“And if you’re presented with a pitch team, just make sure who’s going to be doing the work. If the head of agency impresses, ensure that they will be doing, or at least directing the work. If you never see them again and get the quiet junior in the corner who’s just finished their internship, cry foul; that won’t work for you.”

I Want Position One, Google Page One, Now

Ask yourself this: do you still believe in Father Christmas? If you do, then you might well believe those SEO specialists who tell you that within days, they can get you on the top search position on your chosen keywords. Just don’t expect to be taken seriously if you ask that question.

How to choose an SEO specialist – what SEO experts offer

Anyone designing their first website, or upgrading their existing site, will have faced with the usual offer from their designers: we’ll do the SEO for you. It’s a great temptation, but here’s the problem. Most website designers excel in design and structure. They should make your site look great and with any luck, will make it work properly as well.

But, to be fair, when it comes to SEO, the designers are out of their depth. Design and SEO are different disciplines; sure, they work hand in hand, but both areas need special attention.

Indeed, here’s a clue if you’re deigning a website from scratch: ask the designer what comes first, the design, or the SEO? The answer should be both at the same time. Indeed, ideally, the SEO should come first, because if you think about it, the SEO is the engine room, the design is the shop window.

So, you get the power unit first, then build the skin around it. Most designers – and we’re being unfair here – focus completely on the looks. That is there remit; they put SEO to one side and forget the although design is very important, it alone will not drive traffic and sales. It is one component.

Which is why successful ecommerce websites employ experts. They do not get the designer to do it as a sideline.

So When Do You Hire the SEO Expert?

As soon as you can – it’s that simply. Don’t delay to hire. Ideally, if you’re planning a new website, or refurbishing an existing site, get the SEO person involved from day one; even before the website designer.

What many people don’t realise is that a weak website design, or worse, one coupled with poor navigation and structure, will hinder your website – it can effectively kill the SEO and make your website Billy-no-Mates.

Ask around and you’ll find quite a few horror stories about people who have designed beautiful sites – even won awards for their looks – which have flopped when it comes to attracting traffic.

Design is one part of the process – you should see SEO as the central strategy, the director of the film if you look. Design is a component, in the same way that keyword research, tag development and content are other crucial parts of the overall picture.

So How Do I Find This SEO Expert?

There are plenty around, the trick is to choose one that suits your requirements both in terms of what they can do and whether you can work with them.

We’ve all heard of snake oil salesmen and there are plenty in the SEO arena. So you have to be very careful as to who you pick and we’ve got some tips below which should make the process easier. We’ve put ourselves in the position of a client seeking cost-effective SEO services.

What’s more, you don’t have to be a SEO guru to understand them!

Here is our handy tip list to finding yourself a great SEO consultancy, including some basic pointers first:

1Just What Are They Responsible For?

Search engine optimisation specialists are the guys you want onboard if your site is designed to sell products, or services (what’s known as an ecommerce website). If you’re creating a site for the local train spotters, a SEO person is not your first worry.

The SEO guy will help get your site properly ranked – they will devise a strategy which will drive your site up the search engine rankings and be up there in front of your potential sales base. Nowadays SEO is shorthand for digital marketing, or website promotion. Under the SEO banner comes many elements, including website design, which is why SEO has to come first.

2A SEO Strategy – Is That Necessary?

Anyone who draws up their SEO plan on the back of a fag packet is best avoided. Okay, the strategy need not last for reams of paper, but there has to be a coherent logic to it and that means understanding firstly the client and what they are trying to achieve. If your SEO plan doesn’t embrace these basic building blocks, then they won’t be able to maximise your website. Brief should come first, then proposal and the strategy.

3I’ve Heard of these Black Hats – Should I Wear One?

Simple rule here: black hat tactics are tricks (some of them illegal) which some webmasters employ to get their site ranked highly. Don’t be tempted to the dark side. If a search engine finds you bending the rules, your website will be dropped quicker than a x-factor loser. Only use white hat tactics – those that a pukka SEO person will employ on your behalf.

4Should I Mention Position One, Google Page One?

Go careful here. This is the holy grail that ecommerce websites seek and logic suggests that with just ten ranks on each Google search page for each keyword, there are going to be a few winners and millions of losers.

Any client who comes in the door and says they want to be on the Google Page within a matter of days, or even weeks, is, to be honest, a little delusional. And the same goes for the SEO guru who promises likewise. You can get to top of the search engine rankings quickly on certain keywords, but you have to understand just what will work, and won’t work. Remember, there are plenty out there who will tell you that they can find the promised land – few actually know the true path to glory.

5I Want Guarantees Though

Let’s be honest, we’d all like guarantees that a business strategy will work and that money will fall from above in a profitable shower. What SEO s

agency or person can guarantee is that they will work on your behalf to the highest professional standards which means being realistic about expectations and results.

Any SEO company or person who guarantees that their client will be on position one, page one within a set period of time is, to be kind, blagging it. And they are doing so for one main reason: search optimisation is a continually changing feast. For example, Google regularly change their search algorithms, which means that overnight, the rules can change. SEO gurus are not told in advance, or briefed when these changes happen. They have to interrupt the rules, same as everyone else.

It’s like playing a game football with the goal continually changing positions – we’re all aiming at a fast moving target.

6What Will I Have to Commit to an SEO Contract?

Two things: a budget and an agreement. The SEO person should provide a quote and a detailed list of what he’s going to be doing for the money. And there should be an agreement between both the specialist, even if they are a freelance, and the client. An agreement should include the scope of the project, the timelines and the terms and conditions.

The agreement is essential as a reference point further down the line should there be any misunderstandings of who does what, when and for how much.

7How do I Assess One Specialist from Another?

Okay, this is the tricky bit and finding the right SEO person is the same as finding anyone who you want to with business with.

There are three main questions for you: can they do the job; what have they achieved in the past and can I can work with them?

There are many thousands of SEO gurus out there that can do a good job. You need to ask the right questions (see point 8 for guidance), but once you find one that can actually do the job , you need to ask what have they achieved in the past and with which clients (see point 9 below). Finally, a crucial question that many forget; can I work with the team out forward (see point 10 for help with this).

8How Do I Rate Their Abilities?

Think about what we’ve said and then follow the well-worn path. Prepare the best brief you can. SEO experts are good, but are not mind readers. So the more detailed brief for them, the better they can react. Your brief should include your background, business experience and resources you have available (in terms of other personnel, time and budget). It should also include your business strategy – just what you want from the website, your targets and long term strategy.

With that information to hand, the SEO person should be able to put together an equally detailed proposal. Don’t choose someone from just a telephone call, or a few emails. Ask for a proposal with some original thinking.

But be realistic – don’t expect a free consultancy report. No self-respecting SEO consultant will give away the family silver for nothing. So, expect some ideas and a coherent strategy, but not a free guide on how to do it, even if you could!

9How Do I Judge Their Experience?

Ask for examples of past campaigns and a couple of names to call. Expect friendly client names to be provided, but evenso, a chat with these can be useful. You can learn a lot from a ten minute chat from existing clients.

But, again, some realism is needed. You can track down former clients of an agency, but it’s commercial reality that almost all clients will eventually fall out with their clients. People change, targets vary and maintaining a relationship over many years is tricky. And bear in mind that agencies and consultants always blame clients for fall-outs, and vice-versa. So don’t think clients get always rid of their advisors for the right reasons; there are plenty of negative reasons as well.

10Do I Like These Guys?

The general rule is to ask yourself whether you can work with a given team. It’s easier with a freelance SEO helper. You’ll know quite quickly if you can work with the guy. If he gets on your nerves right away, don’t go down that path.

Business is tough enough as it is – if you can’t bearing telephoning your advisor, things are not going to work out well.

And if you’re presented with a pitch team, just make sure who’s going to be doing the work. If the head of agency impresses, ensure that they will be doing, or at least directing the work. If you never see them again and get the quiet junior in the corner who’s just finished their internship, cry foul; that won’t work for you.

11Who Owns the Work?

There’s two ways to look at this. Work which is actually loaded onto your site should be your property. So website structure and navigation, and content (text and images), will be your property (once of course you’ve cleared the relevant invoices to the various outside parties).

Back-links (those inbound links which exist from another site other than yours) can either be owned by your SEO person (they might come from their own sites, or be bought links), or they are in no-man’s land. In other words, they cannot be controlled by you, or your SEO guy, so they cannot be owned – in effect, they are owned by no-one.

The best links these days are ‘naturally’ contrived – they are not automatically generated – they are based on content on one site which links back to yours. Thus, they are not under your control, but can be taken down by the other site at any time. You cannot see these as bought links – they are there at the largesse of others.

As with all elements of your SEO strategy, ensure that there is no misunderstanding here. Get them to explain their link building strategy and who owns what. If they don’t want explain and you still don’t get it, drop them – that’s means they are not being honest about their work practices and could put your website in harm’s way.

12Will They Work for My Competitors?

There are two schools of thought here. One says that it’s best to work with people with experience in a given sector (even if that means they might work for a competitor). The other school says that there should be no competitive clash.

It’s down to you how you feel about this. If you do use a SEO specialist, or agency who handles one of your competitor’s, then always insist on a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA). Indeed, this is good practice whatever your views, because your business is no-one else’s and should there be a loose tongue about, you do have some recourse with a NDA.

Okay, that’s our main advice when choosing a SEO expert.

Need help with SEO?

We’ll happy expand on any of the above points, so give us a shout via email, or telephone on 0203 286 5639, and we’ll go into greater detail.