Search engine optimization (SEO) is an important part of online marketing for all businesses. However, SEO needs vary throughout the stages of business growth. When you add the fact that SEO is ongoing and constantly changing, it makes it hard to determine when it’s time to hire assistance for your business. Even if you’re running on a small budget, it’s important to get help with SEO. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you could unintentionally make mistakes that shoot you in the foot. Consultant vs. agency Agencies will have consultants, but not all consultants will work for agencies. You may find a number of freelancers working on their own via platforms like Upwork or Fiverr. The main difference is that a consultant will offer guidance on what to do, while an agency will do the work for you –with help from you when they need it. Some independent consultants may also offer to do the work for you, for an additional fee. Hiring a consultant to guide you along is a good idea if you’re limited on funds, and you have a decent understanding of what you need to do, but want some support with strategy, tools, and specific actions. If you have no clue about the technical side of a website, it’s best to leave the work to your designer and SEO agency, and take a more hands-off approach. Hire from the start It’s more cost effective to get SEO help from the beginning of your project than it is to hire someone to clean up a mess you, or another SEO agency has made. If possible, choose to work with a web designer who has a decent background in optimization, or one that can refer you to someone to work with as the initial website structure is built. This is helpful because SEO encompasses so many things – not just the keywords on the page and the number of links to it. Search engines also factor in the readability of the code – robots are the ones doing the crawling, after all, and the speed at which a page loads – things your designer and developer have control over. If your business is already established… That’s okay – you’ll just need to ask the SEO team you hire to help you with an audit. This will take a look at everything you’ve already got in terms of website content and ranking. From there, the SEO team can make suggestions based on a strategy for the future. What to look for when choosing an SEO consultant No two SEO consultants are the same, and choosing the right one for your business can make a difference in the results (and thus the profit) you get from their work. Before hiring, do a bit of research, so you know what to look for. Experience: You want a company that has experience working with today’s SEO guidelines. SEO is constantly changing as Google and other search engines adjust their algorithms to promote quality results for their customers – the searchers. In the SEO industry, it’s not necessarily about how long a company has been in business, but the quality of the results they’ve been able to consistently achieve. Results: You want a company that can show you the results of their work. Bear in mind, however, not all clients are willing to let their information be disclosed for the purpose of case studies and testimonials. Ask for references, and then follow up with them. When you contact the references, ask them about their experience with the company overall. Go beyond the results they achieved and ask about things like communication and customer service. Search for the company you’re interested in working with. In such a highly competitive industry, if they can’t rank their own website well, they probably won’t be able to get impressive results with yours. Multi-Faceted Approach: Because so many things factor into SEO, you’ll want a company that addresses it from many angles. Beyond the basic on-page SEO, code, and speed issues, you’ll also want to make sure the company can help you with: Social media: Social signals are part of ranking. But, having a profile on Facebook and Twitter isn’t enough to boost it. You need engagement from fans and followers, so you need a strategy to help you get there. Content strategy/creation: Content is what your users and the search engines are looking for. It helps educate your audience about your products and services, while also giving you a chance to separate your brand from the competition. If you have connections to a solid writer or team of writers, ask for help with developing a content strategy that supports your SEO. If not, ask if they can include the cost of content creation in your package. Advertising: Paid advertising, whether it’s through Google AdWords, Facebook Ads, or other platforms, is a decent way to start building brand awareness and drive traffic to your website. Ideally, your SEO team should be able to cover this for you as long as you have settled on a budget. As you make contact with each company, keep notes on what you learn. Note everything from how you felt when you spoke to the team, the pricing, timelines, to the services included, and anything else you may think of. Avoid companies that suggest they can guarantee you a number one result, or fix your SEO in a month. No company can guarantee this placement, and Google warns against using companies who do. SEO is an ongoing process, and needs to be treated like a living, breathing, extension of your business. The work is never truly done. When you find more that one company to work with that you believe can provide everything you need, compare them side by side. Use the notes you took during consultations with each company to determine which one you believe is best suited to your project. No matter what stage your business is in, you’re ready to hire an SEO consultant. While the strategy and process may change as your business evolves, having someone there to assist you from the start can help accelerate your marketing and exposure. Images: ”A manager is holding a cloud with the SEO cloud./Shutterstock.com“ ______________________________________________________________________________ Tweak Your Biz is a thought leader global publication and online business community. Today, it is part of the Small Biz Trends stable of websites and receives over 300,000 unique views per month. Would you like to write for us? An outstanding title can increase tweets, Facebook Likes, and visitor traffic by 50% or more. Generate great titles for your articles and blog posts with the Tweak Your Biz Title Generator.