Hiring a Search Engine Optimizer is no easy task. For one thing there are a lot of people out there that claim they know how to do Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and build quality links, when in fact they don't. Also there are Search Engine Optimizers that will give a great price that undercuts what everyone else told you. However, what they don't tell you is they will use all BlackHat (meaning Google doesn't like it) link building techniques to rank your site. You could very well rank for 1st for some keywords for a couple days or weeks, but most likely your site might get deindexed from Google or face penalties. You could still be listed in other search engines… but who really cares about those?
1. What SEO Software and Tools Do you Use?
Search Engine Optimizers need quite a few SEO tools and software to pull data about competitors websites and to try to figure out how to rank your site for certain keywords and terms. Typically they will have a subscription to some sort of rank tracking software or monitoring service, link analysis software, and have one or several VPS (Virtual Private Servers) for running some of these programs. In addition they might have to hire workers via oDesk or another freelancing service for doing small tasks and jobs they don't want to do. This could be writing articles, contacting blogs or websites where they might be able to post an article with your URL above the fold (this means not as a comment or forum signature link), link analysis, filling out forms, etc.
Any legit Search Engine Optimizer should be honest with you about what SEO tools, software, and subscriptions they are paying for and what tasks they sub-contract other people to do. Many feel sharing with clients is giving away trade secrets, but that just isn't true. If you bought SEO tools, guess what, other people bought use those SEO tools too.
Even though I would let clients of mine know what SEO software I use, they obviously don't have the expertise or knowledge to use the effectively. Of course if later they want to learn, that's fine with me. The client is paying me for my knowledge and there is always plenty of SEO business out there. 🙂
2. What link building Techniques & Strategies Do you Use? Blackhat or Grayhat?
This is an important question you really need to be on your toes about. If it's clear they completely use BlackHat techniques, then run away very fast! (This is hard to know if you don't have any idea about search engine optimization.)
I assume most people that read my website are looking for long term benefits from SEO. You need someone who understands that and isn't going to give you a bunch of crappy low quality links, even if they drive traffic.
Consider how your potential search optimizer answers question 1# and what tools they told you they use. Guess what, you should Google it. Is it SEO software that is mainly used for BlackHat link building? Then ask how they use the tools and what strategies they use to build links?
To be fair and honest and what you do need to keep in mind… no Search Engine Optimizer, and I mean NOBODY, completely does whitehat SEO. Everyone works in “Grayhat SEO” when it comes to link building.
Larger sites and companies will buy links, which is technically against Google's guidelines, for certain keywords they want to rank for. Smaller sites and blogs don't care since they need the money. (I know since I've been there.) It's not like Google isn't aware of it but I've never seen Google do much about it since a lot of these companies have large advertising deals with Google. Also there is no way the bots are smart enough to figure this out on ever single website out there.
A lot of SEO software is not necessarily considered “whitehat” by Google. For instance I use a program called ScrapeBox, which everyone uses. You can't use ScrapeBox with one IP address or Google would ban it. ScrapeBox sends to many automated queries at one time, so if you are going to use it you need to buy proxies. ScrapeBox is not a bad tool in my opinion, but Google doesn't like how it pulls data.
Bottom line, a Search Engine Optimizers should be honest about SEO strategies and link building tactics they will use for your website before you give them any money. Like I said I'd keep in mind Google expects everyone to play fair, but nobody does.
3. What Keywords can you Rank me for within my Budget?
Before you talk with a Search Engine Optimizer you should figure out how much you can spend monthly or for a one-time upfront cost. You need to understand that harder the keywords you want to rank for, the more time and therefore money it will require.
If you are told by a company they can rank you for some crazy competitive keywords such as “make money online” they might be able to… but it will cost you a lot of money. That's why nobody posts pricing on directly on their websites. It doesn't make sense since they are billions of searches for different categories and regions. Cost and difficulty range with regards to what keywords and terms you want to rank in Google for.
There should be a discussion of what is doable within your SEO budget. I'm not saying you should not expect something for your money, but understand some companies spend $500-$2,000 a month with SEO firms while other are spending upwards of $10,000+ for a whole range of SEO, social media, and website development services.
4. Can you Guarantee 1# Ranking?
This a bit of a trick question since the answer, should be “No!” If you work with a huge SEO company that's been in the game for awhile and you are paying them tons of money each month, then it might be possible if they have the staff and resources. Still there is no way any Search Engine Optimizers or company can “100% Guarantee” #1 sport ranking in Google for extraordinarily competitive keywords.
Even these large SEO companies can't always figure out how to get a 1# SERP (search engine results pages) ranking. People who claim otherwise are blowing smoke.
Google rankings are NOT determined by the search optimizers you hire. They are determined by Google and their massive computing power and stupid algorithms which sometimes nobody can figure out. There are over 200 different ranking factors Google uses and they don't tell the public what all of these are.
5. Do you hate Matt Cutts?
The answer to this question, should be “Yes!” (In case you don't know who Matt Cutts heads the Webspam team at Google and works on Google's search algorithm. He wrote the family filter engine for Google as well.)
I personally don't trust a lot of things Matt Cutts tells people in the Google Webmaster Help videos on Youtube. He tells you what Google doesn't like, not what doesn't work. These are 2 very different things and SEO pros know the difference and will exploit them.
Watching the Google Webmaster Help videos is good for many reasons though. For instance I wouldn't have been aware Google changed their stance on .IO domains for global use. Also he gives straight-up advice like Don't Buy a Spam Domain and that you should always Link to Your Sources.
Often times it is quite difficult to figure out what he means in these Youtube videos though. The issue is he is trying to appeal to beginners watching these videos that don't know much about SEO and people in the SEO industry, which doesn't work. This was clear when Penguin 2.0 hit and his answers about regarding “Does site downtime hurt Search Engine rankings?” should have been more clearcut. (That's why there was a website created call The Short Cutts.) Additionally Matt Cutts SEO talk at WordCamp 2009 doesn't tell the whole story about Google and SEO. There are a lot more factors that go into ranking than diverse keywords in articles.
6. Do you hate Google?
The answer should always be “Yes!” 🙂
Other Questions to Ask a Search Engine Optimizer
Obviously I can't account for what your specific situation or website needs are. There are too many factors or specialty areas. So you need to feel out how the SEO company or Search Engine Optimizer you are going to hire seems. Do they seem like an “SEO Diva?” or are they pretty chill. Try to think of other questions and definitely get on Skype or Google+ to talk with them “face to face” if you can. If they don't want to take a little time to answer your questions I'd find someone else.
Personally if I get hired by a small business to do SEO work I am always open about what I am doing and I keep them updated. They are paying me to do work for them and it's my job to make it clear what I am doing and how I am doing it, so they feel they are getting value for their money. I even try to provide clients with tools and resources other people wouldn't. Transparency is not something you find often in the SEO world, but you should expect it from whoever you hire in my opinion. (If you want to Hire Me, I'd be happy to talk with you by the way.)
Ranking in search engines is something you should want to do in the long term, not short term. Be careful who you hire and just make sure you feel comfortable working with them and what they are going to do with your website.
Think I missed something? Have anything to add regarding SEO or search optimizers? Let me know below!
Catch me on Twitter @AdamYamada … if you can!