Hiring a Search Expert (or how to avoid SE Faux)
If you're in the market for a search marketing expert, you'll find no shortage of those offering their services. It's a confusing maze of geniuses, on-the-job-trainers, and downright charlatans. If you treat your SEO search as you would any other service, it gets less confusing.
What to look for in an SEO Agency
Run. Sorry, there may be some valid shops out there that offer guarantees, but I see way too many "you don't rank, you don't pay" emails and I know how they work. Essentially it's some variation of "If you don't rank, the next 6 months are on us". This means that you paid double for the first 6 months and anything after is gravy.
Response & Communications
How quickly did they respond to your first inquiry? Were they friendly and knowledgeable? Did they read your emails carefully? Did they provide a customized proposal?
Their "Way of Working"
This is another key area for a mismatch. Some agencies take a very systematic and almost assembly-line approach to SEO. Others take a very customized and highly hands-on approach. Either of these approaches might be good for you, but you might also hate them. Think back over some previous relationships you've had with service vendors and try to get a feel for which approach you like best.
Do they have experience in your space? Direct market experience may not be critical, but it's absolutely critical that they can show results for clients your size. I've found most issues are from agencies and clients being mismatched in size rather than market. You might be too big or too small for some agencies.
Here is a great question to ask yourself. Would I have paid for this presentation? The presentation that you receive from your agency should be packed with information you didn't already have.