If you’re in business, you’re in it to make money. To make money today, you almost always need to have a web presence. A real web presence, not a free website thrown up on a free host and ignored. That means you need to pay attention to SEO, and that in turn means you need someone with the time and energy to do so. For many businesses, this can’t be done internally; no one has the time or the knowledge to do it in their spare time, and you don’t have the budget to hire someone specifically for the job. That means you need to contract an SEO guy.
When you want to hire an SEO guy, or even a company specializing in business SEO, you have to keep a lot of information in mind. There are predatory people and companies out there who will dramatically overcharge for their services. There are other companies that seem cheap at the outset, but who implement damaging techniques or just perform on a sub-par level. You need to make sure you’re getting the best service you can for your money.
So what do you need to keep in mind? What should you do, and what should you avoid doing? We’ve written before about some concerns for hiring a company, but what about a freelancer? While many of the concerns are the same, there will be some unique issues to confront with a single-person relationship.
Do Your Research
Before you even think about hiring a guy to do your SEO, do some research into who he is. Does he represent a company, or is he a freelancer? Does he have a website to promote his skills? Does he have references? Does he know what has been going on in the world of SEO lately?
One concern you’ll have with a lone freelancer over a larger company is time. It takes a lot of time and energy to create the content needed to rank successfully, and one person may not be able to handle it all. This is particularly true if that freelancer is working with multiple clients.
It’s not uncommon for a freelance SEO professional to use a third party writer, and that’s perfectly fine. Just make sure that at the end of the day, the content posted on your site is owned by you, not by someone who could potentially take away usage rights later.
Do Talk About Deadlines and Timelines
I’ll write more about this later, but one thing you need to know is that SEO is never a guarantee, and no one can promise you X ranking by Y date, no matter what. It’s all “My uncle works at Google” tier stuff. Lies.
The fact is, SEO takes time, and it can take more or less time depending on what you have to work with. It’s occasionally easier to build up a new site than it is to resurrect an old site with a lot of mistakes, so if your site has been tinkered with before – or you’ve ever used black hat techniques in the past – you’ll be on the hook for the time it takes to clean up.
You need to have a realistic discussion with your SEO guy about timelines and deadlines. On their end, they need to be up-front with the time it will take them to do the work necessary on your site. On your end, you need to understand what a reasonable amount of time is and when they might tip over into ineffective.
Do Learn the Basics First
You want to be able to hold an intelligent conversation with your chosen SEO guy, and that means you need to know enough about what’s going on that you understand the basic concepts and don’t need a bunch of extra rationale whenever they want to make a change to your site.
You can find a lot of basic information about SEO online, but one quick primer is really all you need. You just need to understand the purpose of SEO, the reason changes are made, and what goals you’re striving towards. Your SEO guy can explain all of this to you, but if you’re prepared ahead of time, you save the time you would have spent on the crash course.
Do Understand Pricing and Negotiation
I can’t give you prices for a good SEO freelancer; they vary wildly depending on what needs to be done, for how big a site, with what resources, and at what scale. A business like Nike is going to have to pay a lot more for an SEO rework than a company like Bob’s Burger Joint.
One thing you need to do is research pricing for people in a situation similar to yours. This will give you an idea of how much you’re going to have to pay. It will also give you an idea of when a freelancer is trying to charge far more than their services are worth, or far less.
There will be some degree of negotiation involved, so long as there’s a contract to be had. SEO is an ongoing process, so the assumption is that you’ll stick with the same SEO guy for quite a while. Ideally, they’ll be willing to cut you a deal, either on the assumption that you sign a lengthy contract, or as a result of doing business with them for an extended period.
Do Ask for References for Past Work
The number one thing you should do when interviewing an SEO guy to work on your site is research their past clients. You need to know at the very least that they have past clients who are willing to speak for them. More than that, they should be proud of the work they can do. Additionally, being able to produce fixed statistics for the work they have done, in case study format, allows you to see just how good they are at their jobs.
If possible, try to get in touch with the previous or current clients of your chosen freelancer. If that’s not possible, you may want to consider finding someone else. More importantly, if they can’t provide quality resources, don’t hire them.
Do Get Multiple Consultations
Hiring an SEO guy is just the same as finding any other service on contract; you want to shop around. On the other hand, you don’t want to tell the people you’re investigating that you’re doing so. They know, for one thing, because it’s assumed that you aren’t just going to go for one person you don’t know.
The main reason you don’t tell them you’re shopping around is because a lot of times they might not care enough to fight for your services. A good, high-quality SEO guy has very limited time available to do his work, and so has to be exclusive with his services. If you’re shopping around, it means you’re looking for cheap SEO, not high value SEO. They’ll just shrug and move on to the next client who really wants their exclusive services.
Do Double-Check Their Work
At the end of the day, the only thing that matters about your SEO guy is the work they’re doing. You can hire a newbie with no reputation, and if they put out good work, you did well.
What you’re going to want to do is periodically check a few important places for metrics that indicate the success or failure of your SEO guy. For example:
- Check Google Webmaster Tools to see if you have a site-wide or partial match manual action, which indicates a spam technique being used to try to boost your site ranking.
- Monitor your search ranking to see if you’re losing ground for your important queries.
- Monitor your traffic and watch for sudden drops without associated spikes preceding them.
- Check the keywords you’re ranking for in Google’s Organic Keywords section in Google Analytics. If you’re finding rankings for keywords dissociated with your business, it’s a sign of shady practices on behalf of your SEO guy.
- Check the links pointing at your site. If you have a large number of links from low quality, spam, or unrelated sites, you could be contracting a low quality SEO freelancer.
Now, on to the don’ts.
Don’t Choose the Cheapest Option
Make no mistake: SEO costs money. Even if you’re hiring a relatively inexperienced freelancer to do the work for you, you should be paying a reasonable wage. The less you pay, the less interested the freelancer becomes, and the more likely they are to slack off, do nothing, miss warning signs, or flat-out resort to cheap, fast black hat techniques.
Of course, the opposite is also true; you don’t want to overpay. There are some SEO companies out there that do such a great job of selling their services that everyone who pays for them almost has to review them highly, even though their service kind of sucks. You don’t want to be that guy who got swindled out of months of pay, right?
Don’t Believe Promises or Guarantees
I mentioned this a bit above. If you see an SEO company telling you they can guarantee results on the first page of Google, or that they can double your traffic in a month, just walk away. No one can guarantee a specific Google rank, and the idea of promising a doubled traffic counter is laughable. Sure, it’s possible, but the traffic is going to be untargeted and poor.
These are the sorts of attractive promises made by black hat SEO spammers who just want to add your site to their network of ad-laden spam sites or otherwise valueless victims. Unfortunately, getting suckered in by one of these scams can lead to long-lasting damage. A Google penalty is no laughing matter, and it can be surprisingly difficult to get rid of the traces of a poor black hat scheme.
Don’t Reject Site Redesign Ideas
I know that, over time, you’ve very likely become quite attached to your site design. It represents your brand in a very real sense, and redesigning your site is almost like rebranding. A certain amount of old customers may even disappear with the redesign, because no one likes change.
The thing is, the older a site is, the more likely it is to no longer comply with SEO regulations and modern techniques. It might use code that hinders it. It might not cater to mobile users properly. It might be filled with content that drags it down, either in quality or in length, leading to Panda penalties. It might even have a poor link profile, leading to Penguin penalties.
All of this can be fixed with a major overhaul of your site, but it’s an idea you need to be open to. Before you agree, however, make sure it’s necessary; it could just be a shady SEO guy trying to get you to pay for his cousin’s web design as well.
Don’t Assume Your SEO Guy Will Handle Everything
There’s a lot that goes into SEO, but there’s a lot that an SEO guy can’t handle on his own. If you do need a total website redesign, for example, it’s probably better to let a talented web designer handle it instead of trying to get the SEO guy to do it. They might have a recommendation, or they can let you handle it.
There’s also a lot of day to day interaction that you need to have with your SEO guy. For example, you need to be willing to share existing statistics and set up accounts for them to access your analytics and make changes. You might have to give them access to your blog to post content, unless you want to do the scheduling yourself.
Some SEO guys don’t do social media management, while some do. Some will outsource the content writing, while others prefer to write themselves. It all depends on the person you contract and what they’re willing to do.
Don’t Treat SEO as a One Time Investment
One of my favorite little comparisons is between SEO and a diet. If you go on a diet and cut out carbs and sugar, you’ll lose weight and feel better. Once you lose weight down to your target, though, you can’t just go back to eating junk; you’ll inflate like a balloon.
SEO is the same way; it’s more than just the basic audit and a little work to get you to your target. It’s an ongoing investment. Just look at how many businesses have a blog set up that stopped updating in 2013, or a Facebook page left dormant after a few posts and a failed contest.
You don’t have to stick with the same SEO guy for your entire life; you just need to stick with SEO. At some point, maybe you hire an in-house team, or grow beyond the abilities of one lone freelancer to manage.
Don’t Buy Into Automated Solutions
Automation is useful, in its place. However, automation should be limited to things like generating reports on a timer, or scheduling posts, that sort of thing. The last thing you want to do is rely on automation for something more important, like building links, submitting articles to directories, funneling in traffic, or spinning blog post content to make “original” posts that look written by a Fiverr seller in India.
Honestly, about the most important task you should trust to an automated tool is social media posting, and even then you need to make sure to keep an eye on what it’s doing. More than one social snafu has occurred because of automation left unchecked.
Don’t Demand Unrealistic Results
Earlier I talked about how unrealistic promises are a sign of a spammer, a swindler, or a black hat scammer at work. There’s a flip side to this situation; you can’t demand such results out of the guy you want to hire. You can’t go around looking for an SEO guy and tell them you need to be ranked number one on Google for some highly competitive keyword that Walmart has dominated. It’s not a feasible goal, and it’s going to make it look like you don’t know what you’re talking about. If that happens, you’re going to drive away all of the good SEO freelancers, and the only ones willing to take you on as a client are the ones that are willing to make such flimsy promises, and then make excuses as to why they haven’t been able to hold to them while taking more of your money.
Don’t Judge an SEO Guy By Anything Other Than Results
At the end of the day, the only thing that matters is results. Hire an SEO guy and watch what happens do your site. Does your search ranking go up? Does your traffic go up? Do your conversions increase? Is your blog populated with quality content? Are good backlinks coming in? These are signs that your SEO guy is doing something right. Commend them for the good work and keep paying them for their results.