Questions to ask before hiring an SEO expert
Search engine optimization (SEO) is a crucial part of digital marketing. It’s one of the best methods for increasing your brand discoverability online — due to the reliance consumers have on search engines when seeking information, and because there are no on-going advertising costs.
Research shows that at least 75% of search traffic goes to the first page of search results. And with more than 5.6 billion Google Searches globally each day, if you’re not showing up when people search for your product or service offering, you’re missing out on a huge number of potential leads and sales.
But mastering SEO by yourself can be a little challenging. While you can DIY SEO, this can be time consuming as there is a lot to learn. Which is why a lot of people seek out the help of an SEO expert to help them navigate the search engine landscape and rank for the keywords their audience is searching for.
Hiring an SEO expert can be the difference between ranking in search engine results and getting a great return on your investment, or missing the mark with your SEO strategy and wasting money (and time). Here’s where the problem lies. SEO is notoriously filled with “experts” who will cut corners and potentially harm your search traffic and website’s credibility in the long run.
So how do you find the right SEO expert for your website? We’ve compiled the questions you should be asking before hiring an SEO expert to make sure you get results from your SEO efforts.
Types of SEO support
Before we get into the questions, it’s important to know that there are usually three different kinds of SEO experts you can hire.
- SEO freelancers/consultants: These are individuals who usually work with a business in a one-to-one consulting capacity as required or on an on-going basis.
- SEO agencies: Agencies are usually teams of SEO experts. The key difference here is that agencies usually have a broader range of expertise – you might have technical SEO and SEO copywriting all in one agency, whereas it can be more difficult to find a freelancer that can wear all those hats.
- In-house SEO specialists: Hiring an in-house SEO expert is usually required for larger businesses who have complex on-going SEO requirements, as well as needing to integrate an SEO expert into in-house marketing and web development teams.
Whatever type of SEO expert you need, ask these questions before you hire them.
Ask these questions before hiring an SEO expert
1. How will you go about improving our SEO?
This is one of the most important questions to ask an SEO freelancer or agency, as it will tell you exactly what they intend to do to your website and content to help improve your rankings in search engine results pages (SERPs). What they tell you will be indicative of the strategy and process they intend to undertake.
The ideal answer from an SEO expert might be something like: “We’ll conduct an SEO audit of your site to determine all the areas for improvement, and then identify the most urgent issues we need to fix. Then, we’ll create an on-page SEO content strategy which will identify the keywords we want to target and how we’ll go about targeting them. As well as a backlink outreach strategy to support on-page content optimisations with strong and trustworthy links from high authority external websites”.
The answer might not be exactly that, but it should give you a clear idea of their process, and show you whether they are organised and experienced enough to answer the question clearly.
Red flags to look out for: If they give you a vague answer or they can’t explain their process, this is a red flag. An experienced SEO expert should have a process they will take that they can communicate clearly with you.
2. How will you get backlinks for my website?
Backlinks are an incredibly important part of SEO. But first, what are they? Well, backlinks are links from other websites that are directed at yours. They act as “signals” to Google that your site is good and trustworthy. But, not all backlinks are equal. A backlink from a site with low domain power and low trust scores can have the opposite effect that you want it to have, and signal to Google that your website can’t be trusted.
The problem here is that many shady, ‘black hat’ SEO experts will use backlink building strategies that build links in an automated, quick way, from domains with low trust scores. This is called “spam” link building. If your SEO expert says they can provide lots of backlinks for a cheap price, this indicates that they may be using not-so-ethical (or effective) methods for link building and you should look elsewhere.
3. What industries do you have prior SEO experience in?
An SEO expert might have plenty of experience in SEO strategy for large ecommerce fashion brands. But if you run an online news publication, for example, then you need to get clear on whether your SEO expert can easily adapt their strategy to suit your industry.
If they say they can, ask them how they will do this. A good SEO consultant will be able to adapt to any industry, but it’s important that you get clear on how they will go about it.
4. Can you provide some examples of previous clients and the work you did for them?
Viewing an SEO expert’s past case studies is a great way to see the work they’ve done and get an idea of what they might be able to do for your business. They should be able to provide you with a few examples of clients who have worked with them (ideally with testimonials), and show you the actual work they have done (eg. they’ve gotten client X to rank number Y for keyword Z).
There may be some details that SEO experts can’t share with you (client confidentiality is a thing), but ideally they will have evidence of their past work that they’ve gotten permission from clients to show publicly.
5. What type of SEO will you be doing on my website?
‘SEO’ is a pretty catch-all term for a few different types of optimisations that can be made to your site. There are three different types of SEO that fall under this umbrella:
This refers to all elements of the ‘on-page’ website experience. It will usually mean optimising the content on your website pages for specific keywords, and ensuring the user experience on your website is in good form.
Technical SEO is related to search engines crawling and indexing your site. This might include technical issues like broken 404 links, URL redirects, and page speed.
Off-page SEO refers to anything that affects your website’s search engine rankings that isn’t actually happening on your site. It essentially refers to backlinks from other websites and what these signal to search engines about your reputation.
The SEO expert you hire should have knowledge of all three kinds of SEO. Make sure you ask them about this and ensure they will be able to help you with all three.
6. What kinds of results do you expect to achieve in the first few months of our campaign?
If your SEO expert says they can rank you #1 in competitive Google Search rankings within a few months? They’re likely shady. Good SEO is a slow process that takes time. Unless your budget is sky-high and you can make lots of rapid changes to your site, ranking number 1 for competitive keywords in a short period of time is unlikely to happen.
SEOs cannot guarantee results. That is just the nature of search engines – they are constantly changing with algorithm updates, which makes guaranteeing anything impossible. That being said, you do want to make sure your SEO expert is clear on what they do expect within a few months. It might be that they expect they can increase your rankings steadily within 6 months for a set of specific keywords.
7. What keywords will you try to target with your SEO strategy?
Say you’re a small-scale furniture maker, and your SEO expert says they are going to target broad search terms like “furniture”. This keyword has 49,500 search terms per month in Australia, with organic competitors like Fantastic Furniture. Unless you’re a business of that scale with an SEO budget to match, it’s pretty unlikely that you can compete for a keyword like “furniture”.
But, say they suggest targeting keywords like “custom made furniture melbourne”, which has a search volume of 210 per month, much less competition, and is directly related to your brand’s niche. While not having as much search traffic, an SEO that suggests this strategy is more likely being realistic and honest about the results they can deliver. When your SEO tells you which keywords you should try and target, ask yourself these two questions:
- Is the keyword broad and not directly related to my niche?
- Are the companies I will be competing with very large?
If you answer ‘yes’ to both of the above, you should look elsewhere (or at least ask more questions to understand why they’re recommending this approach).
8. How much do you charge?
Make sure you’re clear on how much the SEO expert charges, and what the payment terms are. According to an Ahrefs survey from 2018, most SEOs charge on a retainer basis, rather than as a project. This means you pay regular installments on an ongoing basis.
According to this survey, 23.08% of SEO retainers cost between $501-$1,000 USD, while 24.23% charge between $2,001 per month or more. And 19.23% of all the retainers cost between $251-$500 per month. What does this mean? You can expect to be paying anywhere between $250 a month and $2,001 a month or more. That’s a pretty big difference.
Given this, it’s really important that you ask your SEO expert why their pricing model works the way it does. If it’s expensive, ask them why it is and what level of work you can expect. If it’s super cheap, ask them the same thing.
9. Do you follow Google’s Webmaster Guidelines for search engine optimization?
If you’ve ever heard of ‘black hat’ SEO, this is exactly the opposite of following Google’s guidelines. Google has a set of guidelines that SEOs should follow in order to rank websites.
The only reason an SEO expert wouldn’t follow these guidelines is if they were using deceptive tactics, or cutting corners to try and deliver results. You need to make sure your SEO expert is fully across these guidelines and that they stick to them.
10. Will you send me regular reports?
Regular reporting is an important part of having a project or retainer with an SEO expert. Usually these will be sent on a monthly basis with the results from the past month, insights, and recommendations. Results will usually include information about your organic traffic and current keyword rankings.
It might be helpful for you to ask for an example SEO report, so that you can see the type of information that your SEO expert will be providing you with. And if you’d like to be updated more often, ask if this is possible. Either way, it’s really important that your SEO expert provides you with regular insights into what is going on in your website so that there are no nasty surprises later down the track.
11. Will you provide local SEO for my website?
Local SEO can sometimes be overlooked, but for smaller businesses and especially bricks and mortar businesses, it’s invaluable. Local SEO is essentially your Google My Business listing, which can be optimised to target keywords in your local area. If you are a business that has a physical location, you’ll want to make sure this is included in your SEO retainer with your SEO expert.
12. What’s your measure of success for my SEO activity?
Asking your SEO expert how they measure success is important for gauging what they really expect from your SEO activity. This is all about managing expectations – both your expectations, and those of your SEO expert.
Ask them what they hope to achieve, and what they will consider ‘a job well done’ at the end of the project or retainer. Are they aiming to get you to rank #5 for a specific keyword? Do they want to get your organic website traffic to a specific number by a specific month? Knowing the answer to these questions allows you to get an idea of whether you will be happy with your results if they achieve these goals. And if you think their expectations are reasonable.
13. Do you keep up to date with Google algorithm updates? If so, how?
SEO is constantly changing. This means your SEO expert needs to be keeping up with algorithm updates on a regular basis to ensure they can get the best results for you. If your SEO is working off an out-of-date system, then you can’t expect them to achieve the results you might be expecting. And they could be using methods that Google no longer recommends, or penalises websites for. Make sure your SEO expert keeps up with algorithm updates and explains how they get their news of this on a regular basis.
14. What happens when our contract ends?
This is a precautionary measure to ask to ensure that any of the content or optimisations made by the SEO expert belong to you, even after your contract ends. Make sure you read through the contract carefully, and ask any questions that you’re not sure about with regards to terminating the contract. You may also like to check what happens if you terminate the contract early, as some SEO experts might charge you a fee or have a minimum cancellation period you need to abide by when terminating the contract.
15. How will your SEO strategy fit with my existing marketing mix?
If you already have marketing activity in place, it’s important to ensure your SEO expert is across it all and is taking your other activity into account. No marketing channel works independently of the other, especially on digital platforms. If you’re running digital advertising and organic social media, this will play a part in affecting your SEO rankings overall. Make sure your SEO expert is keen to have visibility over your marketing mix and that they will take this into account when optimising your site.
16. Do you outsource any of your SEO work?
While not a strictly necessary question to ask, it’s important to know that many SEO experts and agencies outsource SEO copywriting to freelancers overseas who are paid a lot less than they might be in Australia or other ‘developed’ nations. Asking for transparency over this ensures that you know the ethical framework that your SEO works within, and you can make an informed decision about whether you’d like to choose an agency that outsources in this way.
17. Will you let me know every time you make an update to my website?
Finally, but certainly not the least important question, is making sure your SEO expert will notify you when they make changes to your site. Better yet, ask them if they will get changes approved before setting them live.
While not all agencies will do the latter, it’s important that they notify you of any changes being made. This is not only so that you can have full visibility over what’s happening to your site, but to make sure you can contest any changes should they be an issue. If an SEO expert says they won’t let you know about changes to your site, this indicates that they aren’t particularly transparent about their work.
Getting started with SEO
Keen to start asking those SEO questions? Take a look at our SEO packages and contact us today to talk how we can help improve your website’s SEO.