What Does an SEO Strategist Do? And How to Hire the Best…


A man with a pen and notebook talking to another man holding a tablet.

Before we get started, it’s important to distinguish the difference between the closely related disciplines of SEO & SEM…

SEO is different from SEM (search engine marketing), but sometimes the same strategist may be responsible for both, which only contributes to the confusion. SEM is related to placing ads next to organic search results (paying Google for this privilege), and SEO is getting Google to place your page organically (without paying them anything). 

Now that we have that out of the way, let’s focus on what SEO strategists do…

Successful search engine optimization (SEO) strategy depends on having a top notch SEO strategist leading it. To get an SEO expert, you have 2 options:

  • post your SEO strategist jobs on a job board and hire an employee to lead your efforts
  • outsource this work to an SEO consultant

To become a successful SEO manager, you will need to have skills & traits as well as master certain responsibilities. Let’s discover what strategists actually do and how to ensure you hire the best one for your company (or become a reputable one).

Which Section Do You Want To Read First?

11 Crucial Skills Needed to Rank Higher in Search Engines

Like any career, there is a unique skill set required to be a successful SEO strategist. 

In total, we’ve identified 11 key skills required to make it in this job. When hiring for this role, make sure to test all of these qualities. The more accomplished they are in these areas, the more likely they are to be a successful SEO strategist. 

If you’re looking to become one, be sure to identify weak points in order to upskill in these areas:

  1. Strategic thinking
  2. Positive attitude
  3. Long-term focus
  4. Critical thinking
  5. Project management
  6. Written and verbal communication
  7. Computer coding (html, javascript, css, etc.)
  8. Analytic thinking
  9. Data analysis
  10. Research skills
  11. Marketing knowledge

9 Key Traits of an SEO Strategist

A man in white long sleeve shirt looks to be celebrating in front of his computer and monitors.

Skills are one thing, but it’s also important to display certain personality traits. Doing so will help you identify whether you/they have what it takes to thrive in an SEO career path. 

Skills can be learned through experience and online classes but traits are harder to teach. Even if a person is lacking in some skills or traits, they may still make a great SEO strategist based on having a good amount of the following 9 traits:

  1. Adaptability
  2. Curiosity
  3. Willingness to learn
  4. Sense of humor
  5. Eye for detail
  6. Analytical mind
  7. Thoughtful decision-making
  8. Proven experience
  9. Ability to build relationships

14 Vital Responsibilities of SEO Managers

When hiring an SEO specialist, you need to be clear on what they’ll be doing. 

Being specific about this ensures that the most qualified candidates apply and makes it easy to check that they’re able to do the job successfully. 

In a varied role like SEO, there are a number of responsibilities that a specialist might take on (spanning from technical coding knowledge to copywriting chops needed). It also varies depending on where your company or marketing agency is at and what its priorities are. 

These are 14 of the most common responsibilities that SEO specialists will be expected to carry out:

  1. Keyword research (to uncover relevant keywords with the right search intent)
  2. Creating content strategy
  3. Optimizing web pages (articles, products, service, etc.)
  4. Improving user experience (UX) & user interface (UI)
  5. Technical SEO (using a tool like Screaming Frog)
  6. Writing quality content
  7. Checking analytics tools like Google Analytics & Search Console
  8. Conducting market research
  9. Building sound SEO strategy
  10. Setting company targets
  11. Meeting client goals
  12. Analyzing SEO traffic and conversion rates
  13. Keeping up with SEO trends
  14. Executing SEO strategies

Are Digital Marketing Certifications Needed?

A woman sitting in front of her computer with the words “Digital Marketing” showing on the screen.

The short answer is no. 

They can certainly help, but they’re not essential to have success. Instead, employers should be interested in someone’s experience and track record. Look at a candidate’s client case study data (SEO ranking, traffic, and conversions) to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Having a number of qualifications and certifications certainly counts for something but this is just head knowledge. It’s no match for being deeply experienced in multiple industries and knowing how to apply that diverse experience to get results every time.

That being said, there’s a big benefit in learning all you can about the world of online marketing. An SEO specialist with a number of professional certifications has proven that they have a willingness to learn. They’ve also gathered the basic knowledge required to succeed in an industry like this one.

Just bear in mind that there’s a big difference between knowing something in theory and being able to put it into practice. Plus, algorithms change constantly, meaning the information on a search engine optimization exam can quickly become out of date. That’s why experience trumps certifications and is definitely worth much more if recent than work completed a decade ago.

If an SEO strategist mentions their certifications, then check to see how authoritative they are. The most valuable qualifications are given by top SEO companies like SEMrush, Hubspot, Moz, Yoast, and Google. If a person has completed certification from one of these academies, you still want to verify their past client results.

The reality of search engine optimization is that it’s a constantly evolving beast and having a strong track record reveals that a candidate has what it takes to thrive in these conditions.

How Much Does an SEO Specialist Make?

The salary of an SEO strategist varies depending on experience and the level they’re at. In general, though, you get what you pay for. 

If you’re looking for budget SEO solutions, it’s less likely that you will see as much movement in terms of traffic and conversion rates (or it will take you longer and with inconsistent results).

Paying for the best strategists to help drive your company forward; however, will lead to a significant boost in traffic, leads, and sales.

It may be tempting to hire an employee quickly rather than check out a consultant. That’s because the hourly wage of an employee seems lower, and you may feel that you have more control over how they work. However, in the long run, this isn’t always the best strategy.

Here’s a rough breakdown of the costs according to recent industry averages.



Cost per hour



Overall cost

~$63,000 per year

~$36,000-72,000 per year

SEO Results

Slower & Inconsistent

Faster, Consistent & 2X+ Results

You can see better and more consistent results by hiring a consultant for 3 primary reasons. 

  1. You often get a similar or lower monthly retainer as well as access to broader and deeper experience. 

    1. While an average SEO specialist earns $30 an hour and, therefore, costs $63K a year or $5.2K a month, you can often get an SEO consultant for about the same cost (with no long term commitment & deeper/broader experience). 

    2. A common price for an SEO package is $3,000-$5,000 a month or $36K-$72K per year (or even more if a large site with a lot more revenue growth potential). So while the hourly rate is considerably higher for a consultant, the monthly costs are often similar.

  2. This higher rate of pay comes from a consultant being a true expert. 

    1. They’ve worked with many clients in a range of industries, giving them the experience needed to go above and beyond. 

    2. An employee may have had a distinguished decades-long career but if this is only with one company, then they lack a diverse experience. That’s why consultants generally provide better results.

  3. A consultant works quickly and efficiently.
    1. They get the job done in less time and, as we all know, time is money. If an employee is good at their job, then you’ll see results. But they will likely be inconsistent and take longer (with starts and stops in SEO growth). 

    2. However, a consultant is dedicated to helping you achieve these results at a much faster pace. They’re incentivized to get the job done quickly because that increases their hourly pay. 

The true cost of hiring an SEO manager will vary depending on who you work with and what package they’re offering. 

How Do I Hire a Superior SEO Strategist (Employee)?

A man in black suit shakes hands with an interviewee.

The more you invest in SEO (over a longer time), the more pleased you’ll be with the results. It really is an exponential growth equation. The best SEO managers know their worth, have enough demand to charge the highest rates, and are selective with who they take on as clients (or who they take a job with). 

You might want to check out an independent consultant who on the surface tends to charge more, but, as explained above, gets the job done quickly and efficiently as well as achieves a higher standard of results.

If you do opt to hire an employee, then check how diverse their background is. 

Do they have experience in just one sector for one employee or have they performed a number of crucial roles and seen success across the board? The latter will be worth hiring but they’re few and far between. This person will likely have many years of experience.

You may struggle to find this person with your inbox flooded with young and wide-eyed applicants who don’t quite have the experience you’re looking for. That’s because many successful SEO strategists are leaving employment to become freelance consultants. 

And with the job market already tight, unfortunately, it’s really hard to hire your own employee of this caliber.

Or Should I Hire An SEO Consultant?

To help you understand the differences between an employee and a consultant, here’s a quick pros and cons breakdown of each.




  • Cheaper per hour
  • More control over daily work
  • May be more loyal to company
  • Offers SEO training
  • More expensive long-term (especially with benefits)
  • More risky (if strategies don’t pan out)
  • Can be swayed by office politics & strategies watered down
  • May have a limited range of experience
  • Often slower to deliver results
  • Results may be inconsistent
  • Implied long-term commitment (harder to replace with new hire)
  • More job security, which can lead to complacency


  • Similar or better cost
  • Less risky (tried & true methods)
  • Broad/deep experience level
  • Works quickly & efficiently
  • Short-term commitment (easy to switch to new consultant)
  • Often leads with unvarnished truth (even if not popular politically)
  • Delivers better & faster results
  • Offers SEO training
  • Depends on reviews, which leads to better quality work
  • Seems more expensive
  • Don’t have control over daily work
  • Has other clients (isn’t dedicated 100% to you)

If you want the best results, then hiring an SEO consultant is the best way to go; hey, as an SEO consultant myself, I’m biased. 😉

You could have someone with all the right skills and traits to get you faster and better results, saving you time and money as well as growing your leads and sales.

Doing this requires an upfront investment, but it’ll pay for itself over time in a way that hiring an employee may not lead to. Many consultants have a better range of experiences to draw upon, a more clear record of success, and are incentivized to deliver results quickly.

Of course, not all consultants are the same. 

Check a person’s background and interview them to see if they’re the right person for your company’s SEO goals. You have to put a great deal of trust in a consultant so it’s worth taking the time to ensure you’re choosing the right person for the job, as you would if hiring an employee.

Wanna Interview Me as Your SEO Strategist?

Reach out and let’s chat; I’d be happy to show you my client work and results as well as how we can grow your business just like I did for theirs.

Miles is a loving father of 3 adults, devoted husband of 24+ years, chief affiliate marketer at AmaLinks Pro®author, entrepreneur, SEO consultant, keynote speaker, investor, & owner of businesses that generate affiliate + ad income (Loop King Laces, Why Stuff Sucks, & Kompelling Kars). He’s spent the past 3 decades growing revenues for other’s businesses as well as his own. Miles has an MBA from Oklahoma State and has been featured in Entrepreneur, the Brookings InstitutionWikipediaGoDaddySearch Engine WatchAdvertising Week, & Neil Patel.

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