If you’re landing here, you’re probably ready to hire an SEO marketer. But let’s talk it through before you do so.
The impact of SEO can take time to show up on your marketing dashboard. How long? Six months, if not longer, SEMRush estimates.
If you’ve waited patiently for six months, and you still don’t see any kind of return on your SEO expert’s strategy, though, it might be time to look elsewhere.
Slow as SEO is — it can take years, plural, to get to page one on key search engine results pages (or SERPs) — you can still have a ton of little wins with it. And there are plenty of tools out there that can quantify those wins, and prove that an SEO strategy is working, even if it’s just a little at first.
Certainly, if your SEO efforts aren’t paying off in a year, it’s time to take off the rose-colored glasses and see the red flags.
Why you need to hire an SEO expert
SEO stands for search engine optimization. If you’re wondering why you need SEO, it’s because traffic from organic search results is vital for business growth.
BrightEdge revealed that 68% of all trackable web traffic in 2019 was from organic and paid search — that’s more than the traffic from organic and paid social media combined.
When you invest in an SEO expert, you’re bringing them in to revolutionize your company and get you a slice of that delicious, SEO-dominated pie.
What do SEO managers do, exactly?
SEO managers create custom SEO strategies to help companies achieve high search rankings.
A higher ranking — especially a first page one — leads to more organic website traffic and helps generate more leads, especially if you’re ranking for a keyword central to your business.
SEO strategies are more complex than they sound, though. They encompass:
- On-page SEO
- Local SEO
- Link building
- Off-page SEO
And an SEO manager is also expected to:
- Diagnose organic search traffic declines
- Perform website audits
- Create and supervise content initiatives
- Understand technical SEO elements
- Invent innovative solutions specific to your niche
Given that an SEO professional is expected to handle all this, you should hire someone who knows what they’re doing.
“In the case of SEO, if you pay somebody who does something wrong, you not only lose the money you paid them, but you also backtrack, and you have to make up all the ground,” warns Brendan Hufford, expert SEO consultant and growth marketer at ActiveCampaign.
"If you pay somebody who does something wrong, you not only lose the money you paid them, but you also backtrack."
When you pay for expertise, Hufford added, you aren’t just paying for great SEO services but also excellent business acumen — the ability to truly understand your business and figure out how to elevate it.
5 signs it’s time to hire an SEO expert
There’s no perfect time to hire SEO specialists, but how do you know when you should start looking for a SEO expert?
We asked three expert SEO consultants and search marketers:
- Brendan Hufford, growth marketer at ActiveCampaign
- Eliza Shamshian, SEO consultant through MarketerHire
- Nigel Stevens, CEO of Organic Growth Marketing
1. When you want to work with an outside agency.
Some business owners hire outside help to supplement their digital marketing strategy right from the get-go.
Other companies grasp the importance of good SEO as they’re scaling, and realize their existing infrastructure can’t produce their desired results.
In both scenarios, companies tend to look toward SEO agencies for help. But outside agencies need guidance, which your in-house team might not be able to provide.
Moreover, you need someone to advocate for your company’s needs. An SEO marketing manager is perfect for this.
"Agencies can be great, but if you don’t have anyone internally to at least advocate and follow up and push it through, things can just get lost after or not get done,” Shamshian said.
"Agencies can be great, but if you don’t have anyone internally to at least advocate and follow up and push it through, things can just get lost."
An in-house or freelance SEO expert can supervise agency efforts and take the final call on SEO campaigns, content marketing initiatives and web page optimization with your business goals in mind.
If the SEO company you’re working with isn’t producing high-quality results, a freelance SEO manager can perform an SEO audit to identify issues and suggest potential solutions.
You can also hire SEO managers to guide your in-house teams in a collaborative growth marketing effort.
“It’s time to outsource your SEO when you have all the individual components — writers, engineers, designers, PR folks — but you aren’t sure how to tie it together at scale,” Stevens adds.
2. When you don’t know how to strategize.
Every SEO campaign is different — or should be. That’s why allegedly all-purpose SEO hacks, like keyword stuffing or buying links, often make minimal impact.
What you need is a customized, full-fledged SEO strategy that either enhances your brand’s existing marketing efforts or pivots underperforming campaigns in the right direction.
Take the content strategy Shamshian crafted for guitar manufacturer Fender, that helped raise awareness for its subscription-based online lessons.
“The goal was to create articles that answer the questions that beginners are asking,” she explained. “That can be something like, ‘What are easy guitar songs in a specific genre?’”
Articles on obviously beginner-level and high-volume Google search queries, Shamshian noted, could help attract interest from Fender’s target demo.
Her strategy was a resounding success that “definitely helped serve the initial goals,” she said. “It helped the content get indexed and raised awareness of the new subscription product.”
A strategy like this might seem simple enough to formulate, but it comes from a strong understanding of SEO elements through years of experience.
A less experienced SEO consultant might have suggested a generic content angle, focused on the existing user base over beginner-friendly articles, or flubbed some technical element of SEO.
Remember: Content is just one aspect of improving search engine rankings. There are technical elements involved, too, from link building to improving load times.
Your SEO strategist should be equipped to consider all this and then develop a plan of action.
3. When you have a tight budget.
Marketers are aware of the power of SEO and it’s slowly becoming a priority across many industries.
HubSpot's State of Marketing Report found that 75% of marketers find SEO “extremely effective” or “very effective” in helping them reach their goals — but executives are often still reluctant to invest heavily in an area that takes a long time to show results.
Tight budgets often hinder SEO campaigns.
“If your SEO needs are growing and you don’t want to add more overhead through hiring more full-time staff positions, I would say look for an agency that can support your internal SEO initiatives through a combination of in-house and external,” Shamshian said.
Hiring external freelancers can help you avoid high SEO agency fees or paying for recruitment and benefits.
“If I was working somewhere and I had to hire somebody, I would still start with an agency, freelancer or consultant,” Hufford said, stating that hiring full-time also involves recruitment fees, insurance, retirement, and other costs.
"If I was working somewhere and I had to hire somebody, I would still start with an agency, freelancer or consultant."
4. When you want to add flexibility.
A full-time SEO marketing expert might not always be the right solution for your company. They could have inefficient strategies or insufficient resources to get the job done.
Leaving your entire campaign in the hands of an outside SEO agency could lead to the same problems. What if the agency isn’t delivering what it promised?
Full-time hires and SEO companies require you to sign (relatively) ironclad contracts, which becomes a waste of time and money when they aren’t delivering.
You’re stuck with an underperforming online marketing team until you can terminate them — a costly decision that often requires HR or legal’s signoff.
On the flip side, hiring a freelance SEO marketing manager can be on-demand and quick. They can prove their experience through their portfolios and hit the ground running since they’ve adapted to different companies before.
Your SEO marketing manager can work with your existing in-house team or guide your external agency efforts.
“SEO is one of these areas where a lot of people claim they know or can do a lot more than they actually do,” Shamshian notes. “I think it’s definitely helpful if you’re going to go external to at least have someone on staff who knows a lot about SEO.”
5. When everything’s right… except for the SEO.
When you have strong signs of product-market fit in place but your user funnel is still collecting dust, or you aren’t meeting projected revenue expectations, it’s time to hire SEO marketers.
“My ideal situation is like, ‘Hey, we have a 25-person sales team, and we crush. We just need more. We just need to fill in that bucket. And we’ve never done SEO,’” Hufford said. “It’s great because you have this wealth of customer knowledge [and] you already know the product.”
“My ideal situation is like, ‘Hey, we have a 25-person sales team, and we crush. We just need more. We just need to fill in that bucket. And we’ve never done SEO.’”
When you hire an SEO marketing manager at this stage, with all the resources in hand, it gives them the chance to really flex their muscles. They can create custom white hat SEO strategies to elevate your company.
Someone less experienced, on the other hand, might struggle to customize your approach.
“It’s not easy to make hypotheses that go against the grain if you haven’t done it before,” Stevens said.
5 expert tips to help you hire SEO experts worth their salt
Here at MarketerHire, we think of investing in SEO marketing as an investment in longevity. In the words of our director of marketing:
But how do the many brands that want to invest in SEO and their futures — and hire a stellar SEO marketing manager — actually suss out if a candidate is up to snuff?
We asked our panel of experts for their tips.
1. Determine your goals.
Before you hire SEO specialists, take a deep dive into your existing SEO efforts. See what’s working, where you need to improve, and envision the ideal results you’d like the SEO marketing manager to produce.
This questioning will help you develop your SEO goals and KPIs for your campaigns.
Common KPIs for an SEO marketing manager include:
- Organic traffic: Number of visitors coming in from a search engine like Google or Bing.
- Leads and sales: Number of visitors who turn into potential customers after visiting your website.
- Keyword rankings: How your content ranks in SERPS for specific keywords or phrases.
- Backlinks: Links leading to your website from another trusted website.
- Click-through rates: How many visitors click through to product and sales pages from within the content.
- Page speed: The amount of time it takes for your website to load.
2. Set a budget.
Enterprise-level companies can afford to hire the best of the best, but for startups and small businesses, cost is usually a constraint — so it’s crucial to set a budget before you start your search.
A set budget will help you answer more specific questions, such as whether your ideal candidate must be highly experienced or if you’re willing to give someone who isn’t as experienced a chance based on their portfolio.
It also stops you from wasting time looking for experts way out of your price range.
So… what should your budget be? Digital Current estimates that hiring an SEO expert on a monthly retainer can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $20,000 per month, while SEO experts’ hourly rates can range from $100 to $300.
By comparison, a full-time hire can cost between $50,000 to $120,000 or more per year.
Ideally, your SEO expert should only cost you a small portion of your entire SEO budget, which should also cover SEO tools, writers for long-form content, and backlinking services, to name only a few.
3. Flesh out the job role.
When it’s time to write the job description, be as detailed as possible. Don’t just say “internet marketing proficiency.” List everything you want from your SEO marketing manager candidates, as specifically as possible.
- Desired prior experience
- Hard skills (such as keyword research and tools)
- Soft skills (such as creative thinking and good communication)
- Responsibilities (based on your goals)
- Any other specifications (for example, only open for U.S. candidates)
If you want one freelance expert to guide your entire SEO campaign, Shamshian recommends looking for a lot of prior experience.
“If this is the first hire, I would say bring a more senior-level person, with at least five to seven years of experience,” she said.
“If this is the first hire, I would say bring a more senior-level person, with at least five to seven years of experience."
Still, a single hire can only take on so much responsibility. Sometimes, once you start writing your job description, you might realize you actually need multiple hires.
For example, if you expected your SEO expert to oversee all your brand content on their own, your content team might weigh in and tell you that’s a little too much responsibility for one person. This could lead you to hire both a content marketing manager and an SEO manager.
4. Focus on the questions.
During the hiring process, create questions that reveal a potential candidate’s true expertise and knowledge. Delve into the characteristics and experiences that they’ve listed on their resume.
The questions should also help you judge your SEO campaign expectations.
Here are some questions to get you started:
- What was the best SEO campaign you managed for a past client? Why?
- What are some ways we can improve our current SEO program?
- Can you talk us through your experience with mobile SEO?
- How do you incorporate Google’s Webmaster guidelines into your daily workflow?
After you’ve asked your questions, let the candidates ask theirs. It’s crucial to pay attention to these and answer honestly — they help you understand the applicant’s true abilities and intention.
“Companies who want to have successful working relationships with contractors should find out exactly what their skill sets are and then leverage those skill sets,” Lauren Lang, an independent content strategy consultant, told us. “Often you're getting more than you think.”
5. See if they’re the right fit.
Once you’ve shortlisted candidates, design an interview process that identifies the right professional and personality traits.
You don’t want to hire someone that has excellent SEO techniques but doesn’t match your company’s vision or beliefs — or uses tactics your organization classifies as black hat SEO.
At Ahrefs, for example, CMO Tim Soulo sticks to a code of ethics that forbids buying backlinks or otherwise disrespecting searchers’ intent.
An SEO marketing manager that doesn’t fit in with your company’s values will lead to disruptions, and you’ll have to replace them eventually.
If you’re ready to hire an SEO expert but don’t know where to start, you’ll likely have trouble wading through the thousands of candidates on freelance platforms or generic sites like LinkedIn — especially if your own SEO knowledge isn’t comprehensive.