Ask the Experts: Tips when hiring an SEO Consultant

Ask the Experts: Hiring an SEO

SEO these days for most businesses is not a question of “If”, but “How” and “With whom?” A good SEO can work wonders for your business, while a bad one can cost you dearly. Many times that last question (whom?) is the most important, or should at least be your starting point.

What makes this challenging is that the industry is full of both intelligent, passionate, creative individuals; and also yokels who may promise the world but underdeliver, or worse.

So how does one go about chosing the right SEO to work with? We’ve interviewed 10 of the top minds in the SEO industry to share with you the answer to one very important question: “What advice do you have for businesses when they are looking to hire an SEO consultant?”.

These experts provided us with lots of great things to consider when hiring an SEO (consultant or otherwise). Interestingly enough, while all provide excellent insight from their experience, their answers don’t always overlap.

Why the conflict in selection criteria? The reason is that there is no one right answer. Choosing the right SEO for your business is, in fact, a highly personal choice. What is right for one business is not necessarily right for another. Objectives, methods and direction all must align.

The answers below should provide you with some great food for thought the next time you are looking for an SEO.


"What advice do you have for businesses when they are looking to hire an SEO consultant?"

Michael King (@ipullrank)

“There’s a few things I’d definitely ask for when looking for an SEO Consultant, but mainly it’d be case studies and questions about how transparent they are with their tactics. I’d expect that they would be able to demonstrate past success through those case studies and would allow me too get on the phone with their previous or existing clients.

I would expect that they could give me a clear indication of what they are doing and they would be reasonably available to field questions depending on the scope of the engagement. I would also look for an indication of whether they are able to come up with creative strategies that apply specifically to each of the companies they work on or if they are just taking a paint by numbers approach.

So basically what I would look for is all the things that we stand for at iAcquire. How good are they at their CRAFT (creativity responsibility acumen fortitude transparency).”

Michael King is an SEO Engineer by trade and Inbound Marketer by evolution. He works as Director of Inbound Marketing for leading content marketing agency iAcquire. Affectionately referred to “SEO’s Don Draper” Mr. King is also leading the expansion of iAcquire’s offering into on-page optimization and digital brand strategy. Michael King (bka @iPullRank on Twitter) has an extensive background in software, web development and a proclivity for creative solutions. As a contributor to leading industry blogs such as SEOmoz, Unbounce and Distilled, Mike continues to usher in ideas that shift the paradigm of SEO and Inbound Marketing as a whole.

Twitter: @ipullrank

 Chuck Reynolds (@chuckreynolds)

“I’d stay away from the old school traditional questions like “how long have you been in the industry” and “your experience” questions. Everybody seems to think they’re an SEO and they’ve been doing it forever. I even had a guy tell me since the early 90’s… as if that even existed back then. I think “SEO” wasn’t even mentioned until like 1998 or something. There’s no way for you to fact check their expertise or how long they’ve been doing it.

So unless you want fluff – don’t ask.

Know if they’re an agency or a single/coupe-guy shop. Agencies tend to sell a lot of buzzwords and can’t backup their mouth with their out-of-school interns or first years slinging shit links around. The bigger shops don’t always stay up on the latest and greatest, aren’t involved in the community (unless they’re selling automation), and tend to have loose guidelines on how the work is carried out.

Most of the good guys I know are single shops or small tight groups that are choosy with who they work with and typically stay to a niche or two, unlike agencies that’ll just take anything and are yes men.

Are they relying on software to do everything? If you get a weekly/monthly report of the links they got you.. you can buy that shit on for $5 and it’s as worthless as the guy you just paid a few hundred bucks for it. Quantity of links shouldn’t be the measure of success – it’s quality… and then quantity of quality.

There’s a lot of human touch and back-channel work that goes into a good SEO campaign – it’s not just splattering guest posts and IYP’s.

Are they going to look at your site for technical issues and content architecture and wording? If they don’t that’s usually a problem. Whether they’re commissioned to just look and do an audit and write up recommendations and fixes or whether they are going to ask for access and give a you statement of work of sorts as to what they’re going to fix.

You can get the best traffic ever but if your site has technical issues and drives them away or doesn’t convert them into sales or leads or whatever your goal is; it’s wasted time and money.

What is their campaign strategy? Do they have a plan in place for your specific content, demographic, goals? SEO is not a one-plan-fits-all type thing. There’s a lot of work and research that goes into a well executed plan that will deliver the best results.

Are they going to teach you along the way? I always do that with clients and it’s for their own good:

  1. They better understand what and why I’m doing something
  2. They can learn and start to adapt to it when they’re writing their new content

Just looking and simple reports dumped from Google Analytics and whatever tool they’re using isn’t good enough, they need to be able to explain what things are, what the trends are, why they’re working on these keywords versus these ones, why they’ll work on those ones later, why they’ll write certain content for some keywords but not others. If they have a good plan and can explain it all in detail as to why – it’s more probable you’ll see better results.

Some good to live by guidelines:

  • If they contacted you. (cold-calls and cold-emails are bad news). Run.
  • If they contact you about a domain for SEO. Run. (once in a blue moon though… but consult a trusted SEO first, can be bad).
  • If they replied to an ad for an SEO. (first off you fail, don’t do that. Real SEO’s don’t have time to search craigslist for work). Run.
  • If they, at any point, mention “meta keywords”, “link farm / wheel / network”. Run
  • If they don’t want access to your Google Analytics and/or server logs immediately. Run.
  • If they say they have a partnership / backdoor with Google or former Google employee on staff. Run.
  • If they promise / guarantee results. Run.
  • If they can’t explain instantly what a Panda and a Penguin are, and the major updates they brought. Run.
  • If they don’t rank for their own name / company name. Run. (You’d be surprised, also snoop around, see what you find).
  • If they don’t have multiple social profiles (twitter, google plus, facebook, etc) that are active and have at least some industry news on it (not spamming links). Run.

Hopefully you haven’t run a mile or two by now; but you will. There are a lot of posers out there. Read Google Webmaster Guidelines. Yes READ IT. It’s helpful and goes over what I’ve mentioned but it’s from the source, baby.”

Chuck Reynolds handles Web Strategy and SEO at rYnoweb in Phoenix Arizona. He specializes in on-site optimization, wordpress cms and SEO and helps professionals and businesses alike with local search marketing and reputation management through social media. Chuck is heavily engaged in the local community and responsible for organizing the first WordCamp to come to Phoenix, PodCampAz, an un-conference about emerging digital media, and is involved with the Arizona Entrepreneurship Conference. You can find him online practically everywhere, working at all hours of the night and when not working fidgeting with tech gadgets, riding his mountain bike and hiking and camping throughout Arizona.

Twitter: @chuckreynolds

Julie Joyce (@juliejoyce)

“My best advice for any business looking to hire a consultant is to ask for an incredibly detailed plan of what will be done, how it will be done, how much it will cost, what to expect, and what the risks are.

I know that a lot of people get hung up on being shown examples of your work, but personally speaking I can say that we have a company-wide non-disclosure agreement that prevents us from doing that. It’s cost us business before but it’s also brought in a lot, as people feel confidant that we won’t share their information.

If you can’t get an example of work, hash out a test run for the deal and if it’s not what you are after, don’t be afraid to speak up and bail if you have to. No SEO worth anything wants to be in an unsatisfactory partnership either.

I’d suggest doing research on the company or consultant that you choose, also, whether it’s from asking other people about them, reading what they’ve written, etc. Not every good SEO writes or speaks publicly certainly but bad SEOs do a lot of damage, and you need to do your best to make sure that if you’re putting your marketing in someone’s hands, he or she can handle it.”

Julie Joyce is the owner and Director of Operations for Link Fish Media, a bespoke link agency located in sunny Greensboro, NC. In addition, she contributes to columns at Search Engine LandSearch Engine Watch, and SEO Chicks.

Twitter: @juliejoyce

Melissa Fach (@SEOAware)

“A real SEO company doesn’t give everyone that contacts them the same quote/rates. A real SEO company cannot give you an answer on rates without speaking with you and determining what your needs are, what your goals are and discussing competitors with you. Then they have to research and get back to you.

SEO is not about paying someone $X a month and magic happens. There is a lot of research and work to be done on an ongoing basis. Their interview process should be as big as yours. If it isn’t then you need to walk away. Also, if your SEO business doesn’t understand why content marketing is critical then you need to run for the hills. “

Melissa Fach is the owner of SEOAware, an SEO and web development company that specializes in content marketing and blogging. Melissa has been a consultant for the last 7 years and offers training services for businesses teaching them how to run their online marketing campaigns effectively. Melissa currently helps several companies in our industry with content marketing on a consistent basis while also maintaining her own clients.

Twitter: @SEOAware

Marieke Hensel (@hensel)

“SEO = Social Media Outreach + Quality Content. If your SEO Consultant, only talks about link building and optimization of the website, stop and find someone else. If they don’t understand social media (just see how they are using it themselves), then they will not do a good job for you.

Google gets better and better at understanding how ‘real people’ use search and what content they rank better than others. And therefore, Google looks at how often your website is shared on social media. Because when people share your website on social media, your website must be of value.

Then the question is, how do you get people to share your website well? First: have a product that stands out from anyone else, and this is not from your perspective, but from the clients perspective. If your product is wanted and it stands out, they will share it.

However most people have a product that might not immediately stand out, and thus not automatically being shared on social media. So, then focus on creating great, shareable content. So people can find great things to share. Because I think those factors are most important in doing SEO, make sure you hire an SEO consultant that executes that well for themselves.

Do they have a valuable product that stands out? Do they write blog post and is it being shared on social media?

Two more pointers: Make sure they understand your business. Do they ask the right questions? Are they good listeners? And make sure they have ample experience. SEO is not a skill you can master in a year, quality SEO comes with experience, so hire someone that works on SEO projects for a few years and that can handle the complexity of the site that you have.”

Marieke runs Digital Marketing Agency: Branding Personality. She works in SEO since 1998, and manages Online Advertising campaigns, Social Media Marketing and handles Strategic Brand Development. Her clients vary from auto dealerships to dentists, and from blogger personalities to international speakers and authors.

Twitter: @hensel

Kieran Flanagan (@searchbrat)

“I’ve worked on both sides of the fence, as an SEO consultant and someone who managed them, but I’ve had the advantage of employing well known agencies who have a great reputation.

If I was an SMB looking to hire an SEO consultant, I would try to hire the person, rather than the agency/company. For example, if you search for many “SEO” related keywords, a lot of the top sites are faceless companies that provide standard packages – Gold, Silver, Bronze. If I was an SMB, I would follow potential consultants on Twitter for a couple of weeks and get a feel for the person.

I would ask to see examples of previous work and double check any sites they provide are still ranking well. There has been so much flux in the search over 2012, if an SEO consultant has managed to maintain rankings for clients over this year, chances are they are doing the right things.

You also want to ask what type of links they’ve built and ask to see examples. Ask yourself does it look as if they are acquiring natural links.

One last thing, and maybe the most important, if the price is too good to be true, it really is. If you are paying a couple of hundred dollars per month for an “SEO Strategy”, then you will probably get what you pay for.”

Kieran is an Online Marketing Strategist who has worked for global brands delivering results across a range of countries.

Twitter: @searchbrat

Andy Drinkwater (@iNETSEO)

“The SEO market is unregulated, and this has caused issues for businesses across the globe for many years. It is all too easy for someone to create a website, read ‘SEO for Dummies’, and think that they can offer this as a professional service. This leads to unscrupulous people taking advantage of the situation and using lots of technical speak to try and make them sound authoritative.

My first piece of advice is never go with the first company you talk to. Shop around and make an informed decision based upon what you have been told. Transparency is a huge problem for anyone who is going to employ any black-hat (un-ethical) techniques, so look out for this. Your SEO consultancy should be happy to tell you everything they are doing and why they are doing it.

If they appear cagey and tell you “it’s technical” or skirt around the subject, walk away and don’t look back.

Secondly I would ask to see work that has been completed previously, what the client goals were and how they went about it. If they have done a decent job, there should be clear signs of this in the SERP’s. However, don’t worry if you don’t see testimonials on the site itself. Not all professional SEO’s will present the information on their website because to some, this is seen as a desperate measure and touting too hard for business.

Finally, look at their website. Look for spelling mistakes, poor grammar or attempts to try and influence the search engines by trying too hard. When you visit a website, you want clear, concise messages; bold statements that will engage with the visitor and entice them to click and find out more.

What you don’t want to see is anything that could be viewed as a poor user experience. If you do feel the site is poorly worded or you see lots of elementary spelling or grammatical errors, etc., then you can be sure the search engines will see the same.

Any SEO company should be proud of what they can offer and should try their hardest to show this. Remember that a site is a digital shop-front, and should feel like one.”

Andy has been an SEO since 1999 and has helped countless companies with their internet marketing efforts. Specialising in the more technical aspects, Andy concentrates heavily on ‘Best Practice’ without trying too hard for each client, preferring a clean user experience to pages of content aimed at trying to gain favour through old techniques. Consistently at the cutting edge of the latest SEO techniques, he is very active on all social platforms, where he is happy to answer any questions or discuss technical aspects with other SEO’s.

Twitter: @iNETSEO

Kim Tyrone Agapito (@KimOfTheWorld)

“Einstein said it best “If you can’t explain it simply you don’t understand it well enough” and I think it is applicable to a lot of things, including hiring an SEO consultant.

If that so-called SEO consultant can’t explain the important things in a simple manner, move on to the next applicant. Remember that SEO isn’t an exact science (Sorry Einstein). This is why many great SEOs I personally know came from a combination of industries: technical, creative, writing, research, business, academe etc.

So what kind of person do you need to handle an industry that constantly evolves and changes? Answer: someone who is adaptive, a virtual street smart, a jack of all trades of some kind. You need someone who thinks like Google, figuratively and literally – someone who knows what Google is probably thinking and someone who knows a lot of things, just like Google.

Hire someone who can take different perspectives on your business and come up with different strategies for the modern Wild Wild West that is the World Wide Web.

The very nature of SEO makes it crucial for your consultant to know and understand more about Search (and Social) than anybody on your team – yesterday, today and probably tomorrow. I’m talking about theories, known facts, standards, technical and creative approach, tactics – good or bad, black hat or white hat.

Knowing these don’t mean you will use them, it only means you are prepared to wherever the industry is going.

It’s a warzone out here, and in times like these you don’t want an uncreative tactician to lead your battle. Having a guy who knows and understand what’s out there can only bring improvement to your business.”

Kim is an SEO professional and lecturer, internet marketer, content strategist and search specialist. His creative foundation has allowed him to work on Philippine’s two largest media stations ABS-CBN using his skills as a creative writer; TV writer and wroducer. He is also an occasional hardcore Gamer, Pet Lover and Movie fanatic.

Twitter: @kimoftheworld

Don Halbert (@donhalbert)

“Aside from requesting for the obvious references, I encourage any business thinking of hiring an SEO consultant to do their research in to the candidate’s own ability to perform. What have they accomplished for themselves? If they can’t perform for themselves what makes you believe they can for your business?”



Having begun his career in online marketing during the mid to late 90s, Don Halbert has continued to improve upon his wealth of knowledge in this regard and since become a certified inbound marketing educator who keynotes expos throughout Canada and Central America educating businesses on the importance of SEO and inbound marketing.

Twitter: @donhalbert

Julie Hume (@JulieChrisHume)

“SEO is a funny business. Some would have you believe it is mysterious and complicated, it really is not. However although there is no secret sauce to SEO, Google keeps mixing it up by changing the rules. What was perfectly acceptable last year can get your site dropped like a rock this year. What works right now may not be so effective in three months time.

Avoid any SEO consultant who tries to baffle you with science because the process is far more mundane than it is magical. No-one should be doing anything to your site that they will not discuss with you so unless they are open and upfront about their methods, show them the door.

Choose to hire a consultant that is also open about the ever changing nature of SEO and the need to stay on top of it. Any that believe (or strive to give the impression) that they know all there is to know about SEO are either kidding themselves or kidding you.

Ask what industry blogs they follow to keep up with the latest rumblings from the Googleplex. SEOmoz, Seo By the Sea and Distilled are three examples although there are many others out there. The point is that whichever he follows, a good SEO consultant will acknowledge the need to stay up to date with industry news.

Any seo candidate who guarantees you top spot in the serps or promises to get this done by next Wednesday is a cowboy. Steer clear.

Lastly, avoid yes-men. A good seo knows more than you about search engine optimization. That’s why you are hiring him, right? Sometimes people become very attached to a set of keywords that they want their site to appear in the serps for.

A good seo would advise on which keywords from this set to keep and which to replace based on his research of the market, website and competition. A bad seo would not bother with research. He’d just take your own list and plug it in to whatever routine he has created to follow for every client.”

Julie is currently the SEO and Social Media Expert for Webdirexion. For the past several years, Julie has worked independently as a writer, SEO specialist, and Social Media Marketer for a variety of clients. Currently she is attending Hootsuite University to keep her social media skills updated, as SEO continues to merge with Social Media. Julie enjoys a good mug of coffee, long walks with her children and dog on the island where she lives, and a good laugh watching professional comedians.

Twitter: @JulieChrisHume 

What do you think? What has been your experience hiring good SEOs? Have any tips you’d like to share with the community? Leave a comment below!

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