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Hiring an SEO Agency or Consultant? Dos and Don'ts

Key questions to ask before hiring a consultant or agency that specializes in search engine optimization.

SEO and aboutness image

A colleague asked, "You’re interested in hiring a top SEO company or consultant that can exceed your company’s marketing KPIs (key performance indicators). What practical tips and actionable insights do you have?”

Here are some of Omni's answers.

In This Article

Optimizing for search engines only

Remember that SEO is optimizing for people who use search engines. SEO is not optimizing for search engines only.

If the consultants at the SEO firm are overly focused on the technical aspects of SEO, then I would not hire that firm.

For example, search engine technology does not:

  • Add to cart
  • Register or Sign Up
  • Log In
  • Subscribe
  • Start Demo

Who will Add to Cart, Register, Subscribe, etc.? People will.

Therefore, if you want to hire an SEO agency or consultant, always ask, "What is your company's main focus with SEO: searchers, search engines, or both? Why?"

Ask them to explain their answers.

Note: If you only need help with technical SEO, it's okay to hire an SEO firm that specializes in technical SEO. But I wouldn't hire a technical SEO firm that claims to specialize in information architecture (IA).

Confident sales pitch

All salespeople should be confident with the products and services they are selling. I understand that.

Problems arise when SEO salespeople propose unrealistic expectations and even false information. Let's use search engine algorithms as an example.

The best SEO experts do not know what “the” current algorithms are. Former search-engine employees don't know what the current algorithms are. Even people who work at search engine companies do not know what the entire ranking algorithms are.

I, personally, have listened to many of my colleagues’ claims about algorithm knowledge. Their knowledge is misguided (and even wrong) more often than not.

If an SEO agency had done its job properly, then any algorithm change would have little or no effect on website traffic. If the SEO agency was the cause of that traffic drop? Then you are likely wasting money on an agency that engages in cat-and-mouse games.

Note: If you need to hire an SEO agency to help you with algorithm recovery (i.e. losing web traffic due to an alleged algorithm change), that is a different story. Switching to a better SEO firm or consultant might be a necessary solution.

You should work with an agency or consultant that understands searchers, search engines, and search experience optimization (SXO).

You should also work with an agency that also understands the evolution of search technology. Often, the agency will have a team of team of technical experts. Or a consultant can be a technical SEO expert. Make sure that technical knowledge base is within the agency’s team or the consultancy.

In summary, make sure you are aware of many SEO myths and misconceptions. Then you will have a better ability to weed out overconfident sales pitches.

The SEO hybrid: working with your teams

SEO pros should work well with other teams. In fact, many good SEO experts are often hybrids in terms of web knowledge.

The most common SEO hybrid is an SEO/developer hybrid. This group of people are web developers who also have SEO knowledge. Most of their knowledge is technology based. If your website has technical issues, this is a good type of SEO hybrid to work with.

However, please be aware that technical SEOs often lack knowledge, education, and experience in other areas such as:

  • Information architecture
  • Navigation systems
  • User interface (UI) design
  • Usability & UX (user experience)

You might find that the agency's team also has an SEO/UX hybrid. This hybrid is not as common as the other SEO hybrid, but it is a very valuable role.

The goal of an ecommerce site is to sell. The SEO/developer hybrid might know technical ranking factors, but he/she might not know how to appeal to both search engines and buyers.

The SEO/UX hybrid should have knowledge of how users interact with a website.

  • How does the target audience locate and discover desired information?
  • What are target audience's main goals and how do they complete them?
  • What are common roadblocks they encounter? What are their pain points?
  • What are common indicators of trust?

The SEO/UX hybrid should know the answers to all of these questions and know the usability tests to conduct to learn those answers.

Quick tip: If the main tests the SEO agency conducts is A/B tests, then I do not recommending hiring that SEO agency. One of A/B testing's main weaknesses is that it provides only a short-term picture of users' initial behaviors.

Businesses and organizations should understand users' short-term and long-term behaviors. Supplementing A/B tests with qualitative tests gives a fuller, and more accurate, picture of user goals and behaviors.

Usability is a key facet of user experience. Therefore, a SEO/UX hybrid should understand the usability part of SEO.

The SEO agency's staff or the consultant should have a thorough knowledge base to work well with your sales, marketing, technical, design, and UX teams.

An effective website is usually the result of team efforts. Make sure you have a team who is open to learning new and improved ways of implementing SEO best practices.

Therefore, if you want to hire an SEO agency or consultant, always ask:

  • Have you worked with ______________ teams within a company?
  • How well did you work together?
  • Are there any special challenges you have faced in the past? How did you solve them?


Of course, the questions you might have for hiring an SEO agency or consultant will depend on your website's circumstances.

New or updated website? You might want to work with an SEO/Information Architect hybrid.

Changing your website's navigation system? Then you will need to work with an SEO firm or consultancy with a variety of skills (technical SEO, information architect, usability/UX pro).

These questions should guide you in the right direction. Hire the right SEO agency or consultant? Get the results your website needs.

This article originally appeared in and has been updated by the author.


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