By Andrew Dennis
17 Feb 2017

How To Hire An SEO: Advice From Google

Basic SEO     SEO Reporting     SEO Strategy

Who better to advise businesses on how to hire an SEO than Google?

Google is the primary search engine for which SEOs optimize (sorry Bing). Search is Google's most lucrative product, and Google needs to protect the integrity of their search results.

Any information and advice from Google concerning SEO is always welcome!

On Valentine’s Day Google showed SEOs some love by releasing a video that offers advice on how to hire an SEO professional. The video is just over eleven minutes long, and features Developer Programs Tech Lead at Google Maile Ohye.

I’ve seen Maile speak before at a conference, and she is a very knowledgeable and excellent presenter.

In this post, I'll break down my top takeaways and the topics she discussed for hiring an SEO.

I recommend you watch the video in full. Maile shares insightful advice and it is definitely worth eleven minutes of your time.

Here are my top takeaways. Enjoy!

Key Takeaways

There's a wealth of good information in Maile’s video, from which I have 7 main takeaways.

  1. SEO Isn’t Magic.
  2. SEO Suggestions Should Align With Google Best Practices.
  3. Good SEO Means Good User Experience.
  4. Quality SEOs Will be Genuinely Invested in Your Business.
  5. Check References When Hiring an SEO.
  6. Request a Technical and Search Audit.
  7. Successful SEO Requires Buy-in From You the Client.

Let’s look at each of these takeaways individually.

SEO Isn’t Magic

Maile began her advice by reinforcing the fact that SEO isn’t a magic bullet. There are no shortcuts.

Citing her experience working with Google search for over a decade, Maile explains there aren’t any magical tricks that an SEO can provide to make your site rank number one.

Instead, an SEO can only help your site rank where it deserves to rank.

“It’s important to note that an SEO’s potential is only as high as the quality of your business or website.”

This advice aligns with our core belief at Page One Power that your site will only get the links it deserves — your site, page, or asset must be worthy of links.

Maile also touched on the fact that it takes time for good SEO practices to impact your site’s visibility, and that results don’t happen overnight.

In most cases, SEOs need four months to a year to help your business first implement improvements and then see potential benefit.

Often, there is an analysis phase followed by implementation. Even after implementation, changes don't occur immediately. You'll still need time to see the benefits of those improvements.

SEO Suggestions Should Align With Google Best Practices

Maile’s strongest advice for working with an SEO is to request they corroborate recommendations and suggestions with advice directly from Google.

You should ask for corroboration that supports both the SEO’s description of the issue that needs improvement, and the approach they prescribe to accomplish this task.

Asking for verification will prevent you from hiring an SEO that offers useless or toxic suggestions, such as adding keywords to meta tags or buying links. Buying links falls in line with the stance Google has always had on buying links and link schemes.

As Maile points out, links influence PageRank (organic search visibility). Securing links should be part of an SEOs job, but purchasing manipulative links is never a good strategy.

You should never go against Google's webmaster guidelines, or hire an SEO who makes recommendations against the guidelines. 

Good SEO Means Good User Experience

A rule of thumb is that good SEO typically means providing a good experience for your online customers, according to Maile.

“Things like having a mobile-friendly website, good navigation, and building a great brand.”

For established brands and websites, Maile recommends updating your infrastructure to become more agile and better able to implement features faster in the future.

Quality SEOs Will be Genuinely Invested in Your Business

Maile recommends you begin your hiring process with a two-way interview, to check if the SEO is genuinely interested in you and your business.

“A good SEO doesn’t focus only on search engine ranking, but how they can help your business.”

Quality SEOs will ask questions about what makes your business unique and valuable to customers, according to Maile.

A reputable SEO should ask about:

  • Your customers.
  • How your business makes money.
  • What other marketing channels you use.
  • Your competition.

“If the SEO doesn’t seem interested in learning about your business from a holistic standpoint, look elsewhere.”

Maile explains it’s difficult to do SEO well without knowing about a business’ goals, customers, and other existing marketing efforts. This advice rings true for link building, and is something I’ve echoed here on Linkarati.

“SEO should complement your existing work.”

Check References When Hiring an SEO

Maile also strongly recommends checking references when vetting potential SEOs.

You should talk to past clients to learn whether or not they were able to provide useful guidance and work effectively with their teams.

“A good SEO should feel like someone you can work with, learn from, experiment with, and who genuinely cares about you and your business, not just getting your site the highest rank.”

Quality SEOs will want to educate you and your staff on how search engines work, so that SEO becomes integrated into your general business operations.

Request a Technical and Search Audit

If a potential SEO has passed your initial vetting, Maile suggests testing them further by having them conduct a technical and search audit.

In order to do this, you can provide them with restricted view to your Google Search Console and Analytics data. This way they can conduct a technical and search audit without being able to actually modify anything on your website.

For larger companies, Maile recommends hiring multiple SEOs to conduct these audits, and using that information to select who you could work with the best.

Quality SEOs should prioritize improvements in any easy to understand structure. The typical format, according to Maile:

  1. The issue.
  2. The suggested improvement.
  3. An estimate of the overall investment.
  4. Estimated positive business impact.
  5. Plan of how to iterate and improve on the implementation or how to experiment and fail fast should results not meet expectations.

Sound technical audits should review issues related to:

  • Internal linking.
  • URL parameters.
  • Server connectivity.
  • Response codes.

She also has a word of caution regarding duplicate content.

“If they mention that your site has duplicate content problems that need to be corrected, make sure they show you the specific URLs that are competing for the same query, or that they explain it should be cleaned up for long-term site health not initial growth.”

In the search audit, Maile explains that experienced SEOs will break down your search queries into two categories: branded and unbranded terms.

For branded terms, Maile states that a good SEO will ensure your site is providing a great experience that helps customers who know your brand easily find exactly what they need and potentially convert.

For unbranded queries a good SEO will help you better make sense of the online competitive landscape.

“They can tell you things like here are the types of queries where it would make sense for your business to rank, but here’s what your competition has done and why I think they rank where they do.”

Maile outlines some of the general keyword improvement ideas a quality SEO might suggest as:

  1. Updating obsolete content.
  2. Improving internal linking.
  3. Generating buzz.
  4. Learn from the competition.

“A good SEO will try to prioritize what ideas can bring your business the most improvement for the least investment. And what improvements might take more time, but help growth in the long term.”

Successful SEO Requires Buy-in From You the Client

Regardless of the SEO you hire, your company must buy into SEO improvements to be successful.

Maile cites conversations with SEOs, stating:

“One of the biggest hold ups to improving a website isn’t their recommendations, but it’s the business making time to implement their ideas. If you’re not ready to commit to making SEO improvements, while an SEO audit may be helpful, make sure that your entire organization is on board, else your SEO improvements may be nonexistent regardless of who you hire.” 

And that wraps up Maile’s video on “How to hire an SEO”. Thank you to Maile and Google for creating this helpful and insightful video, which benefits site owners, businesses, SEOs, and the greater online community.

Andrew Dennis

Andrew Dennis is a Content Marketing Manager at Shopify. Andrew is an alumnus of the University of Idaho and consequently a lifelong Vandals fan. You can connect with Andrew on Twitter or LinkedIn.