This resource provides a guide to SEO best practices for an independent consultant to implement into their website, if they wish to optimize for discovery and rank higher in Google search results.
You can click any section to go directly there:
- What is SEO?
- Should you invest time and money in SEO?
- Keyword strategy
- Implementing SEO in your website structure
- Metadata: What it’s for and how to use it
- Google Analytics: Insights into website performance
- Google Search Console
- Case Study: StratMaven
- How to select an SEO consultant (and what they cost)
- SEO Cheat Sheet
What is SEO?
It’s important to understand the different terms around search engines and how each of them works with your website.
- SEO: Search Engine Optimization. This is the organic, free traffic that you get when someone enters a search term that finds your website. Optimizing for SEO helps your site get found and rank higher in search results.
- SEM: Search Engine Marketing. This is traffic that you pay for by paying for through Google Ads.
You can implement an SEO strategy whether you have built your website using a Content Management System such as WordPress, or using a website building platform such as Wix or Squarespace. These services have SEO tools that are coded into the back-end and offering a user-friendly, front-end tool that allows the user to insert SEO data without requiring much technical knowledge.
Should you invest time and money in SEO?
Independent consultants typically have one of two main goals for their website:
- Credibility: Establishes your expertise and provides information to people who are already aware of you. The website is a vehicle for detailing your expertise, services, and content such as a blog, thought leadership, newsletter, podcast, etc.
- Discovery: Serves as a marketing tool for your sales funnel to bring leads to your business through search. This is a higher aspiration goal in which your website is meant to act as a lead generating tool.
If credibility is your only real goal for your website is primarily used for credibility, you probably don’t want to invest heavily in an SEO strategy. To do SEO properly requires a lot of time and often significant money. You can still incorporate the basics such as the main keywords and description on your home page and taking a look at the navigation and structure, but going all-out on SEO isn’t necessary if your goal isn’t to bring new traffic through search.
If discovery is your major driver, then a proper SEO strategy is vital. Implementing these practices can go a long way towards higher discoverability to generate more leads for your practice.
If you really want to invest in the discovery aspect of your website, the goal is to show up on page one of Google Search results — and an investment in SEO is an important part of that strategy.
Search engine optimization is a long-term strategy
SEO is not something you tweak once and see immediate results. It’s the practice of consistently implementing practices for your website that, over time, result in better placement and traffic.
Think of SEO as planting seeds for the future, with six-to-18-month goals.
A keyword is the word or phrase someone types into an internet search bar to find websites with relevant content.
Your SEO strategy pivots around identifying and optimizing the keywords you want to appear in search results for. The first step, therefore, is defining your top key words or phrases.
Your key word or phrase should meet all three of the following condition:
- Describes what you do and are pertinent to the main focus of your consulting work.
- Has enough search volume to bring traffic.
- Is long or specific enough for you to have a better chance of matching search intent and ranking higher for.
For example, let’s say you are an independent consultant who specializes in strategy.
Consider the term “strategy consultant.” This satisfies the first and second criteria — it describes what you do and there is a high amount of search volume on that term. However, that search volume means a massive amount of competition for that term, so it fails the third criteria.
Instead, try to further identify a more narrow keyword that you have a better chance of ranking higher for.
Drill down to more specifics. What industries do you serve? What specific type of strategy do you do?
“A common misconception about SEO is that you want to go after the broadest, highest search volume,” says Ian Sabbag, an SEO and digital marketing consultant.
Identify keyword(s) that best describe what you do so that a potential client might be searching for your services using it, and has a high enough search volume to bring traffic, and is narrow enough to bring in enough results without competing with thousands (or millions) of other sites.
There are several good ways to help you identify your best keywords.
1. Google Search
The first step is to go to Google.com and begin typing your keyword into the search bar. You want to do this in an incognito window to get pure results that aren’t compromised by your own personal browsing history.
Let’s take our example from above and begin typing “strategic planning consultant.” Look at what results display in the suggested search terms that drop down once you get to just the letter c.
Strategic planning consultant shows up as the fourth most popular search term in Google. This suggests it would be a good keyword phrase because people are searching for it.
You can also think more specifically about what type of strategic planning you do, and conducting further Google Search to view suggested terms — both in the drop-down of the search bar as well as the “People also ask” section further down the page.
Going through this exercise can sometimes lead to the realization that the words we use about our practice and with our clients are not always the same terms that people are searching on.
2. Google Trends
Next, take those keywords and head to Google Trends.
Let’s use a different example here: a project management consultant.
When we enter “project management office” into the search bar, it returns a graph that shows how much that term has been searched for, over whatever period of time you wish to set.
We can also enter “program management office” and compare the search volume for both of these terms.
In this example, we can see that over time, “project management office” has a much higher search volume than “program management office” — indicating that it would be a better key phrase to optimize for SEO.
“It’s important to be really specific with your business,” Sabbag says. “It’s not always a search volume game.”
3. Other possible keyword tools
If you want to delve deeper, there are some other useful keyword tools such as:
These are paid services, although Semrush does offer a free trial period. Both tools give you features such as keyword research, SEO, competitor analysis, and tools to audit and rank your site’s SEO performance.
Sabbag says that for most independent consultants, Google Search and Google Trends provide sufficient tools for basic SEO. These more advanced, paid tools are more robust and complex; they come with a learning curve and may have far more functionality than needed. Google is the best place to start, and the only thing most small independent consulting firms will need.
Implementing SEO in your website structure
Once you determine your keyword(s), the next step is to make sure that keyword is in the places that Google’s robot looks at when it crawls your website.
Embed keywords in your URLS
It’s helpful to understand exactly how Google crawls websites to return search results. The Google robot looks first at the URL, searching for keywords in that URL.
This includes anything after the / mark as well.
For example, most websites have an “About” page. Most look something like this:
Google is looking for relevant keywords in that URL. If your “About” page is simply called “about” in the URL, that doesn’t tell Google anything. There is no keyword there.
Instead, make sure the URL of that page includes a keyword. This could include your name and, preferably, keywords that clearly state what you do. For example:
Putting the keywords in your URLs tells Google what your page is about, and what you’re trying to optimize for.
Put keywords in your headers
The next thing that Google looks at is the header (or title) on the page.
Your headers should also be optimized for those same keywords, which reiterates to Google the main subject of the page that it should rank for in its search results.
Use your keyword/phrases in your content
The first words on your home page are the most important ones of the entire website, according to Google. Make it clear for the search crawlers what you’re optimizing for in the first opening words.
For example, if you have identified your keyword phrase as “supply chain consultant,” then the very first sentence on your home page should contain those words. Don’t make the mistake of putting irrelevant phrases such as “we serve multinational clients” or “we value customer service” as the first words on your website.
That might be important information that could be included elsewhere in your site, but if you want to optimize for Google Search, your homepage should lead with the answer/solution of what it is you do — your Fishing Line.
Robbie Kellman Baxter offers a great example of this. Her Fishing Line is “The world’s leading expert in subscription and membership models.” These are clearly her target keywords, and they are front-and-center in the very first words of her site.
You should also use your keyword or phrase in the first sentence of body content on other pages, and preferably also in several other places throughout the page.
Ideally, the keyword or phrase you’ve targeted for that page would appear in the first sentence, and the first sentence or paragraph of several other subhead sections as well.
It’s important to do this without forced “keyword stuffing.” You want to implement the keyword or phrase in a natural way where appropriate, not just plastering it everywhere.
The order in which you place menu items at the top of your website is important for SEO.
When Google crawls a website, it goes in order of the navigation links. The menu pages further to the left are considered more important than those further to the right.
Therefore, the pages that are placed first (from left to right) in your menu navigation are going to be given more SEO weight.
In the example below, the “About” and “Publications” pages are going to get have SEO importance than the “Speaking,” “Programs,” or “Blog.”
Therefore, it’s important to set up your navigation menus so that those items to the left are optimized for the keywords you want to rank for.
Metadata: What it's for and how to use it
The next item to implement into your SEO strategy is metadata — what builds your Google search result.
This is the “behind the scenes” information that doesn’t display publicly on your site, but which Google crawls to get further information on what the specific page is about.
You can view the metadata on any web page in the Chrome browser by right-clicking on the page and selecting “view page source.” This will reveal the metadata as well as other html code on that page.
- SEO title
- Page description
- Focus keyword or phrase
- Slug (this is the part of the URL that comes after the /)
The SEO title and meta description are what appear in the Google search results.
Most web-building platforms have places for you to easily input this information without having to go into any code.
Whenever you create a new page or blog post on your site, make sure the keyword or phrase you have identified for that page are consistent across your metadata. This reinforces your URL and page title with the behind-the-scenes data that provide the keyword, title, and description to Google.
As an example, let’s take a look at the metadata on this very page. Below is the source code, with the Meta Title highlighted in red and the Meta Description highlighted in green.
You can see from the source code the following metadata fields:
- SEO title: SEO Best Practices for Independent Consultants
- Description: SEO Best Practices for Independent Consultants: Search engine optimization tips for independent consulting websites.
Additionally, we have included two other metadata fields that do not appear in the source code:
- Focus key phrase: SEO Best Practices
- Slug: seo-best-practices
So on this page, the key phrase “SEO Best Practices” is reinforced through the meta title, description, and the URL slug.
Google Analytics: Insights into website performance
Google Analytics is a piece of code that you put into your website that then tracks all of the data about your site’s traffic.
Sabbag says Google Analytics should be “the source of truth for everything that’s happening on your website.”
WordPress, Squarespace, and Wix all have specific places where you can paste the code or ID you’re given from Google Analytics, using a widget. That’s all you have to do — pop in the code or ID in and then it will all be tracked automatically.
These platforms also have their own areas for website stats, but Google Analytics is significantly more advanced and offers much more and deeper data than the analytics from Squarespace or Wix.
It’s important to get Google Analytics set up in your website, because it will help you understand what’s going on in your site and how it’s actually performing.
To obtain your code, create a free Google Analytics account and create a new property for your website. Once this is completed, an ID and code will be generated for you. Google also provides a help article for setting this up.
Once Analytics is installed, you can then view your insights in the dashboard and run reports. Data includes:
- Total traffic numbers
- Unique visitors
- Repeat visitors
- User location
- Type of device
- Browser used
- Referral source (how they found your site)
- Time spent on site
- Bounce rates
- Pages viewed (and traffic for individual pages)
These are all hard data points — but based on this information, Google Analytics also makes some educated guesses about your visitors that can be helpful insights, such as age and income.
A few key points to understanding Google Analytics:
- Organic traffic: This refers to “free” traffic that came to your site via search (whether from Google, Yahoo, etc.). That should be as good or better than other traffic.
- CPC: This is any paid traffic, from keyword bidding or ads.
- Direct traffic: These are users who typed in your actual URL and went directly there, rather than landing on it through search.
- Time spent on site: Low time on site hurts your SEO, because it tells Google that when people land on your website they don’t spend very long there, so it must not be a good user experience.
- Pages per session: This tells Google how many different pages a user visits once landing on your site. If you have a one-page website, this will always be one. The fewer pages you have, the lower this number will be.
- Bounce rate: If someone leaves your site after a couple of seconds, that’s a bounce. It tells Google that the user did not find your site to be what they were searching for.
- Keywords: Google Analytics provides insights into how you’re doing for the keywords you’re trying to rank for. Optimize your site with enough content to keep people longer — especially on keyword pages you want to rank for.
- Page reports: In the Behavior section of reports, you can view the actual pages on your site to see which ones are getting the most visits and time spent. It will also show you the days and times that people are visiting the most often.
Sabbag says aiming for one to two minutes for time on site is reasonable.
“If you’re below a minute, you might want to think about doing some things to try to keep people on there longer. And that’s going to put you at a disadvantage against other consultants.”
Regarding pages per session, for the smaller sites that independent consultants typically have, three to five would be a good number.
Bounce rate varies by industry, but for independent consultants Sabbag suggests that 60-70% is average. A 50% bounce rate is the average across all websites. For consultant websites with a lot more content and pages — for example, with an active blog — you might want to see that bounce rate closer to the 50%.
When it comes to where your traffic is originating from, organic is king. “If Google organic is performing worse than your site average, that’s going to tell Google that you might be ranking in places that you shouldn’t be,” Sabbag says.
The behavior report for individual pages can also be very useful in helping you understand what pages are being viewed more than others.
For example, if you have a private equity page that is showing up way higher than your strategic planning page in this report, you might decide to spend more time on the private equity page and making improvements to it, because more people are going there.
You could also think about the other way and instead focus on the strategic planning page to help facilitate its traffic growth.
Google Search Console
Google Search Console is another piece of code that you can embed in your site using widgets or the tools provided by WordPress, Squarespace ,and Wix.
Search Console is different from Analytics in that it tracks your SEO ranking, rather than traffic insights. It shows you where you rank for all the different keywords that you turn up for in Google Search.
For example, if strategic planning is one of your ranked keywords, Search Console will show you what position you’re in, and how that has moved over time. This helps you track your actual rankings, versus web traffic.
Case Study: StratMaven
During an Umbrex virtual workshop on SEO practices with Ian Sabbag, independent consultant member Astrid Malval-Beharry graciously agreed to use her company website, StratMaven, as a case study to review from an SEO standpoint.
StratMaven is a strategy consulting and advisory practice that focuses at the intersection of technology and healthcare industries.
Malval-Beharry said that “InsurTech” is a strong keyword for her industry.
Keywords and Google Search
The first step is to perform a Google search on your potential keywords. Sabbag cautioned that the longer your search phrase is, the lower the search volume.
A search on “InsurTech consultant” suggests results relating more to salary and careers than terms related to consulting work.
“What that says is, the word consultant is more of a job-based search,” Sabbag explained.
On the other hand, using the word “consulting” rather than “consultant” returns different results better matched to being found as a consulting service. Consultant is job-based, while consulting is function-based.
Here we can take a look at the search trends around Malval-Beharry’s focus industries of technology and healthcare. The Google Trends comparison shows that technology ranks higher than healthcare.
“What that would tell me is that you would want to then structure your site where you’re putting more weight on technology than you are on healthcare,” Sabbag said.
Plugging that term into Google Trends to compare, we can see that while “technology strategy” is still the highest volume, “InsurTech” might be an easier keyword for StratMaven to rank on because it’s more specific and there is less competition.
In essence, that keyword provides a smaller pond — but Malval-Beharry might be a bigger fish in that pond.
Next let’s take a look at StratMaven’s navigation menu, keeping in mind that the pages on the left-hand site will carry more SEO weight than the following pages.
The first menu link is “About Us,” which Google will consider the most important.
On that page, the keyword that Malval-Beharry wants to rank for, “InsurTech,” appears once. Google will not think that keyword is important because it does not appear in the URL, page name, header, or first sentence of the page.
The Google bot will then go to the next page in order of importance, “Services.” That URL, stratmaven.com/consulting-services, does include the keyword consulting services. This isn’t a bad keyword, it’s just extremely broad and hard to rank for.
“Consulting services is very hard, very competitive, high volume. It’s going to take a long time to get there, and it’s not going to generate the leads for InsurTech that you want,” Sabbag said.
Furthermore, the keyword “InsurTech” is not mentioned on the “Services” page.
StratMaven could likely rank much higher in Google Search if the page were optimized for InsurTech in the URL, title, keywords on the page, and metadata.
Sabbag recommended rearranging the navigation to perhaps put “Industries” to the more important left-hand placement, and moving “About Us” further to the right.
Malval-Beharry took this advice and made several changes to her website:
- Title: The home page of StratMaven now clearly defines her keywords as InsurTech, Consulting, and Strategy.
- Keywords: Furthermore, these keywords are reinforced in the first descriptive sentence on the page, along with “technology.”
- Structure: Further down the homepage, the main keywords are reiterated again, in both the headings and body content.
- Navigation: “Industries” is now the first page in the menu, with “Services” second.
How to select an SEO consultant (and what they cost)
An SEO professional can help you with your strategy and rankings, but there are some important things to keep in mind and to watch out for.
Many people try to shortcut their rankings using dirty SEO techniques — even people or companies representing themselves as professionals and trying to get your business.
As mentioned before, you can’t trick Google — and implementing these bad practices can have dire consequences for your website.
Beware of link building
Avoid SEO consultants that recommend building links. This refers to the number of links on other websites that point to your site.
Link building was an important and legitimate way to rank higher in Google Search in its early days. However, when people figured that out, link building became big business with a lot of bad practices such as buying links and bulk linking from unrelated sites or those with low authority.
Today, this practice is bad news for your website.
This doesn’t mean that having links from other websites isn’t helpful — particularly if they are high-ranking, well-established sites. Many people utilize a strategy of raising their professional profile through thought leadership, publishing content, and getting quoted in the press and major websites.
These actions can indeed have significant positive effects on establishing your expertise and improving your website ranking — but Sabbag says they should be secondary activities after building a website that is structured and optimized properly from the beginning.
Incorporate SEO in all your content
Some SEO consultants will offer to build a lot of blog posts for your site.
Producing regular content is a good part of your SEO approach, but consultants who lead with this as the main strategy should be avoided. Your content (whether it’s a blog post, podcast, newsletter, or something else) should be produced organically and with high quality — not in a bulk way aimed at simply drawing traffic.
When you do create your own original content, insure each post has a good URL slug, meta title and description, etc. Research and include strategic keywords if your blog is meant to drive discovery.
You shouldn’t rely on blogging to bring all your traffic. Optimize and pay attention to the structure of the rest of your site.
Look for SEO professionals with a proven strategy
An effective SEO professional will focus on:
- Structure of the site. A good consultant will start here, reviewing and improving your website structure.
- Keyword strategy. A solid SEO plan implements your keywords in an organic, strategic way without keyword stuffing.
- Point out opportunities. An SEO consultant can offer insights and suggestions into ways you can improve your search ranking.
The safest and most reliable way to optimize for Google as a search engine and rank higher is to consistently implement the techniques outlined in this resource.
What to pay an SEO consultant
Engaging a capable SEO professional to review your existing website and help you develop a keyword strategy, as well as provide recommendations for structure and content, might cost roughly $5,000-10,000 USD (depending on the size of your site.
You might hire an SEO professional to either do a one-time optimization and strategy project for you, or possibly work together in the long-term for continued SEO.
For a one-time analysis and optimization of your website, it depends on how large your site is. On average for the typical independent consultant website, this should take roughly between five and 20 hours.
SEO Cheat Sheet
We have provided this handy Cheat Sheet to refer to when planning SEO for your website.
You can click the image to the right to download a PDF, or you can access it as a Google Doc here (click “File” and “Make Copy”).