Do you remember the last time you Googled something and bothered to go so far as the second page of search results? It rarely happens right?.
Essentially, if your business doesn't rank on page #1 of Google, your audience won't find you. A study of 80 million keywords revealed 28.5% of users click the #1 organic search result, after which the click rate drops steadily. And on page #2 of Google, click rates are significantly lower than 1%.
68% of all website traffic comes from search, you just can't afford to ignore search engine optimization (SEO) for your business.
In this article, we'll discuss the role of an SEO consultant, how they can help your business, and answer some very important questions about how to work with one.
Let's dive in.
What is an SEO consultant?
An SEO consultant is someone who analyzes and optimizes your digital/web content to make sure that your target audience can find your company easily via online searches. They’ll develop and execute an SEO strategy to help your business rank well on Google and drive tons of organic traffic to your website.
SEO consultants are well-versed in the latest algorithm updates that determine how search results appear. They can create tailor-made SEO strategies that suit your budget and help you get the highest returns on your investment.
They also tend to be experts at using a wide range of keyword research/planning tools to plan, execute, analyze, and optimize your SEO campaigns.
SEO consultants usually work closely with a company's content/copywriters, social media strategists, and other digital marketing experts. If you have a freelance or in-house marketing team, the SEO consultant may work with them, or else, they may bring in their own team.
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What does an SEO consultant do?
SEO consulting involves a range of activities that help to bring up your website’s search engine rankings organically. Here are some of the most important ones:
Keyword research is an important aspect of planning your content strategy. Its purpose is to optimize your website for search intent i.e. the words, phrases, or questions that your target customers are using to find products you offer. It’s all about understanding your target audience and their search behavior.
SEO consultants conduct keyword research to come up with a list of keywords that your content needs to include. They also provide recommendations on how often and where they should appear.
For example, they may ask you to include popular long-tail keywords in your blog titles and meta descriptions and include the less popular ones once or twice in the body of the article.
Your SEO expert will then work with your content strategists to come up with blog topics and other content clusters targeting these keywords. After all, there's no point in creating content around topics that nobody is searching for or may be extremely difficult to rank for.
Your SEO consultant will look at a variety of metrics such as:
- Search volume - The average number of times a keyword is being searched.
- Keyword difficulty - How challenging it is to rank for a certain keyword.
- Clicks - The average number of clicks on search engine results for a keyword.
- Traffic potential - Associated search queries that a keyword is also likely to rank for.
In a website audit, the consultant analyzes a website from an SEO perspective and shares recommendations on how to improve it. They check individual web pages, their content and meta descriptions, site performance, and other factors that contribute towards search engine ranking.
The purpose of an SEO audit is to gauge how easily search engines can determine if your website provides value to searchers. Essentially, your SEO consultant will check if search engine algorithms can understand what your website is about.
They’ll also check if those algorithms may deem your website as a relevant result for popular keywords that your customers use to search.
Other than your content and keywords, search engines also care about the accessibility, trustworthiness, and authority of your website.
If your website takes too long to load, users may find it difficult to use. This will affect your rankings. If your website doesn’t have an SSL certificate, search engines may be concerned about security and lower your rankings.
A site audit is usually the first thing an SEO consultant will do after taking you on as a client and will continue doing it at regular intervals to assess the impact of their campaigns. For example, it's a good practice to conduct an audit after a major Google update has been rolled out to check if your rankings have been affected.
An SEO consultant also looks into who your competitors are, what keywords they’re ranking for, and how your website can rank higher for the same keywords.
For example, if you're a pet food business and one of your biggest competitors has a top-ranking article on “how to choose the right food for your cat,” you'll need to create a more comprehensive guide for your own website if you want to outrank them.
As the number of keywords increases, finding your competition through manual search may be difficult. SEO consultants use tools to automate this process and fetch relevant information.
But there's far more to competitor research than just using your competitors as inspiration for content. Competitor research also involves:
- Identifying "content gaps" where you can gain an advantage
- Analyzing competitor backlink profiles
- Monitoring keyword rankings
- Analyzing competitors' PPC keywords to see where they rank in paid search
SEO consulting also involves optimizing your website content with relevant keywords and phrases. An SEO expert may work with content writers and copywriters to help them craft content that targets those keywords and provides value to readers, to enhance their content marketing strategy.
But content optimization is not about stuffing your website with relevant keywords. Instead, an SEO consultant shares strategic recommendations about the placement of keywords in page titles, meta descriptions, sub-headings, etc in a way that appears natural and organic.
Content optimization for blogs and landing pages involves multiple steps that begin before the content has even been written. Thorough keyword research is essential to ensure that your business is targeting topics that your audience is interested in, while internal linking and backlinks help to push a piece of content higher in SERPs.
On-page & off-page optimization
When people talk about search engine optimization, they generally mean on-page SEO — optimizing your content, keywords, page load speed, metadata, URL structure, mobile-friendliness, etc. Essentially, all the things you do to your website to improve its rankings.
But off-page SEO is equally important. This includes all the activities that you do outside your website to drive traffic to it and improve its domain authority.
Link building lies at the heart of off-page SEO. When other websites mention your brand or link to your website, they're vouching for your content quality and that's one of the main ranking factors.
But besides the number of links, the popularity, trustworthiness, authority, freshness, etc. of the sites that link back to you matter a lot. An SEO consultant can help you figure out how to earn high-quality links by leveraging social media marketing, guest blogging, influencer marketing, and brand mentions.
Off-page SEO is much more labor-intensive, but the impact of these efforts is often more effective over the long term. Hiring a top SEO expert means finding a specialist who has extensive experience in both on and off-page SEO strategies.
Natural language processing and semantic relevance
Voice searches are likely to become even more popular in the coming years. By 2024, there may be 8.4 billion digital voice assistants in use around the world.
Search engines are constantly updating their algorithms to support this growing trend. They can now understand natural language queries instead of just keywords to return relevant search results.
Using natural language processing (NLP) and semantic AI, search engines are able to understand the context of a query based on the user's search intent, location, search history, etc.
Google first introduced this in its BERT update of 2019. It favors NPL because it helps the search engine better match search intent, allowing them to offer better user experiences.
The purpose of NLP is to cater to the growing preference for more specific, long-tail searches, where roughly 15% of search queries are bring used for the first time. This means that instead of using historical data to find relevant search results, Google is relying more and more on machine learning that can identify semantic links between different keywords.
Where it was once possible to rank highly by building a piece of content around a single keyword, Google is now looking for a cluster of associated keywords to find relevant search results. This is known as "semantic relevance" and holds the key to creating content that takes the top spot on Google.
A top SEO expert should be able to help you optimize your content for both NLP and semantic relevance.
Technical SEO is all about optimizing the architecture of your website to make it easier for search engines to index.
This includes securing your website with SSL, making your site more mobile-friendly, adding a sitemap, ensuring that your folder structures are easy for search engines to crawl, and optimizing page load speeds.
Search engines care about how easy it is for users to find the answers they’re looking for. Even if a webpage has the exact answer to a user’s query, if it loads too slowly, it will affect the user experience negatively.
The same goes for mobile-friendliness.
Over 50% of all web traffic comes from mobile phones, if your website is not mobile-friendly, your search rankings will be affected.
Because of these factors, technical SEO plays a critical role in the overall SEO strategy of an organization. To improve technical SEO, a website needs to tick off an extensive list of “best practices” that make the site easy to navigate, including:
- Open robots.txt files
- No broken links
- No duplicate content
- Structured data markups
- A strong XML sitemap
When hiring an SEO expert, it's important to make sure they have a lot of experience in technical SEO, since this isn't something that a standard digital marketing consultant can manage independently.
Google and other search engines today display results that are relevant to a user’s location. For example, if you search for "hardware stores," it will bring up hardware stores near you.
Local SEO campaigns can help your business be visible to users who are geographically located near you. For brick-and-mortar businesses like restaurants and hairdressers, local SEO is a vital tool to make themselves more visible to potential customers.
There are two parts to localized search results. First is the “local pack” which refers to the map-based results that Google pulls from Google My Business profiles. Second is the localized organic search results, which resemble the regular link-based results. Businesses need to focus on both of these areas to give themselves the best chances of ranking high.
Google relies on what it calls “proximity factors” to calculate which businesses are pulled up. According to a 2021 study by BrightLocal, the following signals were found to have the biggest influence on Local SEO:
- On-page optimization (25%)
- Links (22%)
- Google My Business profiles (21%)
- Reviews (12%)
- Behavioral (9%)
- Citations (7%)
- Personalization (5%)
And that sums up our discussion of the skills your SEO expert should have.
How do you know you should even hire one? How do you know that you're ready?
When should you hire an SEO consultant?
While any business with a website can benefit from hiring a good SEO consultant, it’s best to do so before or soon after launching your website. This will allow you to build an online reputation as you build your customer base.
If you’re a business owner looking to revamp your website or launch a new one, it would be a good idea to bring in an SEO consultant to optimize it from the bottom up. Whether you're launching a new product or service or entering a new market, an SEO consultant can adjust your keyword and content strategy to align with the new changes.
Also, if you’re planning to invest in other forms of digital marketing, an SEO consultant can help augment these campaigns and bring in better results.
SEO is a long-term strategy. The results may take a few months to surface. So, the earlier you hire an SEO consultant, the sooner you can reap the benefits.
What makes a good SEO consultant?
A good SEO consultant needs to have in-depth knowledge of all the different aspects of search engine optimization. They need to have a good amount of experience in on-page, off-page, and technical SEO, designing keyword and backlink strategies, as well as familiarity with common SEO tools.
Since SEO consultants need to work closely with marketing teams, they should also have a working knowledge of various marketing strategies and their execution.
They should also have good communication skills and be able to convey exactly what they want from content writers, copywriters, content strategists, and other stakeholders.
A good SEO consultant needs to have solid analytical skills since a big part of SEO has to do with collecting data, analyzing it, and adjusting SEO strategies accordingly.
They need to be able to understand and interpret trends and data from Google Analytics and other sources. Plus, they need to keep themselves updated on the latest algorithm changes and their implications.
Best practices of working with an SEO consultant
Because the deliverables are not easily measurable, working with SEO consultants can be tricky. Here are some best practices you should keep in mind:
1. Set expectations clearly
Search engine optimization isn't so straightforward. You may have the best SEO consultant in the world working for you but even they can’t guarantee that your webpages will rank well in search results.
It depends on several factors, and often, results won’t be visible immediately. So before you start working with someone, discuss your budget, available resources, and tools, and set clear expectations accordingly.
2. Define the metrics
Discuss the changes they’ll be making and the timelines for executing them. Discuss what your goals are, and set realistic metrics to track them.
Don't use vanity metrics that don't translate to business growth. Define metrics that actually reflect the results from SEO and translate to more leads and customers for your business.
3. Communicate effectively
Discuss how often your SEO consultant should communicate with other stakeholders and how often they should share progress reports. Establish a schedule for meetings and forms of communication (e.g., email/video or voice call/text messages, etc.). Let them know about any project management tools you use and decide how you’ll be collaborating on the project.
Should you hire a freelancer or an in-house SEO consultant?
The differences between the two are pretty much the same as hiring a full-time employee or hiring a freelancer for any other role.
An in-house SEO expert will be available during all of your working hours. They’ll be working solely for you and focusing all their attention on your company's digital strategy. They are likely to have a better understanding of your company's goals, vision, and offerings, so they may be able to serve you better.
At the same time, hiring in-house means spending more on salary and benefits. And if you don’t have an ongoing requirement, this may create unnecessary overheads.
So hiring a freelance SEO consultant may be more cost-effective. You pay for their time only when you need it. And if you aren't happy working with someone, you can always part ways amicably and work with someone else.
But a freelancer may not understand your business and your goals as well as an in-house resource. Or they may need more time to come up to speed. And since they’ll be choosing their own hours, you’ll have to schedule meetings with them in advance to coordinate — they may not be available in case of an emergency,
What to look for when hiring an SEO consultant
As with any other job, the cost of hiring an SEO consultant tends to increase with the years of experience they have. But that doesn't justify settling for someone with very little experience as it's unlikely to get you the results you want.
Search engine optimization is quite tricky and not something that you can learn from a book or a course. It takes years of experience to understand what works and what doesn't, and how to adapt quickly to sudden algorithm changes. It's best to hire someone who has worked extensively with businesses in your industry and has a successful track record.
Of course, you need to look for someone who has all the knowledge and skills we've mentioned earlier in this article. And make sure they are familiar with the SEO tools you currently use or plan on using.
Where can you find and hire an SEO consultant?
LinkedIn is a great place to find and hire an SEO consultant - be it full-time or freelance. A large number of SEO consultants use LinkedIn to showcase their experience, expertise, and recommendations from clients they've worked with. You could actively search for SEO consultants on LinkedIn and reach out to them or you could even post a job with your requirements.
Platforms like Upwork or Fiverr may also help you find freelance SEO consultants. But you'll need to sift through a large number of profiles and vet them carefully as you're likely to find a lot of self-proclaimed "experts."
Mayple is one of the best platforms to find and hire experienced SEO consultants. Our platform uses AI to match you with top experts in your industry while our data-driven vetting process makes sure that they have a proven track record of delivering great results for similar brands in your niche.
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An SEO consultant can help you boost your online traffic and improve the quality of leads to your business. And the results won’t be short-term. You’ll continue to reap the benefits of your SEO efforts even if you're no longer actively working on them.
Just keep in mind that you may not see immediate results. Once you hire an SEO consultant and they've made the necessary improvements, it takes time for search engines to index your website properly.
So while it may be tempting to hire someone who "guarantees" results, it’s best to work with someone who has a proven track record of success. Nobody can guarantee you a certain position in search results, and if someone does, be wary of them.