How To Find the Right SEO Consultant For Your Project

by Nick · 7 comments

Finding the right SEO consultant for your business or project can make the difference between thousands of dollars in both costs and returns.

So for something so critical, it amazes me that the job of qualifying and selecting an SEO provider is often left up to people who have no business making these decisions.

If you have no practical understanding of search engine marketing, industry best practices, and standard costs and returns – you need guidance before committing even a thousand dollars of your companies money to a company or consultant, let alone tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Everyone doesn’t deserve a first page ranking and not every every company or project has the budget for it, so step #1 – remove this from your line of thinking.

Finding the best SEO for you is not as simple as getting the most notable, highest paid, most sought after individual or company. Conversely it’s not about finding the person or agency that will offer you the most deliverables at the lowest cost, whether they are page 1 rankings, articles, links, or any other standard SEO deliverable.

There is real matchmaking involved.

Consider this post my attempt at providing a general set of baseline requirements when shopping for SEO services.

Language Is Important

This is perhaps one of the most under-looked facets of finding the right SEO provider.

If your project does not have the budget to pay for native translators, then make sure your SEO speaks the language. Contextual relevance and semantics is crucial in every aspect of SEO, after all they’re optimizing for words based on context.

SEO is not the same in every language; searcher behavior is not the same and even signaling can vary across indices, with updates like Panda hitting the U.S. index and then Korea and Japan at different times.

Tip: If you website requires knowledge of a local language, and you do not have the budget for a native translator, only use an SEO who speaks the language.

Vertical Experience

Being able to fill a cavity does not mean you can perform brain surgery. Both people are doctor’s, but their medical experience creates an ocean between their capabilities. It’s the same with SEO. Just because you’re great at acquiring targeted search traffic for high-end fashion design does not mean that you will be as successful at generating sign-ups for a software demo.

Make sure you find SEO’s that have already successfully optimized content within your search vertical. Vertical markets range from broad (men’s shoes) to extremely specific (men’s blue crocodile dress shoes), and while you don’t necessarily need an SEO consultant who has worked on your exact product, they should have some experience within your search marketplace.

Again, close is OK, as long as it is within the same vertical, and for the record Ecommerce is not a vertical. Just because someone was able to sell shoes online does not qualify them to sell art.

Now there are always exceptions, and as usual the devil is in the details. Coming back to my previous example, let’s say the shoes were custom and sought after by collectors, so the nuances of the product are very similar to that of selling art.

Tip: Make sure the SEO has experience relevant to the nuances of your business or product.

Competency Focus

You wouldn’t hire an electrician to fix your sink. So why would you hire a link-builder to do your guest posting?

I realize the hardest part of finding an SEO with the right competencies means first knowing what you need, but this isn’t as hard as it sounds…

Spend some time on your own and take a look at your SEO competitors. Do a little bit of keyword analysis and find out where you are really behind in the SERP’s. A little knowledge of your search landscape goes a long way when looking for a solution.

Align your needs with the specific competencies of your SEO company. Not all agencies are created equal, and the best ones know what they are good at, like Skyrocket for guest posts, ShellShock for infographics, PointBlankSEO for links, Brain Traffic for content strategy, HitReach for web design, or me for keyword research :)

The easiest way to find the answer to this question is to ask.

And in my opinion, the easiest way to identify a lack of competency focus is to pay attention to the answers provided – if they claim to be good at everything, chances are they are mediocre… at everything.

Expertise takes a lot of time and focus, and you can’t focus on everything at once.

Tip: Ask your SEO company what their core competencies are and to provide examples of past successes.

Time Requirements

Does your project need a little time or a lot of time? Is it front-loaded, back-loaded, or does it require constant attention over the engagement period?

You need to know how much time your consultant has available to focus on your project. Are you 1 of 4 clients or 1 of 10? Are they committing 40 hours per month to you, and the same amount of time to 5 other projects (~60 hours per week)?

Does their firm have the resources required to properly service your account? How do they manage their time? More important, how do they track their time and report it to you?

Tip: Ask your SEO consultant how they track and report their time on your project.

Setting Expectations

What are reasonable results from SEO these days?

It was a trick question; there’s no one answer. Results are going to be dependent on competition, vertical, budget, goals, and more things than I could list here if I wanted to.

So how do you design expectations that allow you to get the most for your money?

Remember that time I talked about competency focus? The best way to set goals with a new vendor is to let them tell you what they are going to do; what they are going to deliver.

Are they a rankings shop? Are rank improvements and increased traffic the right KPI to hold them accountable for your budget? Are they a conversion focused shop? Are you only concerned with growing traffic for a core set of revenue-driving keywords?

Expectations is a 2-way street. Your vendors are going to have expectations that you are available for meetings, able to get approvals as needed in a timely manner, and pay your bills. On the other hand you have expectations to see a return on your  spend, and see your KPI’s move in the direction you agreed on.

In either case, expectations will need to be dynamic; adjusting frequently through the medium of good communication.

Your goals should not be the same for the first 90 days as they are for the second 90 days. You’re going to have historical data at that point and can make adjustments, whether up or down, dependent on how conservative or aggressive the original goals were.

Tip: Set goals often and align on expectations. Have a plan from the very beginning to get to where you want to be.

You’re Accountable Too

If you set goals with your SEO provider, and they meet or exceed them, BE HAPPY!

This is hard work and you were happy when you set the goals in the first place, so be ecstatic when they are exceeded.

There is nothing more frustrating for a consultant then meeting or exceeding your quote only to hear gripes from the customer.

Tip: Don’t be a shitty customer.

In Conclusion

Do some independent research, it will only make this easier on you.

Ask the right questions (now you have a list).

Look for specific experience.

Set realistic goals you will be excited to achieve.

About Nick
Nick Eubanks has been in digital marketing for nearly a decade. Follow his blog at SEO Nick and circle him on Google+

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Justin Freid March 21, 2013 at 8:23 pm

Good stuff Nick. There is a ton of crap out there. From web design agencies offering ‘free seo’ to people looking to get paid and churn clients through their ‘proven’ system. The only item I disagree with here is the vertical experience. Sure, if you can get an agency with tons of experience in your specific market that is ideal, but I would not cancel out a great agency from contention just because they have never dabbled in my industry. You and I both know many people right here in the Philadelphia area that could easily work across multiple industries/verticles.

Nick March 21, 2013 at 8:30 pm

That’s a really fair point Justin. I guess I’m just wary to make a generalized statement that any good SEO service provider can handle any market. I think there is something to be said for specialized providers; in my experience SEO’s who do nothing but legal tend to deliver better results, same goes for physician leads, web development leads, etc. I suppose the distinction I’m making is that for industries that require technical knowledge of the business, it’s best to stick with a specialized provider.

Ian Howells March 22, 2013 at 12:33 pm

…nothing but legal, eh? ;)

Nick March 22, 2013 at 4:49 pm

In my defense my population is small and my sample is limited :)

Nick May 24, 2013 at 12:43 am

Of course, legal is the only specialized search vertical :)

Andy Drinkwater May 21, 2013 at 12:11 pm

Great post Nick.

I tend to market myself like a premium beer… reassuringly expensive! It means I don’t get enquiries from those who are looking for a fly-by-night service.

On your point above about niche market specialists, while I can SEO in any industry, I have 10 years+ in the recruitment industry, so know a few additional (white-hat) tricks that enable me to deliver better results there – well, certainly more quickly.



Nick May 24, 2013 at 12:45 am

Thanks Andy.

Absolutely. Top talent means premium results, and premium results need to be valued based on their business impact.

I feel the same. While I am confident I can attack any vertical and drive results, there are those few additional resources and benefits to really knowing an industry from working in it intensively over many years.

Cheers man.

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