5 Things You Need to Know When Hiring an SEO Consultant
Illustration courtesy of Migraine Chick.

Although the basics of search engine optimization (SEO) can be easily understood and implemented by even the greenest of webmasters, you still might need to consider hiring an SEO consulting agency.

Maybe you're too swamped with business responsibilities to dedicate the necessary time to your website's SEO. Or maybe the basic techniques you've applied to your site haven't been sufficient to overcome your competitor's lead in search engine results.

If so, you'll want to keep the following five priorities in mind as you begin looking for an agency to take your site's SEO to the next level:

1. Experience
Given how rapidly the search engines change their algorithms, it's important to identify a consultant who has experience navigating frequent search engine updates without compromising campaign effectiveness. You can browse through each candidate's website to see the amount of SEO experience, as well as any case studies, that demonstrate past successes.

But don't simply judge experience by the number of years SEO consultants have been in business. Though most companies make it a priority to stay up-to-date, you could encounter an older firm using outdated best practices. For this reason, pair years of experience with the following variables.

Related: 5 SEO Metrics You Don't Need to Obsess Over 

2. Results
Pay special attention to the results that consultants promise to deliver. In particular, steer clear of any consultancy that promises to get your website ranked on the first page of Google within a specific time frame. Unless you're targeting the uncompetitive keywords, it simply isn't possible to predict the amount of time needed to achieve a high ranking for all keyword phrases.

Instead, ask how your candidate agencies plan to measure the success of your campaign -- whether in terms of a specific traffic or conversion level, a set number of backlinks built or a certain ranking achieved over time. Realistically, it may take between six months and a year -- or sometimes even longer -- to rank well for even moderately competitive keyword phrases. So, if an agency offers you something that sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

3. Industry Presence
As you begin to narrow down your list of potential SEO consultancies, look at each firm's industry presence. Do your candidates:

• Regularly publish guest posts on top search industry news websites, such as Search Engine Land, Search Engine Journal or Search Engine Watch?
• Release regular white papers based on their own research and experience?
• Present at well-known industry conferences?

You shouldn't rule out all up-and-coming agencies. They could do a great job for you, but just haven't established themselves in the marketplace yet.

But if you're concerned about wasting your limited resources on a little-known agency, you may want the peace of mind of choosing a consultant with an established industry presence. It's one way to be sure you're getting a seasoned staff that knows its stuff.

Related: How to Construct SEO-Friendly URLs (Video) 

4. Customer Reviews
Contact every SEO consultant you're considering and seek customer references. Don't simply read the testimonials published on the consultant's website. Anyone can make up these recommendations or pay others to write biased reviews.

Ask each SEO agency to provide you with contact information for at least three to five references. Any legitimate agency will have this information readily available, so be wary of companies that refuse to provide it.

Then get in touch with the consultant's customers to find out whether their projects were successful and whether they'd work with the agency again. These reference checks can provide a tremendous amount of information to help you decide whether the consultant would be a good fit for your SEO goals.

5. Cost
The consultant's fees, of course, are a critical consideration. Few of us have unlimited marketing budgets, so you will have to factor costs into your decision about which SEO goals to pursue and which agencies to work with.

When speaking with SEO agencies about potential projects, be upfront about your budget. A good consultancy will give you some idea of what it can do at your budget level, as well as tell you whether it's comfortable working within your spending limits.

While evaluating these different variables might seem like a significant time investment -- especially when you're thinking about hiring an SEO consultant to save you time -- you should find that your efforts pay off in terms of your campaign's ultimate success.

Related: Google's 10-Minute Guide to SEO Basics