An SEO Consultant does a lot more than you might be aware of. The following list offers a glimpse of what a good SEO consultant does.
- An SEO consultant should audit your website and provide optimization recommendations. There’s a number of audits that an SEO consultant can conduct on your site. Here a few important types of audits and strategies that you should be familiar with:
- SEO Content Audit – This type of audit can include improvement, pruning, consolidation, and other recommendations for the content on your site in order to both improve and refine the content that search engines have indexed. This type of audit should also provide researched keywords for some of your top pages.
- Technical SEO Audit – This type of audit can include recommendations to fix crawl errors, optimize your robots.txt file and XML sitemap, implement redirects, fix rendering issues, and implement other technical SEO best practices.
- An SEO consultant provides a (keyword-researched) content strategy. A content strategy ensures that your company has a plan to create the content that your target audience is searching for. A good content strategy goes beyond keyword research, however, and should include recommended content tactics that work in your industry and for your type of business.
- An SEO consultant provides on-page optimization assistance. This one is very important since good on-page SEO is critical to ensuring that your website has a chance to rank well for the keywords that have been researched. Sometimes, an SEO consultant may actually do the on-page SEO for your business. The approach to implementation will depend on your staff’s bandwidth, your comfort level with providing administrative access to your website for your SEO consultant, etc.
- An SEO consultant identifies link building opportunities. Be careful with this one, since the wrong types of links can put you at risk of Google’s algorithm updates. Avoid SEO consultants who guarantee a certain number of links per month, focus too much on anchor text, and only focus on directory links. A good SEO consultant will help to identify some topically-related websites and blogs that link to competitors, but not your website. A good SEO consultant will also help to identify contributor (guest posting) opportunities on topically-related, industry-leading websites where you can build your brand by providing expert and insightful content. Find more link building strategies that SEO consultants can help you with.
- An SEO consultant helps to ensure you have proper analytics in place. Most companies already have Google Analytics installed, but not every website has Google Search Console and/or Bing Webmaster Tools set up. Furthermore, paid SEO tools such as Moz Pro, SEMRush and others can provide additional reporting metrics that help both you and your SEO consultant ensure that you’re keeping track of traffic, errors, acquired links, keyword rankings, and content opportunities.
- An SEO consultant reports on specific metrics that help to measure the results of their efforts. Most companies are initially concerned with rankings for specific keywords, but a good SEO consultant will focus on the bigger picture. Overall organic search traffic and lead/revenue growth are the key metrics to measure. You want to see initial signs that these metrics are growing in a three to six-month window (maybe a little longer) after you’ve begun implementing the SEO consultant’s recommendations on a consistent basis. Don’t expect a hockey-stick type of growth. Initial growth will likely be small, but over time it will grow cumulatively. SEO is a long-term endeavor.
How to Select an SEO Consultant
Selecting an SEO consultant is tricky. You have to be engaged during the proposal process, know what to look for and ask the right questions. The more educated you are, the more likely you are at choosing the right SEO consultant for your business. Let’s dive into a couple of main points to consider.
What Makes a Good SEO Consultant
A good SEO consultant will ingrain herself or himself into your business as much as possible because only this approach will allow her or him to identify a deep array of opportunities for your company to grow organic search traffic, leads, and/or sales. The following attributes are signs of a good SEO consultant.
- A good SEO consultant understands your traffic and revenue goals. Without knowledge of these goals, it’s hard for both you and the SEO consultant to measure success. Sometimes, the initial goal is to simply “start growing.” That’s okay at first, but once some traction has been gained, it’s good to set some specific goals. Consider the S.M.A.R.T goal methodology from Hubspot.
- A good SEO consultant will discover your unique value proposition, and leverage it. Knowing what makes your company unique allows the SEO consultant to differentiate between different keywords, optimize your metadata with CTAs, leverage your assets, and provide suggestions for making your content more compelling and in-line with your company’s unique offering.
- A good SEO consultant should educate you and your staff on SEO best practices. It’s important for you (and your staff) to understand the recommendations that your SEO consultant is making. Wherever possible, a good SEO consultant will provide links to source documentation that back up recommendations, and cite case studies that show why specific tactics work (and are generally accepted as “safe” tactics).
- A good SEO consultant will be honest about your ranking potential. Many businesses simply don’t have the link profile authority to rank competitively for the most-searched keywords. A good SEO consultant will be honest and upfront about this, and help to identify less competitive keyword phrases that your company can rank competitively for. The key here is that your SEO consultant helps you target the keywords that are most relevant and most rank-able for your business.
- A good SEO consultant will be upfront about how long it will take to achieve results. SEO takes time. Google is slow. In my experience, it can take anywhere from three to six…even nine months for a website to see noticeable organic search traffic growth. This depends on the competition in your industry, your link profile authority, your content quantity and quality, your current technical issues, etc. Be wary of any consultant who suggests that you can rank highly in a short amount of time. SEO is a marathon, not a sprint.
What to Ask an SEO Consultant
Now that you know what makes a good SEO consultant, it’s important to know the right questions to ask him or her before you get a proposal. Listen closely for confidence in the consultant’s voice, details of various SEO processes that will be conducted during your relationship, and specific case studies that back up an SEO consultant’s claims. Here are some specific questions to ask.
- “Do you have any conflicting clients with my business?” Most marketing executives and business owners overlook this question. I always make it a point to mention if I have a current client that may provide a conflict, as I don’t want to get into a situation where I have a conflict of interest with any my clients. Neither do you.
- “How long will it take to see results?” As mentioned above, you need to be aware that SEO takes time. If an SEO consultant starts talking about results in the first month or two, he or she better have a very concrete reason as to why. In my experience (both as a consultant and as an in-house Director of SEO in charge of 200 websites), it typically takes at least a few months to see noticeable organic search traffic growth. And, this is only if your company implements the suggestions and recommendations provided in a timely manner.
- “Can you guarantee rankings?” This is a test. If a consultant guarantees specific rankings, you should stop the conversation. It should be rare that you come across any consultants that guarantee specific search engine rankings, but it should make your stomach drop if they do. We don’t have control over the search engines, and algorithms are always changing. We cannot guarantee rankings.
- “What sort of applications and processes do you use?” This is more important than you might think because if you have any aversion to specific working methodologies, applications or communication styles, you want to know, upfront, whether a potential SEO consultant is going to employ them. Ensure that the applications and processes are familiar to you, and will be comfortable for you and your staff.
- “What aspects of SEO do you focus on?” You ideally want an SEO consultant that can handle all aspects of SEO advising that you will need: technical, content, content optimization, content marketing guidance, etc. If a consultant states that he or she mostly focuses on link building, for example, this should cause some concern since SEO is much more the link building. In fact, many SEO campaigns can drive impressive results with no specific link building outreach efforts at all.
How to Hire an SEO Consultant
Hiring an SEO consultant is the final step of the selection process. Once you have identified an SEO consultant that you would like to work with, determine the following:
- Do you want an initial audit/strategy or are you looking for an ongoing relationship? Determining this will set the stage for your initial relationship. Sometimes you may want to ease into the relationship, so it may be best to get an initial SEO audit conducted (and ideally an accompanying SEO strategy). Other times, you may need a monthly ongoing arrangement in order to conduct an audit, have a strategy created, prepare your staff, and implement the initial recommendations. An ongoing consulting relationship is recommended in this case.
- What is the term length for an ongoing relationship? A six-month initial engagement is common for starting a new ongoing relationship with an SEO consultant, however, many consultants offer month-to-month consulting. It will take a while to see that your organic search traffic and leads/revenue are really growing, but six months should provide enough time for you to gauge how well things are working.
- What is the cancellation policy? It’s important to have an exit strategy in case the SEO consulting relationship doesn’t work out. Even if the SEO consultant is doing a good job, your business may experience financial setbacks that force you to cut your budget. While I believe that an SEO consultant should be one of the last resources to let go of in these situations (since Google is often one of the top traffic sources for websites), your financial predicament may force your hand.
- What are the payment terms? Ensure that you and your potential SEO consultant can agree on payment terms that work for both of you. Some consultants require upfront payment, and some are okay with Net 15 and Net 30 payment terms. Don’t expect payment terms beyond Net 30, however, as it’s too difficult for the consultant to manage his or her own finances with such a lengthy payment term. I personally request upfront payment since I know that my service quality can back it up and I need to focus on my client’s SEO campaigns rather than chasing down payments. Also discuss how payments will be made (i..e – via check, direct deposit, credit card, etc.).