Google on how to hire an SEO provider

Google’s Maile Ohye shares her advice for hiring an SEO (Search Engine Optimizer) to improve the searcher experience on your website.

how to hire an SEO

There are several key takeaways for me. Here’s my summary:

“In most cases, SEOs need four months to a year to help your business first implement improvements and then see potential benefit.”

I’d agree with this, subject to a project being applied in full within the first few months, otherwise if an SEO project is spread over a longer time, expect a much slower result. Expecting to see a major change in less than 3 months? Possible, but generally unlikely. I’ve helped sites go from almost nowhere to page 2 or even page 1 in a very short time-frame in less competitive genres but expecting that result in a competitive space is unreasonable.

General SEO hiring process

1.      Conduct a 2-way interview with your potential SEO. Check that they seem genuinely interested in you and your business.

2.      Check their references

3.      Ask for (and you’ll probably have to pay for) a technical and search audit.

4.      Decide if you want to hire.

Some examples of specific advice from Google:

“Don’t add keywords to the keywords meta tag.”

This is because Google genuinely doesn’t look at this element and doesn’t consider it for rank, for some time now. If you’re still putting keywords into the keyword meta tag in your web pages, it’s not working for Google.

“Don’t buy links. Google discourages the practice of buying links.”

This is because the strategic placement of some kind of links can still help a less deserving page get ranked. Google opposes this practice because they don’t want people ‘gaming the system’. Link building is contentious with many SEO providers. Bottom line is: You still need links and Google confirms that. But, if you can’t ‘earn them naturally’…. (it’s about the only snippet of advice in the video I suggest you ignore, subject to conditions).

Step 1: Conduct a 2-way interview

1.      What makes your business, content, and/or service unique and therefore valuable to customers?

2.      What does your common customer look like? How do they currently find your website?

3.      How does your business make money? And how can Search help?

4.      What other channels are you using? Offline advertising? Social networks?

5.      Who are your competitors? What do they do well online (and potentially offline)?

I 100% agree with these points.

A holistic approach to SEO

“If your SEO doesn’t seem interested in your business from a holistic standpoint, look elsewhere.”

Absolutely. This is great in my view. SEO needs to work in with all aspects of your business marketing practices. If your SEO provider is not communicating regularly with you about your business as a whole, fire them.

Step 2: Check references

“A good SEO is someone you feel you can work with, learn from, experiment with and who genuinely cares about you and your business, not just getting your site the highest rank. They’ll want to educate you and your staff on how search engines work so that SEO becomes part of your general business operations.”

I’d like to think this describes my modus operandum quite nicely.

Step 3: Request a technical and search audit

Audit structure

The SEO should prioritize improvements with a structure like:

1.      The issue

2.      The suggest improvement

3.      An estimate of the overall investment

4.      Estimated positive business impact

5.      Plan on how to iterate and improve on the implementation or how to experiment and fail fast should results not meet expectations

There are literally thousands of different styles of technical audit, but many of these are designed as ‘sales pitch’ and convey little if any specific information about your website. Many of them are just general advice – which people like me give away for free on our websites ( The really great technical audits will show evidence-based analysis, drawn from connected data sources like Google Search Console and Google Analytics, and provide solid guidance on how to resolve the issues discovered.

From a really great audit, you should be able to work step by step and do your own SEO, if you had the time to learn how to apply it. Great SEO providers aren’t worried that you’ll take their highly-detailed audit and do it yourself, because they already know how much expertise and learning was involved to have the skills to generate it, let alone implement the work.

Technical audit:

Review your site for issues related to:

·        Internal linking

·        Crawlability

·        URL parameters

·        Server connectivity

·        Response codes

SEO and duplicate content

“Lots of duplicate content exists on websites, and often it’s not a pressing problem.”

Bang-on comment. Lots of people worry excessively about this. There are many ways to resolve conflicts between content duplicates that don’t involve drastic measures, and a lot of the time it doesn’t even matter at all. That’s not to say ‘ignore it’. Just don’t stress over it.

Search audit:

Break down your search queries into categories

·        Branded (example: gmail)

·        Unbranded (example: email)

Unbranded / general keyword improvement ideas

1.      Update obsolete content

2.      Improve internal linking (“some of your best articles are too far from the home page”)

3.      Generate buzz (user interactions, from many sources)

4.      Learn from the competition

“One of the biggest holdups to improving a website isn’t the SEO’s recommendation, it’s the business making time to implement their ideas.”

This is a common theme for many SEO projects in my experience. The other major element holding things up is budget. Many businesses have budget restrictions when hiring an SEO provider. An entire project might be estimated at 100 hours, but if the SEO operator charges $100 per hour and the business can afford $1000 per month, then this project would take 10 months to become fully implemented. Add a further 4-12 months (as quoted by Google) for that implementation to work and you’re probably at the 18-month mark or beyond. By that point your competitors have probably upgraded and evolved too. The reality is that most SEO projects don’t really have an end. From an SEO operator’s perspective, the more you can invest up-front in the first 4 months, the sooner you’re likely to get a great result.

“Make sure your entire organisation is on board, or else your SEO improvements may be non-existent, regardless of who you hire.”

It’s actually not uncommon for SEO work being implemented on a website to be negated by changes in business direction, or even arbitrarily denied or deleted by conflicting opinions within the business organisation. SEO improvements will usually include changes to the look and feel of a website, additions of content, media and social interactions. All parts of the business need to buy-in to the changes and see them as a positive move for them to really work at all.

The Google video is available in full here:

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