How to hire SEO Specialist / SEO Services / SEO Expert / SEO Freelancer / SEO Person / SEO Agency / SEO Company?

Hiring SEO Talent

If you have decided that you want to add to your in-house SEO team (or start one), you need to think seriously about the type of person you want to hire. Do you want someone with prior experience, or do you want the person to learn from other team members along the way? Do you know which facets of SEO are crucial to the success of your specific website and organization, and how to hire for these skill sets? Hiring top people can be prohibitively expensive, because there are a lot of income opportunities for them to pursue. It is hard to match the earning potential of a top SEO pro because, at the very least, he or she can usually make more from building sites and operating them in an affiliate or lead-generation model. That does not mean you cannot hire real talent; it just means you will pay a premium. An alternative would be to hire someone less seasoned and experienced, and pair him or her up with a consultant or agency to oversee the work.


How to Select the Right SEO Person

Although expertise prices additional, beneath traditional circumstances it’ll bring quicker results. On the opposite hand, a less experienced  person could be a heap sort of a cub in baseball: if you rent a future star, you can potentially accomplish a great deal at a much lower cost. When winnow through résumés, examine candidates’ specific ability sets. If you’re searching for somebody to develop social media campaigns, you must in all probability be a small amount additional targeted on it than on whether or not the candidate is associate degree professional at keyword research. No matter what his skill level is, he should “get” the Internet. Do they blog? Tweet? Have a professional and well-connected LinkedIn profile? If they don’t, and there isn’t a specific personal or professional reason why (privacy, confidentiality, etc.), they are possibly underexperienced for the position you are looking to fill. Also, when evaluating a person’s skills, don’t forget to assess his or her political finesse. What makes a prosperous SEO professional at bureau or in an exceedingly freelance position is totally different from what makes a prosperous candidate in-house. Often, firms focus strictly on results and kinds of projects; but, if your company is plagued with red tape and political minefields, you need someone who can remain diplomatic, sell SEO to the complete organization, and integrate it into the organization in the right places so that it is implemented successfully. There is associate degree 80/20 rule for in-house SEO: eightieth of the time you pay mercantilism and two hundredth of the time you pay doing SEO.


Pitching the Person

Finding good SEO talent can be challenging, as top SEO experts are in high demand and are likely to have more than one job option to pursue; for these SEO pros, a high six figure salary is the norm Many companies overlook this. The “jobs offered” sections of forums are often full of offers, but few employers have made any real effort to market their openings. It very could be a basic selling downside that a lot of of these vacancies show. Many don’t even place a location within the title. Far worse is that just {about} all of the posts ar company-centric: all about what the corporate needs from candidates, and no thought for what the potential person can need from an employer. SEO is not like other job functions. A good SEO is in high demand; you have to make him or her think, “I want to work there!” Fail to pitch the prospect and you will get to choose from a diminishing pool of folks who can’t make it alone, aren’t able or willing to make a good living from affiliate programs, and don’t prefer to be with a more forward-thinking and proactive company that looks to develop its staff, rather than merely recruit them. Many SEO pros are looking for companies that have more support and resources – they are frequently stuck as isolated one-person departments, with few tools and “toys” to help them advance. Clearly, this type of job posting is not what every company would want to put out there, but that is part of what makes it effective. There is a certain amount of attitude to it, and that speaks volumes to a potential applicant: either this is what you are looking for, or it isn’t. The job requirements also spell out many of the personal and professional attributes an applicant would need to have to get the job. The compensation is well detailed too, so the applicant knows what is in it for him. Good SEO professionals are well compensated, hard to attract, and know the value of their time—they will not waste it on jobs they do not feel will give them valuable experience and just compensation. In addition, the posting makes it clear that Ammon Johns was looking for someone who could be a true peer. This and many other points in the job outline make it evident that he is looking for a senior person. One thing that might make this type of listing a bit more effective would be the addition of some examples of search problems that a qualified applicant should be able to solve prior to applying (the “find the address for yourself” requirement at the bottom is not a challenging problem).


Making the Offer

Every year, SEMPO conducts an In-House Salary Survey for SEO professionals

( Looking at this data can be useful when determining the salary to offer the candidate. SEO salaries are typically shocking to managers, so be sure to check this when budgeting for your in-house SEO position. Move quickly! Once you know the candidate is the right fit, make an offer. Good SEO professionals are always in demand, and waiting two or three weeks to make an offer could cost you the superstar hire. It is not uncommon for top-notch pros to land a new job in three to four weeks, and it is not uncommon for a company to search for a candidate for 6–12 months. In the SEO recruiting space, if you snooze, you lose. Prioritize time for the interviews, and act fast. If the process just seems too daunting, consider paying for a few hours of a top SEO pro’s time to help you in the hiring process.


Selecting an SEO Firm/Consultant

Once you’ve got determined to rent an outdoor firm, you need to go through some sort of selection process. This can be daunting if you are not already familiar with the space and if you don’t already have some understanding of SEO yourself. There are many solid and reputable companies out there, but unfortunately there are a large number of bad ones as well. In addition, there are many different types of projects you may want them to work on. For example, if you have a local SEO–focused project in mind, you will need to find a team with the right type of experience. Similarly, you’ll have specific contract needs that may impact that firm is true for you. Consider looking at resources such as the Moz vendor directory (


Getting the Process Started

Just as a bad hire can be a very expensive proposition, so can engaging the wrong consultant or firm, either through a haphazard selection process, or no selection process at all. Here is an outline of the steps you should take for a more methodical, disciplined search for outsourced SEO expertise:


Start with your goals

Connect with your team and make sure you have a good idea of what you want to accomplish by working with an SEO expert. Sometimes it’s as simple as an audit to make sure you’re following best practices; other times it’s training for your marketers and content builders to get them up to speed on how to actively promote the site. If you have a solid list of things you want completed at the end of an engagement, you’ll be better able to find the consultant or firm that best suits your needs – and you’ll be better able to judge the eventual results. If you don’t really know what you want, that’s OK, but it does make the SEO practitioner’s task a little less structured, and it means you need an exceptional level of trust in that person. Sometimes an SEO expert can help you define your goals—to get the best of both worlds, you can ask her what she thinks your goals should be and combine those with your own list. It is still fairly common to hear companies tell us “We don’t know what we need to do for SEO, but we need to do something – can you tell us?”


Connect with your social network

The people who can best assist you in finding a good match are often those who know you well. Talk to friends, fellow business owners, SEO bloggers, and people you know and trust. When you communicate with your network, make sure you share a little bit about your site, your business, and your goals with regard to SEO (to the extent that you know them). The more information you can share, the better folks are able to assist. At a minimum, if you have geographic considerations or want the culture of a large, multi-offering agency versus that of a smaller, SEO-focused consultant/ consultancy, this is good to include in the request.


  1. Get advice from SEO-savvy people you trust. Familiarize yourself with the Twitter handles and Facebook pages for the people you trust, and engage. Tap your Google+ circles and LinkedIn connections to request advice and guidance. As a rule, SEO experts are incredibly friendly about referring business to good companies and good people, and if your network has already given you a few names, running these by the professionals can get you valuable insight on potential winners versus lemons. Even the authors of this book are willing to provide recommendations, so feel free to reach out to us.


  1. Make sure the person is available. This is a fairly obvious step, but many people do not put this at the beginning of the communication process. Ask the person whether he is available at the start, and then continue the conversation if applicable (there is no need to waste energy on folks who can’t help, though you should always ask for a referral). Your time (and theirs) is precious, so don’t waste it.


  1. Define what type of expertise you need. If you have an enterprise-level, highly complex website with legacy systems and a complex development life cycle, you need an SEO consultant who knows how to work within these constraints. If local SEO is your priority, you need someone well versed in local SEO. Few companies do extremely well in all facets of SEO, so you need to identify which aspect of SEO you need most and find a company that excels in that area.


Preparing a Request for Proposal (RFP)

A well-written RFP can significantly improve the overall process. If your RFP is not written well, it hinders the SEO firm’s ability to understand and define your needs and to scope and price your project. This in turn leads to a disconnect in expectations for both parties. A lousy RFP can discourage a busy SEO firm from even responding—which is a very unfortunate outcome, since it takes the best firms out of the running. That being said, there are some SEO companies and consultants who do not participate in the formal RFP process, and with good reason – some businesses use the bait of an RFP to gain valuable SEO strategy tips – and even specific tactics – for free, and at the expense of the SEO vendor. So while it can seem like a good idea to ask for a lot of great information in the RFP, this can place an undue burden on the RFP respondents and may result in some of the best agencies and consultants not responding – simply because they have other opportunities to pursue without having to participate in a lengthy RFP process. Many companies intuitively “know” what they want but find it difficult to ask for it in a way that is clear, succinct, informative, and constructive. If written properly, an RFP can facilitate the sales process and ensure that everyone involved on both sides understands the purpose, requirements, scope, and structure of the intended engagement. Following a few key steps in the beginning of the RFP process will enable you to rest easy, knowing that you are more likely to get what your company wants and needs.


Step 1: Nominate a “point person” for the engagement

One of the most challenging concepts for any large company with multiple working parts is to determine the end goal of the engagement. Often, marketing departments may voice different wants and needs than IT departments; even when they are asking for the same thing semantically, they may not be using the right language to communicate what they are looking for. Every successful project needs a project manager who is invested in the project’s success and can pull together the disparate groups that have a stake in the outcome or a role to play. Without that person at the helm, the project will struggle. By nominating that person because the SEO firm’s “point person” even before you send your RFP, you will ensure a steady flow of information throughout the process so that internal and external expectations are met.


Step 2: outline “needs” and “wants” employing a call matrix

RFP recipients can perceive that you just aren’t the SEO professional, and therefore you aren’t going to be able to adequately define the scope of your desired SEO engagement. As the saying goes, “You don’t know what you don’t know.” Just try to be reasonable when formulating your needs and wants and recognize that the RFP recipient may have a better idea of what you need than you do. In addition to revealing to the SEO firm the fundamentals, such as your objectives, your site’s conversion types (e.g., online purchases, newsletter subscriptions, white paper downloads, etc.), target audience, constraints, and so forth, in all fairness you will also need to clearly spell out the criteria by which you will evaluate the SEO firm’s suitability. This means you will need to define these criteria in advance. SEO firms know the selection process is usually governed by gut feel, so any RFP recipient who does not have a pre-existing relationship with you is automatically inclined not to respond because he knows the deck is likely stacked against him. This is further exacerbated when you send the RFP to multiple SEO firms. You can allay this concern by candidly sharing with the firms your biases and the clearly defined criteria by which you will be evaluating them. You should map this out in a decision matrix, which is simply a chart listing the attributes you are looking for in the SEO firm, a weighting factor for each attribute, a score from zero to ten for every, and therefore the weighted score (e.g., the score increased by the coefficient factor). The weighted scores are added to arrive at a total score. Judging criteria that are both quantitative and qualitative brings objectivity into a subjective process, which will aid you in managing expectations internally. And by sharing your list of criteria and the weighting factors with the RFP recipients, you increase the likelihood—as well as caliber—of responses. It is worth noting that the authors recommend that you place a high premium on trust in hiring an SEO firm. Unfortunately, there are lots of firms that claim a high level of expertise that either don’t really have it or don’t put in the effort to drive results (this is much the same in many consulting disciplines). This is one factor on which we recommend you place a lot of weight.


Step 3: Define your success metrics

Now that you’ve identified what you are looking for in an SEO firm, it’s important to let the firms know how you would like to measure the success of the engagement. Some corporations will report on SEO health metrics well on the far side simply rankings (e.g., page yield, keyword yield), thus facilitating troubleshooting and reviews of program performance. Others can bank heavily on your own analytics package to trace the program’s success. For example, you might pose this question internally: “What are your KPIs?” SEO firms often use KPIs to prove the value of the services they provide. If you aren’t sure which KPIs your company would like to use, think about baking that request into the RFP, stating something such as, “Do you offer monthly program performance reviews indicating the program’s growth? If so, please elaborate on the deliverables of such reviews.” You can assist this process by defining your business metrics clearly, whether they be sales, leads, views or shares of a piece of content, or something else. Make sure the SEO firm is under a nondisclosure agreement (NDA), and provide them with a baseline of traffic and conversion metrics and ask them to show what strategies they are going to use to grow your business from that baseline. Don’t get distracted by artificial metrics such as rankings or number of links. While these may be of some interest, keep your eye on your bottom line and make sure that your prospective SEO firm knows that they will need to do that too.


Step 4: Prepare to disclose all noted influencing factors

An SEO firm can easily examine your existing website, evaluating the on-page factors (title tags, navigation, HTML) to gauge project scope. But alternative factors can influence your organic exposure throughout the engagement, some of which won’t be immediately obvious or known to the RFP recipient without prior disclosure. Important disclosures include:

– Has your site received a Manual Action notification from Google?

– Has your site seen traffic drops resulting from the Panda, Penguin, Mobile, or other updates?

– will your company produce other domain names, subdomains, or microsites?

– Is a massive redesign of your website in the works, or are you about to migrate to a new CMS?

– does one use a 3rd party for your site’s internal search, and if so, who is it?

– Have you ever engaged in text link purchasing, article/blog spam, or link networks?

By disclosing as much information as possible, you spare the SEO firm the time and expense of discovering these things on its own and increase your chances of getting a good ROI on your investment in them.


Step 5: Provide an estimated timeline and budget for delivery of work and implementation

One of the biggest deterrents in any RFP is confusion over when a project should be completed and how much it might cost. A company hiring an SEO firm may not know how much time it takes to complete an SEO audit, but it may have pressing internal matters that require it be done by a specific deadline. Retail sites may want to schedule new launches around a particular theme or season; for example, if you want your site launched in time for back-to-school, be sure to write that in your proposal. Not only will an expected deadline save your company time in looking for an appropriate firm, but it also serves as a professional courtesy to the SEO firms you are querying. Budgets often coincide with a project deadline, depending on how your company conducts its business. Consider assessing a budget based on a range of services; that is, instead of saying the project absolutely has to cost $X, say you are willing to spend within a range of $X to $Y. Budgets may or may not be included as part of the RFP, and there are benefits (and drawbacks) to both approaches. Even if you do not provide an SEO firm with your budget in the RFP, we recommend determining a budget beforehand because knowing how much money you are willing to pay can assist you confirm a target ROI. Be aware that high-quality work at high speed is clearly going to cost more. Consulting with people you trust that have used SEO firms can help you get a sense of what the costs are likely to be. Once you have an idea of the market costs for a project of your complexity, you can then decide to spend more (to try to get faster results) or less (to manage budgeting concerns).


Now that you’ve gathered the preceding information for your RFP, you’re ready to sit down and write it. You can structure an RFP in several ways. Here is a brief outline:


Section 1: Summary and overview

This section is where you will introduce the challenge you are having and provide the SEO firm with an overview of the rest of the RFP. We also recommend outlining how you would like SEO firms to respond to your RFP. Think of this section as associate government outline, where you will provide the highlights of the RFP without the technical details.


Section 2: Technical summary

Often, SEO corporations want gritty details to work out however they’ll best assist you. The technical summary is where you will provide key pieces of information relevant to your project, such as technical requirements, a description of technical issues with the project, your site’s current platform, and so on. The technical outline would possibly originate from your IT department, as this section is usually for associate SEO firm’s programmers and delivery team.


Section 3: Administration and management By describing who will be involved in the project on your end and what the timeline is for completion, you are defining the framework of the project.


Section 4: Project expectations and delivery

If you’ve done your preparation, this could be the simplest section to jot down. From outlining your analysis criteria to specifying what monthly deliverables or coaching you’d prefer to receive to assessing your KPIs, this section helps AN SEO firm verify its cost to complete your project, as well as its suitability. When you write an RFP, keep in mind that the purpose of an RFP is to hire an expert SEO firm that will propose its recommended actions for your company’s website(s) to attain the best probability for fulfilment. Sometimes an SEO firm’s feedback highlights other potential issues that you may not have considered, which may change the scope of your project entirely – and this is often the case!


Communicating with Candidate SEO Firms

You should also plan to talk to candidate SEO firms. This is your opportunity to dig a little bit deeper and move beyond the RFP. If you are a smaller company and have bypassed doing an RFP, you will still need to be in direct contact with your prospective SEO firm. Here are some things for you to consider during this stage of the process:


Ask for a listing of past success stories (not simply clients)

Let the company tell you where it has helped someone be successful. You can ask for a client list, but be aware that a failed client engagement does not necessarily mean the SEO firm failed. In addition, many SEO service contracts prohibit the SEO firm from disclosing their clients. Many times clients don’t implement the SEO practitioner’s recommendations, or they try to, but do it badly. You can use this to your benefit. Ask them for a case study of a client failure, and then ask them why they think it failed. This can provide some great insight into what they require from their clients, because the failure they disclose to you will inevitably be due to the client not providing them with what they needed.


Talk on the phone or (if possible) get along

Email is a great initial communication medium, but a phone call or in-person meeting gives you a real sense of the team you’ll work with. Make sure you’re not talking to a salesperson (if you go with a big company), but rather to the person who will be interacting with you throughout the contract execution process. There’s nothing worse than getting sold by a charismatic, knowledgeable SEO leader and then being passed on to a junior team for management. In the phone call/meeting, be sure to establish rapport. If you don’t feel comfortable on a personal level, don’t dismiss it—brilliant SEOs are great, but if you can’t work well together, the project is unlikely to succeed. Everyone works better with people they like and people they get along with. There’s also the additional incentive of not letting down someone you’ve developed a working relationship with, which extends subconsciously and consciously into every part of the work you do together.


Present a few initial issues over email

Some SEO consultants won’t engage in any work before a contract is signed, but you should at least get them to talk about how a problem can be approached, whether it’s an issue, and what strategies they might recommend to fix it (even from a broad perspective). If you are an SEO practitioner, put a few examples of issues you’ve already identified on the table. Seeing how the consultant responds builds trust in her knowledge and gives you insight into how she solves problems and what your work relationship and the advice you receive will be like down the road.


Ask for references

Asking for references is a good idea, but make sure you qualify the reference as part of the process. You want to protect yourself from people who might get some friend of theirs, instead of a real client, to act as a reference. It is helpful if the reference the candidate provides works within a well-known business. Make sure the relationship between the SEO firm and the client provided as a reference is clear. Once you get the reference on the phone, you should try to learn what the SEO consultant was asked to do, and what he did. Get specific details on this. If you want someone to provide link development strategy for you but he did not do link development for the other client, the value of that reference is decreased. Then see whether the reference will give you some input on the benefits they received from the work of the SEO consultant (e.g., increases in traffic, conversions, or other metrics of value). Then verify what the reference says about the SEO firm by checking their site metrics with Compete ( ) or Quantcast ( Also, think about doing your own research. Find out what site the consultant worked on for the reference. Then use the Wayback Machine ( to see prior versions of the site, if available.


Contact other past clients

Look at the SEO firm’s site and see if it provides client lists. Call ex-clients the candidate firm didn’t give as references. In addition, ask about good and bad experiences with the company in forums that cover SEO.


Making the Decision

Regardless of whether you have done an RFP or used a more informal process, make sure you understand the process you will use to make a decision. Here are some tips:


Get a written response from two or three vendors

Don’t get an RFP response or quote from just one vendor, even if you’re sure you’re going to use them. Multiple quotes aren’t just a best practice, they’re a good way to learn about pricing and scope discrepancies. The quote from the vendor you don’t like might include some pieces that your preferred vendor overlooked. Pricing is harder because it fluctuates so wildly in the search marketing world. However, don’t choose an SEO expert on price alone (or even make price the biggest part of your decision), unless your budget is a real problem. SEO is usually an incredibly high-ROI activity. Companies that spend larger amounts on SEO services tend to make it back in a matter of weeks or months from traffic and conversion increases (remember that more targeted traffic means higher conversion rates too). Thus, going with an SEO expert who costs a lot less might seem like a good idea, but if you don’t work as well together and you think she might not do as good a job, you’re hurting yourself in the long term. Of course, don’t get fleeced by an exorbitantly overpriced firm (watch out; some of the biggest SEO companies have some of the most ruthless pricing models because they know that Fortune 1,000 companies will work only with consultants who’ve done work for other Fortune 1,000 companies), but be aware that the prospect of saving a few thousand dollars is not the most effective reason to settle on a distinct supplier.


Have smart, sensible people review the contract Lawyers are great, but sometimes legal folks get overly concerned with liability and risk management details and overlook big picture business items. Make sure your savvy business/ROI-focused personnel get a good look too. If there are legal issues that cause a rift, it can even be wise to get your C-level executives involved. Sometimes the folks from legal won’t budge on an issue that’s going to be a deal breaker, but if the CEO says do it anyway, you can get around the more problematic demands. Also be aware that different things are important to different firms. For example, some SEO companies will walk away from a deal if the client insists on a no-publicity clause or if you insist on them assuming millions of dollars in liability for a small engagement. Or if it’s got a “work for hire” clause, which the company has if they want to share but not lose ownership.


Go with your gut

When you finally make your choice, go with the team you feel will bring results. Making a matrix of price versus service versus reputation versus estimated productivity is fine if you’re into that, but consider going with your initial gut feeling. If you don’t feel like there is a “right” company, go back to the table, get more information, and even try to get another bid or two. When you do realize the most effective selection, things simply “feel” right. How do you know?

  • The way they talk about search engines makes sense and the advice they’ve given lines up with the best practices you’ve seen expressed on SEO sites you trust.
  • They are familiar with recent trends at the engines and the links they send or news they cite is timely, relevant, and logical.
  • They use the engines like pros, rapidly combing through site queries, link information, and

analytics data to unveil the underlying problems that are hurting your rankings or causing the competition to succeed.

• Their interactions with your team “fit.” The team members like the consultants and are eager to implement their advice. Choose someone whom you can be comfortable dropping your guard in front of. This is your expert and ideally your confidant, someone you can reach out to and talk to about challenges and knowledge gaps in a way that you cannot with in-house colleagues. Remember, an SEO business relationship is a relationship, and if the two parties involved simply speak different languages (professionally and/or culturally) within their organizations, no amount of SEO expertise—and no amount of SEO budget—will make the relationship work. It is much smarter to work with people you like than to pay begrudgingly for a working relationship that simply doesn’t work. Cultural fit is essential, so be sure you can identify your own business culture and then look for a compatible, resonant culture within the SEO company/consultancy you hire.

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