Before you start, building a business seems simple enough. You’ve got a great idea and a little bit of support.
Add a lot of hard work and you can make your dream a reality.
What could possibly go wrong?
As it turns out, quite a lot.
I’ve built several successful startups over the years and one of the most valuable lessons I have learned is that it is vital to have a team of smart people in your corner.
You need a developer, an SEO, a social media manager, a writer, a salesperson, and the list goes on.
When we look at a successful company, we tend to only see the figureheads – one or two quirky founders in sweatshirts and tennis shoes.
What you don’t see is the team that helped them get there.
And many times that team includes a least a few freelancers.
Here is the thing: you can’t be good at everything.
Take me, for example. I have never been a good salesperson. Give me a bunch of data and I can tell you anything you want to know.
But sales? Not my thing.
I tried it once. I was a Kirby vacuum salesman for exactly one summer.
I sold one vacuum that was later returned.
The thing is, I don’t need to be a good salesperson.
What I need to know is how to hire good salespeople.
The same theory applies to hiring SEO freelancers.
The benefits of hiring a freelance SEO
The first questions you are likely asking are, “Why would I hire a freelancer?” and “Wouldn’t it be better to hire a big company?”
But I think a lot of business owners underestimate freelancers.
They assume if the freelancer was good enough, they would be able to find a job. That might be true for some.
But most freelancers choose the lifestyle because they like it. And many times, they make more money.
There are currently 53 million freelancers in the United States.
Half of them say they would never stop freelancing no matter how much money they were offered.
Don’t assume someone is freelancing out of desperation. Many freelancers are doing it by choice.
But, that doesn’t mean a freelance SEO is the right choice for you.
If you’ve determined you need help with SEO, there are a few routes you can go.
- You can learn SEO yourself.
- You can hire a full-time SEO.
- You can hire an SEO company.
- You can hire a freelance SEO.
What is the difference between these options?
The first option is to learn SEO yourself. This absolutely can be done.
Start with a beginner’s guide to SEO, then move on to an advanced guide.
There are literally thousands of guides, books, and websites where you can learn SEO. It really isn’t rocket science.
Here is the issue: It takes time to learn SEO. A lot of time.
Time you’d be better off spending on growing your business and serving your customers, not learning about the latest SEO strategies.
Next, you can hire a full time, in-house SEO. This can be a fantastic option if you have the resources to do so.
You get one highly skilled person who is totally dedicated to helping your brand grow.
However, they also lose perspective because they only see your data. They also might be too expensive.
Plus, if you are a startup working from seed money, you might not be able to guarantee you will be able to pay that salary in the future.
Keep in mind the average SEO salary is just over $60K in the U.S., according to Indeed.com.
That rate can go much higher depending upon the market where you are located.
For example, the average SEO salary in San Francisco is $100k.
In Seattle, where I live, the average salary of an SEO is just over $74K.
Those salaries don’t include benefits and the tax obligation you take on.
Your next option is to hire an SEO agency.
It sounds good. You get access to a lot of resources and in-depth tools without paying as much overhead as you would for a full-time person.
An agency sees data from tons of different industries, so they are more likely to be creative and more willing to try unconventional methods.
That could be a blessing or a curse.
But, you might not get a very personal experience. According to a survey by Moz, the average SEO company has up to 10 clients, and some have a many as 100 clients.
Agencies can also be expensive. According to the same survey, nearly 35% of SEO clients pay at least $2,500 a month.
At that cost, you could just about hire a full-time employee.
If you have deep pockets, that number might not scare you. But if you are bootstrapping it, there is a good chance you don’t have that sort of monthly budget.
More importantly, spending $5,000 a month on SEO might not be the best use of your resources.
Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of fantastic SEO companies and in-house SEOs who do amazing work.
But that might not be the best fit for your company.
So, that leaves finding a freelance SEO.
A freelancer might be a good fit for your company if:
- You don’t have time to keep up with the regular changes in the SEO industry.
- You don’t have the time to learn SEO.
- Your skills are most useful elsewhere in your company.
- You don’t want to spend months testing SEO strategies that might or might not work.
- You want a personal, targeted SEO strategy.
- You can’t commit to an annual salary.
- You want someone with experience outside of your brand.
But how do you find the right freelance SEO to ensure you don’t compromise quality?
Determining Your SEO Needs
I am a firm believer in that old saying “you get what you pay for.”
It applies to Facebook marketing, keyword research, and even SEO.
More doesn’t always mean better.
There is a fine line between paying for quality and just plain overpaying. The goal when hiring a freelance SEO is to find that sweet spot where quality and value overlap.
So, how do you do it?
Before you search your first job board or post your first job ad, you need to figure out what your SEO needs are.
I suggest you begin with a comprehensive SEO checklist to see where your site stands.
The SEO checklist on Alexa’s blog is a good place to start.
You don’t need to fix issues— that is what you are hiring a freelance SEO for, right?
But you do need to create a comprehensive list of your strengths and weaknesses as you see them. This will serve as a starting point when you’re looking to hire an SEO.
Another great option is this 15-minute SEO checklist from Moz. I love that it walks you through each step and explains why each step is important.
The information you uncover here will help you later when you are looking for and interviewing possible candidates.
For example, if you realize your link profile includes some shady links from an old writer, you would want to choose an SEO who has experience in cleaning up link profiles.
If you realize you have a bunch of duplicate content, you would want an SEO who specializes in on-page SEO.
Before we dig into how to find the right freelance SEO, I want to talk about where to find an SEO.
Where to Find a Quality Freelance SEOs
When looking to hire an SEO, most people turn to their favorite search engine, which can be a good place to start.
Just remember to skip over the ads and look at the organic results.
Because if an SEO can’t rank well for key terms like “SEO expert” or “SEO consultant” or “SEO your city,” they aren’t very good at their jobs.
Skip these results:
And look at these organic results further down.
This is not to say ads are inherently bad. You just want to find an SEO who is able to rank organically for key terms related to SEO.
I also like searching on AngelList for freelancers.
This is a site dedicated job seekers and investors with startups looking for resources. It is a great place to find quality leads.
Indeed is another good option. Click on “Find Resumes” at the top to search for job applicants.
You can search by skills, job title, companies, and even location.
Craigslist can be a surprising source of quality applicants.
If you are comfortable working with a remote freelancer, post in several large cities including Seattle, San Francisco, Chicago, New York, and Miami.
You can also use more niche sites such as Inbound.org, Mediabistro, and We Work Remotely.
Now that I have shared where to post your job listing, let’s move onto how to find the right freelance SEO for your brand.
How to Find the Right Freelance SEO
Finding a skilled freelance SEO can be the difference between growing your business and wasting thousands of dollars.
So it is important to get it right.
The right SEO needs to understand your brand, stay up to date on the latest SEO news, know how to track results, and be able to effectively communicate with you and your current team.
Here are a few steps for hiring an SEO without compromising on quality.
Step 1: Look for someone with a proven track record in SEO.
Above, I suggested you look for someone who ranks well organically for “SEO your city.” This a good place to start.
But, if you are looking for a freelancer, the best candidate might not be in your city.
What do you do?
Search for people who rank well for other key terms, such as “SEO consultant” or “SEO freelancer.”
You can also search for key terms related to those SEO weaknesses we uncovered when doing the simple SEO audit earlier.
For example, you might search “on-page SEO case studies” or “duplicate content solutions.” The people who rank well for these keywords likely know their stuff.
In some instances, those knowledgeable people might be agencies. This will happen when you search “SEO case studies.”
Make sure you look at the articles and see who wrote them. Some may be guest posts written by a freelancer.
Also, ask the SEO freelancer for case studies or references.
Don’t just take their word on how awesome they are at SEO. They should be able to backup their claims with data.
Step 2: Interview prospective candidates.
Once you have a list of freelance SEOs who might be a good fit, it is time to start interviewing them. There are three types of questions I like to ask prospective candidates.
Feel free to adjust these to fit your needs.
The first question is, “Looking at my website, what are 3 SEO mistakes you would recommend fixing?”
Keep in mind, you aren’t looking for them to tell you exactly how they would fix the problem. That is time you would pay for.
But they should be able to name a few areas that need improvement.
A highly skilled SEO needs to be able to look at your site source code and find a few areas in need of improvement.
Even on my site I would expect an freelance SEO to at least be able to mention a few strategies we could test.
The key is to make sure you ask them this on the spot. A good SEO shouldn’t need time to do a bunch of research.
The second question is, “What is your SEO philosophy?”
This will give you an idea of how they work and how they approach SEO.
Do they only focus on link building?
Are some of their strategies black hat?
This is information you need to have before you make a hiring decision.
For example, from the SEO checklist earlier, you might know you need to focus on on-page SEO. This question will help you find the right SEO for your needs.
The third question is, “What kind of rankings can I expect?”
This is sort of a trick question. You actually don’t want an SEO who promises you front page rankings at the drop of a hat.
Why? Because if they are doing white hat SEO, they can’t promise you top rankings in a short period of time.
That isn’t how SEO works.
A good SEO knows SEO is less of a sprint and more of a long distance race. It takes time.
Instead, look for an answer closer to:
“Well, I can’t promise you front page rankings in a week, but my average clients see an increase of 35% in organic search in the first 60 days. Based on X, Y, Z, I think…”
Step 3: Do a small test job before you sign a long-term contract.
So, you think you’ve found the perfect SEO. Before you lock them in with a long-term contract, you need to do a shorter test job.
Choose one key term or one page you want to improve and have them focus only on that for 30 to 60 days.
This should be enough time to see changes.
To figure out if their efforts are working, you want to check to see if your impressions are increasing.
To do this, first log in to Google Search Console.
Then, click on the website they are working on.
Then, open up the Search Analytics Report.
Look at the page or search term you are having them optimize and make sure the impressions are going up.
This is an indication that what they are doing is working.
Step 4: Finally, stay connected and keep the communication lines open.
You need to keep in touch with your SEO.
Do they have access to everything they need? Are you seeing the results you expected? Is there a sale period coming up?
Communication is key to building a successful relationship with anyone, and it is doubly important for a successful relationship with a freelancer.
Hiring a freelance SEO versus an agency or full-time employee does not mean you have to compromise on quality.
In fact, you might find it isn’t a compromise at all.
The right SEO will be able to improve your site while staying within your budget so your company can continue to grow.
Going through all these steps does take a bit more time than just hiring the first name to pop up on Google.
The difference is these steps will help you hire an SEO freelancer who will stick around for the long haul.
Have you hired a freelance SEO or are you looking to do so? What is the most important quality you look for?