates according to skills, years of experience, certifications, location and more.

Also, since SEO is an ongoing practice, for best results you might consider hiring an in-house SEO as it might be cheaper in the long term than going with a consultant.

If your business is thriving

If your business is at the top of the search results and you are also successful at turning visitors into paying customers, don’t stop there. Keep up the good work with your in-house SEO or switch to an agency if you feel they can take SEO even further with fresh ideas and campaigns.

Here are some upsides to working with an SEO agency compared to an in-house consultant:

  • More resources. Often a consultant will not be an expert at every aspect of SEO. An agency on the other hand has a team that includes designers, programmers, copywriters, analytics experts and more. You can expect all to be involved whenever needed.
  • Collective knowledge. At an agency you’ll find people who have been working in SEO for years. Their shared experience and mindsets offer a diverse opinion set that helps you look outside the box.
  • Friends in high places: Agencies may be able to build long-lasting relationships with huge ad platforms. They can also lean on their Google or Facebook teams for guidance on how to handle components of an account. This helps gain exclusive insights that may not be as available with a consultant.

But all these come at a much higher cost so make sure it’s within your budget.

Questions to ask an SEO consultant or agency

Whether you want to work with an in-house consultant or an agency, there are some questions you need to ask to ensure the SEO you hire will make a positive impact on your business.

No doubt you’ve read about or stumbled upon people who think SEO is about using tricks to cheat the system and manipulate results. They couldn’t be more wrong, and using tactics  that violate Google’s guidelines can hurt your site as you try to move forward.

There are differences between white hat, black hat and grey hat SEO, and you need to educate yourself so you don’t end up working with someone who’ll get your site penalised and off the face of Google’s results.

  • Black hat SEO refers to aggressive tactics that focus strictly on search engines and not a human audience. These range from keyword stuffing, using unrelated keywords in page content just to rank higher, automating content creation using software, and more. These techniques go against Google’s best practices and are used by those looking for a quick financial return rather than a long-term investment. Black hat SEO can be seriously detrimental to a site if discovered.
  • Grey hat SEO is black hat masquerading as white hat. People who employ these tactics usually follow some of Google’s guidelines and mix it up with a few tricks that bend the rules a little. Some tactics include link exchange or article spinning or rewriting.
  • White hat SEO is the only way to go as the strategy focuses on earning links, optimising content using relevant keywords and writing purposeful content that educates and engages readers.

Real SEO experts will only use these tactics that adhere to Google’s policies as they know it’s the best and safest way to get results that last. Don’t ever work with someone who tells you otherwise.

Google has even created a video that walks you through the process of hiring an SEO consultant or firm, from what questions to ask to red flags to keep an eye out for.

So here are the most important questions you should be asking:

  • Can you show me examples of your previous work and share some success stories?
  • Do you follow the Google Webmaster Guidelines?
  • Do you offer any online marketing services or advice to complement your organic search business?
  • What kind of results do you expect to see, and in what timeframe? How do you measure your success? (Read this article on how long it takes to see SEO results so you know what responses are acceptable.)
  • What’s your experience in my industry?
  • What’s your experience in my country/city?
  • What’s your experience developing international sites?
  • What are your most important SEO techniques?
  • How long have you been in business?
  • How can I expect to communicate with you? Will you share with me all the changes you make to my site, and provide detailed information about your recommendations and the reasoning behind them?

Red flags or how to avoid getting ripped off

It’s not uncommon for candidates to overpromise just to get the job. But if you stumble upon an SEO consultant or agency that tells you that…

  • They can guarantee top ranks in as little as 30 days
  • They can build links quickly by submitting your site to thousands of free directories
  • They have “secret” methods or an inside contact at Google

run, and never look back as these types of consultants will hurt your site and business. Like the old adage says, “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is”.

Here are some more warning signs to help you detect a bad SEO consultant or firm and avoid getting scammed:

Sending unsolicited emails

Anytime you get an unsolicited email from someone who claims to have visited your site and been so impressed that they want to help you be more successful and rank higher, and has a deal to offer – put the email where it belongs: in the spam folder.

Spammy SEO firms buy lists of email addresses or scrape the internet for them and then send out thousands of emails every day. These emails are not even sent by a human, but by a computer programme that sends millions of them every month, hoping that one in a million will respond. Companies like these are only interested in quickly making money off naive clients. Don’t be one of them.

Offering flat-rate, low-cost fees

High-quality SEO work is time-consuming and definitely not cheap. So, if a SEO agency offers flat-rate, low-cost plans to optimise your website, expect to get what you paid for.

A good agency will spend long hours analysing your site and your industry and studying your competition before even giving you a price estimate. Yes, proper SEO work can be expensive but it gets results.

If you don’t have a big budget and can’t afford to hire a professional SEO firm, learn to do SEO yourself. You are more likely to get better results on by doing it yourself than by hiring a cheap, spammy SEO company.

Writing content strictly for search engines

Anyone who constantly talks about numbers and rankings and content that’s optimised only for search engines is not someone you want to be working with. Instead, choose an SEO firm that talks about your target audience and ways to attract them to your site through educational content that is optimised for your prospects first, and then for search engines.

The smart money is on choosing an agency that has marketing knowledge across the board because just stuffing keywords or building links won’t ever work in the long term.

Forcing you to sign up for a long contract

If they promise you the world to get you to sign. “You’ll be at the top of Google’s search results page in no time. And don’t worry, you won’t have to lift a finger, we’ll manage everything for you.”

Or if they pressure you into signing quickly before the next Google update ruins your business.

Then you should be sceptical.

A good SEO agency will not need to resort to such sales gimmicks to get you to buy their services. They should provide you with quality information and options and let you make an informed decision whenever you are ready.

So, whichever SEO agency you choose: 1. Avoid overly long contracts; 2. Remember you are entitled to ask for weekly or monthly reports on what they’re doing and 3. Make sure that you aren’t being fooled by some fancy reports to hide the fact that no real work is being done.

Lacking transparency

More and more legit SEO companies charge when and if they deliver certain results. While this a sure way of paying only if a strategy works, you need to make sure there’s full transparency between you and the agency as they might be tempted to resort to grey or even black hat methods to get the results faster.

Wrapping up

Do your homework before hiring an SEO agency or a consultant. Google their names, read reviews and testimonials from past clients, check out their sites and the ones they’ve worked on.

You’ll know you’re dealing with a good specialist or firm if:

  • They’re happy to provide you with references from former clients that you can contact
  • They come highly recommended by others
  • Their site ranks well when you search for them
  • They have multiple recent reviews on their site and on other trustworthy sites
  • They’re active and constantly publish educational content, hold webinars and training sessions
  • They contact you using a professional email that’s personalised to their domain such as contact@companyname.com (and not a free email like @gmail, @yahoo, @hotmail etc).
  • Their site and emails are error-free.

In conclusion, the SEO expert you should hire is one that:

  1. Talks sense

SEO isn’t that complicated. It’s hard work, yes, but it’s not rocket science.

This means that the consultant or agency you’re looking to hire should be able to explain in simple terms what they can achieve and how. If they make it sound like it’s complicated or aren’t willing to get into the details of their “scientific” techniques, then they are probably trying to pull the wool over your eyes.

You need a content strategy, a social strategy and a well-planned mix of on-site SEO, technical SEO and reputation building.

  1. Understands the bigger picture

It’s not about numbers. It’s not even about rankings and traffic volumes. It’s about understanding what gets a website to convert traffic into customers and what a business needs in order to become successful online. What matters is finding out what your target audience wants, how it searches for you online, how it interacts with your site and how you can use all this information to generate sales.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on the topic so share your SEO hiring experience with us @123reg.