What should businesses looking to hire an SEO expect to see during the proposal process? How much work should SEOs be expected to produce upfront to win the contract? Google’s recent video on hiring an SEO specialist has reignited the discussion around these questions.
In the video, Google recommended that employers ask candidates to conduct a “technical search audit,” presumably to demonstrate their expertise. “If you trust your SEO candidate, give them restricted view, not full or write access, to your Google Search Console data or Analytics data,” Google’s video advises. “Before they actually modify anything on your website, have them conduct a technical and search audit to give you a prioritized list of what they think should be improved for SEO.”
SEOs are concerned that Google’s advice downplays the amount of work a technical SEO audit can require and sets unrealistic expectations. If you’re looking to hire an experienced SEO or are an SEO who often struggles with how much to deliver during the proposal phase, here’s what several professionals with years of expertise have to say.
What to expect from a preliminary audit
Conducting a preliminary audit is often an important step for both the employer and the prospective SEO or agency. “Whilst the initial audit shouldn’t contain absolutely everything,” said UK-based SEO consultant Itamar Blauer, “it should highlight the most essential aspects (which you can then pitch the solutions of) and provide some level of intent in actually doing the work well.”
Employers and SEOs can view the initial audit as a basic roadmap outlining the work to be done. A full technical SEO audit, on the other hand, is a far more exhaustive analysis that often takes hours of work.
Technical SEO audits take time, expertise
“A technical SEO audit is a paid service,” said Shari Thurow, founder and SEO director of Omni Marketing Interactive, adding, “I do not believe any person or agency should take advantage of a prospective employee by demanding a free consultation that potentially could cost thousands of dollars”.
Technical SEO audits involve multiple steps and expertise, including crawling the client’s site, pulling data from multiple tools and scrutinizing the data for issues. It’s a process that can take 10–40+ hours of work, according to Bill Hartzer, CEO of Hartzer Consulting, who took issue with Google’s advice in a blog post. “You wouldn’t ask a lawyer to give you free legal advice (10-40+ hours’ worth) before you even hire them, would you?” asked Hartzer.
“It’s reasonable to say you’re not willing to go that far, but you may lose the job,” said Australian SEO consultant Brodie Clark, adding that “as an independent consultant, I’m not prepared to do upfront work like this (especially identifying technical issues, which often takes some digging).”
Requesting a full technical audit as part of the hiring process is akin to asking a professional for several days worth of unpaid work, on top of any subscription costs that the SEO or agency may be paying to use to conduct their analysis, merely to evaluate a candidate’s viability. The opportunity cost becomes even more daunting with the possibility that the candidate may not land the job, or even worse: “I’ve had some sites take my initial assessment and try to DIY their own fixes,” technical SEO consultant Jamie Alberico told Search Engine Land.
What Google (probably) meant
Google did not specify the extent of the technical audit it was recommending. In all likelihood, the company was trying to convey that employers should ask for a high-level technical SEO assessment — one that respects the candidate’s time but is also thorough enough to demonstrate expertise.
“If I ask for a tech audit from a potential candidate,” said Alberico, putting herself in the employer’s position, “I’m looking for good observations and even better questions.” Hirers should think of the initial audit as a means to find out more about a candidate’s approach, rather than a list of specific issues and recommendations to address them.
Other ways to prove expertise
There are other ways SEOs can demonstrate your knowledge and bolster your credentials in place of, or in addition to, any search audit you conduct.
Explaining a few key issues with the prospective employer’s site, showing case studies with supporting analytics or before-and-after screenshots of a site (in case you’re bound to a non-disclosure agreement) and answering hypothetical questions on the areas of SEO that are most important to the employer are all ways to show that you know your stuff.
“For me, sharing written information with the SEO community is my approach to proving expertise,” Clark said. “Others like to use different approaches more suited to them, like speaking at conferences . . . there’s also plenty of social media channels and forums where SEOs can share their expertise and contribute to discussion, which can also be effective.”
Both parties need to be on the same page
A technical SEO audit is a paid deliverable that requires considerable time and expertise. When employers and SEO professionals hear Google’s recommendation, understand that the audit should not include the full breadth of work — the two parties are at the proposal stage and expectations need to stay at that level. For employers and prospective employees, explicitly communicating expectations before requesting or performing any work can facilitate the hiring process and lay the groundwork for a successful partnership.
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