You will find countless guides online showing you how to become an SEO expert, but what about how to spot one.
Knowing how to spot an SEO expert is vital if you are a business owner looking to hire one or learning SEO yourself. Unfortunately there are a lot of cowboys out there who will take your valuable marketing budget month in, month out with nothing to show for it.
If you are looking to learn SEO you also need to be able to pick an expert out of the crowd. Afterall, you will be learning from the SEOs you follow and will inadvertently pick up their good and bad habits.
So, use the information below to filter out the SEOs who aren’t worth listening to.
First things first, what even is an SEO Expert?
An SEO expert is someone experienced in and knowledgeable about optimising websites in order to rank them higher in the search engine result pages (SERPs).
SEO specialists know how search engines work and they will have ranked many different websites for competitive keywords already.
They will be able to lay out a clear and concise strategy to start getting your rankings moving in the right direction.
More importantly, any strategy they recommend will be an effective one which is backed by extensive industry knowledge, experience and testing.
There are many different paths to becoming an expert in search engine optimisation. Likely no one SEOs path will be identical to another. However, there are things every SEO has in common.
First we should identify the main ways in which people develop trustworthy SEO experience and knowledge:
These are the main ways that people develop their SEO knowledge and some are definitely better than others.
In fact, there is no better substitute for first hand experience.
Whilst you might do things differently in some cases, there is no denying that someone ranking their site (or one they worked on) for several competitive keywords knows enough to get it there.
When identifying a real SEO expert your best bet is to select someone who has a mix of several of the above.
All SEO experts should be actively ranking websites for valable, competitive keywords and most will have learnt how to do so by learning from another expert in some capacity previously.
Every learning method has its cons and limitations. Knowing them can help you have better intuition whilst talking with someone you want to find out if they know their stuff or not.
For example, first hand experience is brilliant but take note of if it tends to be in a single industry or niche.
If they have only ever ranked law websites for legal keywords, the strategies which have served them so well might not work the same in the fashion niche.
The most respected SEO experts have demonstrated over time that their knowledge and strategies are applicable in any industry and keyword. They will have a portfolio of successes ready to share with you, and be able to talk you through in great detail what did and didn’t work in each one.
SEO is a huge subject and experts can specialise within it. However, there are some things that any expert worth listening to will know.
As you may be aware already, SEO can be split into a few main areas including:
You will want any expert you take advice from to have a firm understanding of the foundations of each of these areas.
Once you have established this, then you can take note of any areas they specialise in/have a greater understanding of.
Now, within those areas there are a huge number of things which any SEO expert should know including (but not limited to):
Below are some things which any SEO expert you intend to take seriously must know.
If you speak with them and find they are lacking in any of these areas, you should move on and find someone who does understand each one.
They need to know fundamentally how search engines and information retrieval works.
This includes the technology that allows search engines to exist, how they find and retrieve information (spiders), how they store it (indexing), what the processes might look like behind their ranking systems (ranking factors and algorithms) and what their ultimate goals are.
The largest search engines provide ample documentation explaining how they work, what their aims and objectives are, and what techniques or strategies fall outside of their guidelines.
They are also very clear that those caught using strategies which fall outside of these guidelines will be penalised in the search results.
If the expert you are speaking to does not know these in great detail (or even chose to ignore them altogether despite knowing them), they will not be able to effectively minimise the risk of your site receiving a penalty as a result of the work that they are carrying out.
No matter how much you read up, you are going to be relying on your SEO expert to provide you with timely, accurate advice and recommendations.
Working with someone who does not properly manage expectations or know how to make your client-consultant relationship as mutually beneficial as possible will have a significant impact on the success of your SEO campaign.
Despite what many think, a successful agency or consultant relationship requires ongoing work and commitment from the client and in-house team also.
You need someone who will be upfront and honest always, even when you might not like what you are hearing.
An example of this would be if you have worked with/employed a less reputable consultant in the past and the tactics they used are now hurting our site's organic performance.
No one likes being told they made a bad decision, but sometimes the best way to learn and find more success in the future is for a real expert to lay out why the decision was flawed and how you can make a better one the next time round.
Most SEO issues are important and need to be resolved, but not everyone is the most important and needs to be fixed ASAP.
This is something which really separates the wheat from the chaff and a genuine SEO expert knows exactly how to prioritise an SEO campaign so you see the best results in the shortest amount of time.
More often than not, if your new SEO agency or consultant is focusing only on meta descriptions and title tags in the first few weeks, they are lacking in this area.
For most sites things like link earning, UX/site usability, duplicate content and crawling/indexing issues will be the highest priority.
They are also often things amateur SEOs neglect to look at or mention 1, 2 or even 3 months into their SEO campaigns.
A true SEO expert will be good and confident in most areas of SEO, and most will be great at these select few things which really form the foundations of any quality SEO campaign.
The best links and content in the world is only useful for SEO if search engines can find, crawl, index and rank your website.
Expert SEOs will audit your site regularly to ensure no technical SEO issues are hindering your results.
They will also, when required, be able to work alongside your developers to fix technical issues.
All of this should be communicated to relevant stakeholders without the over use of technical jargon and in a clear, coherent way.
You won’t see the results you want if you are targeting the wrong keywords. This is why you need to work with an SEO expert who is a master of keyword research.
Finding the right keywords which are relevant, low enough competition to see results (within a reasonable amount of time) and of a decent search volume is imperative for your SEO campaign.
The best SEOs don’t only understand the technical side of things, they also have keen insights into how to create the highest quality content.
They know what good content looks like and don’t settle for anything less.
Your SEO should be able to advise you on how to structure your content, any media or interactive functionality it should have, and where you should be focusing your content creation efforts.
Content on your site will be effectively optimised for the relevant target keywords and things like internal links, title tags, and meta descriptions will be working for you and your SEO goals.
An expert SEO doesn’t need to rely on outdated link building techniques like guest posts, private blog networks (PBNs), and web 2.0s.
They will have a firm understanding of how to earn the highest-quality links without resorting to strategies that fall outside of Google’s guidelines.
Inevitably a true SEO expert will earn links on your behalf far better than your competitors and from top-tier relevant websites.
So to recap, in order to spot an SEO expert you need to know what to look for and what questions to ask.
You should ensure they are actively practising what they preach and that they have the necessary experience to help you given your specific circumstance, industry and context.
Use the details above (and elsewhere on our site) to guide your conversations with any potential expert before signing any contracts or starting any work with them.
If anything they say doesn’t check out, they become confrontational/combative, or try to avoid any of your questions then your safest bet is to give them a miss.
Any SEO expert worth hiring will be more than happy to share with you their experience, previous successes and answer any questions or concerns you might have.
Keep in mind though that real experts don’t come cheap. The ultimate price you will pay for going with an ill-qualified SEO though will be far greater.