9 Signs You May Be Ready To Hire An SEO


I’m not an SEO myself, but having been brought up around them the past few years, I can certainly understand their pain. Sometimes it’s hard to filter out the clients who are really serious about SEO and improving their Web site from the well-intentioned folks who just think SEO sounds good on paper. And if you are a prospective client, sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint when exactly you’re ready to bring someone on to help you with your site, especially if your SEO hasn’t done a very good job of setting client expectations. And then things can just get messy. And bitter.

Let’s prevent it from hitting that stage, shall we? If you’re a business thinking it may be time to get some professional SEO help, here are nine signs that you’re ready to get involved with the process. I’m sure my SEO friends will help add on in the comments. [Constructive venting feels good. Constructive.]

You know shortcuts don’t work: You know that SEO is a long-term investment and you’re ready to put in the work. You don’t expect your three-page Web site to be able to rank competitively overnight and you’re willing to spend the time and dedicate the resources to improving it. You’ve also been around the block long enough to know that carbon-copy paid links, reporting competitors and fibbing to search engineers at conferences are NOT the way to a lasting Internet marketing campaign. Shortcuts and black magic are so five years ago. You don’t want to talk about that stuff and you know to run from vendors that do.

You want to be involved in the process: Businesses who are ready to work with a professional SEO aren’t content to just sit on the sidelines and let someone else do all the work. They want to get their hands dirty. As that fertility commercial says, once you’re ready, nine months is long enough to wait to have a baby. The same goes for SEO! Once you’ve finally committed to it, you want it all and you want to be part of it. You’re ready to get in on the meetings, you answer phone calls, you get your SEO the proper deliverables, and you’re willing to do anything you can to help you and your SEO give birth to the greatest site on the Internet!

You start educating yourself: You may have hired someone to take care of your SEO needs, but you still want to know what’s going on. You believe that being educated makes you a better client and, in turn, helps your Web site. To learn about SEO and help yourself start making education decision, you start reading trusted blogs (your SEO can probably help you ID some of these), you attend search events or conferences in your area, and you’re taking SEO training courses to get your mind up to speed. The more knowledge you can soak up to make yourself a valuable part of your SEO team, the better.

You question your SEO without second guessing: You’re actively involved in your SEO campaign. That means there will be times when you’ll wonder why your SEO is doing X instead of Y and what this Z thing is all about. Because you’re an educated client, you know enough not to simply follow someone blindly off a cliff. However, you also trust your hiring decision. You didn’t pick your SEO company randomly, instead, you did your homework and found the company that was the BEST fit for you. That means that even though you’ll sometimes need assurance, you feel comfortable trusting their expertise and don’t have to question them at every turn. As long as your vendor can clearly explain their motives, you feel safe in their arms.

You obsess over results, not rankings: You know that rankings and traffic is not the holy grail you’re looking for. With personalized search and new social factors being thrown into the mix, you’re more focused on real conversions and attracting targeted visitors than ever before. You don’t freak out when your rankings dip because as long as conversions keep increasing you know you’re moving in the right direction. You understand that while rankings can be a good benchmark, they don’t tell the whole story or dictate a successful SEO campaign. You’re interested in growing your business, not your position for vanity terms that bring absolutely no traffic. You laugh at your competitors who are.

You’re comfortable sharing: You understand that not only does SEO take teamwork but that you and your SEO are actually on the same team. To do your part and help the effort, you’re ready to give your SEO access to any and all data and information that they may need to learn more about how your site works and what is or is not helping attract visitors. If they ask you for something and you don’t have it, you’re willing to generate the information and get it to them as quickly as you can or just let them generate it themselves. Because you did your research when you hired your SEO, you feel a lot more comfortable trusting them and giving them the tools they need to do their job well. You understand that while you hold all the power in how effective your SEO campaign is, we’re kind of like your coach. The more you give us, the more we can do for you.

You take our recommendations…and implement them: You know that while we can make all the recommendations we’d like, it’s up to you to implement them. And the quicker you do so, the quicker we’re able to move forward and keep building you a great Web site (and earning you money). We all understand that some things will take longer to implement and that new team members may have to be hired or resources moved around, but you move where you can, as quickly as you can. You trust there’s a method for our madness and that we’re not just crazy. Okay, well…not totally crazy.

You’re not against writing content: You like get your hands dirty. You get that you’re more of an expert on your industry better than we ever could and you provide us with content when we ask. Sure, sometimes we’re able to tackle this for you and take it entirely off your plate, but sometimes what you do is SO specialized and SO targeted that we think it’d really be better coming from you, even if we’re going to fix it up later. You’ve been around the block a few times to know that much of your SEO efforts rely on your content so that we can use it to attract visitors, to build links, promote you, and to make your site worthy of achieving the goals we’ve set together.

You stick to the plan: You’re not one of those disappearing clients with Shiny Object Syndrome. You worked with us to put together the site’s SEO plan and you’re sticking to it. Just because you just read about a new technique on an SEO blog or someone at Google coughed conspicuously during the latest PubCon, doesn’t mean you’re running to change everything on a whim. We trust each other and we’re in it together.

The above items are things that we always try and sniff out during our initial chats with a prospective client. It helps us reduce future road blocks, but, as a business owner, it also gives you an idea of what you’re in for when you agree to a full SEO campaign.  We’re here to make your site grow up to be the best site it can be…but we still need you to help nurture it.  As we’ve said before, YOU are the most important part of your SEO campaign.

Your Comments

  • Casie

    Maybe this should be 9 “Prerequisites” instead. Along with implementing quickly, making sure you respond quickly – emails, ideas, etc.

    • Lisa Barone

      Responding in a timely manner is definitely another biggie. And ‘Prerequisites” is probably a better fit, yes. I often deserve to be beaten for my titles.

  • Jack Leblond

    Nice job Lisa – although some of this list sounds like you/they already have an SEO, but everything you said is correct.

    Many folks think hiring an SEO is like buying a toaster at walmart; buy it, bring it home, plug it in, enjoy delicious toast. Sorry, no. Hiring and SEO is more like finding a partner in a tag-team wrestling match, and you cannot be afraid to step in the ring and get involved in the fight. Because if you don’t, your partner, and your web site will get crushed.

  • Tony Verre

    Another great post. Definitely nine valuable criteria for prospective clients looking for SEO. But, these are the exact same criteria that an SEO/SEM company should use to evaluate their clients by. I know there are companies out there hard-up for clients, but latching on to anyone that walks in the door is just asking for disaster, frayed relationships, and communication.

    That said, all of this is “vacuum” criteria. Meaning, utopically, all 9 would be squared away before they walk to the table. Most of the time I find that we get prospective clients who just know they need help, but don’t quite understand what that “help” really entails and the cost of “professional help”.

    Getting these nine criteria in place takes years of a working relationship. You’ll never get all 9 prior to the sign-on. But that’s not to say all 9 can’t be solidified. Over time. Two-cents.

    • Lisa Barone

      In a perfect world, they’d probably all be squared away, however, I’m not sure that they are. We’re definitely with you that just ‘latching on’ to anyone is not smart and we interview our clients as much as they interview us. But sometimes its hard to judge people’s comfortableness until you’re in the situation. They may think they’re okay with handing over information or putting in the leg work and writing content…but suddenly when there’s a deadline looming they realize they’re not so comfortable. I think it’s important for businesses to realize what really is expected of them BEFORE we get to those stages.

      Thanks for the comment. Definitely stuff to think about!

  • Alan Bleiweiss


    I’d just like to add the fact that prospective clients need to grasp what it means to end up high in the search engine results – the true meaning of their particular competitive landscape. Not just their direct competitors but any site that shares similar phrases, like suppliers, educational sites that focus on their market, and more than ever, Google’s own efforts to crowd out the organic results. The more they understand this, the more willing they are to appreciate the importance of the whole process.

  • Matthew Diehl

    Extremely well put Lisa! Each of the 9 is critical in evaluating up-front client intentions as well as ongoing project success.

    From personal experience, if anyone one of these falls through after the project has begun the success of the campaign is in significant jeopardy. The ability to quickly patch these holes can make or break the relationship with a client as well.

    • Lisa Barone

      Thanks, Matthew. Definitely agree. I think the stuff listed above is really the core of what has to be there for any good relationship. Otherwise, you’re in for a road of resentment

  • Dean

    Lisa, “nail hit firmly on head”, it`s taken a while for potentials and clients alike to understand that they are in it for the long haul.

    “You don’t freak out when your rankings dip because as long as conversions keep increasing you know you’re moving in the right direction”

    Thats the true indicator.

  • Nick Gowdy

    I’d only add that, should you find yourself with all of these pre-reqs met, you’re a fairly web-savvy company and might consider actually hiring an experienced inhouse SEO. I don’t want to dredge up the inhouse vs. agency debate here, but there can be significant advantages in terms of accountability, trust, communication, dedication, and cost savings in having your SEO on staff.

    On a completely unrelated note, I’ve always found something extra appealing about 9-lists. It’s like, “I could have given you a 10th thing, but these 9 are necessary and sufficient. Anything more would have been a waste of your time.”

    • Lisa Barone

      That’s a good point. We actually work a lot with a company’s inhouse SEO team. The company trust them to protect the company and the inhouse SEO trusts us not to get him fired. It’s often a good situation. :)

      And I totally agree on 9 Lists. I mean, I COULD have thrown in a 10th but…it would have been fluff. ;)

  • Zach Wyrick

    Amen! Great post Lisa.

    A possible 10th might be: You are ready for the results.

    Most small businesses don’t scale quickly. They THINK they want the increased traffic, sales, leads, etc. SEO brings over time, but often find themselves woefully unprepared when those things arrive at their doorstep (webstep?).

    It seems almost salesy to ask a business if they’re fundamentally ready to be #1 (or even 2-10) in their market, but it’s a very important question. How many small businesses crash and burn because they can’t handle success?

    • Nick Gowdy

      Not just new business – the site visits alone can tank a company if their site hosting isn’t prepared. I’ve seen countless sites go under from load while they scramble to upgrade from their dime-store webhost.

  • David Temple

    Very constructive indeed. It’s all about setting client expectations and if they are not willing to address those 9 signs then they’re not ready. My favorite is “You obsess over results, not rankings”. Amen sister and hallelujah! You ain’t no seo but you sure do talk the talk.

  • Chris Leone

    Well done post, Lisa.

    Another way to articulate the points you mentioned is “creating a culture of SEO.” This applies to analytics services and social media consulting as well. Create a culture through education and advising and get them excited about the space and the potential. To use Jack’s analogy, this is not like buying a toaster. We’re here to educate, to advice and to work. You’re never going to stop hearing, “get me more hits.” It’s our job at that point to say, “yes, we can do that, but I think you’d benefit a lot more if we take this approach because of a, b, c.

    No website is the same so canned packages or programs are likely to fail (or at least fall way short of a site’s potential). I think it’s the responsibility of every SEO to make this point clear and push towards creating the culture you described.

  • Sam Vuokra

    Even if you know a little seo yourself it’s always good to have a second opinion about these things. Or if you know that the seo company can help you in a completely different way say SEM or split testing then it’s added value to your business when you do other tasks that are more common to you. seo should always be a bigger project that you plan carefully and you must be working with the project and not leave it alone.