Make every hiring decision count with our 2023 Source of Hire Report. Download (for FREE) now!

January 19, 2023

Don’t Believe the Hype: Hire an SEO Expert Who Can Do Exactly What You Need them To

A large hand giving a gold star to a worker at a desk

You've heard the buzz about how search engine optimization (SEO) is something every business should be doing to get more out of your marketing. But there's a lot more to it than meets the eye.

From establishing the right technical structure for your site to finding and optimizing all the right keywords, SEO is an ever-moving target. And the right SEO can make or break your website's health, traffic and leads.

Whether you have past experience working with an SEO or not, you know you need an expert on your side.

In this step-by-step guide to hiring an SEO, we’ll help you navigate the hype, hacks and hurdles to find the right expert for your business.

Table of contents

  • What is an SEO expert? And what exactly do they do?
  • The red flags to look for when hiring an SEO expert
  • How to hire the right SEO expert for your business

What is an SEO expert? And what exactly do they do?

In case this is your first foray into the world of search engine optimization, let’s start with the basics.

Essentially, an SEO expert helps your website rank higher in major search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo, generating more traffic to your site. Search engine optimization (SEO) is a central component of search engine marketing (SEM) and many SEO specialists know the latest search trends and developments like the back of their hand.

Through keyword research, keyword tagging, internal linking, keyword optimization, and other tactics, an SEO expert creates SEO campaigns that increase your website's visibility, driving more traffic and customers to your business. Some SEO experts also specialize in technical SEO, testing and analyzing your website for optimal traffic, on page SEO, and improved user experience. Many SEO agencies will have access to special tools to help you analyze the competition, discover new traffic opportunities, and more.

The right SEO expert can also help you prepare for changes in search algorithms, which can have a major impact on your search engine rankings.

As the internet has become increasingly central to our businesses (and lives), competition for SEO experts has gone from lukewarm to piping hot. In a recent survey of over 8,000 marketers led by digital marketing expert Neil Patel, 68% said they are increasing their SEO budget in 2023.

Of course, wherever there's increased budget, there’s also an increased volume of candidates. That’s why when it comes to hiring an SEO expert, the best place to start is by knowing what you don’t want.

The red flags to look for when hiring an SEO expert 🚩🚩🚩

The majority of SEO experts work as freelancers, external consultants, or as part of an agency specialized in SEM. 

As with any hire that doesn’t sit directly within your organization, it’s important to be extra diligent when screening candidates.

Here are the top red flags to watch out for when hiring an SEO:

  • Guarantees of #1 ranking: No one can guarantee a page 1 ranking on Google — especially in a short amount of time. If an SEO expert or agency is making this promise, it could be a scam.
  • High pressure sales pitch: A qualified SEO doesn’t have to use high pressure tactics to win your business. Look for an expert who is willing to take the time to understand your business and goals.
  • Black hat tactics: From keyword stuffing to link building schemes, some SEOs use tactics that are against Google's terms of service. These tactics can result in your site being penalized or even banned from search results.
  • Lack of transparency: A good SEO should be able to explain their SEO strategies and tactics in detail. If an SEO is unwilling to share this information, it could be a sign of questionable tactics.
  • Not asking questions: The right SEO expert will be eager to understand your target audience and the nuances of your marketing. If they’re not actively asking for these insights, it could be a predictor of poor tactics and results.
  • Poor communication and reporting: A good SEO should keep you updated on the progress of their efforts via regular reports. If an SEO isn’t communicating, it could be a sign they’re not doing the work promised.

Whatever you do, don’t forget to keep this list of red flags handy. The candidate market for SEO experts is noisy and it’s important to do your research and choose a partner that is transparent, ethical and has a track record of delivering results.

How to hire the right SEO expert for your business

Step 1. Define the functions you need the SEO to perform

An SEO expert is responsible for managing all SEO activities, including site structure, content strategy, link building and more.

With a professional scope this broad, it’s important to define your goals, and the corresponding functions you need them to perform.

If you’ll be posting your SEO job description on a job board, here are a few of the responsibilities you may want include:

  • Track, report, and analyze website traffic and PPC campaigns 
  • Research and analyze competitor links 
  • Carefully manage budgets for campaigns
  • Optimize copy and landing pages for search
  • Drive SEO in content creation and programming

Looking for a ready-made but super-effective SEO job description, grab our free Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Specialist Job Description and customize your own list of responsibilities and requirements.✅

Step 2. Post the job ad and reach out to your network

Once you’ve determined what your SEO expert’s duties will be, it’s time to start your search.

Here are some of the best job boards for finding top-notch SEOs:

  • Upwork: The most popular freelancing website in the world, Upwork’s strict verification process makes it easy to find qualified SEO experts with less effort. But you still need to vet your candidates. Request references and work samples, and be sure to ask the right questions (more on that in a minute!).
  • Indeed: Another top-rated site for SEO specialists, Indeed offers a wide selection of freelancers. With easy toggle filters, it’s easy to sift through candidates and find the right people.
  • Fiverr: Easy and affordable, Fiverr has a large pool of SEO freelancers to choose from. However, the vetting and filtering systems aren’t as strict as other sites, so you may need to take extra steps to find your perfect fit.
  • Craigslist: Though it requires more candidate vetting on your part, Craigslist is home to SEO freelancing gems with unbeatable rates. You just have to know where to look.
  • LinkedIn: If you’re looking for a more long-term hire, consider posting an SEO specialist job listing on LinkedIn.

Last but not least, don’t forget to leverage your network. With SEO playing an increasingly large role in many marketing strategies, you never know who might have a great recommendation to share.

Step 3. Screen the right candidates in

Alright. You have your list of SEO candidates.

Now it’s time to narrow things down by screening for all the right skills, qualities and characteristics.

Here are the top screening questions to ask:

Can you give a quick overview of your SEO process? Which SEO tools do you use?

This screening question cuts to the chase: performance and process. If they can’t clearly answer this question, they probably won’t be in a position to give you the results you’re looking for.

How do you measure SEO success?

Understanding how each candidate measures success can give you insight into their process as well as their efficacy. 

Remember, no one can deliver first-page results every time. If a candidate’s only metric for success is rankings, they may not be digging deep enough. Look for candidates with nuanced understandings of success and compare that against your SEO goals.

How do you stay on top of industry changes and trends?

A true SEO expert always keeps one eye on trends — but they don't forklift their whole strategy on a whim either. Look for someone who stays informed, but isn’t overly swayed by passing fads.

Step 4. Nail your SEO interviews

When it comes time to interview your top SEO candidates, you’ll want to focus not only on ability but also fit.

Here are some questions that can help you zero in:

How do you adapt your SEO process to fit each client?

This question will help you understand how a candidate will adapt their process to fit your needs. Mutually defined metrics for success are essential for good work. Take time early on to make sure you’re on the same page.

How do you communicate with clients about necessary changes?

This will not only give you insight into their reporting process, but also communication style — both of which are essential for a healthy working relationship.

At a glance, what problems do you see on our website?

Ask each candidate to briefly glance at your website and offer suggestions based on what they see. Many SEO consultants and agencies will also offer a free website audit which is another great way to kickstart the conversation. In either case, a trained eye should be able to quickly pick out at least one or two ideas for improvement.

How can we maintain these rankings after our collaboration ends?

If you’re hiring an SEO expert on a short-term basis, this is the most important question to ask. You need to ensure your rankings don’t drop once the freelancer stops freelancing. Look for answers that are geared toward sustainable long-term results.

Step 5. Offer a trial project or period

When it comes to something as technical as SEO, an interview can only take you so far.

A trial project or trial period is one of the best ways to ensure you’re making the right investment when hiring any SEO expert. 

Just make sure to brief the project or desired outcomes based on the goals and tasks outlined in your job description to get an accurate reading on future performance.

Step 6. Ask for references

Even if you choose not to offer a trial project or trial period, it’s still important to evaluate an SEO expert's performance in some capacity.

Don’t be afraid to ask for past client referrals or proof of results in your specific industry or area.

An easier way to hire your next SEO expert

SEO is vital for any business with a digital presence. But without a little help from an expert, it can feel like you vs. the internet.🥊

If you’re ready to find the perfect SEO expert, Breezy can help.

With Breezy’s user-friendly applicant tracking platform, it’s easier than ever to find the right person for the role. In one click you can post your open position to the best free and premium job boards and watch the qualified candidates roll in.

Try the modern applicant tracking system employers are raving about totally free for 14 days!