Today Google released a video called “How to Hire an SEO”. I personally would have called it “How to hire a good SEO consultant”, but other than a couple of minor critiques, overall the video is pretty good and I agree with most of it. Google does like to tell people how search should work sometimes rather than how their search engine does work, and there is a hint of this in the video. But, for 99.9% of business owners watching the video, it provides some solid advice.

Below we have the video, a text transcription, and some of my own input.

Google Webmasters Video – How To Hire an SEO:

Video Transcription of “How to Hire a Good SEO”:

Hi. I’m Maile Ohye and I work with Google Search. I’d like to share advice to help you hire a useful SEO and prevent hiring a bad SEO, one who you might pay a lot of money without positive results, or even worse, one who implements shady practices on your website that result in a reduction in search rankings.

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. To some, SEO seems like black magic. Having worked with Google Search for over a decade, what I’ve learned is that first, it’s not black magic, and second, if you want long-term success, there aren’t any quick magical tricks that an SEO will provide so that your site ranks number one.

It’s important to note that an SEO’s potential is only as high as the quality of your business or website, so successful SEO helps your website put your best foot forward, so that it ranks appropriately, in the spot where an unbiased potential customer would expect your site to be seen. A successful SEO also looks to improve the searcher experience, from search results to clicking on your website and potentially converting. A good SEO will recommend best practices for a search friendly site. From basic things like descriptive page titles for a blog or small business to more complex things like language markup for a multilingual global site.

SEOs ensure that you’re serving your online customers a good experience, especially those coming from a search engine, and that your site is helpful whether they’re using a desktop computer or mobile phone.

In most cases, the SEO will need four months to a year to help your business first implement improvements and then see potential benefit.

My strongest advice when working with an SEO is to request that they corroborate their recommendation with a documented statement from Google. Either in a help center article, video, or Google a response in a forum that supports both:

  1. the SEO’s description of the issue that needs to be improved to help with ranking
  2. the approach they prescribe to accomplishing this task.

Requesting these two bits of information will help prevent hiring a poor SEO who might otherwise convince you to do useless things like add more words to the keywords meta tag, or buy links, because if you search for Google advice on this topic, you’d see blog posts and videos from us that clearly explain that adding keywords to the meta tag wouldn’t help. Furthermore, while Google uses links for Page Rank, our documentation highlights that we strongly advise against the approach of buying links for the purpose of increasing Page Rank.

One basic rule is that in a majority of cases, doing what’s good for SEO is also doing what’s good for your online customers. Things like having a mobile friendly website, good navigation, and building a great brand.

Additionally, if you’re a more established brand with complicated legacy systems, then good search friendly best practices likely involves paying off some of your site’s technical debt, such as updating your infrastructure so that your website is agile, and able to implement features faster in the long-term. If you own a small, local business, you can probably do the initial work yourself. Check out our 30 minute video series on how to build an online presence for your local business.

(General SEO hiring process)

Now, if you still believe you want to hire an SEO, here’s a general process.

  1. Conduct a two way interview with your potential SEO. Check that they seem genuinely interested in you and your business.
  2. Check their references.
  3. Ask for and you’ll probably have to pay for, a technical and search audit.
  4. Decide if you want to hire.

Let’s break this down and start with step one, conduct a two way interview. In the interview, here are some things to look for. A good SEO doesn’t focus only on search engine ranking, but how they can help your business, so they should ask questions like, “What makes your business, content and/or service unique and therefore valuable to customers?” They’ll want to know this information to make sure it’s highlighted on your website for your current and potential new audience. Two, “What does your common customer look like and how do they currently find your website?” Three, “How does your business make money, and how can search help?” Four, “What other channels are you using? Offline advertising, social networks?” Five, “Who are your competitors? What do they do well online and potentially offline?” If the SEO doesn’t seem interested in learning about your business from a holistic standpoint, look elsewhere. It’s difficult to do good SEO without knowing about a business’s goals, their customers, and other existing marketing efforts. SEO should complement your existing work.

The second step in hiring an SEO is to check references. If your potential SEO provides prior clients, be sure to check their references. You want to hear from past clients that the SEO was able to provide useful guidance and worked effectively with their developers, designers, UX researchers, and/or marketers. A good SEO should feel like someone you can work with, learn from, experiment with, and who genuinely cares about you and your business, not just getting your site the highest rank, as ultimately those techniques rarely last long if they work at all. They’ll want to educate you and your staff on how search engines work so that SEO becomes part of your general business operations.

Step three is to request a technical and search audit. If you trust your SEO candidate, give them restricted view, not full or right access, to your Google Search Console data, and even your Analytics data. Before they actually modify anything on your website, have them conduct a technical and search audit to give you a prioritized list of what they think should be improved for SEO. If you’re a larger business, you can hire multiple SEOs to run audits and prioritize improvements, see what each has to say and then determine who you could work with the best. In the audit, the SEO should prioritize improvements with a structure like, one, the issue, two, the suggested improvement, three, an estimate on the overall investment. In other words, the time, energy, or money it would take for your developers to implement the improvement and for Google Search, as well as searchers and customers, to recognize the improvement. The SEO will need to talk with your developers to better understand what technical constraints may exist. Four, the estimated positive business impact. The impact might be a ranking improvement that will lead to more visitors and conversions or perhaps the positive impact comes from a backend change that cleans up your site and helps your brand be more agile in the future. Five, a plan of how to iterate and improve on the implementation, or perhaps how to experiment and fail fast should the results not meet expectations. That covers the structure of the technical and search audit.

(Technical Audit)

Now, let’s talk about each of these audits individually. In the technical audit, your SEO should be able to review your site for issues related to:

  • internal linking
  • crawlability
  • URL parameters
  • server connectivity
  • and response codes to name some.

If they mention that your site has duplicate content problems that need to be corrected, make sure they show you the specific URLs that are competing for the same query. Or, that they explain it should be cleaned up for long-term site health, not initial growth. I mention this because lots of duplicate content exists on websites, and often it’s not a pressing problem. In the search audit, your potential SEO will likely break down your search queries into categories, like branded and unbranded terms. Branded terms are those with your business or website’s name, like a search for Gmail is a branded term while the search for email is an unbranded or general keyword. An SEO should make sure that for branded queries such as Gmail, your website is providing a great experience that allows customers who know your brand or website to easily find exactly what they need and potentially convert. They might recommend improvements that help the entire searcher experience from what the searcher sees in search results to when they click on a result and use your website. For unbranded queries, an SEO can help you better make sense of the online competitive landscape. They can tell you things like, “Here are the types of queries it would make sense for your business to rank, but here’s what your competition has done and why I think they rank where they do.” For instance, perhaps your competition has great reviews, really shareable content, or they run a highly reputable site. An SEO will provide recommendations for how to improve ranking for these queries and the entire searcher experience. They’ll introduce ideas like update obsolete content. They might say, “Your site is suffering because some of your well ranking content is obsolete, has poor navigation, a useless page title, or isn’t mobile friendly. Let’s improve these pages and see if more website visitors convert and purchase, or if they can micro-convert, meaning that perhaps they subscribe or share content.”

Improve internal linking. Your SEO might say, “Your site is suffering because some of your best articles are too far from the homepage, and users would have a hard time finding it. We can better internally link to your content to feature it more prominently.” Generate buzz. The SEO might say, “You have great content but not enough people know. We can try to get more user interaction and generate buzz, perhaps through social media or business relationships. This will help us attract more potential customers and perhaps garner natural links to your site.” Learn from the competition. Your SEO might explain, “Here’s what your competitors do well. Can you reach parity with this and potentially surpass them in utility? Or, can you better show customers your business’s unique value?” Again, a good SEO will try to prioritize what ideas can bring your business the most improvement for the least investment, and what improvements may take more time but help growth in the long-term. Once they talk with you and other members of your team such as developers or marketers, they’ll help your business forge a path ahead.

The last thing I want to mention is that when I talk with SEOs, one of the biggest hold ups to improving a website isn’t their recommendations, but it’s the business making time to implement their ideas. If you’re not ready to commit to making SEO improvements, while getting an SEO audit may be helpful, make sure that your entire organization is onboard. Else, your SEO improvements may be nonexistent, regardless of who you hire. That wraps it up. Thank you for watching and best of luck to you and your business.

Disagreements with the video

Overall, this is a great video. I am personally thrilled that it was put out. Google has crammed a lot of great content into 11 minutes. There are a few points here I’d just like to make.

Google: There are no quick magical tricks that an SEO can provide so that your site ranks number one.

Me: In most cases, this is sound advice. And there are probably 5 million people out there who claim to have a magic trick, and they do not. However, here are two examples where my little magic wand did drastically assist a website:

  • A law firm who contacted me for PPC assistance with an AdWords campaign had a CMS by a company called Justia. They had around 500 pages of content. When using some CMSs, if you do not manually enter a title, the CMS will automatically generate a terrible title. For example, you could build out a “Raleigh North Carolina Personal Injury Lawyer” page and it may get titled “NC Lawyer :: Lawyer NC :: Lawyer in NC”. Now multiply this by 550. In this case I ended up doing their SEO and their traffic has gone up by around 1,600% over the last 2 years with the most significant change being one that I spotted within 60 seconds of reviewing the website. It now has thousands of number one positions.
  • Just 2 hours ago I was crawling another client site with approximately 30,000 pages. My spider came back with 60,000 pages. It turns out they have a duplicate HTTPS site that I wasn’t even aware of until I fired up my crawler.

Google: An SEO’s potential is only as high as the quality of your business.

Me: This is true in many cases, however, no search engine in the world ranks websites based on how good the business is. A used car lot with 3 vehicles in stock can rank for “Jeep Wranglers in Charlotte” and have death trap salvage vehicles for sale for 100 different reasons, even for reasons not violating any of Google’s own webmaster guidelines.

Google: Techniques to rank a website rarely work or last long.

Me: Almost everything in this video is about technical SEO which can assist many large brands. However, content marketing and creative SEO (what I do here) absolutely helps sites rank (and stay there). For example, my last company, which I sold in 2012, has maintained great positioning all over page 1 for approximately 17 years, thanks to an awesome piece of content I put on it which was linked to hundreds of times. After all, links are the #1 ranking factor, and we all know that isn’t changing any time soon.

In general, the statement is usually correct. There are a LOT of SEO people out there who will do things to help a site rank which are fairly short lived. These are called black hat tactics and usually result in penalties.

That said, big brands, even as large as Amazon and eBay, understand how links work and they absolutely use them.


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