Getting found in search engines is not as easy as just putting up a website and advertising your services. In order for visitors to find you, and for you to get sales, you need to make sure your website is optimized for search based on the keywords people are using to search. Better search engine visibility can lead to increased traffic and new customers as well as revenues for your business.

Most business owners know the ins and outs of running a business and taking care of customers but may not know how to optimize their website to improve their search ranking. In this case, many turn to the people who are experts in this area and possess the technical skills to accomplish this goal: an SEO consultant.

So, how do you go about finding and hiring an SEO consultant to optimize your website content? Approach it the same way you would hire any type of service. Make a list of consultants near you and ask friends and family for any names that they have worked with that provided a quality service. Then, make a list of questions designed to gain an overview of them as a company.

Here are 6 essential questions to ask when considering prospective SEO consultants:

  1. What will you do to improve our search engine ranking?

The first thing you will need is a good SEO strategy. This should be the first thing discussed or recommended. You can’t accomplish anything without a plan of action. They should tell you that they will do a site analysis to see where you could use a boost. That may be in backlinks, on-page, and off-page SEO. All reputable SEO consultants will have a process that they follow for optimizing website content. Just like when you go to the doctor and get a diagnosis and then you ask him, “Ok, how are you going to treat it?” He will then tell you what he plans on using and for what length of time. They may not have an exact plan in mind but they can tell you what they would probably start with – like an on-site SEO audit to identify areas needing improvement. After that, identifying the best keywords to target.

  1. Will you consult with us before making changes to our site or content?

You want to be assured that they will not make any major changes to your website or content without your knowledge. Any service provider performing a service should consult with the client if there is a problem that requires changes to be made. If you would like your own in-house developer to make any changes you can discuss that with the consultant. They will ultimately have access to your website and login information so you need to decide how much creative freedom to let them have. Let them know that you want to be advised of any major changes before they are made. Minor changes that do not affect you in any way should be up to their discretion. Any and all changes need to be tracked. If there is ever a problem and the site goes down you will need to have a record of the events that took place recently before the crash.

There should also be weekly or monthly reports of your site’s activity; the changes that were implemented, and the results.

All SEO reports should include:

●     summary of activities – this should include details about email campaigns, content creation, and new links coming into the site.

●     search traffic – one of the biggest indicators of progress is an increase in search traffic. Your report should show your search traffic for the current month as well as the percentage difference from last month and last year (the same month) comparing averages.

●     search rankings – This should give you a quick overview of keywords being targeted and the results.

●     conversions –How many visitors take the next step and go to your sales page? If your sales page isn’t converting you’re not making any money. Is it engaging? Does it entice visitors to want to buy?

  1. Do you always follow Google’s best practices? (White-hat SEO)

If you have put everything you have into your business you don’t want it penalized for unscrupulous business practices. Not following the rules and taking short cuts can get your site banned and your content removed. Google’s algorithm changes all the time to best serve the needs of the people using it. All of the previous updates were designed to improve the search results to provide a better experience and ensure that the results fit what the searchers were searching. Of course, this also applies to other search engines as well.

Websites with thin content, pages that redirect to non-related sites, and anything that attempts to manipulate the ranking system is subject to penalization. If you happen to get hit with one of these penalties your traffic will be affected

  1. What types of SEO work will you do?

This is an important question and should not be overlooked. There are several aspects of SEO and at the very least, an SEO audit should be the first thing considered. Your site must be optimized for Google spiders to crawl for any type of ranking to be achieved. Technical SEO is just as important as keywords, links, and meta descriptions. Finding and addressing errors, improving site navigation, optimizing for mobile search,  and fixing 404 pages and redirects is vital to your site being indexed in Google. Technical SEO is all the things that go on in the background, all of the processes at work that show up as a finely tuned, well-designed website.

  1. Can you guarantee that our site will rank #1 for a major search term?

There is no way that anyone can guarantee first place rankings. Any improvements to your site’s SEO should increase your search traffic consistently over time. However, no matter how good an SEO consultant is, they can’t guarantee specific keyword rankings. They can tell you what you can expect but they will not offer a guarantee. If they do, it’s a major red flag.

If you are targeting a very low competition keyword they might assure you that you can rank well, based on that keyword but it is not the same as a guarantee. Just be aware that they will do what is in the job description but cannot guarantee number #1 placement. This is decided by the search engines and no one else has any control over it.

  1. Can you share examples of some of your past work with clients and their results?

Hiring an SEO consultant requires the same amount of research that it takes for hiring any type of service provider. You want to see case studies, reviews, testimonials, and who their past clients were. While they probably won’t want to give you all the names in their Rolodex, a reputable SEO consultant should be open to sharing a brief list of current and former clients and their contact information. They may need to get permission, but it is usually not a problem.

Seeing their references, testimonials from other clients and awards or certificates of excellence goes a long way toward making you feel more confident in hiring them. These references can help you gauge how effective the candidate is, as well as verify that the person knows their stuff when it comes to SEO campaigns.

Search engine optimization is a process that is complex and requires knowledge of Google’s past updates and the ability to adapt to new changes. Google’s algorithms are always changing and no one knows how it works exactly. If you follow the research you can make an educated guess and probably get pretty close, but that is a closely guarded secret that they will never tell us. Seo consultants stay on top of these changes and know the systems pretty well, which is why it makes sense to hire them to improve your site rank.

But there are many SEO consultants that use unethical practices to obtain results. Unethical or “black hat” SEO strategies can get your site penalized by Google which can hurt your site ranking and possibly even get it banned. It’s not worth it to take that risk.

The questions listed above are there to help you weed out these black hat SEOs and avoid problems just like this. Have the questions in hand when interviewing an SEO consultant and record their answers. You can then make your decision based on the information and evidence provided. Taking a proactive approach to SEO will help ensure that your site ranks well and that your business is successful.