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Here's When – and How – You Should Hire an SEO Expert for Your Business Understanding SEO and digital marketing is important, but in some cases you'll need to hire a consultant to manage your online strategy.

By Gajura Constantin Edited by Micah Zimmerman

Key Takeaways

  • Search engine optimization (SEO) is essential for small businesses.
  • Outside SEO consultants can help boost organic traffic and revenue.
  • Consider your technical and content bandwidth and goals before hiring contractors.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Although many individuals understand the importance of search engine optimization (SEO) — the process of increasing your website's visibility on search engines like Google — very few people know precisely what it takes to implement an effective strategy. Unless you're already an expert in SEO marketing, your business might benefit from hiring a seasoned professional — full time or on a contract — to increase the exposure of your digital products.

The same can be said of your broader marketing goals. While you may already have created a content strategy, working with an outside digital marketing agency can help drive more awareness to your business while you focus on other aspects of the operation. A good SEO expert will have been in the industry for a few years and will understand how the system works. They will be able to update your website to attract more organic traffic and increase your leads.

Related: 5 Ways Businesses Can Get Traffic and Generate Leads

The case for hiring an SEO expert

You can enjoy the benefits of technical expertise

Boosting your business's online presence through SEO is complex. Part of it involves technical updates that greatly impact the visibility of your business, and an expert will implement a variety of processes that can help you outrank your competitors on Google, Bing and other search engines. Typically, an SEO expert will use some of the following strategies to improve your business:

  • Conduct a site-wide SEO audit to determine what pages perform best
  • Perform keyword research and optimization
  • Optimize your URL structure
  • Recommend new content creation strategies
  • Optimize title tags and meta descriptions
  • Improve your backlinking process
  • Enhance your page and website loading speeds

Related: Don't Use The Same SEO Playbook As Your Competitors. Use These 3 SEO Tactics Instead.

You'll have more time to run your business

Running a successful business is challenging — there are always administrative tasks competing for your attention. If you're disproportionately focused on SEO, other aspects of your business might suffer. By hiring an SEO expert, you can trust that your digital presence will thrive while you focus on the other important aspects of running a business.

You'll stay on top of changing algorithms

Search algorithms are constantly evolving as search engines alter their criteria for ranking websites – the system that worked two weeks ago may be outdated today. Unless it's something you're looking at every day, it will be hard to keep up to date with these constant changes. An SEO expert will look for ways to update your site as SEO criteria shift.

You'll save money in the long run

Hiring an SEO expert is not cheap, especially if you want to get the best results. That being said, it's hard to make money if your website isn't attracting visitors. According to the 2023 "State of SEO" survey by Conductor, 93% of respondents said SEO positively impacted their digital growth and marketing goals, underscoring how important it is to invest in SEO strategies. Hiring an SEO expert to build your strategy ensures you're implementing website updates that will ultimately drive revenue.

Your content profile will grow "healthier"

Google and other search engines often evaluate the content profiles of businesses before ranking their websites. If your content profile is not healthy — typically because you're not publishing compelling content — it is almost guaranteed that Google will not rank it high. An SEO expert can help you evaluate content gaps and overhaul your strategy by recommending a publishing cadence and helping your writers produce content that is valuable to your customers.

It'll give you an edge on your competition

When you search for keywords related to your business, you'll be frustrated if you see a competitor's product or service outranking yours. If that's the case, there's a good chance they have invested in SEO or other digital marketing strategies. Working with an expert can help you implement strategies to reduce the gap — and even surpass — the competition.

Digital PR without an agency's help

The more places the name of your business appears, the better — particularly online. When it comes to SEO, an effective public relations strategy will mean your business is being mentioned in news articles, industry publications and in the content created by other sources — an SEO tactic referred to as backlinking. The more often your company is mentioned or linked to, the higher you'll rank for keywords that are important to your business goals. To gain traction with backlinks, though, you'll need a public relations strategy.

If you can't afford to hire a public relations agency to do this work for you, there are other ways to generate buzz and get your business's name out there. Use the following strategies to your advantage:

  • Build real relationships: If you want media members to write about your business, don't simply send press releases and promotional emails their way. Instead, reach out and ask what content areas they're covering, offer yourself as a subject matter expert and see if they'd like to hear more about your business. Perhaps even try to schedule coffee or an informational phone call. By creating an authentic relationship with members of the press, you're more likely to get coverage.
  • Research local media: One of the surest ways to alienate a reporter is to flood them with irrelevant pitches. Rather than send your pitches to the wrong people, figure out who in your area might cover topics related to your business. Read the work of different reporters and make an informed decision. Don't pitch a travel journalist a feature about your tech startup, for instance.
  • Tell a story: Journalists often want to see if there's storytelling potential in your pitch, so be creative and build a narrative with your outreach. Who are the characters at the heart of your operation? How did your business get started? Is it benefitting your community or changing your industry in a unique way? Answering these questions in a pitch may pique a reporter's interest.
  • Think ahead: Many publications are working weeks — often months — in advance to build their content calendar. If you have a story tied to a particular time peg, don't wait until the week before to pitch it. Reach out well in advance to give reporters and editors an opportunity to ask questions, assign the story, write it and run it through their editing process before publication.
  • Respect reporters' time: Once you've found the right contact and sent a pitch, be tactful. If you don't hear back, follow up once or twice, but don't hound them every day or week. Reporters and editors are busy, and they simply might not have the capacity to respond. Your story might be compelling , but reporters are getting interesting pitches all the time. Never follow up with angry emails — it's unprofessional and it won't help your cause.
  • Don't get discouraged: Building connections and pitching stories take time and persistence. Just because you don't hear back from someone does not mean your story isn't worthwhile. You might just need to find a new target publication, pitch a different journalist and build a new relationship.

When and why to hire a marketing agency

At a certain point, your business will need a dedicated person to oversee your various digital marketing, SEO or public relation efforts . If an internal, full-time hire doesn't make sense, you may be well served by partnering with an outside agency to take on one or many aspects of your broader digital marketing needs. To determine whether you should hire someone in house or on contract, consider the following:

  • Type of expertise: An in-house marketer will have in-depth knowledge of your business, know exactly what your team does and devote almost all of their working hours to your business. With an outside agency, you'll get access to an entire team of marketing professionals who have an array of expertise, but you might not get the same level of investment in your business.
  • Communication style: Having someone in house means you will work side-by-side, have regular communication and can get ongoing, immediate updates. You won't have the same level of access with a marketing agency. You may have in-person meetings as the strategy is developed, but that will ultimately shift to email and phone communication.
  • Budget: It's generally more expensive to hire your own marketing professional than to work with an agency. When you hire in house, keep in mind that you're going to have to pay a salary as well as the expenses that come with offering competitive benefits to quality employees. Still, it is often worth it for the right hire.
  • Timeline: Small businesses may find themselves needing to create a marketing strategy, which can happen if customer growth plateaus, competitors begin gaining market share or new products are not taking off. In these situations, businesses might consider an agency, which could jump in immediately and help develop a marketing strategy. It takes longer to recruit, hire and train a new employee.

If you decide to hire an outside marketing agency for your business, there are many factors to consider before signing a contract. Consider evaluating potential agencies based on the following:

  • Credibility through social proof: A quick way to filter out dodgy agencies is to look at their experience and the social proof they give to build credibility. If they claim to have expertise in your industry, make sure their portfolio demonstrates the same. Check out their client testimonials on independent review aggregators, review their social media and perform due diligence by speaking with former clients.
  • Avoid a one-size-fits-all approach: Be wary of agencies trying to sell you template-driven solutions. Often when an agency has delivered many projects, they may feel your company is no different. If their initial proposal is too generic, with no research and customized planning involved, they will likely offer run-of-the-mill services.
  • Beware of the lowest bidder: If a company quotes you a very low cost compared to the competition and promises to deliver instant organic growth or unrealistic sales leads, think again. These may look like attractive propositions but are, in most instances, inaccurate.
  • Ownership of intellectual property: Make sure that ideas, assets or any other collaborative output conceptualized and created are the rightful property of the firm hiring the agency. You'll want to keep these assets under your discretion and control. If the agency is being shady about ownership rights, it's time to reconsider.

Work out the best deal: Start with asking for a request for proposal (RFP). Review proposals, ask questions and get clarity on the processes, team structures and communication styles. You can ask firms to prepare a sales pitch or arrange a marketing consultation. If you like the agency's approach but have two excellent contenders, go for a trial run. A small paid project that caters to a part of a business objective can be a distinguishing test.

Gajura Constantin

CEO of IUWO.com and GAJURA.com

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