With the enduring importance of search engines in people’s daily lives, search engine optimisation or SEO has become a household name in digital marketing. And since you have stumbled upon this article, chances are you’re ready to do SEO or interested in what it has to offer. This is a comprehensive guide that will help business owners or anyone interested in organic search engine marketing understand its importance as a valuable marketing strategy. Beyond presenting the benefits of implementing best practices, I am going to discuss a lot more, including what you should expect, how much SEO costs, and how to find the right person to do it for you. I understand that you might not have ample time to read this extensive guide, so please refer to the table of contents below and jump directly to the section that’s important to you. (Tip: bookmark this page for later use.) Table of Contents:Definition & BenefitsIncreased leads and salesLong-term benefitsBetter return on investmentImproved user page experienceManage Your ExpectationsSEO is a long-term commitmentRankings are not permanentNot every page can generate trafficSEO is just one part of the equationSEO is not cheapSEO is not a one-man jobLearn How SEO Works1. Keyword Research2. Content Creation3. On-page Optimisation4. Technical SEO5. Link Building6. Conversion Rate Optimization7. Monitoring & AdjustmentsDo the SEO BasicsFor beginnersFor those who already startedKnow the SEO CostsHourly RateMonthly RetainerProject-BasedThings to RememberOutsource SEO ServicesSave on wage expensesCut overall marketing expensesOne less thing to worry aboutHire an SEO ExpertSet goalsWhere to Find CandidatesAgencies versus FreelancersWhat to Look for in a Candidate?Red flags to watch out forInterview questions to askTrack SEO KPIsNon-branded clicksUser engagementConversion rateReturn on investmentConclusion Definition & Benefits Simply put, search engine optimisation is a set of practices that help search engines like Google and Bing better discover and understand your website content. When done correctly, SEO helps you increase your chances of ranking higher on search engine results pages (SERP), which in turn, exposes your product or services to potential customers. SEO is an acronym for "search engine optimisation" or "search engine optimiser." In this article, it is used to refer to either the process or the person. Here are the benefits of doing SEO for your business: Increased leads and sales SEO boosts your visibility on search results, allowing you to capture organic traffic that generates leads and increases your revenue. With a 14.6% conversion rate compared to traditional outbound methods, SEO proves to be an incredibly effective strategy in reaching your target customers. As soon as Google or Bing starts displaying your site on the top of SERPs for relevant queries, you'll begin to see an influx of organic search traffic. When that happens, you have new leads who are likely interested in purchasing your product or service. However, take note that not all traffic is equally valuable, and not all visitors will make a purchase on their first visit. Which means you must aim to continuously increase your traffic over time, maintain it, and convert as much of that traffic into sales and other meaningful user actions. SEO will help you acquire traffic volume, although optimising conversions is a separate process called conversion rate optimisation (CRO). Long-term benefits When you run campaigns on paid advertising platforms such as Google Ads and Meta Ads, you stop reaching customers the moment you pause your campaigns. In contrast, you continue to benefit from your SEO efforts several months and years after implementation. As long as you continue to follow the best practices and align your strategy with Google’s major updates, your rankings and traffic are yours to keep. Better return on investment SEO often yields a higher return on investment compared to other marketing channels. While the numbers vary by industry, consider this example: independent marketing platform Gitnux reported that the average ROI for e-commerce SEO falls between 700% and 900%. If you have a limited budget, you can initiate basic SEO yourself by utilising free tools like RankMath and Google Search Console. Improved user page experience The overall improvements in your SEO will lead to a better page experience for your users. This is important because a good page experience builds trust with your visitors and increases your conversion rate. Users will be less likely to bounce or exit early during their sessions when your site loads fast, making it easier for them to navigate your site and do what they want. Manage Your Expectations Those SEO benefits sound promising, right? But the truth is, they are easier said than done. Save yourself from disappointment caused by absurd expectations by reading the points below. These are the things you need to know before you dive deep into search engine optimisation. Knowing what to expect will not only help you set realistic goals, but also find the best SEO candidate who can work around these challenges or limitations. SEO is a long-term commitment It is NOT a quick fix. If you're someone who anticipates immediate results, SEO is NOT for you. Depending on various factors, including industry competition and the specific tasks being undertaken, it can take several months before you start to see noticeable results. There's no definitive timeline, so those overseeing SEO for your business should provide you with regular status reports on a monthly or quarterly basis. It's perfectly acceptable if results take up to a year to fully materialise, as long as consistent progress is evident. Rankings are not permanent Sorry to disappoint you, but achieving the number one spot for a particular keyword doesn't guarantee a permanent position at the top of search results. This is because if Google identifies better and more relevant content to display, your site will move down the rankings. Additionally, major updates from Google, such as its core and helpful content updates, can lead to fluctuations in your site's traffic. Understand that your rankings are subject to change due to algorithmic shifts and the content strategies of your competitors—factors over which you have no control. It falls on your SEO specialist to ensure that your business remains competitive. Not every page can generate traffic Your visibility in search results is contingent on user queries. Therefore, if no one is specifically searching for your "Contact Us" page, it's unrealistic to expect that page to drive a significant amount of traffic to your site, regardless of how well it's optimised. This underscores the importance of focusing on optimising pages or content that truly matter—often referred to as your top organic landing pages. These include your service/product pages and pillar blog posts. SEO is just one part of the equation While SEO can definitely get you traffic, it doesn't guarantee conversions or sales. If you're seeing high traffic but low sales, there may be other underlying reasons. Perhaps those visitors are not ready to buy yet or there's an issue with your product; consider improving it or refining your pricing model to be more competitive and attract more buyers. Alternatively, assess user page experience. Even if you have an excellent product or service, visitors may leave early if they find your site difficult to navigate or interact with. There are many other factors that influence the decision to buy, and you need to look into them. Don’t always put the blame on SEO. SEO is not cheap SEO is expensive and rightfully so, because it has several moving parts demanding continuous attention. In addition, there are aspects beyond an SEO's control such as Google's updates and competitor content, and it is the responsibility of the SEO guy to deal with these on an ongoing basis. Unless you do it yourself or choose to delegate your needs to an offshore agency or freelancer offering more budget-friendly services, be prepared to invest thousands of dollars each month in SEO. SEO is not a one-man job While the SEO specialist sets and executes the overarching roadmap, certain implementations may not directly fall within their purview. It's unreasonable to expect them to handle tasks like modifying website code or executing highly technical enhancements – these responsibilities typically lie with a developer. Likewise, although content plays a crucial role in a robust SEO strategy, the actual writing of landing pages and posts falls under the domain of a writer. Even if you find someone proficient in coding, SEO, and writing, their working day has its constraints, and managing all these tasks within limited hours can be challenging. Not to mention that you would also need to pay this 'all-in-one' SEO professional more money for his skills. Learn How SEO Works After learning the advantages of SEO and understanding what to expect from it, it's time for you to grasp the basics of how it works. This section touches on the various processes involved in SEO to give you an overview of how each component contributes to overall success. I highly recommend reading this entire section because when you’re armed with sufficient knowledge, you'll be better equipped to set clear goals and steer clear of unscrupulous SEO specialists (unfortunately, they do exist). More often than not, you need a developer and a writer working together with an SEO to pull off everything on this list, especially when you have a complex website. 1. Keyword Research Keyword research is all about identifying the relevant search terms that your target audience is already using. This step ensures that the content you create aligns with what users actively seek on Google—because there's no point in crafting impeccably written and technically optimised pages if no one is interested in it. For example, if you sell French grocery products in Melbourne, keyword research would help you find the best keywords to target in your product pages. The goal is not to cast a wide net, but focus on topics that appeal to your target segment. Tools needed: Most popular SEO tools such as Semrush and Ahrefs offer keyword research features even in their free plans. If you're already using Google Search Console or Google Ads, you have valuable resources at your disposal. Expected output: A list of target keywords with the ideal search volume, level of competition, and search intent. If you have a relatively new website, do not focus on highly competitive keywords as it is difficult to rank for them right off the bat. Task frequency: It can range from 30 minutes to a whole day at work, depending on factors like the number of pages planned for publication and your current SEO progress. You need to know that this isn't a one-time process; ongoing keyword research is important especially if you publish new articles or products every month. 2. Content Creation Good content is the foundation of a successful SEO strategy. Why? Because Google wants to display the most relevant and helpful content to the user. So before you pay someone to go all out on your link building and overall SEO efforts, ask yourself this question: “Do I have pages that offer valuable content to users?” Google makes it crystal clear in its documentation that publishing content designed merely to gain search engine traffic—without considering the best interest of the user—will not help your site achieve long-term success in Search. Know also that quality precedes quantity here, because publishing hundreds of low-quality content will not help you rank at all. Case in point: I decided to unpublish 89 posts on our ONO Blog, restart everything, and focus our search and content marketing efforts on helpful content. Tools needed: It depends on your topics, content creation workflows, and your writer’s specific needs. If you leverage AI tools in brainstorming and proofreading, you may need either the free or paid plans of these tools. Ultimately, high quality content stems from the writer’s skills, experience, and his ability to research reliable information when needed. Expected output: High quality and helpful content that is primarily created to benefit your target audience. Again, one exceptional content far exceeds 10 low-quality articles. Task frequency: When you are just setting up your website, you need to create the main landing pages you want people to discover on search engines. Meanwhile, established sites tend to publish content weekly or monthly to serve an existing audience and reach new people through their blogs. 3. On-page Optimisation This part of SEO ensures that each piece of content is optimised for visibility on search engines. At its core, on-page optimisation involves adding your target keywords in different parts of the article where applicable, such as the title and headings, as well as creating your meta tags. These optimisations will help Google or Bing better understand the content of your page and its relevance to a specific query, thus increasing your chances of ranking. Tools needed: Each content management system (CMS) has some built-in features for on-page optimisation. If you are using WordPress, I highly recommend installing an SEO plugin such as RankMath and Yoast to extend its SEO capabilities. Expected output: Well-optimised pages that follow SEO best practices, from using keywords and writing meta descriptions to setting alt texts to images and linking to other content of your site (internal linking). Task frequency: This is done for every page you want to rank on Google. 4. Technical SEO After having well-optimised content, your next concern is making sure that all your important pages are indexed by Google. Because no matter how useful your content is, it will not appear on search results if it is not indexed properly. Also part of technical optimisation is improving your core web vitals—page loading time, interactivity, and visual stability—and enhancing the way your content is displayed on search results to encourage more clicks. Tools needed: Google Search Console is a great free tool that allows you to monitor your page indexing status and user page experience. Use it with any SEO tool capable of a sitewide audit to monitor and identify any technical errors not only in indexing, but also in your on-page optimisations. Applying some of the needed fixes and implementing structured data may require certain plugins or more sophisticated tools for the developer. Expected output: All important pages must be indexed by Google, with rich snippets and other appearance enhancements when needed. Task frequency: Ongoing monitoring is a must—at least once a week. Tasks related to improving search appearance should be accomplished as necessary. 5. Link Building While link building is notorious for spammy practices and is extremely difficult to execute in some niches, proactively building backlinks to your site still proves an effective part of an off-page SEO strategy. Assuming that you have really good content, your site should naturally earn top-quality backlinks over time. It will take several months, if not years, but you can speed up the process by promoting your content in relevant online communities. Bring up your content only where and when it matters, while making a genuine contribution to the group. Take for example Reddit, which helped me grow one site that I had managed before from 40,000 page views a month to 2.3 million in a span of 13 months. Self-promotion on these platforms is OK as long as you follow the subreddit rules. Tools needed: You only need a tool if you are into actively finding linking opportunities. Most SEO tools on the market like Ahrefs and Semrush offer backlink profile analysis and link builder features. Expected output: Backlinks from relevant websites that mention your content or brand as a whole. Also of utmost importance here is the quality, not quantity, of links. Hundreds of low-quality or spammy links will never work to your advantage. Task frequency: As often as you like. It depends on how much you want to prioritise active link building. 6. Conversion Rate Optimization Let me make it clear that CRO is NOT inherently a part of SEO. Some SEO professionals may even raise their eyebrows upon seeing this included in this guide. However, I firmly believe that a holistic SEO strategy should focus not only on driving traffic, but also on at least maintaining a decent conversion rate. Imagine receiving thousands of clicks every day, yet only a minuscule fraction of them actually lead to sales. Driving traffic is only half the battle. You can ask your SEO to incorporate CRO basics into your overall SEO efforts to ensure that your investment and traffic don’t go to waste. After all, your purpose of doing SEO is to increase your bottom line. Tools needed: It depends on how you approach CRO. If your optimisation requires simple changes in the layout of your blog posts or single product pages, you just need to tweak some settings in your theme customizer or page builder. When advanced A/B tests are important, then you may need to install a Wordpress plugin. Expected output: Steady or improved conversion rate in users not just from organic search, but also from other acquisition channels. Task frequency: Depends on how often you spot problems and opportunities. 7. Monitoring & Adjustments As cliché as it may sound, this is last but certainly not the least. This part of SEO evaluates whether the existing implementations are working or not, and recommends the necessary adjustments to be done. Your SEO specialist should provide you with regular reports on the KPIs and the overall progress. Tools needed: Google Analytics 4 and Google Search Console are sufficient for monitoring and analysis. For reporting and presentation, you can use Google Looker Studio. It ultimately depends on what works best for you or your SEO marketer. Expected output: Clear reporting of KPIs, explanation of performance shifts or trends, and recommendations for further improvements. Task frequency: This is done on an ongoing basis, with reporting typically conducted once a month. Do the SEO Basics This section outlines a few basic things you must do to set your business up for SEO success. If you lack experience in website management, you most likely need assistance from your developer or SEO. Communicate with either person to tackle specific tasks, and use this section as a starting checklist to guide you through the process. For beginners If your website is brand new or less than six months old, make sure that you have completed these steps: 1. Set up Google Analytics Marketing data is crucial as it allows you to identify which channels are driving the most significant business growth. Without data to review and draw conclusions from, you might miss out on valuable insights and opportunities. Google Analytics is an industry-standard tool that enables you to track web traffic data and user behaviour on your site. If you haven't already, create a GA4 account now and start collecting your data. 2. Set up Search Console Google Search Console is another invaluable free tool that allows you to analyse Google impressions and clicks to your website, along with other relevant data. While Google Analytics provides comprehensive web traffic analysis, Search Console focuses exclusively on performance metrics for your Google Search traffic. Here's a guide on how to get started. 3. Install an SEO plugin If your website is hosted on WordPress, consider installing a free SEO plugin like Yoast, RankMath, or AIOSEO. These popular plugins can assist you with essential SEO tasks, from creating meta tags to setting up redirections. Activate one on your website to easily configure and implement SEO best practices. For users of other content management systems such as Shopify and Wix, similar SEO extensions or apps are available. 4. Submit your sitemap to search engines A sitemap is a list of pages or URLs on your website. While it's not mandatory for indexing, creating one is recommended. It helps search engines like Google or Bing discover, crawl, and index your website more quickly and efficiently. Additionally, a sitemap communicates to search engines which content on your site is the most important and should be prioritised in indexing. When you submit a sitemap to Google, you'll also have the option in the page indexing report to filter to a specific sitemap. This feature makes it easier for you to identify which important pages have yet to be indexed by Google. 5. Identify commercial intent keywords When identifying commercial intent keywords, understand how your target customers search for your product or service online. Determine the specific terms they use when conducting searches on Google, and incorporate these keywords thoughtfully into your product or service pages. This step helps search engines better grasp the relevance of your pages to user queries, increasing the likelihood of your indexed pages appearing on SERPs. Remember to maintain a natural, reader-friendly tone while incorporating keywords—don’t overdo it! 6. Optimise your most important pages Aside from using keywords, there are more important steps you need to do to optimise your content. Start by crafting a user-centric description of your product or service, ensuring it provides the most value to your audience. Include relevant images, videos, or other media forms to enrich the user experience. Structure your content for easy readability and navigation, making it easier for visitors to find the information they need. Lastly, don't forget to include an appropriate meta title and compelling meta description. For example, consider using action-oriented language or highlighting unique selling points to encourage more clicks. 7. Share where you can Spread the word about your site and business by leveraging social media and participating in relevant online communities. Be active on platforms that align with your industry or target audience. When sharing, remember to actively engage in discussions and provide valuable contributions to avoid coming across as spammy. For instance, consider posting Facebook, Reddit, LinkedIn, or industry-specific forums where your target audience is likely to gather. For those who already started If you have already begun implementing SEO for your site, perform the following: 1. Check indexing status & fix errors If any issues hinder a page from being effectively crawled and indexed by Google, it won't surface in search results, no matter how well-optimised it is. You have Google Search Console for this task. Pay particular attention to your key landing pages, as an abrupt decline in traffic might signify that they've been excluded from indexing for some reason. Also know that not all pages require indexing on Google, so prioritise accordingly. 2. Assess what’s working or not Evaluate the effectiveness of your existing SEO by conducting a thorough assessment on a regular basis, especially if several months have passed since implementation. Gain clarity on your current position, establish future direction, and outline the precise strategies guiding your journey. While SEO is a long-term endeavour, it's crucial to achieve small wins every month or quarter. 3. Publish helpful content Lastly, make sure that your content serves a purpose by offering valuable information to your audience, especially if you're actively engaged in content marketing. Dedicate your blog to genuinely delivering content that benefits your readers, steering away from creating material solely for the sake of attracting traffic. Bear in mind that if your primary focus is merely on traffic and not on user satisfaction, Google may find grounds to deprioritise your content in rankings later on. Learn more about the important role of helpful content in SEO in another article where I wrote about my decision to remove all our existing 89 ‘unhelpful’ blog posts. Know the SEO Costs Are you planning on hiring an SEO soon? Read this section to know how much it will cost you. SEO services in Australia will cost you between $500 and $10,000 per month, depending on the pricing model and the scope of the job. It’s a wide range, yes, but I don’t think giving you a single average figure would help because it might be either too expensive or quite affordable as cost can vary significantly based on your specific needs and industry. In addition, pricing will also depend on the credentials and experience of the vendor or service provider. If you're considering hiring a full-time, in-house SEO specialist, you should set aside about $85,000 annually, or approximately $7,000 per month, according to Indeed Australia. However, it's still possible to find someone with less experience who may be willing to work for only $60,000 per year or even lower. Remember that these figures cover the salary of the SEO alone; you still need to allocate additional funds for necessary tools and other expenses associated with running an SEO campaign. That said, hiring an in-house specialist is not necessary for every business, especially for small businesses that are just beginning to establish their presence online and have a limited digital marketing budget. Many companies choose to outsource their SEO work to a third-party provider and pay based on an hourly rate, a monthly retainer, or per project. Hourly Rate Opting to pay by the hour entails an average rate ranging from $75 to $100, based on a 2023 research study conducted by Ahrefs, which involved over 400 members of the global SEO industry. This means that your monthly SEO invoice could potentially reach $4,000 for a 40-hour work completed within a month. When is it advisable to choose an hourly rate for SEO services? This pricing model is suitable if you only require specific, essential services. For instance, if you have a small website with a limited number of pages and minimal new content requirements, opting for an hourly rate in the initial three to six months might be sufficient. However, many SEO agencies or freelancers may still stipulate a minimum number of hours per week or month. How to make the most of your hourly rate budget? Be sure to communicate your priorities clearly and ask your SEO specialist to focus exclusively on the predefined tasks. Keep in mind that you're billed by the hour, so each hour spent on tasks is money burnt on your bank account. Monthly Retainer Most businesses that opt for a monthly retainer pricing model typically pay between $500 to $1,500 per month, while some bigger players spend a minimum of $2,000 per month. When is a monthly retainer for SEO services a wise choice? The monthly retainer is the most popular SEO pricing model, and for good reason. With this approach, neither you nor the service provider are obligated to specify a set number of hours to be completed each month. Instead, the focus is on deliverables and ongoing optimisations. Your monthly invoice remains consistent, eliminating any concerns about additional charges. How to make the most of your monthly retainer budget? Request a tracker of completed deliverables. Additionally, ensure that the progress made each month contributes to achieving your short- and long-term goals. At the end of the day, the result is what ultimately counts. Project-Based According to Ahrefs, the prevailing fee for per-project work ranges from $2,500 to $5,000. Under this model, you specify the project you want completed, and your provider undertakes the work for a fixed sum. When is it advisable to opt for a one-time fee for SEO services? It's good when you have a specific task that needs undivided attention. This is a common option for businesses that already have SEO implementations but require additional significant work that isn't suitable for their retainer-based arrangement. For example, hiring a technical SEO expert to resolve serious technical issues persisting on your site for months. For those just starting out with a website, a one-time setup fee for SEO is also a common practice. How to make the most of your project budget? Conduct a thorough research before selecting a provider to avoid overpaying. On the other hand, if the price seems unusually low or too good to be true, confront the vendor about it and ask for a guarantee that the quality of work will not be compromised. Things to Remember You're paying for the expertise and time of the SEO specialist or consultant, not direct results. However, ensure that each completed task aligns with your desired goals.If your SEO needs are minimal, the hourly fee model may be the most cost-effective choice, as you pay only for necessary services.Opt for a fixed monthly retainer if you require various consistent and ongoing optimisations.For one-time tasks like critical fixes or initial setup, a per-project payment structure may be your most suitable option. Outsource SEO Services Outsourcing SEO is a common practice among businesses of all sizes. If you’re still on the fence about starting now, read on to know how outsourced services can benefit your business operation. Save on wage expenses Professional fees for SEO is expensive because it is an intricate process that when done correctly, greatly improves your bottom line. Fortunately, there are some offshore providers that offer services for a fraction of the cost you would usually incur in working with local freelancers as well as established marketing agencies abroad. When you go to these providers, you may save up 80% on hourly wage expenses alone. This is based on a sample computation comparing a A$10/hour outsourced services rate to a sample A$50/hour rate of Australia-based marketers. With this A$10/hour rate, you would see the same results you would get when working with Australia-based freelancers or agencies. That’s assuming that you perform due diligence on any contractor before signing a contract. Because the truth is, there are many people who claim to be an “expert” but do not actually know what they are doing. They overpromise and underdeliver. If you are unlucky, you might even fall victim to outright scammers who are only after your money. Although the more affordable rates do exist, you have to be very careful not to enter into an agreement with those players who are giving the SEO industry a bad name. Cut overall marketing expenses You would also save money from overhead expenses when you outsource your SEO. Chances are you need tools to efficiently manage and run your SEO campaign. And when you work with a vendor who already uses those tools, you may no longer need to buy them yourself. Take note though that not every provider has these SEO tools at their disposal, and it would not be fair to require them to buy them solely for you. Premium SEO tools are expensive, so when the time comes that you will have to buy one, make sure to pay only for what you truly need. One less thing to worry about With someone in charge of your organic search marketing, you get to focus on sales, your product, or overall business development. This is very important as SEO is a complex process that would take much of your time when you do it yourself on top of your existing responsibilities as a business owner. When you outsource your SEO needs, all you have to do is regularly touch base with your provider regarding goals, progress, and performance so both of you are always on the same page. SEO outsourcing is a common cost-cutting measure that small businesses and big brands alike employ. However, when you pick the wrong person or agency for the job, it might do you more harm than good. Which brings me to my next point—how to hire the guys who can actually deliver. Hire an SEO Expert Set goals Now ask yourself, what specific short and long term goals do you want to achieve with SEO? If your website is new, your immediate priorities will be keyword research and on-page optimisation of all important product or service pages. When you are more concerned about building authority and getting more leads, you need someone who can focus on proactively creating high-quality content that appeals to your target customers. Meanwhile, if you already have an existing strategy in place but believe something is not quite right in the implementation, you may only need to hire a one-time consultant who can independently evaluate your current setup and progress. Ultimately, your goals, specific needs, and budget will determine who to hire and what skillset to look for in a candidate. Where to Find Candidates Local Agencies Start with the agencies located in your area. If you are in major cities like Sydney and Melbourne, there are already established search marketing agencies that can do exceptional work for you, albeit with a hefty price tag. In general, agencies charge more than freelancers do. Referrals & Marketplaces Do you personally know someone who has already worked with an SEO professional for his business? If so, ask if he can refer you to a good guy. You would only do this if this person’s business does not compete with yours. Meanwhile, there are popular freelancing platforms where you can find local and international talents, with Upwork and Fiverr among a few examples. Reddit Personally, I love the seo subreddit. Here, anyone can ask questions or share tips. You can also post directly about your need to hire, allowing you to attract potential candidates from around the world. You have to be careful in screening individuals though and avoid any suspicious offers. Agencies versus Freelancers In general, choosing an agency over a freelancer would cost you more. But the best thing about working with agencies is that you can hold them accountable for any wrong action done by their staff, and they can find a replacement when the person directly in charge of your SEO vacates his role for some reason. In addition, in case you need to expand the scope of your marketing, it’s very likely that your agency already offers the service you need to help you scale your business. In contrast, there is no one else to chase after when you are dealing with an independent freelancer, and you would need to find a replacement yourself when either or both of you terminate the contract. This would result in an immediate stop to all your SEO implementations and there is no one but you to handle the gap and transition. Meanwhile, if cost is a big factor in your decision or if for some other reasons working with agencies is not your cup of tea, it may be best to make a deal directly with an independent contractor. There are many exceptional and skilled freelancers who can help you achieve your goals. You just need to find them. What to Look for in a Candidate? What to look for in a candidate depends on your goals and the specific services required to achieve them, which is why you should define your goals in advance and make them play a big part in your hiring process. Proof of success In a field saturated with self-proclaimed "SEO experts," sometimes it's hard to distinguish the legit guys from the inexperienced people or outright scammers. This is why requesting proof of previous wins is paramount in the search for the most qualified candidate. And most importantly, you need to employ a discerning eye when evaluating the validity of the evidence presented to you. When shown a performance chart from a website's Google Search Console, don't accept it at face value. Instead, ask follow-up questions regarding what those results mean and the methods used in achieving them. Also pay attention to how the candidate handles the confidentiality of the website's identity. Typically, an SEO should refrain from disclosing their clients' data without appropriate consent, especially if it contains sensitive or proprietary information that could be exploited by competitors. Your final action is to request a reference from the candidate and communicate directly with their past or current client. If this isn't possible, rely on your gut feeling and objective assessment to gauge the authenticity of the candidate's claims. In general, a competent SEO professional will demonstrate consistency and possess the ability to articulate the reasoning behind their strategies. Years of experience If you are just starting out and have only a limited budget in marketing, it does not make sense to hire a seasoned SEO expert with more than 10 years of experience. You only need help with the basics, so paying for a mid-level specialist with at least around two years of experience would be a better choice. However, if you have the money and prefer to seek help from a highly experienced marketer, then go for it. It’s better in situations where you are looking to solve bigger problems in SEO—for example migrating your complex site to a different hosting provider or content management system. In this case, you would risk ruining your existing search rankings when you work with someone who has never dealt with this kind of task before. Remember that you're considering not just the number of years of experience, but also the candidate's specific industry or niche background. Evaluate whether their past experience aligns with your business growth goals or presents a particular challenge. If a candidate is entering a new industry for the first time, don't immediately cross their names off your list. Instead, listen to their perspective on how they believe they can contribute to your business despite the industry shift. In my own experience, I transitioned from publisher SEO early in my career to ecommerce SEO. While there were certainly challenges and a learning curve, I found solace in knowing that the core principles of SEO remain consistent, regardless of the type of website I was working on. Location Do you want to hire someone who resides in the area where your business is located? Or is working with a remote professional fine with you? While the preference for hiring someone local or remote may not be as critical as the first factors above, it's worth considering. If you choose to outsource your SEO to an offshore provider, be mindful of the time zone difference as it can impact communication. Opting for vendors in countries close to Australia can help minimise this gap. For example, working with an agency in the Philippines would only entail a maximum three-hour difference. You can work with anyone from around the globe as long as both parties can agree on suitable communication times. Keep in mind that much of the SEO work happens in the background and doesn't necessarily need to align with typical work hours in Australia. However, it's still important to synchronise your schedules for crucial tasks that require real-time discussion and coordination. Red flags to watch out for Guaranteeing results Have you ever come across someone promising to secure a SERP position within a matter of weeks or months? It's best to steer clear of them. When it comes to how a piece of content ranks on search engines, there are three key players in the game: you, the search algorithm, and your competitors. You have no control over the last two. In addition to the ever-changing nature of Google's ranking systems, they are designed to consistently favour the most relevant and valuable content. This means that no matter how exceptional your content may be, if Google finds something even better to showcase, your ranking will shift. You have no influence over these ranking mechanisms or the content your competitors are putting out. As a result, your search ranking is neither guaranteed nor permanent. And the best thing your SEO can do about that fact is to mitigate the volatility in rankings by regularly updating your pillar content and taking all necessary measures to keep them competitive. Offering fixed number of backlinks I've seen many freelancers and even agencies offering pre-packaged services that often include a fixed number of so-called 'high authority' backlinks. It's silly how they make it sound like a walk in the park. My advice? Don't fall for these implausible offers. A true high-quality backlink is something earned organically—when another website mentions or cites you as a source because your content is good and helpful. And the truth is, you can't predict exactly when or how many of these links you'll get. Extremely low SEO fees Extremely low rates are a red flag. Many of these suspicious SEO services come at a surprisingly low cost, with some vendors charging as little as $5 per hour. The reason behind the high price tag of SEO is the complexity involved, along with the need for analytical skills. Those offering services at such rock-bottom prices are often either desperate for work or simply don’t know what they are doing. Remember, you tend to get what you pay for. Cannot answer the basic questions Some applicants may struggle with even the most fundamental questions and also lack consistency in their responses where it matters most. Ask them precisely what they intend to do, why it's necessary, and how your website and business will reap the benefits. If a candidate falters in explaining how a certain action will progress you from point A to point B, it's a sign to steer clear and find a more capable individual. Interview questions to ask These are the questions that I would personally ask during my final interview with SEO job applicants at Online Officer. 1. How would you summarise the overall SEO process? A proficient SEO candidate should have a solid grasp of the fundamental steps in the SEO process. Typically, it kicks off with planning and keyword research, which helps gauge competition levels and identify the most strategic keywords to target. These selected keywords then form the basis for optimising crucial pages that you aim to rank on major search engines like Google and Bing. To achieve sustainable success in search, the next step is to create high-quality, user-centric landing pages and content around the target keywords. This involves publishing blog posts and resources related to a business’ product or service that genuinely serve the needs of an audience segment. Each content should undergo on-page optimisation so that search engines can better understand its relevance to a certain search term. Once these valuable content are live, an SEO should regularly monitor indexing status errors on Google or Bing. Depending on the type of content, one can implement technical enhancements to improve how the content appears in search results and increase click-through rates. To further signal to Google that content is genuinely helpful and relevant, an SEO may employ tactics to secure backlinks as part of an off-page SEO strategy. This may involve promoting the site in relevant online groups or communities. Lastly, in order to maintain competitiveness, it's crucial to monitor which part of the strategy is working or not, implement more enhancements where necessary, and find more opportunities for growth. SEO is an ongoing, dynamic process. 2. What do you think are the top three Google ranking factors? An SEO should be fully aware of the critical elements that influence page rankings on Google. Although Google doesn't provide an exhaustive list of confirmed ranking factors, an adept SEO understands that (1) well-written helpful content, (2) positive page experience, and (3) high-quality backlinks are generally among the most significant factors. While the importance of certain factors may vary based on the topic, a balanced combination of these three is indicative of sound SEO practices. Not every business finds content creation applicable or necessary. For instance, if you're a local plumbing service in a city, it may not make sense at first why you would need content beyond your main service pages. However, if you want to steadily grow organic leads in the long run, your strongest play is to incorporate blog posts or any other useful content related to plumbing. This strategy provides an excellent opportunity for potential customers to discover and engage with your business. When it comes to content, the key lies in creating one whose primary purpose is to benefit people, not merely to gain search ranking traffic. By prioritising genuine value for users, achieving higher rankings on Google becomes only a matter of time. 3. What KPIs matter when measuring SEO success? Organic traffic stands out as the foremost metric indicating the effectiveness of your SEO efforts, to some extent. But it's not the sole figure that needs regular monitoring and assessment. In fact, there are cases where search rankings and clicks on Google can be no more than vanity metrics. To truly measure your SEO success, look beyond clicks. The relevant KPIs will depend on the nature of your business. For example, if you're selling a service and seeking assurance that you're reaching the right audience, average engagement duration and pages per session are among the metrics to look at. The longer users stay on your page and the more pages they explore during their visit, the likelier it is that you're attracting the right people. If acquiring new leads and customers is important to you, you want to see a consistent upward trend in non-branded clicks over time. Meanwhile, for publishers who rely on advertising revenue, the number of page views holds significant weight. On the other hand, for e-commerce sites, the focus shifts towards user conversion rates, with less emphasis on page views. Ultimately, the conversion action must be there. Because what’s the point of SEO traffic when it’s not contributing to sales? I’ve discussed more about SEO KPIs to track in the last part of this guide. 4. Can you share a challenging SEO problem you have addressed in the past? You’ll be asking this question to determine a candidate’s ability to spot and address major problems. The ideal candidate should excel at recognizing when something might be amiss or lacking, and they should prioritise long-term solutions over quick fixes. It's important to acknowledge that certain solutions may take several months to complete, which is acceptable as long as there's noticeable progress. 5. How do you keep yourself updated on the latest Google updates and best practices? With Google rolling out major algorithm updates annually, staying informed about the latest developments is indispensable. What works well today may not be as effective tomorrow, so a proficient SEO must remain vigilant about the latest updates to stay ahead of the curve. Personally, I do this by following reputable SEO blogs or publishers like Search Engine Journal. Track SEO KPIs Once you have found your SEO guy and let him start doing the actual work, require him to track the KPIs to be used in measuring performance and progress. With the wealth of data to measure and track in GA4, it's easy to get overwhelmed and potentially focus on the wrong metrics. This section will help you avoid that. When reviewing an SEO report, look at the figures that hold true value for your business, rather than just surface-level vanity metrics. Here are the KPIs that should exhibit improvement over time. Non-branded clicks Non-branded clicks refer to traffic from people who discovered your website through keywords or search terms that do not include your business or brand name. They could be searching for the generic name of a product or service, and one of your website's pages appears in the search results, prompting them to click through. This metric holds a significant importance because you want more and more people to become acquainted with your brand, especially for businesses that rely on new leads to drive revenue. In contrast, branded traffic originates from people specifically searching for your brand, indicating that they are already familiar with your business. While non-branded traffic is crucial for attracting new customers, branded traffic is equally important for businesses that sell products directly to consumers because existing customers tend to make purchases more swiftly than new ones. User engagement This metric is closely tied to the bounce rate. To ensure you're targeting the right audience, refer to your GA4 report and verify that sessions from organic search are "engaged." Pay attention to both the engagement rate and average engagement time. If both metrics are notably low, they indicate a high bounce rate and your site is potentially attracting the wrong people. When this occurs, address the issue with your SEO right away. Conversion rate A consistent flow of non-branded traffic, coupled with strong user engagement metrics, typically leads to sales or qualified lead inquiries. Actual conversion rates vary by industry, so it is up to you to set the benchmarks specific to your industry. If the conversion rate falls below expectations despite attracting the right visitors, it's time to look into other factors. Ensure that your site loads fast and that the sales pages are intuitively accessible. If the user page experience is nearly flawless and sales are still underperforming, it might be indicative of a product-related issue. If you are sure that your product is already competitive enough, consult with a CRO specialist. Return on investment Lastly, you should compute your SEO ROI during a specific time, preferably every quarter. As mentioned earlier in this guide, SEO typically delivers a favourable ROI, often surpassing that of paid search. Just like conversion rates, ROI varies significantly across industries and niches, so make sure that yours aligns with the average in your industry. Here's how to calculate SEO ROI for your business: ROI (revenue from organic search - SEO expenses) / SEO expenses This revenue encompasses both branded and non-branded keywords, but if your primary goal is to calculate the ROI for new customers, you may choose to factor in only the non-branded traffic. Meanwhile, expenses should include payments for services provided by an agency or an individual, costs of tools you've procured, and any other expenses related to SEO. Remember to use the same timeframe when calculating both revenue and expenses. The above formula is suitable for small to medium-sized businesses. For larger corporations with comprehensive marketing operations, a more inclusive approach to calculating SEO ROI is needed. For example, if you're engaged in email and social media marketing, it's worth considering that some of your subscribers or followers may have initially discovered your brand through search. Which means that the actual ROI may be higher when accounting for repeat buyers or loyal users who initially found your business through SEO. Conclusion SEO is quite effective in attracting both new and existing customers to your business. While it’s not rocket science, it takes months or even years to gain a profound understanding of the entire process and see significant results. Any business owner or marketer can handle the fundamental aspects of SEO, but with Google Search making constant changes to its ranking systems, you're better off leaving this responsibility to someone who knows it best. If you’re looking to hire an SEO professional without breaking your bank, consider outsourcing to us to pay only for a fraction of the cost typically incurred when hiring freelancers or agencies in Australia. Contact us today for a free consultation and audit of your website.