When is the Best Time to Hire an SEO Professional?

If you have the budget resources the best time to hire an SEO is before you start your website projects. However, most people new to the web lack the cashflow needed to buy quality SEO services. Further if they don't understand the complexities of the market and get bombarded with cheap (and low to no value) SEO package offers from web hosts, registrars, and email spammers they may think SEO should be cheap and easy, causing them to buy garbage - and become distrusting of the concept of SEO.

Your best bet (if you are new to the SEO field) is to do as many of the following as are practical

  • start a test Google AdWords campaign (and use the conversion feedback from this to help inform your SEO strategy)
  • if you are in a competitive AdWords market you might also want to watch the Google AdWords videos, and read books by guys like Andrew Goodman and Perry Marshall
  • buy 2 or 3 SEO books from Amazon.com (and see where some of the general tips and ideas overlap...mark up the books and take notes)
  • join a high caliber SEO membership site
  • read 5 or 10 of the top SEO blogs for a minimum of a month or 2
  • go to an SEO conference or 2

...and then from that collection of knowledge you can start building a bit of a strategy, some momentum, and some cash flow. That way if/when you do hire an SEO, you are the type of client who is worth having (ie: one that will receive a positive ROI, one who knows the basics and will make sure suggestions are implemented, and one who is willing to allocate significant resources in the search game).

If you are a small or local player in a fairly non-competitive non-saturated niche (a clue here might be if your AdWords campaign is instantly profitable then the market probably is not too saturated) you might be able to do well hiring an affordable SEO right out of the gate, but when you get down into the lower price bucket for services there is a market for lemons effect and over 99% of the offers are scams.

In spite of claims to the contrary, you can do SEO and SEM yourself, especially if the market is not saturated. More and more companies SEO is getting baked right into their content process and company culture - many companies that hire third party consultants also have an in house SEO team. Search is the highway new customers drive on for the next hundred years. SEO will be taught as a fundamental piece of marketing strategy in the next decade.

The big limitations to doing SEO yourself are if you don't understand some of the risks vs rewards and use a singularly focused SEO strategy then those types of sites can have wildly fluctuating rankings and higher than needed risk levels. The more supports you have the more solid and stable your search rankings will be, but if you just find 1 loophole that works and exploit it aggressively then when it stops working those types of sites can come crashing down.

This is where having an SEO consultant on retainer makes a lot of sense. It prevents some of the oh crap, I just destroyed my business moments that Google shows business owners every day. Think of an SEO consultant on retainer as an insurance policy on your business.

In the last couple days I have had multiple people contact me about their site after it got whacked in Google. That is sorta the wrong time to contact an SEO...it is far better to do so while you still have growth, momentum, and cashflow. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

If your site is banned or filtered then sometimes you have to take a step back before moving forward. A site that was banned for buying too many links will be looked at and evaluated more closely upon review by Google - such reviews take some gray hat opportunities off the table... a significant lasting cost in a competitive set of search results where business is often won or loss on small differences in strategy.

And in many cases where a site was penalized for being too aggressive there are similar techniques that can be used with a far lower risk profile. Hiring an SEO who can help you manage risk and growth while you have momentum (or during the slightest pull back) makes a lot of sense. It is leveraging expertise to help build a stronger foundation and a deeper competitive moat.

But asking them for help after your site is banned is much harder because for them to help you get unbanned they might have to try to ask for some favors or try to leverage their feedback channels they earned with the search engines. If they just keep making requests to get penalties removed then that makes them look pretty spammy, kills those feedback channels, and in some egregious cases penalties can take years to be lifted.

The goal of an SEO is not just to rank your site, but to keep it ranked as the structure of the web changes, Google's business goals change, and your competitive landscape changes. This often means working the gray areas to get a site built up, and then pulling back on the sketchier stuff as momentum is built and solid supports take over the role of pushing up rankings.

Managing risk is probably the singular most undervalued aspect of SEO consulting. Largely because the cost does not appear until it does - and by then it is already too late.

Published: September 23, 2009 by Aaron Wall in seo tips


September 24, 2009 - 6:12am

This is solid thinking, but I think it'll fall on deaf ears.

SEO, in the mind of the client (corporate or not) is generally ignored as a risk management strategy. I appreciate that you're aware of that and making a stand here...

SEO is an opportunity sell. Concepts of risk management occur (if at all) at the very highest levels of the corporate world. The majority of mid-managers are not concerned with risk - especially since their average tenor at a single corp has trended downward for some time.

And small businesses? Your term, "budget resources," is not in their vocabulary.

SEO is a "cashing in" strategy. It's still magic sauce. "Just show us an ROI." The thought that an SEO could protect you from the loss of search traffic is non-existent.

A spanking from Google is as shocking as a literal spanking in the middle of a crowded street. Few expect it, few fear it.

However, I think(hope) we're progressing towards the realization across business in general that "Google" is more than a successful company - it's become a closely-controlled public utility. And the only reason anti-trust hasn't come thumping down on them is because government is slow and stupid.

September 24, 2009 - 10:48am

I hear you...so many people want free money, instant ROI, etc. that they just don't consider risk at all. Part of why a post like this is so necessary. And part of why it only got 1 comment! ;)

September 24, 2009 - 11:13am

My hosting company offer a service where they submit to 200+ search engines and word it very carefully to the point where its confusing:
"Millions of people are using search engines to search the internet every second of the day. To attract these visitors to your website, people need to be able to find you when they are searching.

The only way they will find you is if you rank highly in the search results which can take years of work, cost thousands of dollars and may never happen.

The solution is having your website submitted to all the major search engines such as Google, Yahoo and MSN which combined send over 90% of all internet search engine traffic.

Submission Hubs professional search engine submission specialists will analyze your website to maximize the results."

What a load of crap. And it costs £50, supposedly reduced from £100. All these people preying on the unknowledgable, selling their lies.

We know the majority of these search engines will index the site via a link anyway so it's pretty unnecessary.

September 25, 2009 - 5:25am

The goal of an SEO is not just to rank your site, but to keep it ranked as the structure of the web changes

Nailed it in one. SEO is about achieving and maintaining rankings & traffic from search engines.

September 25, 2009 - 11:35pm

The people who know what SEO is, don't really know what SEO is. That is the problem.

I still regularly meet with big time tech executives, some on their 3rd or 4th web-based venture, who think SEO is link building plus "making sure the launch platform follows SEO best practices".

When I am asked to participate, I ask the executive how he will feel if I, as SEO consultant, question the vision driving the project. Not the technical aspects, but the core, underlying assumptions supporting the idea that the project will succeed in the marketplace. Who will hear those concerns? Will it be the tech lead? Or will it be the executive, or perhaps the investors ;-) ?

If the lead exec doesn't understand that question... that says a lot about the disconnect between strategy and market performance expectations. No one can make a cat bark like a dog.

September 26, 2009 - 7:45pm

No doubt. One time an executive at a start up spent a few grand having us do some background work, and then wanted to spend something like 20x that having us do an in depth competitive review. But it turns out he had venture capitalists who had to sign off on anything in the 5 figures and above price range. And his VC investors did not believe in SEO!

Over 60% of his customers were from a country where he had content in that language but ONLY IF you selected a drop down form (and it did not even change the URLs). Fixing that one issue was literally worth 8 figures or more on his project, but his VCs were idiots who didn't believe in SEO, and so he never got that tip.

In a high growth market he simply did not grow as fast as his market. I just went to his homepage and saw that above the fold there are AdSense ads for competing services.

So they didn't believe in SEO, but they believe in putting contextual ads as the first thing on the homepage. I won't be surprised to visit in a few months or a year and see the site kick a 404 on the homepage. Opportunity missed :(

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