Hiring an SEO expert is a strategic decision with long-term implications for your business growth.
But here’s the problem.
Anyone with a profile on Upwork, an affiliate blog, or a fancy website can call themselves an SEO since there’s no entry barrier to this industry.
Don’t believe me?
Just post an SEO project on a freelance website or announce a vacancy on Twitter. Applicants will flood your inbox in only a few hours.
How do you choose an SEO expert with the right skills to take your search rankings to the next level?
That is exactly what I’ll talk about in this article.
I’ll tell you the questions you can ask to handpick real SEO experts from the sea of fake gurus and pretenders on the internet.
Sounds good? Let’s dive in.
Start With a Clear Goal for Hiring an SEO
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a vast field with different specialization areas.
To choose the right expert, you need to have a clear goal that you want to achieve with SEO.
It’s not that a specialist in one area won’t know anything about the other aspects of SEO. But specialists have more practical experience in one, so they’re better equipped to solve your problems.
Here are the most common reasons why companies hire SEOs.
👉 SEO Audit: This is usually the first step that gives you a clear picture of your site’s strengths and weaknesses in SEO, as well as possible improvements. An audit will tell you exactly what’s wrong with your site and what kind of SEO specialist you need to hire.
👉 Keyword Research: Identifying the real needs and questions of your target audience, along with a short-term, medium-term, and long-term keyword strategy.
👉 On-page SEO: This SEO branch is closely related to content creation and your site’s overall user experience.
👉 Off-page SEO: Everything related to link-building and social signals. Many dedicated agencies only offer off-page SEO services.
👉 Technical SEO: Everything related to your site’s infrastructure and performance and how it interacts with Google’s spiders. This is a highly specialized area that only experienced SEO can handle.
👉 Google Penalty Recovery: This is a whole new category in itself because recovering after getting penalized by Google algorithms requires a long-term strategy. A regular on-page SEO or keyword research specialist can’t handle this.
👉 eCommerce SEO: Ranking your products against Amazon and other market leaders is not easy, and only someone with experience in successfully ranking eCommerce sites can help you.
👉 Local SEO: Another specialized SEO area that requires specific experience.
👉 SEO For Mobile Apps: The mobile apps market is highly competitive and requires much more than simple on-page SEO to rank in search results.
👉 SaaS SEO: Again, the fundamentals of SEO remain the same, but the SEO strategy for a SaaS company is entirely different from a regular blog or an affiliate site because their challenges are different. Only specialists can handle it.
What are you looking for?
If you want to get backlinks only, hiring a technical SEO won’t be of much use.
Similarly, a Google penalty recovery expert is not the right person to hire if you want a complete keyword strategy roadmap.
If you’re looking for an overall SEO strategy, starting with an SEO audit is the way to go.
Questions for Finding Out if They’re the Right Fit
These are the questions you can ask to determine whether your potential hire has the kind of skills and work ethic that your company needs.
1. What Is Your Core Expertise in SEO and What Differentiates You From Others?
When you’re hiring a freelancer or an SEO agency, ask them about their specialization and see if it aligns with your needs.
Bigger SEO agencies offer one-window solutions, which means they have experts for every SEO type. That might be an ideal scenario for you because you’ll have a single contact point for all your SEO needs.
Several differentiation factors can also impact your hiring decision.
For example, an SEO might have author profiles on the top sites in your niche, which allows them to get you backlinks quickly.
Alternatively, they might have experience in solving precisely the kind of problems you have.
Allow them to describe their differentiation points in detail.
If most of their arguments revolve around cost and “cheap solutions,” stay away from them.
Another red flag is if they have a one-size-fits-all approach to SEO.
Businesses in the same industry have similarities, but every company has its own challenges.
A professional SEO should always tailor their strategy according to the client’s needs.
2. What Are Your Primary Sources of SEO Knowledge and What Sites Do You Follow?
This is a critical question because it tells you how well-equipped they are to handle your SEO strategy.
Since there’s no entry barrier to SEO, most freelancers and agency owners get their SEO wisdom from blogs and social media.
That’s why the kind of sources they use are often a pretty good indicator of their knowledge.
What sites and SEO experts do they follow?
Do they get all of their information from outside sources or run their own experiments as well?
Are they inclined towards shady techniques that can put your brand in danger? Do they follow every new trend and shiny object without fully understanding its pros and cons?
Let me give you an example.
A few years ago, an SEO influencer advocated using scholarship links (a link-building tactic). Thousands of SEOs followed his advice without fully understanding its risks.
In just a few months, many sites got hit with manual penalties by Google specifically for building scholarship links.
Therefore, make sure the SEO you hire has a solid understanding of the fundamentals and the boundaries of SEO.
3. Who Are Your Past Clients and What Kind of Businesses Do You Mostly Work With?
This is one of the most important questions to ask when choosing an SEO expert.
An SEO who has worked with companies in your industry and tackled similar problems successfully is a much better choice than someone with unrelated experience.
For example, if you’re looking for an SEO for your Shopify eCommerce store, don’t hire someone who has only worked with content-heavy sites or has no experience using Shopify.
We work with B2B SaaS companies, so our clients come from that niche.
Similarly, if you’re an early-stage startup with limited funds, an SEO who has only worked with fortune 500 companies and brands with large budgets won’t be the best choice.
Why? Because SEOs who have worked with new startups know how to get quick wins on a low budget. They’d focus on higher ROI activities that can quickly increase your sales.
4. What Are the Past Results That You’re Most Proud Of?
You’re hiring an SEO to get results.
Therefore, do they have a track record of delivering great results for their past clients?
Ask them to share their results in detail.
- What was the problem they were asked to solve?
- How did they diagnose the actual problem?
- What steps did they follow to solve it? Ask them to be as detailed as possible.
- What challenges did they face during the whole process?
- What KPIs did they improve?
- What was the ROI of their effort?
- How long did the whole process take?
Digging deep into their past achievements will help you understand how they approach problems and what they do when they’re stuck.
This will also help you verify if a candidate is truly an expert or a pretender with surface-level knowledge.
The right candidates will always have definite answers to this question with numbers and clear results. They will be happy to go into the details because it strengthens their case for getting hired.
5. How Quickly Can You Guarantee SEO Results?
If an SEO promises you number one rankings in three months, run as far away from them as possible.
Even Google warns businesses to be wary of any agencies or SEO consultants who promise ranking spots.
Guaranteeing search results and promising number one rankings are among the biggest red flags in the SEO industry.
Nevertheless, SEO is a calculated marketing strategy that relies on hardcore data and proven methodologies to achieve results. There’s no guesswork at all.
Why can’t an SEO guarantee results if SEO is not guesswork?
The thing is, you can only control what happens on your website. The dozens of other factors that impact search results are out of your control.
For example, your competitors might be investing even more in SEO than you. Or, Google might silently change its algorithms or determine that your target keyword’s search intent is different from what it initially understood.
There might be dozens of other factors that you can’t do anything about.
This is why anyone who claims to control search results or guarantee that they’ll get you to the top spot in x number of days is lying.
However, a legit SEO expert will give you a roadmap based on your competition’s strength, the current standing of your site, and the actions you need to perform.
They can give you time estimates based on their calculation.
But no one can guarantee SEO results.
6. How Will My Site’s Search Strength Change After Working With You?
This question might seem contrary to what I‘ve just said in the last point.
But hear me out.
The objective of this question is not to get guarantees.
Instead, it helps you understand the vision of an SEO and its real value. The right candidate will talk to you in terms of KPIs and measurable results.
With SEO tools, you can track different metrics regarding your website strength. For example, here’s how we track the domain rating of websites on Ahrefs as one of our KPIs.
SEO providers can offer some of the following:
- Better user experience
- More detailed, useful, engaging, and in-depth content (with a word count range per piece).
- Dedicated pages to target your most valuable keywords
- Faster loading speeds
- Mobile-friendly design
- More high-authority links from your target sites (based on clear strategies)
- A well-designed internal link structure
- More diverse and natural-looking link profile
- Content pillar pages
All of these things work together to bring SEO results. And all of them are entirely under your control.
7. What Is Your SEO Process and How Do You Approach a Problem?
SEO is not a mystery, and there is nothing secret about it.
This is why an SEO should always be able to clearly explain the process they’ll follow to increase your rankings, get you more backlinks, remove your site’s penalty, or achieve any other objective you might have.
Essentially, they should give you clear milestones so that you know the steps they’ll take to reach your SEO goals.
If an SEO agency or freelancer is unnecessarily protective or secretive about their SEO process, you should be wary of them.
It’s because it’s common for dubious SEOs to keep their clients in the dark and use manipulative, unethical, and short-term techniques to achieve results.
Google explicitly warns businesses against hiring service providers who violate Google search guidelines and use shadow domains, PBNs, doorway pages, and other black-hat SEO techniques for short-term gains.
If you’re not aware of the process your SEO agency or freelancer plans to follow, there’s always a risk that they might use these shady techniques to show you quick results.
However, sooner or later, Google will identify the search guideline violations on your site and penalize you for it.
8. How Do You Approach Link Building?
There’s a direct relationship between the number of links pointing to your site and your search rankings.
The more high-authority links you have, the higher you’ll rank.
This is why link building is among the most valuable and frequently used SEO services.
But it’s also the riskiest.
The SEO you hire needs to have a clear link-building strategy based on white-hat link-building techniques that do not violate Google’s search guidelines.
The focus should be on earning links to high-quality content through effective outreach campaigns.
If they are sending pitches like these, run away.
You should discuss and finalize the criteria for the sites they’ll target for link building. This is important because you don’t want to get links from low-quality sites with no editorial control and poor link profiles.
You also don’t want to use outdated link-building techniques such as comment links and links from article directories like Ezine Articles.
You need to ensure that your SEO isn’t planning to get you links from PBNs or automated methods. All of this can get your site into trouble with algorithms.
To understand this topic in more detail, I recommend reading my article about the link-building mistakes you must avoid.
Make sure your SEO is not committing any of them.
This is among the most important factors to consider when hiring the services of an SEO freelancer or agency for your business.
Let me explain why.
In SEO, you have total control over on-page and technical SEO because they are performed on your website.
However, you need connections for fast and effective off-page SEO because most of it has to do with link building, citations, brand mentions, and other tactics that you cannot perform on your own.
An SEO with a strong professional network can help you:
- land guest post opportunities on the top sites in your niche
- get you booked for podcasts
- get you featured in round-up posts
- build backlinks from influencer sites
- get more social shares and brand mentions from their network
- help you spread the word about your product faster.
Even in the content creation phase (which is a part of on-page SEO), SEOs with the right connections can help you hire the best writers and create content that builds your authority.
So when hiring an SEO, ask them about their connections.
How many influencers have they worked with, and can they use their influence to help your brand?
Do they have author profiles or access to sites that you want to target for guest blogging?
Can they help you connect with professional guest bloggers for link-building campaigns?
Any other ways they can use their connections to accelerate your site’s growth?
These are critical questions that you must consider when choosing an SEO expert.
Content creation is a specialized field, but it’s closely related to SEO (both on-page and off-page.)
This is why many SEO agencies and even freelancers now offer both content marketing and SEO services (like we do).
It makes sense because you’ll use the keywords (that your SEO identifies) in the content creation phase.
You can’t create any content without considering your site’s SEO goals.
Even for link building, you must create content on topics that your SEO consultant identifies during the link prospecting phase.
So the best approach is to either make your content writers and SEO consultant a part of the same team or hire an agency or freelancer who can manage both content creation and SEO for you. Content drives everything, and great content published frequently can even generate backlinks on its own.
If you find a candidate who’s willing to manage both these things for you, make sure their content standards are up to the mark and in line with your brand image.
SEO is not a hire-and-forget kind of role.
You must stay updated with your site’s progress all the time.
Professional SEO agencies put a lot of emphasis on timely reporting and project updates. But many freelancers don’t.
Ensure that you agree on a reporting schedule and criteria before choosing an SEO for your brand.
You should get monthly updates on your main KPIs from your SEO. Here’s an example of how SEOs can track and present the growth of organic keywords for a website.
Additionally, you should be a part of any critical decisions such as keyword strategy or finalizing link blogging criteria.
The monthly progress reports should list down the activities your SEO performed during that period along with their results.
For example, they sent outreach emails to 50 different sites and acquired backlinks from 5 of them.
Similarly, they should include a list of expenses and any other outside resources to achieve your SEO goals.
To learn more about this topic, read this detailed guide by SEMRush.
SEOs are only as good as their tools.
That’s because, without the right tools, they won’t be able to access keyword data, analyze competitors, or find link-building opportunities.
The tools an SEO uses also tell you a lot about their approach to the practice.
For example, professional SEOs don’t use software or tools for automatic link building because that puts your site in danger.
However, they do utilize tools like Ahrefs, SEMRush, BuzzSumo, etc., for SEO data and outreach.
I’ve published a detailed list of tools you should use for SEO and content marketing.
Make sure your SEO candidate is familiar with them.
SEO is a long-term game, yes.
Nevertheless, when choosing an SEO expert, you should always ask them what steps can help you take the biggest strides towards your SEO goals.
They should develop a plan with clear immediate and long-term milestones to measure your progress.
Pay close attention to their responses.
A legitimate SEO professional will have concrete advice for all phases of your strategy.
An amateur, however, would mostly talk in variables and throw around random SEO terminologies without making much sense.
SEO shouldn’t be your biggest business expense — but it shouldn’t be the smallest, either.
Don’t go for a cheap service provider just to save a few hundred dollars because their actions will have a long-term impact on your site’s search ranking and future ranking potential.
However, when an agency or freelancer quotes their rates, make sure there are no hidden charges in it.
You can do this by asking them for a thorough service proposal that lists everything they’re charging for.
Also, discuss payment frequency, modes, and terms if there’s a delayed payment or breach of service agreement.
Everything needs to be written down and agreed upon in an official proposal that both parties accept.
This would help you avoid any unexpected charges and conflicts during your contract term.
Choosing an SEO expert isn’t rocket science, but you have to do your homework to ensure that you hire the right person to manage your site’s search engine presence.
The questions I’ve listed in this article cover most of the areas you need to consider while hiring an SEO.
Still, feel free to add any other questions that are specific to your industry.
The bottom line is that the SEO you hire must be a specialist in his field, have a proven track record of solving similar problems, and build your search engine optimization strategy using Google’s recommended practices.