Hiring a Search Engine Optimizer can seem a daunting and challenge task if you don’t know the ins and outs of the industry. The right SEO helps improving the site overall quality and increase traffic. Blindly choosing the first “cheap” SEO can harm your site and possibly damage your reputation. Google has recently released a clip which helps help spotting a quality SEO Specialist. In this article I went through what Google Webmasters and other reliable sources have stated about what are the most important skills to expect from an SEO. I’ll highlight the good and the bad practices that differs from a genuine SEO and an unreliable one.
Start by interviewing the SEO, make sure that he/she has all or most of the qualities below:
Focus on ConversionsPlacing the focus on securing leads or conversions makes a quality SEO. Most SEOs direct their attention to “keyword” rankings, achieving one of the top 5 positions. While being able to land top rankings is an important skill, having high rankings doesn’t automatically result in more revenue. A bona fide SEO will look at the entire journey from the Search Engine Result pages up to the money-making element on the site, being a phone number, conversion button or buying a product.
Focus on Human Aspect FirstGoogle and other popular search engines constantly release updates to their search algorithm so that they are to match the searcher’s intent. Since the Google Panda Update in February 2011, Google has greatly improved their ability to detect quality content. It was further refined in August 2018 with the “medic update” which refined the content quality detecting algorithms. This is when E-A-T entered the realm of SEO. EAT stands for Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness which is a methodology used in Google’s Quality Raters’ Guidelines to distinguish between websites that have high and low-quality content. EAT places great focus on meeting the searcher’s intent and making sure Google delivers the right results for the right queries. A good SEO will look at the human aspect first instead of the search engine, meaning that the focus on a certain page will be on delivering the right content to the right user. SEOs still need to keep the search engine in mind, which means abiding to the best practices to have a technically conformant site that makes it easier for search engines to crawl.
Genuine Interest in the BusinessSEOs need to ask a lot of questions; the first questions include asking about your unique selling points (USPs) and target audience (typical customers). This phase is what we commonly call “Business Analyses”. Do not expect to have a full-blown business analyses at the interview stage but the SEO consultant will want to get an idea of where your business stands so that he/she can identify a starting point. Other important questions will include, what marketing channels are being used (social media, email, offline ads, PPC etc)? and what is the current reputation of your company? The more information the SEO can gather the better as this helps targeting the right audience while keeping in mind what has already been tried and tested.
Analyse CompetitorsThe SEO specialist should ask about your competitors, which ones are the ones to keep an eye out for? In what are they more successful than your company? SEOs should be able to identify both horizontal and vertical competition, i.e. competitors that target the same products/services and competitors that target the same costumers with different products/services that you do not provide or are outside your niche.
Audits the SitesThe main task of an SEO is to thoroughly audit the company’s website (together with competitor’s). SEO audits are usually divided into two parts: On-Page and Off-Page.
On-PageOn-Page audit targets the following internal aspects: Technical – Any tech issues that are non-conforming to Google’s Guidelines. That includes page speed, site structure, crawl depth, chain redirects, 404 pages and so on. Content – Any content issues, such as low-quality content, thin pages (low word count when compared to top ranking pages), METAs optimisation and so on. User-Experience (UX) – UX is commonly overlooked in SEO audits especially in those that only look at rankings as a KPI. Making the site ranking on page 1 while having a bad UX without no converting elements, readability issues and so on will results in having the rankings dropped due to traffic bouncing off the site. Although this is not the SEO’s main trait, a good SEO knows the basics of UX. UX can be delved in deeper by hiring either a CRO (Conversion Rate Optimiser), UX Specialist or Web Designer with good UX background.
Off-PageOff-Page audit on the other hand targets external elements of the website such as: Backlink profile audits – Checking the type of links pointing to the site. Your site’s link authority (domain authority) is like compared to other domains in the same niche. The SEO will make use of SEO tools such as Majestic, Moz, SemRush or Ahrefs.
Outreach/Linkbuilding strategySearch engines give value to websites that have high domain authority links (website links) pointing to their sites. An efficient outreach strategy helps generating natural backlinks to the site. It is common that websites that are starting out have an outreach strategy where content generated by the content team is published on other websites with links that point to the company’s domain. It is best practice that for these posts also known as “guest posts” a “nofollow” link is used to avoid any penalisation from Google. Some SEOs suggest shady techniques that can potentially harm the site, one of the techniques is called link buying where you buy links from other domains with “follow” links so that you can try to quickly boost link authority. These techniques are what we call “black hat”, SEOs that follow guidelines strictly are commonly referred to as “white hat” SEOs. Black hat techniques can permanently damage the site in the long run. Although it may take more time, good quality content eventually starts getting backlinks from various sources. SEOs will suggest using social media, forums and Q&A sites to build up your exposure. Identifying Other sources of traffic – as part of the Off-Page audit, the SEO can identify other sources of traffic. By implementing website traffic monitoring tools such as Google Analytics and Google Search Console you can easily detect from which channel traffic is coming from for example: Social media, direct, organic (SEO), paid and so on.
Prioritises Business GrowthYour SEO consultant needs to give long term plans where business growth is at the forefront. This will include a content writing schedule with articles and pages targeting relevant keywords. These pages expand the site and sometimes gives opportunities to enter different markets. The more content you produce the more frequently your site gets crawl by a search engine.
Provides Estimates and timelineNo one can 100% guarantee any rankings, if the SEO you are interviewing makes false promises of ranking your site in the first position in a few weeks this is usually a bad sign. There are a lot of elements that effect rankings which include: competition, algorithm updates, technical issues, content issues, bad UX and so on. Although this, through experience and by auditing your site and that of the competitors on specific keywords, the SEO can get an idea on when a site can rank for a term with the right content and outreach strategies. Good SEOs can provide free “quick” Overview SEO Audits that provides an estimate on how much work is needed (in hours) for them to do the initial audit and highlights (without getting into detail) some issues already spotted. This can give you an idea of initial and ongoing costs for SEO.
Good CommunicationRequiring excellent communication skills in a resume has become a cliché. I can’t highlight the importance of a proper client to customer communication enough when it comes to implement fixes or suggestions. Wrongly interpreted fixes can harm the site or waste resources. It is very common that technical fixes are implemented incorrectly, or the “wrong” article has been published due to poor communication. Make sure that communication between the SEO and your representative is done in written and including a call for complex fixes where necessary.
Sets an Ongoing StrategyAn SEO should be part of the ongoing strategy (operations), it is not a one time fix all thing as issues keep coming up from all aspects of the site and competition keeps getting tougher. In order to achieve the best results for your site you need to have a “continuous improvement” attitude where SEOs and Project managers can find more ways to optimise the site.
To Conclude…The list of SEO skills needed is inexhaustible and by no means limited to what’s listed above. Some other important skills include Project Management, basic HTML coding (to understand tech issues), Content writing basics (to identify poorly written content), basics of User Experience and ability to keep track of the changes happening in the Digital Marketing industry. It is highly unlikely that the SEO will be skilled in all aspects, the most important thing is that he/she has an attitude of continuous self-improvement and that is able to learn things on the go since SEO is an ever changing industry.
- SearchEngineJournal – https://www.searchenginejournal.com/google-algorithm-history/panda-update/
- Google Webmasters – https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/35769?hl=en
- Marie Haynes – https://www.mariehaynes.com/eat/
- Moz – https://moz.com/google-algorithm-change