As any business owner looking to increase her website traffic has come to learn, there are a large number of individuals and agencies claiming to be Search Engine Optimization (SEO) experts (I’ll periodically refer to them throughout this piece as ‘SEOs’ for short). Unfortunately, vetting such people can be a nearly impossible task; no school that I’m aware of offers an “SEO degree,” nor are there any bodies licensing SEOs.
Reviews can be helpful, should the SEO expert in question be an agency, but are easily manipulated and can be hard to obtain for freelancing individuals. Her search may be easier, however, if she understands some of the basic skills to look for when setting out to hire an SEO expert. A good SEO should be able to wear three different hats:
These days, Google will overlook many errors if a website has what it believes to be the better experience for users. However, it’s still quite possible to shoot oneself in the foot with Googlebot-halting mistakes, lost pages, or simply to hinder content with poor code. A person or agency with development skills is a must.
Now, far too often website owners equate the term developer with someone who knows HTML and CSS. As of this writing, it’s 2019. Those are the very basics today and won’t get anyone very far unless the site in question is a small, flat-html website. A rarity to be sure.
No, a good SEO expert will have some understanding of the more advanced technologies that today’s web platforms are built on: PHP and asp.net are the big ones, but the needs depend on the business’ platform. Even if the expert in question won’t be the one changing the code to fix issues that come up, they’ll be able to better direct the developer in charge on the right course of action. An SEO candidate without these skills may waste the developer’s time sending them down a rabbit-hole looking for information.
A technically perfect website will do nothing without content to draw in users. This doesn’t necessarily require an SEO expert, but a content marketing effort can benefit greatly from having one.
Skilled writers can (and should) ensure that they have not only correctly identified the right audience to target, but that they are meeting the needs of the audience. No writer wants to write a piece that won’t be read. However, in the business world, the push to create content can sometimes cause writers to shorten, or eliminate, these necessary steps.
The advantage here is that an SEO has a major incentive to include those steps: backlinks. Links are still (and will probably continue to be for a very long time) a major contributor to Google, Bing, and other search engines pushing content to the first spot in the search results. An SEO looks at a piece of content as a way to get those vital links. Getting them requires readers to not only enjoy or benefit from the content, but to find it so absolutely fantastic that they need to share it with others. The SEO must be on-point with their writing and research to create such content.
Okay, so this isn't a title that one would traditionally think of in terms of 'hats,' but bear with me here. The world of SEO is an ever-changing one. Google is constantly making changes to the confidential algorithm they use to rank websites, and SEO professionals are on a never-ending quest to discover new tips, tricks, and ways to engage that help them better rank their sites.
A good SEO should be a voracious reader. The very first thing they should be doing in the morning is catching up on the latest SEO news. It’ll not only keep them ahead of trends, but it will often be knowledge of immediate practical use.
Say, for instance, that Google pushes out a major ranking factor update, and traffic to the business’ website has dramatically changed (as it has for thousands of other websites). A candidate who doesn’t keep up to date with the latest news may jump to unfounded conclusions, destroying beneficial changes or making inconsequential ones on the assumption that their actions had something to do with the change.
On the other hand, the voracious reader may very well have expected (and even prevented) a massive fluctuation in traffic, knowing that Google was preparing to launch an update. Even if they hadn’t known in advance, by catching up on the latest news and discussion, they may already know what others have done to fix the issue when it’s discovered.
While we’re here, I’ll take a moment to drop a recommendation. Search Engine Roundtable is a great, very up to date news site covering the industry as a whole, from Google’s latest announcements to chatter on SEO forums. As far as I can tell, it’s inexplicably run by just one person, Barry Schwartz, who must know everyone in the business.
I am sure that others in the field could add a hat or two to this list. After all, the hats given to a good SEO vary by the needs of their employer. However, these three roles are the major ones that a business owner should be looking for.