In this article, we’ll share 20 expert tips for hiring a freelance search engine optimization (SEO) Specialist to help increase traffic to your business website or blog. These tips range from what to look for, where to find it, how to hire for it, and what you can expect to pay.

SEO Specialist pay rates vary greatly. What they charge depends largely on the work they do. Below are average rates charged by mid-level freelancers in the U.S., based on the type of freelance SEO projects they’re hired to do.

 

Sample SEO Specialist rates for US based freelancers

Data and Image Source: Upwork

Four Tips on What to Look For in a Freelance SEO Specialist

Below are tips on the skills, such as the use of common SEO software tools, and experience to look for so that you find the right SEO talent. You’ll also want to check out feedback from their prior clients verifying that they actually have those skills.

Tip 1: Look for Specific SEO Skills

Like any job, a freelancer focusing on SEO needs specific expertise to be successful. Many SEO Specialists come from a marketing background, but they can come from any discipline as long as they have the writing, strategy, technology, data, and people skills to get the job done.

Some suggested SEO skills are shown below.

 

SEO Skill

Why It’s Helpful

Writing and Editing

In order to advise website content creators how to modify their content to maximize SEO results, SEO Specialists need to communicate their ideas clearly and concisely

Strategy

Evaluate the business’ website strategy and translate that into content and keywords to drive traffic and conversions

Link Building

Link to high-traffic websites, as well as interpret search engine rules on websites not to link to and why

Analytics

Pore through reams of online data and parse out the actionable insights to improve website performance

Interpersonal

Negotiate well with vendors and business partners and inspire their peers and leaders to adopt new tactics

Software

Work online with multiple tools and be able to navigate software and apps quickly

Take a look at the SEO skills, like writing and backlinking, listed by freelancers on Upwork.com. Many freelancer websites allow you to search for freelancers based on these skills.

Freelancers looking for SEO gigs on Upwork.com

Fit Small Business has some experience hiring SEO Specialists. Here’s what we’ve learned about hiring for the right skills.


“Most people who call themselves “SEO”s are focused primarily on what is known as on-page SEO. This is where you do keyword research, write articles around those keywords, and make sure the technical setup of the page is such that it can be easily crawled by the search engines.

While on page SEO is certainly an important part of SEO, it’s basically a checklist and the easy part. The harder part of SEO is off page SEO which primarily revolves around building links for your site from other related and authoritative sites.

In the early days of our company, we focused too much on SEO Specialists who really could not build the relationships and do the outreach necessary to get the links which actually make content rank. In fact, they didn’t want to really build links at all.

Now we focus primarily on hiring people who are hungry and willing to learn the right way to do SEO which includes both on-page and off-page tactics.” -David Waring and Marc Prosser, Co-Founders, Fit Small Business

Tip 2: Find an SEO Specialist with Experience

Look for freelancers with experience, not just in SEO, but also with the tools that are similar to those you use in your business.

For example, if you do social media advertising, use Google apps, or manage content with specific website software, you’ll want someone who’s used similar programs in the past. It’s also helpful to have someone familiar with your business model. Look for freelancers with:

  • Experience doing social media advertising on sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram

  • Experience using SEO tools like Adwords, Moz, SEMRush, Ahrefs, and Supermetrics

  • Experience using back-end website management tools in WordPress, Joomla or Drupal

  • Experience in your industry or with a business model similar to yours

Notice how the two SEO freelancers below describe their experience. Their descriptions help you when searching a freelancer site for the best SEO Specialist to optimize your website. Finding one that matches the experience you’re looking for saves you from hiring an inexperienced freelancer.

SEO Freelancers list their experience on the freelance website Giggrabbers

While you could hire someone with just the right skills in Tip 1, if they fail to have experienced similar to the work you do, the tools you use, or the industry you’re in, you’ll spend an enormous amount of time up front training them.

It’s best to choose someone with tacit knowledge and experience so that industry jargon, tools, and how your business works aren’t new to them.

Tip 3: Put SEO Specialist Keywords in the Project Description

The exact keywords will depend somewhat on your business needs. For example, if your site is hosted in WordPress, use ‘WordPress’ in the project description.

Or if you want someone who knows how to use HTML content editing tools, make sure ‘html’ is a keyword in your description of the project or work requirements.

Finding a keyword match between your business and a freelancer is kind of like looking for a match on a dating site. When both parties use the same keywords like “love surfing” or “hate cats”, there’s a match.

You want to put keywords in your job or project description that will match the keywords the freelancer has listed when describing their skills and experience.

Tip 4: Check Out the SEO Freelancer’s Client Feedback

Many freelancer websites like Upwork and Guru, let you look at client feedback and ratings on freelancers. You can use this to your advantage to check out feedback on any freelancer you plan to hire. For example, the freelancer shown below has 100% positive feedback based on 10 completed projects.


Freelancer ratings are provided on Guru.com

Many freelancers also have profiles on LinkedIn, where you can see their client feedback and ratings. After you find a freelancer you’re interested in working with, check out what others say about them on LinkedIn. View their LinkedIn profile, looking specifically at their skills and endorsements. An example is shown below.


Screenshot of one SEO expert’s Featured Skills & Endorsements section on LinkedIn

Of course, you first have to find the person on LinkedIn and then scroll down past the Experience and Education sections to see if the skills listed match what you need. Next to each skill in the Features Skills & Endorsements section is a number representing how many LinkedIn connections have endorsed them for each skill.

Five Tips on Where to Look for a Freelance SEO Specialist

Because SEO Specialists spend much of their time working online, searching for one online isn’t can provide you the largest pool of freelance SEO Specialists to draw from. Here are five tips on where to find the best SEO freelancer for your company.

Where to Look

Benefit

Drawbacks

Freelancer Website

A freelancer website like Upwork or Fiverr lets you to find SEO freelancers and/or post projects for them to apply.. Freelancer also lets you post a project as a contest.

Scammers also join these sites, many of the freelancers are outside the US, and you’ll pay a service fee of 0-5% or more on top of the freelancer’s going rate.

Job Search Site

Job search sites like Indeed have 20 million job seeker resumes you can search to find just the right SEO Specialist to support your business website needs.

Job boards may charge you to search resumes or contact job seekers and you’ll need to state that you’re hiring a 1099 freelance contractor, not a direct employee.

Job Site Aggregator

Using a job site aggregator like ZipRecuiter or SimplyHired, lets you to post your freelance SEO job once. It’s then pushed to over 100 job boards for candidates to see.

You have to pay to post jobs on these sites, and often pay more to advertise them. In addition, they don’t always cross-post to the larger job sites like Indeed.

University Marketing Department

The marketing department at your local university can sometimes net you the names of top graduates and bloggers who have mastered SEO already.

University professors are busy and they’re not around during the summer. In addition, relationships take time and you’ll likely find less-experienced candidates.

Ask Other Employees

Existing employees may have a great SEO freelancer in their social network. Consider asking them, or you may be missing out on people they know who could do the job.

People may be more loyal to friends than employers, so you’ll need to vet referrals. You may also need to offer a staff incentive, like a cash bonus per successful hire referred.

Four Tips for Posting a Job for a Freelance SEO Specialist

If you choose to go the route of posting a job or project on a job board or freelancer website, here are four tips to maximize that SEO Specialist job posting. We’ll share what to put in your project or posting, how to advertise it and how best to prevent unqualified applicants from applying.

Tip 1: Include a Simple Yet Clear Job Description

Once you’ve identified the skills and expertise you want in a freelance SEO Specialist, it’s important to put those into a job description. Use short bulleted phrases to describe your expectations.

In addition to work requirements, add two or three sentences to describe the culture and benefits, stating things like ‘flex hours’, ‘free parking’, or ‘team lunches served daily’.

Here’s an example of a bulleted freelancer job description from a company in Oregon, posted on ZipRecruiter. Note that it shows their four and five-star company ratings from Indeed and Glassdoor, as proof that they’re a great place to work.

The sample contract freelancer job description posted on ZipRecruiter

Tip 2: Include Relevant Keywords

Include terms in your ad using keywords you identified at the start of the article like SEO, SEM, PPC, CMS, MOZ, Adwords, or HTML.

And be sure to add industry-related keywords relevant to your business. For example, if your website supports the restaurant industry, you’ll want to add keywords like “restaurant” or “food service.”

Tip 3: Advertise the Job

If you want to maximize your job posting or request a freelancer, so that your post or project rises to the top of the search results when freelancers search, you can pay to advertise the job. For example, pricing for ads ranges from $6.25 a day on Ladders to $219 a month on Monster.

On Indeed, for example, you can set your own budget to sponsor a job. Sponsoring is Indeed’s version of advertising. In this example below you can see that if you don’t sponsor the job, you might get 40 applicants; but if you sponsor it, you might get 296. That may be worth spending $20 a day on advertising.


Sponsoring a job on Indeed by choosing a daily budget

Tip 4: Screen Out Unqualified Applicants

Another tip when posting your job, is to input screening questions that ask about relevant skills and experience right up front, helping candidate’s self-determine whether they’re qualified or not.

If an applicant doesn’t answer the way you want, some applicant tracking systems (ATS) will automatically drop their application and resume into the ‘unqualified’ folder.

Below is an image of sample screening questions applicants would have to answer to apply for this SEO job posted on Upwork.

SEO candidate screening questions on the freelancer website Upwork.com

Below are additional examples that might help you think of questions to add to your freelancer job post to screen out unqualified applicants for your SEO Specialist position:

  • What is your favorite SEO analytics tool and why?

  • How many pages of content did the largest website you optimize have?

  • Are you at the expert level using SEO tools like: (list tools)?

  • Do you have your own blog or website?

  • How many years of experience do you have in the (list industry)?

Three Tips for Interviewing Your Top SEO Specialist Picks

Interviewing is a skill, so having an HR partner to guide you is a good idea. You can conduct interviews in person or via video conference. However, when hiring an SEO Specialist who will interact with customers, vendors, business partners and peers, it’s important to consider these three tips to really evaluate freelance candidates before choosing one.

Tip 1: Have More Than One Person Help Interview

Don’t rely on your own expertise alone when interviewing an SEO candidate because data show that interviewing is subject to bias. Instead, consider having a team of people do the interviewing.

For example, one person can verify their SEO experience, another, such as an HR representative can evaluate their cultural fit, and a third, perhaps a peer, can provide a gut check as to whether they’re really skilled, or just throwing SEO jargon out there to impress you.

Tip 2: Set Up An SEO Project to Research & Make a Recommendation

Ask the candidate to complete a sample SEO project or recommendation based on a review of your website or blog, or a sub-section of it. You can even pay them for their recommendation once completed, using a freelancer website or PayPal. Consider sample interview projects like:

  • Find the top-ranked keywords on our website homepage and recommend which three keywords to repeat in order to improve the organic search results for that page.

  • Review our company blog from a customer point of view, and make three recommendations for improving the user experience. Explain why you chose those three.

  • Review our website ranking in SEMRush and recommend two ways to improve organic search traffic. Explain why you choose those options.

Tip 3: Take Them Out for Coffee or a Meal

Before you bring a freelancer on board who is going to work with your employees and business partners make sure there’s nothing off-putting about them. The best way to do that is to invite them to join you and others for a meal. By interacting in a casual setting, you’ll see whether they fit in or not.

We’ve seen people expose their bad habits or quirks in a relaxed social setting, such as showing up late, being rude to wait, staff, interrupting others, bragging or spending time on their cell phone. Better to know these things in advance, so that you don’t make a bad hire, especially since SEO Specialists need to have good interpersonal skills.

Three Tips on Hiring Your Chosen SEO Specialist

Before you hire your freelance SEO Specialist, you’ll want to confirm the pay rate, how you’re going to pay them and how you’ll monitor work being done.

You’ll likely want to put your agreement in writing. In addition, here are three hiring tips to consider before you finalize your offer and have them sign a W-9, Request for Taxpayer ID.

Tip 1: Negotiate Pay Based on All Variables

In addition to the pay rates and SEO Specialist average pay rates provided at the start of this post, there are factors that affect what you should pay your freelancer. They include:

  • The location of your company: educated talent tends to cost more in urban areas, as well as US talent expects higher wages than freelancers working in less robust economies

  • The skill and experience level of the freelancer: more experienced freelancers who have completed many SEO gigs will likely command higher rates

  • Whether the freelancer will work remotely: you may be able to negotiate a lower rate by offering the freelancer the opportunity to telecommute or work off-site

  • Whether the freelancer will be paid by project or hours worked: if you give a freelancer a project that you believe will take several months, you may be able to negotiate a better rate by pricing the entire project, instead of paying for hours worked

  • Flex hours for the freelancer: for example, a freelancer who wants to work nights or work around their childcare needs may be willing to sacrifice some pay for that flexibility

In contrast to salaried employees, a freelancer may be willing to negotiate hourly rates.

Looking at the chart below and converting the average annual salary to hourly, it appears that $27 per hour would be about average. However, you might want to offer a salary instead of hourly pay if the freelancer will be working for you full time.


SEO Specialist Salary Range according to Indeed.com

Of course, you may also get a price break if they’re trying to build positive freelancer reviews online.

Tip 2: Tie Pay to Deliverables

A best practice when working with any freelancer is to tie their pay to deliverables, rather than paying an hourly rate — that’s especially true if the freelancer is offsite. It takes a bit more work on your part to come up with projects, broken into subtasks.

But doing so allows you to tie payment to those subtasks or milestones. That ensures you get what you’re paying for.

Some sites, like Guru.com, provide you with free templates to track freelancer project work. Here’s one example:

 

Sample project milestone plan template

Source: Guru.com

Tip 3: Have a Written Contract with Your SEO Specialist Freelancer

A written, signed contract protects both you and the freelancer and serves to ensure you’re in agreement. It should clarify what work the SEO Specialist will do, and how they’ll be compensated for their efforts.

You’ll also want to include non-compete and non-disclosure (confidentiality) agreements in your contract to protect your business interests.

Free freelance contract templates like the one below are available to download and customize from docracy.com.

Sample contract of freelance services showing editable data entry fields

Source: Docracy.com

Tip 4: Set Up an Escrow Account

Most freelancer websites offer an escrow function so that you can protect funds for your project. The freelancer can only get paid based on your approval of completed deliverables.

Often those sites will also have project management tools synced with the escrow account so that the freelancer can document work completed and you can release payments. See below.

 

What milestones and payments look like with an Escrow account in Upwork

Source: Upwork.com

The Bottom Line on Hiring a Freelance SEO Specialist

Hiring a freelance SEO Specialist is a great way to get your SEO work done, without having to become an expert yourself.

For a smaller company, website optimization may not require a full-time employee, so hiring a freelancer short-term or part-time to complete your SEO projects may be a more cost-effective way to go.

Freelancers bidding on SEO jobs on freelancer.com

Ready to get a good deal? Consider freelancer websites like Freelancer.com that require freelancers to compete by bidding on the SEO projects you post!