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Top 10 Things to Look for in an SEO Expert

Your company's Website might look great, with plenty of multimedia sizzle. But if the site isn't consistently attracting targeted visitors and converting them into customers, it's not doing its job—which can have a negative impact on revenue.

It may be time to hire a search engine optimization (SEO) expert, whether it's as an employee, an individual consultant, or an SEO consulting firm. A qualified, experienced SEO expert reviews your site; asks about your business goals and target visitors; and identifies strategies to improve your search engine rankings and page views.

The remedies an SEO expert might prescribe include something fairly simple such as rewriting your HTML title tags to fixing structural issues that prevent search engine bots from crawling and indexing your content, and obtaining quality links from relevant, external web sites.

We asked three experts what to look for when hiring SEO specialists. Here are the top 10 qualities to look for in an SEO expert.

1. Years of SEO Experience

"Anyone can set-up an 'SEO agency' overnight and call themselves an SEO expert," says Jill Whalen, CEO of High Rankings. "But that doesn't mean they know what they're doing. There are hundreds of little things that go into the bigger picture of doing SEO and it takes many years of experiencing what works and what doesn't to truly do a good job."

Whalen adds that every website needs different SEO tactics to succeed. "An SEO expert with many years of experience will be able to look at any website and know exactly what needs to be done for it to gain more search engine traffic, while someone new at SEO will try the same things on every site, which will only have a limited effect, if any," Whalen adds.

2. An Understanding of All Three SEO Levels

Search engine optimization involves three tiers:

-- Technical (the structure of a site, which can determine how easy or difficult it is for search engines to crawl and index your content)

-- On-page optimization (the use of such elements as keywords and HTML tags in ways that help increase search engine traffic to your site)

-- Off-page optimization (such as link building).

"You don't want a one-dimensional SEO," says Taylor Pratt, vice president of product marketing for Raven Internet Marketing Tools. "You need someone who will approach their strategy from all three angles to maximize success."

"If search engines can't access all the content on a website, or some content is buried too deeply in the site, then anything else done on the website will be useless in terms of SEO success," Whalen adds. "This means that all SEO consultants or companies need to understand all the technical limitations and issues that search engines may have, and they need to be able to articulate those to the developers of your website so that the issues can be minimized."

3. A Proven Track Record of SEO Success

It's easy to talk a good game in SEO, notes Whalen. "There are tons of blog posts and articles that describe various SEO tactics one can use. But it's another thing to have happy clients. Anyone looking to hire an SEO consultant or company should definitely check at least three fairly current references to discuss how the SEO company helped them succeed."

4. Marketing Savvy

"Once you get beyond the technical issues of a website, SEO is a lot like traditional marketing," says Whalen. "Content needs to be written in a way that outlines the benefit to the user while leading them to a sale. And it all has to be done in a way that also appeals to the people at the other end of a search engine who are looking for what your company has to offer."

5. A Well-rounded Perspective and Knowledge

"For years, I thought I could ignore subjects outside the hyper-focused SEO arena," says Rand Fishkin, CEO & co-founder of SEOMoz. "If it didn't have to do with ranking web pages in search engines, bah humbug! That attitude was foolish and wrong. Today's SEO needs to understand all of marketing at a deep level, the psychology of the human race, the specific culture to whom they're marketing, the social media landscape, web analytics, web design and development, viral marketing, content, product, business models and more. When we disconnect SEO from these other critical practices, we make short-term decisions that can ultimately hurt more than they help."

6. An Understanding of the Big Picture

Does the SEO focus on conversions (converting a visitor to your site into a customer), or are they more concerned with search engine rankings? Ideally, "the focus of any SEO strategy should be to accomplish a goal (like increasing conversions), not to achieve a certain rank," says Pratt.

7. The Capability to Fit in With Your Company's Culture

SEO experts must interact with many different areas of a business including IT, marketing, customer service, analytics, and sales. The ability for the SEO to work well with members of these teams is essential, notes Fishkin. "The personality, integrity and communication style of the SEO needs to match the organization or progress will be hard," he says.

8. Excellent communication skills.

Speaking of communication style, an SEO needs to be able to clearly communicate why a change must be made to your website in terms that everyone understands, notes Pratt. "There's no way an SEO can do everything themselves. So they need to be able to communicate why a certain change needs to be made in terms that everyone understands. They should be able to talk to the IT team and the C-level team and get their point across."

9. A passion for execution.

SEO experts who love to get things done efficiently usually make for ideal consultants, Fishkin says. "Great SEOs find ways to work around challenges and roadblocks. Of course, this means that your organization must enable progress and not impede it or you'll break their spirit and desire to impact the company positively."

10. Curiosity.

While knowledge is certainly important, curiosity is essential, too. "Finding an SEO who can recite the IP addresses for all of Google's crawlers is great, but one who's deeply curious and constantly investigating how that crawler works is even better," Fishkin says. "I've often met SEOs whose knowledge was fantastic, but at some point in their career, it ceased to grow. I'd rather have a fresh mind that's hungry and growing than a grizzled vet whose thirst for new knowledge died in 2006."


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