When people search the internet for products or services, few scan beyond the first page of search results—most searchers stop after the first few results! That means that if you’re looking to grow your brand or increase sales through organic search, you’ve got your work cut out for you.
That’s where a Search Engine Optimization (SEO) expert comes in handy; investing in a good SEO professional will improve your chances of being one of those top results.
But finding someone who really knows their stuff isn’t easy. It takes time for SEO to generate results, so if you don’t hire the right person the first time, you could waste a lot of time and money on a strategy that just doesn’t work.
This guide will break down the processes and tools you should use to find the right fit for your business.
What is an SEO expert?
Before considering the available strategies to screen for SEO experts, it will help to have a basic understanding of SEO and why it’s essential for your business. SEO refers to the process of improving your pages’ ranks for relevant terms in search engines, thereby increasing your website traffic.
A good SEO specialist will ensure that your content and links are optimized based on search engine algorithms, thus helping your site to rank higher in search engine results. They will also help you determine what keywords you should be ranking for.
For example, if you sell Ford trucks, you would want to rank for trucks that people can drive, not trucks skateboarders put on their skateboards. An SEO pro can also help you determine which keywords are driving the most revenue so you know where to focus your energy.
That’s how SEO helps to draw a heavier stream of traffic to your site, which provides more opportunities for these visitors to be converted into clients.
How do you want to fill the role?
Before we dive deeper into what you should be looking for when you hire an SEO professional, let’s talk about what sort of relationship you want to have with your new hire.
Will you be seeking the services of an SEO agency or an hiring in-house expert? Both of these options are viable and can connect you with great talent, but the best choice for your company will depend on multiple factors such as your available budget and how niche your company is.
In-house hiring is a good choice for companies who have the resources and the need for a dedicated SEO expert. This could mean hiring an entire SEO team if you have robust needs that an individual may not be able to accomplish alone, or simply hiring one SEO professional to join your existing marketing team.
Having someone in-house to manage SEO has obvious benefits. These professionals are solely focused on the SEO campaigns your business is running and will not be simultaneously working on other companies’ campaigns. Also, the risk of an in-house SEO providing similar advice to potential competitors is much lower.
Additionally, an in-house SEO professional has a greater degree of exposure to your business operations in other departments, and may be better placed to create campaigns that complement and support the goals of other departments and your company as a whole.
However, choosing to hire a full- or part-time SEO expert may not always be the best option. That’s because bringing your SEO campaign in-house means taking on the cost of relevant SEO tools and software along with the other expenses and onboarding time that will result from hiring a new employee.
Outsourcing to agencies and freelancers
Engaging an SEO agency may simplify much of the process. These agencies will vet SEO professionals through their own recruitment processes to ensure quality, and will be able to design campaigns for your business in line with your goals.
SEO agencies often provide a comprehensive list of services that they can provide, and your search for the right agency can be streamlined based on strategies you want to prioritize. Additionally, since you won’t need to provide as much guidance and training, you will also be able to embark on your SEO campaigns more quickly.
On the other hand, hiring an SEO agency comes with challenges of its own. Since they serve a larger client pool rather than working solely for you, your business won’t receive the entirety of the agency’s resources and time, so the efficiency or scale of your campaign may depend on their outstanding workload, and if they are working with similar companies, you’ll need an agreement in place to ensure they aren’t working with your competitors.
It can also be more difficult for outside agencies to understand your company as deeply as an in-house employee can. In theory, a good agency should take the time to know your business inside and out, but it doesn’t always turn out to be this way in practice.
How do you know if a candidate is an expert?
Once you’ve decided how you want to fill the role, it’s time to find candidates. Regardless of which path you decide to take in hiring your SEO expert, it is crucial to assess their expertise in the area.
Basic SEO strategy may seem fairly straightforward, but how do you know if the SEO expert you’re hiring can generate the outcomes you are looking for? It’s not enough to hire someone who understands the strategy. You need to find an experienced professional who has a deep understanding of the tactics necessary to execute on the strategy.
One key distinguishing factor that can be used to identify SEO experts is their own search engine performance. Has the agency or candidate been able to rank themselves highly for relevant searches? This can serve as a preliminary demonstration of their understanding of SEO.
That said, don’t judge anyone too harshly based on this factor. SEO is a very competitive search term. If they’re able to rank for it, that indicates that they may be a superstar, but many top SEOs won’t be able to rank for such a competitive term. And personal SEO may not be their focus.
If it’s an individual, they may focus on generating results for their employer instead of themselves. If it’s an agency, it may be a case of the cobbler’s family having no shoes.
A better indicator of skill is a candidate’s references. Reliable SEO experts should have established track records. You should look for a candidate who has worked with companies similar to yours and had successful outcomes.
While connections acquired through networking or referrals are an initial way to assess past performance, having a few strong referrals does not provide a guarantee that they can successfully carry out the campaign as proposed. Instead, or in addition to these referrals, you should consider the following specific tactics to ensure your SEO expert has the ability to deliver the desired results.
While they shouldn’t weigh too heavily in your assessment of a candidate, SEO certifications can help to separate a knowledgeable SEO specialist from a novice. These certifications are obtained when individuals dedicate their time and sometimes money towards taking SEO skills-based courses.
This highlights a commitment to updating their knowledge on software and tools used in effective SEO campaigns. Certifications are useful for established SEO professionals, as they complement their strong track record and references. For younger professionals just breaking into the market, certifications can provide a good estimate of the candidate’s skill and knowledge mastery in the absence of substantial prior experiences.
However, not all certificates are created equal! Some certifications can be easily obtained. They may be free, easy to pass, easily cheated, or a combination of the three.
As such, SEO certifications and the organizations that confer them must be carefully assessed to ensure that the program is indeed rigorous and of high quality.
The best way to see what a candidate can do is to offer a skills assessment. Assessing an SEO expert’s suitability and expertise may be difficult to assess based solely on their resume or an interview. By making skills assessments a part of your hiring process, you can evaluate candidates based on their true abilities.
Candidates who are confident in their technical skills and knowledge pertaining to SEO should be comfortable taking assessments on specific skills like technical SEO, Google Analytics, and SEO copywriting. These assessments allow employers to objectively evaluate their skills and knowledge in addition to any references and certifications a candidate provides.
This strategy allows for the candidates’ skills to speak for themselves, and it will expose past references or projects that didn’t accurately represent the candidate’s capabilities.
Specific skills assessments can be selected based on the particular skills you would like to see in your ideal candidate, and allow you to evaluate the applicants based on their performance. Additionally, you can include select broad-based tests as needed. For example, critical thinking and reading comprehension are useful skills for SEO professionals.
In addition to allowing you to quantifiably compare candidates’ skills and capabilities, there is the benefit of reducing the impact of unconscious bias in the hiring process. You can get the results anonymized for your own analysis, and eventually pursue the top performing candidate of your choice based solely on their scores.
Before you make the decision to hire an SEO expert, consider conducting a paid trial. By seeing the candidate in action on a real project, albeit one smaller in scale than a full SEO campaign, you will be able to get a better idea of whether their skills and experiences will translate into tangible results for your business.
This will also allow both parties involved to see if the working relationship is what they’re looking for. It goes beyond the basic interview process and provides (and the candidate) you with the opportunity to see how this candidate engages with other members of the team and with different departments within the company.
For a successful trial, pick a few key tasks that allow the candidate to demonstrate their abilities. Their performance doesn’t need to be perfect, but should hit your base requirements and indicate the potential for growth once they are more familiar with your company and its goals.
If the arrangement is a pleasant one with successful outcomes, then it provides a good segue into a long-term relationship.
Good SEO can help give your business a needed boost, but only if you have a knowledgeable professional on your side. But finding a true SEO expert is difficult.
We hope this guide has helped give you a good idea of how to begin your search. By understanding what to look for and how to find it, we’re confident that you’ll be climbing the search engine rankings in no time!