3 Questions to Ask When Hiring an SEO Consultant

Search engine optimization (SEO) is an important part of any web strategy. When it comes to understanding how a website ranks on a search engine results page (SERP), particularly in Google, it's challenging to keep up with the changing rules of optimization. The complexity of SEO makes it difficult to rank high in organic (non-paid) searches. Hiring an SEO consultant can help; but before signing the contract, you should ask three important questions.

Who is responsible for implementing recommendations?

When hiring an SEO consultant, you might assume that you are outsourcing all the work that goes into optimizing your website. That assumption is not always true. In theory, an SEO consultant may only make recommendations, generate reports to track both issues and progress, and then leave you to institute the recommended changes. Or an SEO consultant may be solely responsible for implementing all the necessary changes.

In reality, you (or your employees) will share the workload with the consultant. Having a clear understanding of who is responsible for which actions is a critical part of defining the consulting relationship, especially when it comes to measuring success. A lot of work goes into an SEO strategy, and you often must prioritize which steps can be accomplished based on the available amount of in-house resources.

Following are some tasks you may need to perform as part of your SEO strategy:

  • Make technical changes to the website. An SEO consultant usually runs an audit of your site, looking for technical items that affect optimization, such as correcting the load time of your pages or submitting a site map to search engines. If you don't have in-house web developers or IT resources, having the consultant handle technical or back-end website tasks might make sense.

  • Manage PPC (pay-per-click) campaigns. PPC campaigns (such as Google AdWords) are often considered a necessary function of a good SEO or SEM (search engine marketing) strategy. Someone must be responsible for creating the ads, developing supporting materials and landing pages used for the offers, and setting and tracking the daily campaign spending. The SEO consultant may be the best choice for handling PPC campaigns, but you will probably need to help with some parts of it.

  • Develop content using keyword strategies. Because Google places an increasingly high value on quality content to rank well in searches, you need available resources to develop a lot of well-written content. Although the SEO consultant might work closely with you on developing the keyword strategy used for content development, you or someone you hire will probably need to write the content.

  • Implement a social media strategy. Google has indicated that social signals (mentions, likes, shares — the interactions that occur as part of social media activity) play a role in search engine optimization. How much influence social signals have is still debatable, but SEO consultants typically insist that you have a social media strategy. You'll need someone to manage your social media activity. Some SEO or SEM consultants handle social media strategy, including social media ads, for clients.

As you see, the list of requirements for an SEO strategy is long. Defining roles and responsibilities upfront, and being clear with the consultant about what you or your employees can and cannot handle, is crucial to the success of your SEO plan.

What tools do you recommend?

SEO consultants often have favorite tools of the trade for researching, monitoring, and reporting SEO activities. It's almost a given that you will be asked to use Google Webmaster Tools or Bing Webmaster Tools. Beyond those, the list of tools you may be asked to use is seemingly endless.

You need to have a clear understanding of which tools the SEO consultant deems mandatory and be aware of the expenses associated with using each of them. Tools used by SEO consultants and their clients can range from a few dollars a month to several hundred (or several thousands) of dollars.

How much should be budgeted for SEO?

The decision to spend money on hiring an SEO consultant is usually a difficult one, especially for small businesses without large budgets. And you may be under the impression that the only costs are those associated with the consultant's fee for his or her time. However, many other potential expenses exist, including the cost of purchasing or using certain SEO tools, the budget for PPC campaigns (which is likely to be a minimum of $3,000 to $5,000 per month), and money to make up for a lack of in-house resources, such as hiring freelance writers to develop content. Understanding all potential costs associated with SEO activities can help you budget for and plan a realistic strategy.

These questions aren't always the obvious questions people think to ask an SEO consultant before entering into a formal agreement for services, but an experienced consultant should be able to answer each of these three questions in detail.

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