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Choosing the wrong SEO specialist will not only waste your money, but it could be detrimental to your business.

Likewise choosing the right SEO consultant can lead to more business than you ever imagined.

The lions share of business tends to go to businesses that rank on page 1 of Google and if you’re looking to capture your fair share of business, you need to make sure you choose the right search engine optimization specialist and you can’t afford to make a mistake.

This is a passionate topic for me.

Back in 2008 when I started my first online business my company was growing tremendously fast. I was spending over $100,000 on Pay-Per-Click advertising and reaping the rewards.

I decided to hire an SEO agency in 2009 and was paying $3000 a month. Each month I’d receive a report of work the company performed and an invoice. After spending $9000 3 months later I noticed we didn’t move at all in our search rankings.

The company had said they were doing a lot of onsite optimization, yet I noticed I didn’t see them logging onto my website as I checked often to monitor staff. I decided to change their password in month 4 and at the end of the month I received my report and an invoice for $3000.

I asked if we could have a call as I had some questions.

While on the phone I asked them to log into my website to look at something. They said they couldn’t get on as the password wasn’t working. I shared with them I had changed it over a month ago and questioned how they were able to perform the work they said they were doing in their invoice to me.

Long story short I was scammed and blew over $9000 with an SEO company that didn’t do anything for me. I decided to do SEO specialist training myself so that I could be educated when hiring someone, yet ended up performing the SEO for my company until I sold it in 2013.

I don’t want to see anyone go through what I did in 2009 wasting money. So I’ve interviewed over 50 experts and put together a list of what they suggest you look for when choosing someone to help you with SEO.

Here are 28 different experts opinions.

Many are similar, though I recommend taking the time to read through all of them to educate yourself better so you’re more informed when hiring someone to assist you with SEO marketing. This could potentially save you thousands of dollars and more importantly protect your website from being penalized by Google for inappropriate SEO tactics which many describe below.

Matt DiCiero | SEO Associate | Blue Fountain Media

SEO is becoming increasingly important to the success of companies online-regardless of their size or industry. To ensure that your SEO Specialist can provide you with the biggest ROI, they should embody the following qualities or have strong abilities in the following areas:

Being on top of industry trends

Constantly being aware of any news in regards to SEO is imperative for any SEO Specialist. As we know, SEO is always changing, and to be certain that you’re following best practices you have to be aware of industry trends, updates, and general news related to search engine optimization in order to be successful. If not, you run the risk of falling behind with what is considered best practices or tactics, and can very easily waste your time doing things that may have worked in the past for SEO, but don’t currently. If you’re staying on top of industry trends, you also should be able to make your own predictions as to what is next for Google. A strong SEO Specialist should be able to tell you the current state of SEO, and also make their own predictions of what they think any future updates in ranking factors will be focused on.

Familiarity with backend data

Being familiar with the backend of websites is another absolutely necessary skill for any SEO Specialist. The willingness to change coding philosophies, meta-tagging and being heavily involved in the process is half of the battle with SEO. Just being familiar with what works for SEO isn’t enough-you need to know how to really implement it successfully.

Translating relevant data

Being able to look at data or analytics and in a way “translate” it, to determine what it means and what is says about your efforts is crucial. In SEO, as you continue to try new tactics to increase your ranking, you want to be able to monitor what is working and what’s not working. If you cannot understand the analytics you’re presented with, you won’t be able to see the impact of all that you have implemented. To determine what is the next move for your website, you need to be examining your successes and your failures and identify what’s going to benefit the brand the most.

Identifying channels that impact SEO

Today, there are so many communication channels existing, and it’s necessary for someone in SEO to fully grasp how these different channels impact your SEO ranking. For example, social media may not directly impact SEO, but there are correlations between the two indirectly. Understanding the role that each channel plays in your company’s Google ranking is imperative

Susan Burton  Lowry | Managing Partner | SquareOne Consulting

SEO is a science AND an art!

The science part: A good SEO specialist should have robust tools and processes for benchmarking and measuring performance that support best practices; he/she also should have a deep understanding of how the structure of the web site contributes to SEO performance. The SEO specialist should be very good with analytics, SWOT analysis and strategic areas for focus.

Now for the art part: The art of good SEO is for your specialist to have business experiences as well. Many times an SEO specialist has never worked on the business side of the table. In order to deliver a high quality SEO solution, the specialist should have the ability to understand your business; your sales process and the way people search for your products and/or services using natural language.

Many times companies have their own ‘brand speak’ and carry internal bias throughout marketing messaging and web copy. A good SEO specialist knows how to translate the brand bias by conducting primary and secondary research on query terms and query context and is able to align the online queries with what the business is offering without the esoteric.

AND Always, Always ask for references and case studies – that’s the best way to weed out the mediocrity.

Last but not least, a good SEO specialist will walk you through the entire process- there is no magic in SEO, just a high quality process that is rigorously followed.

Lisa Chu | CEO | Black N Bianco

When a small business is looking to hire an SEO specialist it’s very important to make sure they have a proven track record for success.

It’s easy to talk a great game and describe what you plan to do to achieve high rankings, but it’s another thing to have satisfied customers.

You should always ask for current references to discuss how their SEO services have helped him.

Also having a basic understanding of SEO will help avoid hiring an SEO specialist that uses blackhat tactics to achieve high rankings.

There are plenty of SEO specialists out there, thus finding one that fits your small business needs is very crucial to your small business success.

Emily Culclasure | Digital Media Analyst | seoWorks

Here are some tips on finding the right search engine optimization specialist:

  • Look for a search engine optimization specialist who understands the importance of local SEO. Google algorithms constantly change, and as they progress, they place more of an emphasis on local SEO and how businesses turn up in results around their geographical area. Hiring someone who understands how to get small businesses on the virtual map is something that won’t just be useful now, but in the future as well.
  • Look for a specialist who has insight into the direction that SEO is going. As mentioned above, Google algorithms change frequently, and every update has been known to throw a few curveballs. Hiring someone who is looking to the future and preparing for what is around the corner will prevent Google updates from slamming your website.
  • Look for a specialist who understands that transparency is key and white hat SEO tactics are best. These are the specialists that you can expect to hear from frequently, are willing to set up meetings and walk you through what they’ve done and are planning to do for you, and the ones who understand that spammy SEO blog comments and other tactics are just never an option.

Peter Boyd | Founder | PaperStreet Web Design

The most important things to ask an SEO specialist are:

  1. If they work for your competitors. You want an exclusive agreement for your business type, geographic location and industry.
  2. Ask about what exactly is included in the contract. In order for it to work to its highest potential SEO needs active social media accounts and integration of Google places – are they providing this, or is it an expectation that you will set this up?
  3. Ask about their process – it should have hundreds of steps.

Peter Geisheker | CEO | The Geisheker Group

My advice for what a person should look for in hiring an SEO specialist is that the SEO specialist only does very safe white hat SEO and will not do things that will get your site penalized by Google, such as using link blog networks or buying links or creating tons of social media accounts to get your website hundreds of garbage links.

Doing artificial offsite link building is the quickest and surest way to get your site penalized by Google, and sadly many SEOs still do this old school link building strategy.

The most important thing to understand is that Google is penalizing websites that try to game their ranking system.

A better and safe approach to SEO is to build quality content (great well-written web pages and blog posts) and use the keyword phrases you want to rank for in the title and meta tags and within the text content. When you create great content that people want to link to, you will get all the natural links you need, you will make Google happy, you will get good rankings over time, and you will keep your site from being penalized.

Jordan Schneider | Director of Marketing | TechnologyAdvice

Here are a few tips for choosing a great SEO specialist:

  1. Google’s algorithms are changing constantly, so you’ll want to make sure this person has a good understanding of the history of those changes, as well as what each individual update’s impact has been on SERPs. Moz has an awesome timeline on their site where they lay out all of the different changes Google has made over the past 15 years. I recommend quizzing your prospects on what they know about those changes, especially the most recent ones.
  2. When discussing link building, look for experts who push for quality over quantity. If someone suggests paying for links, or a strategy that can get you 100+ links in a matter of days, you should probably run in the other direction. Google’s Penguin algorithm is designed to find sites using “black hat” link building tactics in order to dole out a crippling penalty.
  3. Don’t discredit someone if they suggest guest blogging as a way to build links. You may already be aware that Matt Cutts (Google’s head of web spam) spoke out against this tactic about a year back. However, there are still highly effective ways to go about leveraging guest posts as a way to gain quality links to your site, so long as the strategy is built on the right principles. At it’s core, the goal with guest posting should be to share your expertise with another relevant audience as a way of lending credibility to your brand. The backlink you acquire within the post should be viewed only as a byproduct of that effort.
  4. Ask what tools they use to track and measure their success. If they don’t mention Google Webmaster Tools, Google Analytics, Moz, aHrefs, or Raven Tools, I would consider that a red flag.
  5. Ask for examples of pages this person has optimized for other sites in the past. Of course, you should verify any success stories they share by Googling their targeted search terms, and seeing where their optimized page currently ranks.

Nick Fitzgerald | President of Online Marketing | Foremost Media

The first thing you need to know when looking for a search engine optimization specialist is actually what NOT to look for.

You should generally not work with any SEO who solicits you via email or phone.

Most of these guys a “snake oil salesmen”.  The real SEOs, who get results, are too busy to call you to solicit your business or spam you with crumby emails.

The second thing is to run FAR away from anyone that promises certain results.  A good SEO will not promise results, but they will be able to give you data on the results they have been able to show in the past.  For instance, I can tell you that SEO clients at Foremost Media show an average year over year organic traffic increase of 68%.  I make sure our client’s know that this is the average, and I give them data showing them anything else they want to know about it, but I will NEVER promise them a traffic increase or that they will rank #1 for anything.  I don’t own the search engines, and while my team is great and pushing our clients forward, they could change at any time.

Lastly, I would say never work with anyone that wants to charge you very small monthly fees for SEO services.  Real SEO takes hard work, and isn’t easy.  If someone is offering you “SEO” for $40 per month, then it isn’t really SEO.  Likely that it is a small piece of the pie at best.  I see this a lot from traditional media publications who don’t know what they are doing, but are trying to diversify their revenue streams.

Mary Bowling | Partner | Ignitor Digital

Here’s 6 Tips for what to look for in an SEO agency:

  1. Transparency – If anyone tells you they know ways to help you but won’t reveal to you what those methods are, avoid dealing with them. Good SEO requires a lot of hard work and a good SEO isn’t afraid to describe what they can do to help you.
  2. Honesty- By now, everyone should know that rankings cannot be guaranteed. Anyone who gives you a guarantee is most likely guaranteeing that they can rank you for obscure keyword phrases that hardly get any traffic.
  3. Honesty – There are a lot of spammy SEO companies cold calling and emailing businesses with deceptive information. If anyone contacts you saying they are from Google, ignore them unless their email address is name@google.com
  4. Busy – Good SEO services are in great demand. Any that are worthwhile have plenty of work and don’t need to be cold calling you to get more.
  5. Customized SEO – Not every business needs the same help with its online marketing. Each has different strengths and weakness and requires different tactics to thrive. If an SEO agency wants to shoehorn you into a standard marketing plan, it may not be the right fit for you. So, ask questions to be certain that you will be paying for things that will actually to improve YOUR online marketing.
  6. Realistic Pricing – No one can do a good job of marketing your business for a ridiculously low price. Those offering such services are either performing tasks that won’t make much difference or are using unskilled/underpaid workers who are unlikely to do a good job.

Elliot Simmonds | Lead Consultant | Rippleout Marketing

Here are 3 things to look for when looking for a SEO specialist.

  1. Someone who is realistic about the time it will take. If someone is promising that you will be top of Google for a competitive keyword in a week’s time, they’re likely to be either lying, or using underhand techniques to do so. This isn’t always true, but I’d be much more open to trusting someone who advocated spending some time writing quality content and generating links organic links back through that – which takes time!
  2. Someone who admits that, really, they can’t be sure about Google’s algorithm. Whilst we know that some practices seem to adversely affect websites in SERPs, and some positively affect it, we don’t know all of Google’s algorithm – nor do we know how it will change.
  3. Someone who wants to understand your business. This is the key one for me. Your business is unique, and so your SEO approach will be nuanced in some ways. In addition, SEO is just one part of a digital marketing strategy, and indeed a marketing strategy as a whole. Your SEO specialist should be keen to understand, what else you’re doing, how this can fit in with SEO, digital content and link building, and how all this will impact your bottom line. For instance, if you’re a small business predominantly trading in the local area, it’s far more helpful for you SEO specialist to gain links with your industry and locality in them – and this could be done through liaising with a local event your sponsoring – but only if he knows!

Lisa Cash Hanson | CEO | Mompreneur Mogul 

As a small business owner I’m pitched many times a day from companies claiming to be experts in their field.

But a simple google search can reveal so much.

When I’m looking at my SEO options and experts I look at three main factors:

  1. Reviews
  2. Complaints
  3. Results

Those three things will tell me everything I need to know.

Alex Bungener | Founder | Digital+

Deciding on who to partner with for SEO my recommendation is to avoid SEO firms that offer packages, especially for local SEO campaigns. In my humble opinion an SEO campaign should be 100% or none. I think if a firm has the client’s best interest at heart then it only offers a 100% program.

I must “interview” a prospective SEO firm. But to do that effectively you need to know what to ask and most of all the answer(s) you should be getting. If you receive glossed over answers and assurances without any true substance or just plain wrong answers, don’t hire them. If they are upfront and answer the question in depth and correctly then are very knowledgeable and worth hiring.

Look for an SEO company that will SEO optimize your existing website. RUN if they say they have to build a website for your SEO campaign! They are creating a website that will compete against your existing website. Then when you cancel, and you will, everything they ever did disappears.

If an SEO firm includes videos in their SEO campaign, then they are most definitely worth “interviewing”. If they don’t then they really aren’t doing 100% for your SEO campaign.

Brian Carter | CEO and Lead Consultant | The Carter Group

SEO has changed a lot over the years. In particular, the algorithm changes in 2012 were gigantic, so you need to make sure your SEO expert is up-to-date, and not dispensing old advice, or dangerous advice.

  • If they build links, this is very dangerous, and you should avoid them. Google’s penalties (meaning you won’t show up anywhere near the first five pages of search results) for unnatural links are harsh.
  • They should be talking about creating quality, useful content. This can be publicized via social media and lead to natural links.
  • Keywords have changed a lot, too. If they’re talking about keyword density, they are over five years behind the industry. Even keyword usage in title tags has changed. Google is smarter now- it may rank pages highly that don’t contain the entire keyword in the title tag. And over-using keywords can lead to penalties.
  • Technical SEO is still very important. If you have done a redesign and lost rankings, you probably didn’t create adequate 301 redirects.
  • Information architecture and its effect on your menus and other navigation are also still very important.
  • If you are a locally-centered small business, make sure they’re talking about Google Local and how you can maximize your local search visibility.
  • Watch out for any bias against advertising and social media. SEO is no longer the top dog in digital marketing (even SEOmoz, the biggest authority on SEO, has admitted this by changing their name to simply Moz), and you need an SEO consultant with a broad and integrative view of digital marketing.

Tommy Landry | President | Return On Now

Small business owners are smart to be cautious about hiring just any SEO consultant or specialist, because many providers oversell their services and do not provide the latest white hat techniques.

A good SEO person will have an established track record and be very transparent about their techniques and methodologies. They almost certainly will have content you can review that spells out their approach, perhaps a blog.

Even more importantly, they understand how marketing and SEO dovetail, and are not simply a developer who understands how to “Trick” the search engine algorithms into ranking your site. Anything fast and easy will put you at risk of a penalty, so be sure they are very honest and upfront about SEO being a long play. If they promise results or a timeline, they are at best stretching the truth, and at worst simply dishonest.Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

We do not control Google, so promises are empty by their very nature.

Nathan Richardson | Owner | ComplexSearch

Here is how a local brick and mortar location should pick an SEO specialist.

Since Google recently announced they will be treating Local SEO similar to National SEO, it’s important to understand their link building methods. Picking the right SEO expert is easy as asking them how they will be doing their link building. If they are vague or seem uncertain, it might be because they will be buying, swapping or building shady links. Local SEO requires a lot less incoming links, but does require quality link development.

Things SEO specialist should say include: Local Directories, Relevant Guest Posting, Local Authority Pages, Digital PR & Local PR. This will maintain quality rankings without risks of being penalized.

Neil Walker | Online Marketing Director | Dental Departures

The first thing that I look for when employing an SEO specialist to be part of our team or as a freelance company, is their experience in both SEO and development work.

To be an all round SEO specialist, they should have experience in web development, which enables them to work well and closely with the Development Team and work to build or change a website architecture that is efficient for users (both mobile and desktop) and therefore efficient for search engines to crawl all key pages. An SEO specialist should also have been in the SEO industry for at least 4 years. This experience is key because they have been through all of Google’s major algorithm updates and therefore they should of learned by now from every mistake possible. As an SEO specialist myself, I got all of my experience from learning from all of these mistakes.

A key question that I would ask candidates that fit the above criteria would be, “what backlink techniques would you consider for our website?”. This is always the question that helps weed out the good from the bad because we believe that SEO in terms of backlinks has now become PR and Marketing as a whole. If they provide us with strategies that include media outreach, helping reporters, creating quality sharable content and being involved in relevant communities, then the SEO specialist would score highly. If the SEO specialist was to come back with backlinking techniques known to be spammy in order to game search engines, then we would certainly put a big red cross next to their name.

Joseph Rogers | Owner | Quest Floor Care, LLC

I’m an owner/operator, currently transitioning to a multi-truck operation.

As a business owner, making sure my website ranks well is a key factor, and something I think about regularly.

I’ve spent the last two years wrapping my head around SEO (and let’s face it, I’m a carpet cleaner, not a computer guy…so the learning curve has felt pretty rough) for the purposes of being able to weed out the guys who know what they’re doing from the rest of the crowd.

So, what to look for in an SEO expert boils down to the following:

  • He will NOT promise you number one positioning
  • He will ask you what your goals are
  • If you feel like he’s putting on a smoke and mirrors presentation, walk away. I was on a call with a company once that claimed to have several national accounts, and they used words like “Blog 2.0 strategy” and were very vague when pressed about particulars. This is a big warning sign.
  • The guys that are good at this are NOT going to be calling you and selling their services. The guys that are GOOD at this are going to be busy with work from satisfied clients. You need to ask around. See who you know that has used an SEO guy, and ask whether they were happy or not. Word of mouth is everything.

Sean Dudayev | Director of Marketing | InsureChance

Hiring a real SEO specialist can be very difficult for someone that doesn’t actually know SEO.

Anyone can walk in, say some SEO jargon and can seem like an expert.

Anytime I hire I look for one thing, results, more importantly, recent results. SEO is landscape that has changed drastically so I want someone that has been able to adapt current best practices and can create sustainable results, not someone who has been successful spamming search engines in the past.

So the first thing I ask in an interview is what has that SEO been able to do in terms of rankings for their latest clients and what kind of techniques they used to get them there.

The good part about SEO is results are easily verifiable through a quick search of keywords. If they can’t provide you that, you don’t want them on your team.

Mike Scanlin | CEO | Born To Sell

I’ve hired several SEO people in the last 5 years for my small business.

Here’s what to look for:

  • Who will do the actual work? The person you’re talking to or someone he sub-contracts to? If they sub contract, then forget it.
  • Show examples of prior success combined with references. What keywords were targeted, what was their organic ranking position when you were hired, what is their organic ranking position today, how long did it take, how much did it cost, what general types of activity did you do to achieve the improvement, what is the phone number for someone who works at that company so I can call to confirm everything you just told me?
  • What is your hourly rate? Most shops required “$2500 monthly retainers” or something like that, but internally they’ve budgeted to spend X hours per week on your case. You want to know what X is, so you can calculate their hourly rate.
  • What is your policy on direct paid links, sponsored blogger reviews, press releases, private blog networks, and other tactics (this is where you listen for clues on their white hat or black hat tendencies)?
  • Any of your clients ever get a manual or algorithmic penalty from Google? Did you have to disavow? Did it work (penalty now gone)? What are the names and phone numbers of those clients so I can call to verify what you’re telling me?

Hilary Young | Founder | Hilary Young Creative

I’ve worked with several SEO agencies, with freelancers who call themselves “SEO specialists” and have dabbled in SEO myself. The biggest observation I have made is that since so many people are uneducated about SEO, it’s really easy for people to pass themselves off as experts, but the real experts will openly admit that there’s no way to ever master SEO. It’s a field that’s constantly changing, so a true expert will also be a student of SEO and be willing to learn and evolve along with Google’s algorithms.

I work with many small business owners, and I advise all of them to be wary of SEO experts who seem to know everything, or who make promises they can’t necessarily keep (such as guaranteeing to make them #1 in a Google search within a set amount of months) or who guarantee to get you positive results if you’re currently under penalty from Google. There are no guarantees with SEO–there’s only following the rules, being flexible when algorithm changes are made, and keeping your fingers crossed that you can stay ahead of your competitors when it comes to SEO!

Al Ruggie | Public Relations Director | 911 Restoration

Small business owners should look for results from an SEO specialist plain and simple. If they are worth their salt, any SEO specialist can and will show you data that proves they are capable of doing what they say.

First and foremost is that an SEO technician will be able to prove that after they have taken over a site (for other clients) those sites then did better and rose to the top of Google search ranking results.

After this, a more in-depth SEO professional will be able to show you backlinks with a high domain authority which relate heavily back to the main page and provide it with increased exposure and reach.

Finally an SEO guru will be able to increase your conversion rate from people who are shopping around for your product or service to those who actually buy it from you.

True professionals will be able to prove to you that their past clients have received, and you can equally expect, an increase in sales from their efforts.

The great thing about the digital age is that results are measurable – easily so – and a real SEO professional will be able to prove their own worth to any small business owner looking to hire them.

Adam Barnhart | Director of Marketing | AllProWebTools

As more and more entrepreneurs and small business owners are seeking to engage in search engine marketing and improve SEO, it becomes more and more important for them to be judicious in choosing “specialists.”

As a SEO specialist myself, here are three questions you should ask before hiring me (or anyone else) to do the job:

First what methods do you use to measure your results, and how do you know where those results are coming from?

Look for someone that has a toolkit that tracks your landing page position per keyword over time. Ideally, they should be able to overlay this with a marketing event tracker, which helps you to identify which marketing actions resulted in which upturns and downturns of your page rank. A true specialist knows that any SEO strategy must be constantly evolving to meet industry standards and the company’s needs.

Secondly, how do you intend to balance keyword and link density/quantity with quality?

This question helps you identify those that just want to load up your pages with keywords in nonsense sentences, and to get you a bunch of backlinks on spammy websites. This might give your ranking a boost in the very short term, but Google has gotten really good at identifying people using those tactics. The right expert understands that it’s through quality that you slowly drive more and more traffic to your site.

Lastly, what are some similar companies that you have had success with?

There’s no one-fits-all solution for SEO, and that’s why many of the most successful specialists have some sort of focus. Some are great for ecommerce businesses, others for the service industry, and so on. Look for someone who has worked with a similar company in the past, and who has the case studies to back up their talk.

Chad Carpenter | President | carma

As Google algorithms have become more advanced, there are many SEO specialists that have not moved past simple keyword focus, and don’t utilize original content that has value to the target persona/customer. Google, as the top search engine, sets the stage, and although keyword research is still a small part of increasing rankings, it is important to understand that Google ranks based on content tied to keywords so that their users get the best results for their search. A small business owner should ask the following when considering working with an SEO specialist:

  1. What services are included for content creation? A blog is going to be a key element in increasing content and indexed pages to rank higher in search.
  2. Does the specialist advise on how to legitimately increase inbound links, and inferred links as well? Garnering inbound links from other blogs, news sources and sites is based on relationship building, and not using black hat SEO techniques that go against search guidelines, which can cause a site to be penalized and often pushed to the last rank, which is detrimental to a small business wanting to rank. Inferred links are simple mentions without an actual link attached, and Google now looks for these in content to reward with page authority as well.
  3. Does the specialist understand mobile optimization for a site and being mobile-friendly? Starting April 21st, Google will punish sites that are not mobile-friendly. It is important that a site be optimized for mobile viewing, from spacing, text size, load time and either be a separate mobile site, or preferably that the site be a responsive design.
  4. Does the specialist simply show metrics of traffic to the site, or is there a strategy to capture those visitors to convert them to leads? This is especially important because it is one thing to rank and increase visitors, but if nothing is being done to capture and nurture leads, the metrics of traffic aren’t empowering the business.
  5. If the visitor is ready to buy, does the specialist prepare the small business with both on and off-site optimization? There is more to just finding the site. 90% of consumers trust peer recommendations* so optimizing local citations and review sites, as well as understanding reputation management is key to SEO.

The best thing for a small business is to look beyond a person claiming to be an SEO specialist that doesn’t look at the full funnel of the sales process and preparing the business to capture the customers from search. If a small business spends valuable budget on simply ranking, they are being misled.

Josh Waldrum | Director of SEO | The Zebra

What should you look for in an SEO specialist? Results.

An experienced SEO specialist should be able to present their historic wins to potential new clients. To gauge this, ask them for specific initiatives they worked on for previous sites they optimized and the traffic results from those initiatives.

Also, don’t be afraid to ask for a 30-day game plan from them. Any talented SEO should be able to quickly audit a website and provide content suggestions and technical recommendations that can improve the sites performance in search results.

Ameet Khabra |Pay-Per-Click Specialist | AdWords Girl

It’s not an easy task finding an agency that you can trust for SEO.

The first thing you should listen to is whether or not the agency or person is promising you #1 rankings or somewhere close to the top. *No one can promise that. *If you hear someone say that, they’re probably going to use some black hat method that will end up getting your website penalized.

Next, listen to how they explain everything. If you start getting lost in the conversation and the clarification you ask for just confuses you more – chances are they are just using buzz words to get you to stop asking questions and start believing that they actually know what they are doing.

Ask if they will give you a log of what has been completed. The last thing you want is to pay someone a boat load of money and not know what they’ve been doing. A good agency will give you a log of what they did and what they intend to do in the following weeks.

If they can’t provide any samples of work or just tell you what they think will work for your website – chances are they have little to no experience.

Most importantly, how do they intend to show you results? Will they be providing a daily, weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, quarterly report? What will that report details?

Danielle Kunkle | Vice President | BOOMER BENEFITS

The number one thing I’d advise other small business owners is to get proof of the seo specialist’s ability to follow up.

Ask for some testimonials that reference this or a few references that you can call to verify whether your potential SEO contractor has good communication and regularly returns phone calls.

Having tried several specialists over the years, we have repeatedly found inconsistent follow-up to be our biggest challenge. No business owner wants to have to stalk their vendor to find out how the work is progressing, so regular reports and communication via email, text, phone are a must, especially for a service like this one where the results can take some time.

Ask your specialist what you can reasonably expect from them to keep you posted on how the service is progressing, and then hold them to it.

Andrew Stickel | Owner | Social Firestarter

Picking an SEO company is very difficult because there are so many elements to SEO. One of the most important things to look for is transparency. How often will you be meeting with or speaking with the SEO specialist? Will they provide you reports? We often see clients that have paid $1,000+ per month and have absolutely no clue what their SEO company is doing. When we look at their website, we have a hard time figuring out what they’ve been paying for as well!

Also, you should ask them to show you not only the keywords that you will be targeting, but the search volume of those keywords. Ranking well for a keyword that isn’t searched is practically useless. Also, unless you have a VERY common name, do not let them take credit for ranking number one for your name or the name of your law firm. This is the easiest thing in the world to rank for, but many SEO companies try to pass this off as a victory when speaking with clients.

Ask them about their linking methods. If they are using private blog networks, you’ll want to make sure that they own the networks themselves and that the content on the networks is contextually related to you. If you’re a lawyer, you want to be in a private blog network closely related to lawyers or the legal area that you practice. If they own the networks, ask how they protect them. They should have a solid plan to keep the networks hidden from Google.

Be VERY careful of guarantees. Google will even tell you there are no sure things when it comes to SEO. We’ve seen many companies hire a company based on a guarantee. They then buy 100k links on fiverr with 1-3 anchor texts and the website shoots to number 1 —— for about a week or two. Then the website drops, never to be seen again.

Mark Aselstine | Proprietor | Uncorked Ventures

We’ve been through quite a few SEO specialist who call themselves pros. Some good, some terrible, one who even got us a Google penalty on our site.

Today I want people following Google’s guidelines when working on my site and any SEO package that contains a specific number of links, seems suspect these days.

I also want to know how I can support their efforts. I don’t want them taking the time, or money to create content. Instead tell me what they need so I could create it in my own unique voice!

Conclusion:

SEO marketing is crucial for your company’s long-term success and thus it’s extremely important to take the time to find an SEO consultant that can provide you the best ROI for your business.

As you can tell from the 28 experts above there are many different things to consider but the one common message is don’t let anyone make you any unrealistic promises. SEO marketing takes time and you want to make sure that you’re having it done correctly to assure your business doesn’t get penalized by Google.

Leave a comment below with your suggestions on finding a consultant or questions you still have that weren’t answered above.