How to Hire a SEO Expert (The Complete Guide)

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Written by

Seren Nurgun

Working with online and local businesses for the past 3 years, she has generated over 278K clicks from Google.

Nervous but excited to hire someone for SEO (search engine optimization) help? That’s totally understandable. Maybe you got burned before by someone who didn’t know what they were doing (you didn’t deserve that!). Or maybe this is your first time and you’re not sure what to look for or what to expect. Whether we work together or not, you should have all of the information you need before outsourcing your SEO. Because going in blind is a 3-step recipe to getting burned by someone looking to take advantage of busy business owners like yourself. By choosing your SEO expert carefully, you’ll get exactly what you want: consistent, long-term business growth.

Is SEO as a marketing channel even a smart investment for your business?

Here’s the truth: you know your business the best. Even though I’m a SEO Specialist, I’m not here to shove outsourcing SEO down your throat. I’m here to help you make the most informed decision possible so you and your business thrive. Keeping that in mind, here are 3 key signs hiring a SEO expert would be worth it for you and your business:

01) Your niche is something people look for on search engines

A research study by Forrester found 71% of people begin their purchasing journeys by using a search engine to discover new products and services, and 74% use a search engine for both thinking about the product or service and for purchasing.

Based on these numbers, it’s obvious that googling is a common pastime. If your niche is in business, tech, products, services, personal development, relationships, finance, dating, travel, mindset, productivity, fitness, etc., it’s more than likely your business would grow if you invested in good SEO.

If your potential clients and customers are using search engines like Google to find your competitors, then it probably makes sense for your business to be up there, too.

02) You don’t have the time, energy, or interest to learn and implement SEO yourself

SEO for an already profitable business is like strapping a jetpack to a rocket. It supercharges growth and makes your success even more successful. But if you’re already being pulled in all kinds of directions and trying (struggling, let’s be honest) to balance work with your personal life, then that’s a clear sign you’d benefit from outsourcing your SEO.

And sometimes you just couldn’t care less about learning something new. Put aside having time and energy for a minute, having zero interest in learning SEO but trying to learn it anyways is probably going to lead to struggling to find the motivation to do it, which’ll lead to procrastination and seeing months go by without doing any SEO.

Also, as a founder, sometimes it can be hard to trust someone else enough to give them a set of keys and implement your vision. But specialists are specialists for a reason – they’ve got that experience and wisdom that’ll save you stressful headaches and most importantly, time.

03) You want to invest in content that compounds over time

The beauty of SEO and blogging with SEO in mind is that your website’s organic search traffic compounds the more blog posts you publish. What do I mean by that?

Think of your Netflix subscription for a minute. When they had their first 10 customers at $10 per month, they were earning $100 a month. But as they started to grow their subscribers, their revenue compounded. Instead of trying to find new customers from scratch every month, they went into every new month with an already strong subscriber base, meaning they just had to keep finding new customers while they kept their existing customers. Later on with 100 customers, they were earning at least $1000 every month and entering each new month with revenue they could rely on.

Similarly, if each blog post you published brought in 50 monthly visitors for years to come, then you’d start with 50 readers and then as you continue to publish, you’d reach 500 readers just 5 months later with 10 additional blog posts. Readers that come in through a blog post will most likely continue to come in through that post for months – they don’t go anywhere as long as there’s always people searching for that topic (and you maintain high rankings, of course).

Here’s some proof – one of my clients came to me struggling to get consistent clients after the pandemic hurt her service-based business and now she’s consistently booked out with a waitlist, has hired a social media manager, and even started a membership. All of that kickstarted from just 11 strategic blog posts I had developed for her!

When are the best times to invest in SEO?

The right time to invest in SEO depends on your business needs and goals. For a lot of businesses, investing in SEO sooner rather than later will generate bigger results in the long-term. For example, if you’re launching a product or service soon or are competing in an industry that’s constantly evolving, then starting early can definitely give you a competitive advantage.

01) Your Website Isn’t Bringing in Unbranded Traffic From Google

If the only organic search traffic coming to your website is from branded keywords (keywords that include your business, product, or service name), then you’re lacking in unbranded traffic. Unbranded traffic is where SEO comes in – it brings in attention and traffic that don’t know your brand even exists. SEO helps get your business in front of those people. Done well, SEO gets your brand in front of people who are problem and solution-aware, and need a trusted provider to offer the right solution.

02) You Have the Funds to Outsource But Not Hire In-House

Hiring in-house can get extremely expensive extremely fast; not only do you pay an annual salary, but you’ll also typically pay their health insurance, sick days, benefits, vacation days, etc. So if you don’t have the budget for all of that, hiring a contractor or freelancer is the next best thing. You get the benefits of the work being done without all of the costs associated with an employee.

03) You Might Be Seeing Great Results From SEO & Want to Supercharge It

If you’re already invested in SEO and seeing amazing results, you’re probably here looking to pour gasoline on the fire. Makes sense! A great time to double down on SEO is if you’re already seeing success with it because that means Google is loving your website. That’s half the battle done with already. Going from 100 to 1000 is a lot easier than going from 0 to 100 in SEO.

04) Your Current Team Doesn’t Have the Expertise or Time to Focus on SEO

SEO requires in-depth expertise and most of all, time. If you’re trying to stretch your employees thin, you just won’t see the results you’re looking for. In other words, SEO is a whole full-time job for thousands of companies for a reason. It requires dedication, patience, skill, and a watchful eye.

05) You’re Launching a Brand New, Revamped, Rebranded, or Redesigned Website

When a new website launches, Google’s algorithms do a check to see how well optimized it is for its search engine. This initial check sets the bar for how Google treats the website going forward. Think of it like making a first impression: the better the first impression, typically the better treatment you can expect to receive. That’s why investing in SEO before a website launch can make a huge difference.

06) You Don’t Have the Expertise or Capacity to Troubleshoot SEO Problems

Busy business owners, you already know you have to delegate to scale. Investing in SEO, especially if you’re facing a SEO problem like getting hit by a Google algorithm update, can be a great idea if you just don’t have the interest, patience or the time to deal with it yourself. In this case, you’re better off handing it over to a pro or seeking an expert’s consultation.

When’s NOT a Good Time to Invest in SEO

The worst times to invest in SEO are: you need sales like tomorrow, you’re still unclear on the benefits of SEO, you’re 100% satisfied with your business’s growth and revenue trajectory, you can’t afford to invest in a new marketing channel that might not generate sales for a couple of months, and you don’t have the capacity to oversee a new marketing channel.

Should you outsource SEO or hire an in-house SEO specialist?

Both have their pros and cons. Hiring an in-house SEO specialist obviously brings a lot of costs to your business, but then you have a 100% dedicated person working on your SEO every single day. If you hire full-time, you’ll likely see SEO results a lot faster than hiring part-time or outsourcing. But by outsourcing, you’re saving a lot on costs and because contractors tend to work in sprints, you’ll likely still see great SEO results. Good SEO agencies also cost less than a full-time employee, but you really need to vet agencies because there are a lot of horrible ones.

The consensus is: if you’re able to afford it, it likely makes more sense for you to hire an in-house SEO specialist and if you’re unable to afford it, it makes more sense to outsource your SEO to a contractor or agency. That means you need to be crystal clear on your business’s finances and projections to determine if you can afford it or not. You don’t want to hire someone in-house and then be forced to let them go 6 months later.

What’s the difference between a done-for-you service provider, consultant, and agency?

A done-for-you service provider is similar to an agency in the fact that they handle both strategy and implementation. A consultant tends to only provide strategy. Some consultants also provide light implementation work, but mainly they pass on the implementation work to the company’s in-house team.

Another major difference is customer service (i.e. attention on your business). Done-for-you service providers and consultants offer the best customer service because they usually only have a handful of clients at one time. Because their focus isn’t split between 30 different clients, they’re able to keep a closer eye on upward and downward organic search traffic movements and be quicker to respond to client communications. Agencies generally have account managers who handle lots of clients. Some account managers literally handle 40+ clients at one time. That’s why it’s critical to properly vet an agency if you’re looking to go in that direction.

Cost-wise, all are very comparable and depend on their level of expertise and experience. Of course, you can find $50 SEO consultants on Fiverr and Upwork, but do that at your own (high) risk. Pricing for good-quality SEO done-for-you service providers, consultants, and agencies starts at around $1,000 per project or per month. For enterprise-level companies, costs can easily start at $10,000 per month, but for solopreneurs, costs are more reasonable and can start at $500. Small-to-medium businesses will find their SEO costs start at around $2000 per project or per month. For example, I offer both strategy and implementation as a SEO done-for-you service provider, my clients are online business owners, local business owners, and solopreneurs, and my lowest-priced package is $1,000 for a 3-Month Blog Strategy + Plan.

The Most Common SEO Services

Many business owners mistakenly believe SEO includes a lot of things it actually doesn’t. Before you go hiring a SEO expert and hoping it all works, make sure to understand what exactly a SEO pro can do for you. This’ll help make sure you’re hiring for your needs and goals, and help you avoid getting burned by a bad hire.

01) Keyword Research

Keyword research involves finding the keywords (which are what people type in to Google to search for things) that make the most sense for where your website is starting from, what niche and industry your business is in, who your ideal clients and customers are, and what kinds of pages would be best to create on your website. This should be done before any new content is published on your website.

02) Content Strategy

Content strategy is developing the framework, guidelines, and plan for creating search engine optimized content that brings in leads and sales for your unique business. This is typically done one-time to apply to content creation and implementation for a set period of time (could be 3 months or could be 1 year). It’s good to refresh your content strategy at least every 6 months to make sure it’s updated based on the latest competitive landscape.

03) Content Creation & Implementation

Content creation and implementation is when a SEO pro, agency, or in-house team (at the direction of a SEO consultant) writes and publishes search engine optimized content for your business consistently. This is usually delivered on a monthly basis, but you’ll see most content agencies and content writers charging per month, per deliverable, or per word.

04) Technical SEO

Complex technical SEO should generally be done by a highly proficient SEO pro with lots of experience under their belt. Why? Because one wrong technical move and your entire organic search traffic could plummet over night. However, if your website has simple technical SEO challenges, then any relatively proficient SEO pro should be able to fix those problems for you.

05) Backlink-Building

If you’ve already started to explore the world of SEO service providers, I’m sure you’ve already seen loads of backlink-building services. Some even surprisingly cheap. But you should know: good backlink-building doesn’t come cheap. It’s actually pretty difficult to find a good backlink building service, so I’ve got some trusted agencies I know deliver good results (feel free to reach out if you’re on the hunt).

What To Look For in a SEO Specialist or SEO Agency

01) Legitimate background: self-taught or traditionally educated

One of the best places to start is with their educational background. How did they learn SEO? Did they teach themselves, complete certifications, or earn a related degree? An important note: self-taught is completely OK. We all learn things over the internet or teach ourselves skills for a range of reasons. If they’re proudly self-taught, good for them. And if they’re used to solving problems, that could be useful for when they undoubtedly come across challenges when working on your website.

If they’re traditionally educated, some certifications and degrees have thesis or capstone project requirements and you might learn a lot about their background by asking about theirs. Or try asking them out of all of the possible career paths, why they chose to specialize in SEO. The power of ‘why’ can uncover a deeper layer of their motivations and help you get a better sense of why they want to work with you.

On a different note, after people graduate from a structured program, sometimes they lose interest in learning and stop staying updated on their industry. Clearly, that’s less than ideal in the ever-changing world of SEO. That’s why it’s important to check if they’re sharing the latest in SEO news – whether it’s through their social media, in your chats with them, or in their newsletters. What worked pre-2015 doesn’t work anymore.

2) Experience with your niche

Did you know there are a few specialities within SEO?

I know, that’s kind of hard to wrap your head around when SEO is already pretty specialized.

But there are specific SEO techniques for multi-language websites, news publishers, e-commerce businesses, software-as-a-service businesses (like Canva), and location-based businesses (like your favorite local boutique).

The kind of SEO that I do for agency owners, coaches, consultants, mentors, digital product creators, and online service providers is unique. Because these online businesses offer services, programs, and digital products that don’t require a physical location, I focus on optimizing their main pages as much as possible and then going full speed ahead with strategic blog posts. This sets their websites up with a consistent stream of organic traffic, of which a percentage is happy to sign up to their email list or become a client or customer.

Experience with your broad niche is beyond important! If your potential SEO specialist has no idea or experience with the techniques that it would take to grow your specific website, then they’re a bad fit for you. Period.

3) No unrealistic claims or guarantees

Have you ever seen ads claiming they can get your website ranking on page one of Google in just two days? Well, that’s absolute garbage. Not even the best SEO professionals have that kind of turnaround.

No ethical, knowledgeable, and experienced SEO specialist will give you any kind of straightforward guarantees or promises because SEO takes a healthy bit of time (anywhere from 2 months to 8 months). Yes, you can totally get some quick wins but they can’t be guaranteed. At the end of the day, Google and other search engines ultimately decide how and where websites show up. Good SEO specialists know that and do all they ethically can to get results for websites, but there’s no way they can know how Google will react to what they do. When you’re outsourcing your SEO, the truth is you’re hiring someone more knowledgeable and experienced than yourself so they get it done in much less time with less problems, setbacks, and headaches. All while you focus on your zone of genius and what you love to do.

4) Case studies or testimonials

If you’re looking for a SEO specialist who has been through the mud, read through any case studies or testimonials they have on their website. These will give you a ton of insight into what working with them is like, their processes, how they approach client work, SEO results they’re proud of, and much more.

Pay close attention to how their previous clients spoke about them. Do their testimonials sound robot-y or do they sound like the person actually had a great experience? A lot of people get superficial testimonials because every business coach raves that they’re essential. But, sometimes that means they don’t have enough context or actual meaning behind them. Try looking at them with a critical eye. You might see a pattern emerge.

5) The SEO condition of their own website

Why would you hire a SEO specialist with bad SEO on their own website? If they don’t even care enough to optimize their own website, why would they care about yours?

To see if their website is up to par, start with a quick Lighthouse test. This test gives you an unbiased look into their website’s SEO from Google™’s point of view. Here’s how you do it on your computer:

Step 01 – Open their website on Google Chrome

Step 02 – Hover your cursor over their website and right click

Step 03 – Click on ‘Inspect’ at the bottom

Step 04 – Click on the two arrows and then click on ‘Lighthouse’

screenshot of running a lighthouse test

Step 05 – Uncheck all the options except for ‘SEO’ and make sure it’s set to mobile

how to run a lighthouse test steps

Step 06 – Click ‘Generate Report’

result of running a lighthouse test
SweetSea Digital’s SEO score

*My SEO score would be 100 if it weren’t for a limitation of Showit (the platform this website was built on).

6) Approved and safe tactics vs High-risk and unapproved tactics

Like with everything, there are good and bad ways to do SEO. By good, I mean techniques that follow Google’s official guidelines and are tailored towards the actual people searching for things online. These ensure a smooth, easy-to-use, and enjoyable browsing experience, which is exactly what Google and searchers want. By bad, I mean methods that go against Google’s official guidelines and are spammy, unethical, or try to ‘trick’ Google in one way or another. These bad methods can lead to short bursts of website visitors, but Google shuts it down eventually. So for a steady stream of sustainable, reliable website visitors and unlimited growth potential for the long-term, you’re going to want to make sure your SEO specialist only follows Google’s official guidelines. That way, you can trust that your future website traffic won’t suddenly disappear and you won’t be left wondering what the heck happened.

7) Communication style

No one wants to hire someone and then never hear from them again. Ideally, any SEO professional is upfront with how and when you should expect to get updates from them.

Most SEO specialists offer weekly or monthly reporting that includes what they’ve been doing, the status of your website through key performance indicators (KPIs) set at the beginning, and what they plan to do going forward. Outside of these reports, it’s also good to know if they’re willing to answer any questions you might have in the future and if they guarantee that they’ll get back to you within a certain time.

If it’s not clear on their website, remember to ask them on your discovery call together or send them an email with all of your questions while you’re considering hiring them. When the work gets started, staying in touch with them will be so important because it holds them accountable and it keeps you updated with how your website is doing (hopefully, how it’s improving).

8) Measurement and reporting

Like I mentioned earlier, most SEO specialists will send you weekly or monthly reports about the work they’ve been doing, how your website is at that specific time, and what they plan to work on next.

Ideally, these reports will also show you the ongoing results of their work. Before any work kicks off, good SEO specialists will have a handful of KPIs they know to track throughout their time doing your SEO. Tracking the most important things gives you a crystal clear, data-backed picture of the status of your website and how it changes over time.

Spikes, downturns, and patterns will start to pop up and any trends will help both you and your SEO specialist decide on next steps.

9) Expectations after the service ends

At this stage, hopefully you’ve had a great time working with your SEO specialist and gotten healthy results from their work.

How SEO professionals stay in touch with clients after they’re no longer working on your website differs from pro to pro. Some offer to continue being an open-book resource, while others may check-in with you every 6 months or not at all.

There’s no one right way. If you would prefer being able to ask any future questions, then be sure to ask if they offer that. But if that’s not important to you, then you can totally bypass this.

Some also offer SEO maintenance, meaning they’ll stay on and continue to work on your website’s SEO after the original service you had booked. What SEO pros do as maintenance widely varies because there’s no standard in the SEO world. Be careful with maintenance packages because they sound great on paper, but some unethical pros take advantage and claim to do good work when they’re not actually making a difference.

10) The capability to fit in with your business’s culture

Does your business have a high-speed, fix later mentality? Or a more laidback but get things right the first time kind of culture? It’s important for your SEO expert to comfortably fit into your business’s work style because they’ll be working closely with your business. By making sure there’s alignment in this regard, you won’t face ugly miscommunications or problems later on.

While you’re on a discovery call (the very first call) with them, be sure to communicate how your business operates, its culture, and expectations. Remember, the SEO expert is interviewing you as well. Both parties want to be sure they’re signing up to a healthy working relationship.

10 Questions to Ask Before Hiring a SEO Marketer

01) What are your business values?

02) What tools do you use?

03) Do you outsource or delegate any of the work?

04) Do you send weekly or monthly reports?

05) How do you measure progress?

06) How long will it take to start seeing leads and/or sales from SEO?

07) How do you stay up-to-date with SEO news and trends?

08) How do you work through unexpected challenges?

08) How are you different from other SEO providers?

09) Do you have case studies? If so, where can I find them?

10) What’s your typical response time to communications from clients?

Where to Find Top-Quality SEO Experts For Hire in 2023

It is NOT easy to find good-quality service providers! Likely because there’s a low barrier to entry, a lot of people think it’s a quick way to make money and so they just start offering their time. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in SEO Facebook groups and seen brand new SEO service providers say how they’ve started working with clients but actually have no idea what they’re doing and are stressing out about it. Make sure you’re doing your due diligence! I hate seeing dejected, burned business owners regretting their hiring decisions – it’s not fun.

01) Hire Me! (If You’re an Online Business Owner, Local Business Owner, or Solopreneur)

Yep, if your business fits the bill and we’d be a good match, I’d love to work with you! If you’re ready to kickoff the process, you can either submit a 6-minute Mini-Application (introvert-friendly and busy business owner method) or schedule a 30-Minute ‘Good Fit’ Chat with yours truly. Either way is totally acceptable. I have pre-packaged services, but I also do loads of custom SEO projects depending on your specific needs and goals.

02) Referrals From a Trusted Source

Already have a strong network of business owners? That’s great! I’m sure there are people inside your network who have experience outsourcing their SEO. Don’t hesitate to reach out to them or ask any business groups you’re in if they’d recommend anybody for SEO. But don’t take anyone’s word at face value – you’ll still want to do your own checks and due diligence. Unfortunately, sometimes people aren’t transparent when they have affiliate or commission-based relationships with agencies.

03) MarketerHire

From everything I’ve heard, MarketerHire is an amazing platform to hire marketers including SEO marketers! They have a strict vetting process, so they only accept highly experienced and industry-leading service providers. That, of course, means service providers charge much higher on this platform so I’d only recommend it for large companies with big budgets.

04) Post a Job On seojobs.com

The folks over at seojobs.com, Peter and Nick, have built a job board specifically for SEO jobs. That means people looking for SEO jobs on the platform are highly motivated and interested. I can back that claim up with these stats: seojobs.com has a ~17% bounce rate and an average visit duration of 2 minutes and 38 seconds from ~34,000 monthly visits. Nice stats, right? You can post a job for free (with certain limitations) or pay to remove those limitations. Currently, it costs $59 to $99 per listing.

How much does it cost to hire a SEO expert?

The cost of outsourcing SEO depends on quite a few factors. The most important are: the location of service provider, consultant, or agency, their level of experience, the industry and niche of your business, the size of your business, your SEO needs, hourly vs project-based vs monthly retainer, and of course the currency the provider charges in.

The most common SEO services are a monthly retainer or project-based over a couple of months. If based in the U.S., these can easily start at $1,000 and go up to $10,000+.

Well, you’ve made it through this ultimate guide to hiring a SEO expert! I hope you’re feeling less nervous than when you started reading it and hopefully even more excited to get going now that you’re more prepared. Best of luck with everything! And remember, I’m here if you need recommendations or you’re an online business owner, local business owner, or solopreneur.

Jan 21, 2023

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SEO

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