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February 17, 2017

How to Hire an SEO – in Google’s Words

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As a digital marketing agency, we know a lot about the importance of SEO consulting. But it’s hard for us to tell you how to hire an SEO without sounding self-serving.

But when a search engine like Google gives that kind of advice? That’s a more unbiased source you can really listen to and learn from.

As it happens, there’s a new video on Google Webmaster Help’s YouTube channel called “How to hire an SEO,” and we think it’s excellent. So we’re putting it up on our blog to help it spread far and wide.

If you’re shopping for an SEO consultant, or even if you ARE one, this 11-minute video is a must-see.

“SEO is not black magic.”

Maile Ohye, a developer programs tech lead with Google, opens by myth-busting some ideas about search engine optimization — it’s not magic and it doesn’t work overnight.

If someone is promising you instant rankings as if by magic, look elsewhere! It’s critical to avoid a “bad” SEO — someone who produces no results or, worse, implements shady practices on your website that hurt your visibility in search.

For long-term success, there are no quick fixes that will immediately rocket your site to rank No. 1. A good SEO helps improve the site itself so it can put its best foot forward and rank appropriately.

An SEO’s potential is only as high as the quality of your business or website. –Maile Ohye

I’d like to have that engraved for our lobby.

“SEO looks to improve the entire searcher experience.”

The scope of optimizing a website — the SEO’s purview — is broad. It requires looking at the entire journey a searcher may take, from seeing and clicking your search result, to arriving at your website and potentially converting.

Accordingly, an SEO looks at straightforward improvements like writing descriptive tags all the way to complex issues such as implementing language tags for an international site. Along with increasing the organic traffic to the site, the SEO has to ensure that your site provides a good, helpful experience for visitors no matter what device they’re using.

How long will it take to see results from SEO?

Google says SEO takes 4-12 months

Four months to a year is a realistic estimate of how long it takes to reap results. Since many prospective clients expect to see results much faster, we’re so glad Google set the record straight.

With our own SEO services clients, we first lay the groundwork — analyzing the site, researching competitors, compiling an assessment and making initial recommendations. Then the timeline greatly depends on the client’s ability to implement. We work with the client’s in-house SEO or technical staff to help move the project along as we further refine and expand our recommendations.

Certain fixes can produce nearly instant results. For instance, if something is truly broken on the site, such as a robots.txt file that’s blocking the search engines, a correction can make an impact. However, in most cases, four months to a year sounds about right.

Get corroboration for recommendations.

Ohye’s “strongest advice” is to request that SEOs support their recommendations with a documented statement from Google. Ask to see an article, video or Googler response that includes the issue that needs to be improved and the approach being prescribed.

Oh, and never buy links for ranking purposes. Ever.

If your site has some “technical debt” (not being mobile friendly, or having an antiquated CMS, for example), you may need to invest in improving your infrastructure as part of your SEO project. If you’re a local business owner, you can get started bringing your local business online using this Google video series:

In a majority of cases, doing what’s good for SEO is also doing what’s good for your online customers. –Maile Ohye

Steps in the SEO Hiring Process

Here’s what Google outlines as the “General SEO hiring process”:

General SEO hiring process

Step 1: Conduct a two-way interview

We can’t agree more that you want to find a consultant who’s sincerely interested in you, your business, your customers and your goals. After all, you want someone who feels like an extension of your team.

Ohye advises that if the person doesn’t show interest by asking exploratory questions (check the video for a suggested list), then don’t do business with them.

Step 2: Check references

Talk to past clients about their experience. Ask them how effectively the SEO worked with their various staff and vendors, and what kind of guidance he or she provided.

You want to hire someone who will help educate you, not just implement short-term solutions.

A good SEO should be someone you can work with, learn from, experiment with, and who genuinely cares about you and your business. –Maile Ohye

Step 3. Request an audit

For smaller businesses, Ohye suggests asking for “a prioritized list of what they think should be improved for SEO.”

For larger businesses, she suggests doing this with multiple SEO consulting candidates. Then, compare their audits. Here’s the audit structure Google recommends:

Audit structure per Google's 'How to Hire an SEO'

You’ll need to give the SEO restricted-view access to your Google Search Console and Google Analytics accounts (not full or write access) so they’ll have the data needed to perform the audit. You should also let the consultant talk with your developers to understand any technical constraints.

Maile Ohye

Google’s very helpful Maile Ohye

Right up front, Ohye notes that you’ll probably have to pay for the audit. We agree.

This level of custom technical and search auditing requires a considerable amount of time spent by a trained, experienced SEO analyst. If a prospective consultant is offering you a “free audit,” more than likely he or she plans to just run your site through a tool to produce an automated report.

A good SEO will try to prioritize what ideas can bring your business the most improvement for the least investment, and what improvements may take more time, but help growth in the long term. –Maile Ohye

Step 4. Decide if you want to hire

When you’re ready to engage an SEO consultant, make sure your whole organization is on board. Without internal cooperation, you may not see any search improvements at all, no matter whom you hire.

One of the biggest holdups to improving a website isn’t [the SEO’s] recommendation, but it’s the business making time to implement their ideas. –Maile Ohye

Want to talk about your business and how SEO might help you? Fill out our request form and we’ll contact you.



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17 responses to “How to Hire an SEO – in Google’s Words”

  1. Sydney SEO writes:

    It is very helpful information regarding hiring an SEO agency or freelancer with video guide. thanks for share it

  2. Seonerdy writes:

    Exactly what I say to clients. One has to wait at least 4 months to actually see any results. The most hectic clients are the low budget ones who ask for moon but offer just few dimes. Love this post Paula

  3. Paula Allen writes:

    AGSEOSydney: Very welcome! We felt the same way about not wanting to miss it, especially since it will be great to refer clients/prospects to in the future. So we gave it a more permanent home on our blog.

  4. Agseosydney writes:

    Thanks for the share Paula, would have missed the video otherwise :)

  5. Natasha Popovich writes:

    How about asking/checking the SEO company where they rank for seo related terms on Google. If they didn’t do a good job for their own biz its likely because they aren’t that good. One thing lots of clients are tricked by is when SEO companies show them the list of long tail very niche or local keywords their past clients rank #1 on Google for.

  6. Harry writes:

    I have been working on SEO for our business for several years. The Google video is good advice, but some comments may not be accurate as Google has a vested interest in businesses like ours paying for Adwords rather than using organic search results.

  7. Sujatha writes:

    Really an insightful & well articulated post. Hiring a proper SEO company is vital, as millions of SEO companies have mushroomed in the past few years, where most of them are run by people with half baked knowledge. Making a decision just based on their presentation would be unwise, as many amateurish companies are only good in that – giving top class presentations.

    Try out all the points mentioned in this post to check their authenticity & then hand them your SEO contract.

  8. Paula Allen writes:

    Sydney: Haha! Definitely good counsel here from Google.

  9. Sydney SEO Company writes:

    Oh, Thank God, there is some sanity coming back in the digital marketing. Some marketers like me has been saying this for months now. Google algorithm has got really smart.

    Thanks Paula, for sharing this information.

  10. Val Amant writes:

    24,000,000 small businesses in the United States cannot afford SEO, hence, google SERP ranking, as so discovered by Eric Schmidt on the program called This Week.

    Not a single SEO, much less Google has addressed this.

    The SEO industry has driven many businesses away from “online” presence much less “SEO”.

    Some of Google’s webpages don’t even PASS their own “mobility test” and they don’t intend on them to pass, nullifying anything, everything Google has to say about SEO.

    Some apps created by and embraced by Google cause websites to FAIL Google’s mobility test. Why is that?

    What’s about the secrecy from Google? Is this designed to ENHANCE “their” business, screw we small, down home, mom and pops?

    SEO is expensive and is not afforded by small businesses.

    Do you honestly think that small time Joe/Jane is going to read

    NOT GONNA HAPPEN as illustrated by Eric Schimdt.

    And, everyone, including GOOGLE and every SEO out there, is afraid to address it (the real issue), bring it to a resolve. Cowards.

    If your company is cash rich, then, you are overcharging your customers, raping them alive. Then, you’ll have the cash to hire an SEO to get raped yourself.
    Buy off a GOOGLE ADWORDS company and get raped or buy from a solid business and get value.

    Google already proved that Google (and the like) gets a BILLION BACK LINKS and Mary’s Dress Shop gets maybe 10. She will NEVER get a BILLION. Hence, Mary is out of the running from the get go. After all, it IS Google’s platform.

    Because of Google and SEO, I’ll NEVER buy from Mary’s shoppe. I have been trained to go where I need to go, by-passing Google, hence, by-passing Mary.

    This is a dilemma, that NO SEO knows how to address, nor does Google for that matter.

  11. Aabhie writes:

    Most people don’t understand the need of SEO and you have answered it best, Paula. Will be sharing this with clients as well. Thanks.

  12. Paula Allen writes:

    Aleksandar – Good point. There may not be a specific Google statement about every issue a website faces. But a professional SEO should not have to go “searching on Google” for things a Googler may have said. It’s part of an analyst’s job to stay informed on search engine changes, so they tend to read Google’s official announcements and industry news sites as well as follow key spokespersons in social media, watch video forums, etc.

  13. Aleksandar writes:

    Lot of good advices. Although, this: “Ohye’s “strongest advice” is to request that SEOs support their recommendations with a documented statement from Google.” in situations when SEO have tons of advices and sugestions can be bothering – searching on Google for some googler mentioned similar stuff. But OK in general, I guess. And interesting about time-frame.

  14. Emmerey Rose writes:

    Great! Thanks Paula for the tips and reference. Will definitely check that out!

  15. Paula Allen writes:

    Hi Emmerey – So much depends on your unique situation. If you’re struggling to show up in search for local queries with your main keywords or even for your brand name, you might need some help to get your SEO foundation right. Remember to find an SEO consultant who’s willing to teach you as well, so you can continue to build out your website correctly.

    Small businesses are often on such a tight budget that hiring someone may not be feasible, however appealing it is. If you’re in that position, our SEO Tutorial ( covers a lot of the basics and then some to help you get started DIY style. Let us know what you decide!

  16. Emmerey Rose writes:

    Great tips Paula! Do you however also recommend hiring an SEO for small businesses/startups?

  17. Remi writes:

    That sounds about right!

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