Your website has been around for a while now, but people have a better chance of finding the Holy Grail than they do your site after conducting a search. You know that you need professional help, so you start calling a number of SEO agencies to get a feel for how they operate, how much they charge, and who they have helped in the past. You start hearing "SEO consultant" every time you pick up the phone. The mythical figure that will apparently manage your campaign should you happen to contract with any of the agencies. Apparently, they are experienced and know the inner-workings of Google's ranking algorithm.

So you sign a contract, and your campaign gets started. You start seeing some results, and you feel like you might be on the cusp of something great. Yet this is all still new to you, and you're not really sure how well the process is coming along.

If you were to find yourself in that situation, how would you know if your SEO consultant is good at their job? What signs should you look for throughout the relationship that may demonstrate the consultant's level of expertise?

They found the Grail, eventually. A good SEO consultant will ensure your site is found in the search results a lot faster.

SEO consultants will be responsible for many different things, and can fulfill a variety of roles and responsibilities. In part due to how new the industry is, it can be difficult to make blanket statements about what an "SEO consultant" should do. That being said, the industry has matured to the point that there are a number of basic practices that every consultant should undertake with the goal of increasing the revenue generated through your website. In other words, you should at the very least expect a true expert to do the following:

Sit down and discuss your goals and objectives for the campaign. The first thing an SEO consultant should do is sit down and discuss what your goals are for your SEO campaign. Without understanding what your goals are, it becomes very difficult to properly manage a campaign, and often, it can end up going in too many different directions. Questions a good consultant should ask during this exchange are the following:

  • What are you trying to accomplish online?
  • How visible is your site in search engines at the beginning of the campaign?
  • What market are you interested in targeting?
  • What are your KPI's for your website?
  • How large of a budget can you devote to SEO?

Analyze your website and make on-site and technical recommendations that will allow your site to perform well in the search engines. After the goals of the campaign are identified, the consultant should analyze your website to identify any on-site or technical issues that may be hindering the site's performance in major search engines. Such analysis, if executed properly, could take anywhere from several days to several weeks, depending on the size of your site and the number of problems identified. The consultant should follow this analysis up with a series of recommendations that you can implement to ensure the campaign gets off on the right foot and that search engines like what they see.

Analyze data to make decisions as to what direction the campaign should go in. Analyzing data is imperative for an SEO campaign to be successful. A good consultant will ensure that all of the proper analytics features are in place so that performance in the SERPs and user interaction with your site are being tracked. The consultant should continuously analyze the data compiled over time to identify what is working and what is not. The insights gained from such analysis should dictate much of the decision making process throughout the campaign.

Identifying flesh wounds early in a campaign can prevent full on decapitation at a later date.

Coordinate with others involved in the campaign, directly or indirectly. This may be a  PPC manager (if you are running both organic and paid campaigns), content writer, developer, or your own marketing team, for example. If the consultant isn't proactive in working with the individuals involved with increasing both your online and offline presence, it won't bode well for your campaign. For example, many recommendations that the consultant will make for your site must be implemented by your developer; it is the responsibility of the consultant to foster open communication with that person to ensure that each recommendation is understood. Additionally, if you are running other marketing/advertising campaigns, the consultant should connect with the individuals managing these campaigns to ensure that everyone is working in unison and that goals are aligned. Such collaboration often leads to new opportunities for each party involved.

Develop an outreach strategy to acquire links from other websites. While the on-site and technical recommendations have been implemented, the consultant should develop a formal plan for acquiring backlinks to your site. Since backlinks are still the single most important factor in search engine rankings, this plan should indicate what strategies will be used to acquire backlinks and the resources needed to execute the plan. Outreach plans will differ depending on the nature of your site and the landscape you are competing in online.

Much like high quality shrubberies, acquiring high quality links requires creativity and sound strategy.

Consult with you on questions or issues that arise related to SEO throughout the campaign. While this seems like a no-brainer, a good consultant will keep the door open for you so that any questions, concerns, or issues that arise that are pertinent to the campaign can be answered or addressed. While the primary role of the consultant is to ensure that your campaign is moving in the right direction, it is also important for that individual to communicate with you and explain why certain decisions are being made and strategies employed.

While the role of the SEO consultant will continue to develop over time, the approaches discussed above should be embraced by anyone managing your campaign that has your best interests in mind. The essence of the consultant in the SEO community is to maintain an expert level understanding of search engine algorithms, proactively analyze all data and engage other parties involved with a client's marketing and advertising efforts, and effectively communicate the strategy behind all decisions made that influence a campaign. I doubt even the rapid evolution of search engines will change that.