The SEO industry is amazing for the fact that so many within it get repeat business either without delivering tangible results or, worse, doing more harm than good.
Part of the problem is the “push button success” myth that many believe, or want to believe, exists for ranking and therefore income.
The search engines have raised their game and just hitting a site with links or stuffing content simply does not work. However, because of the complexity of the search marketing industry it is easy to make big claims and reap big rewards for little, if any, long term benefit.
Good SEO costs money and takes time. The promise of a cheap, fast solution is therefore obviously appealing to some people who are really keen, naive, busy…or lazy. Hiring an SEO firm should be seen as the start of an ongoing relationship because that is what you will need to benefit from the initial work that is done.
So how can you pick an SEO service that will truly benefit your business for the long term, at a reasonable cost?
Automation Good. Automation Bad.
Some automation within SEO work, if used as a surgical weapon rather than a nuclear bomb, can work. You will struggle to find an SEO company which does not use any automated methods at all, but what you do need is to know what they use and why.
It is easy to be wowed by automation and claims of quick success. So make sure your guard is up when you are told about the wonders of automated linkbuilding for example.
Promises of high numbers and returns, for low investment is usually a sign of heavy, and potentially damaging automated processes.
Ask some serious questions of your potential SEO company:
Do they use automated linkbuilding software? Do they use automated content creation methods (spinning)? Do they use automated account generation and management tools?
You are looking for signs of using automation software to create lots of low quality links or content on certain software platforms, such as forums or blogs. Anything related to this is a red light, unless you just want your site to rank fast but die young.
Nobody Can Promise You Ranking Success.
Although a good SEO company, or indeed a bad one, can spot opportunities, it’s important to remember that nobody can promise you success. So any company that guarantees results such as “guaranteed #1 rankings” should be viewed with intense skepticism.
If success could be guaranteed, then every website would rank on page one for every search term. A reputable SEO firm will manage your expectations and make it clear that although there are good chances of building your rankings, a chance is all there can be. If any result is promised, it should simply be ‘improvement’.
Your prospective SEO service provider should do research onsite and offsite. They should gather data on every aspect of your site, links and keywords and deliver you a clear, costed plan of attack to address the key “quick wins” while laying foundations for potential future strength.
If a company you approach does not go through this with you, be wary. If they have a “method” that they can use across every client then walk away.
Do They Know Their SEO Stuff?
Look for expertise in your provider and learn how you can recognize it.
Research the latest Google algorithm update and ask what their understanding of it is. A real SEO company will understand, through industry networking and their own testing, what the implications are and be able to talk you through it in detail.
For example, the last Google update, Penguin 2.1 is still overshadowed by the prior Hummingbird update in terms of online buzz. Yet the implications of the Penguin 2.1 update are more fundamental.
The industry data is suggesting Penguin 2.1 is about linkbuilding. Google has tweaked its algorithm to further refine how it spots unnatural linkbuilding patterns.
Links created mainly to your main domain URL, with anchor text containing keywords in it, are the main issue. People link to content and they usually use generic words and sentences, rather than linking to your homepage and using link anchor text like “best Ford car sales in Nevada”.
By learning basics such as this, you can ask your prospective provider about the latest industry challenges they face and how they are approaching them.
If the questions are brushed aside, or there are claims that the methods they use are not affected by search engine changes, walk away.
Ask Who Will Be Doing Your Optimization Work…And Get Proof.
There was a case in the UK recently which was highlighted on a TV documentary exposing shady online practices.
An SEO/SEM company claimed they had an in-house person who built social traffic through Facebook, Twitter etc for their clients. They said would deliver thousands of followers who it was said were local, real and interested in relevant local products or services.
It was also claimed they had a network of local sites that they could drive massive amounts of traffic from.
The truth was they would take thousands from companies, charities and Government to drive traffic and then actually deliver virtually nothing. They would pocket the cash and then spend a small sum outsourcing to a firm in India who would then deliver fake social profiles and traffic.
The clients were blinded by the prospect of high numbers, promised through the clearly visible websites with high visitor stats and large social media followings.
So you need to get reassurances and talk to the person doing each part of the job where possible. Look at claims of where they will drive traffic from. If they own the sites themselves, be skeptical as to what will actually be delivered.
At the very least check things out as they happen. For social marketing it means looking at who follows you on Twitter and who liked you on Facebook:
Who is sharing your content? Do the people all look real – do they interact? What impact does the work have on your analytics?
What Networks And Relationships Do They Use?
Most SEO companies will tap into trusted ways of building links to your site. We have already discussed being wary of the building of low-quality, volume links by automation. But what about manual linkbuilding?
One way SEO firms build links is through private blog networks. These are set-up using different domains, servers and content across the net. Then as the network matures space is sold, so content pages containing links can be placed there.
Ask if your prospective SEO company uses PBN’s for linkbuilding and if so, what guarantees do they have that the network will not be taken down or spotted and penalized by Google?
Likewise, most companies have relationships with websites. In return for content and sometimes payment, links are placed back to client sites. Again, what are these relationships and are the sites of high quality and will those links and content remain in place?
The reason you need to ask this is the more control over the places a company can place content and links for you, the more control they have over removing them.
Once they take your money and you see the rankings increase, what is to stop them preserving the quality of their own networks by removing content and links after a few months?
Have An Idea Of What You Want To Achieve.
A key way to avoid being dazzled or deceived is to have some idea of where the issues lay and also what you want to achieve from the work to be done. If you have no idea on these points, then you will struggle to clarify to yourself and your prospective partner what success will look like to you.
The big mistake to avoid is to think SEO work will be a quick win or will deliver massive results. This can be especially problematic where the person outsourcing the work is reporting to someone higher up the food chain who has unrealistic ideas of the ROI.
So managing expectations needs to happen at all levels and if it is the SEO firm who is raising those expectations then be wary.
At the very least have a realistic goal in mind and discuss this with the SEO firm to see how realistic they think it is.
For example saying you would like to see an incremental visitor increase from month two through organic search traffic, with the aim of raising organic traffic by 10% and conversions by 10% within 6 months, at least gives both parties a realistic starting point for negotiations.
Checking Out Your SEO Provider – Key Things To Clarify.
Finally, do some research before you approach an SEO firm.
Look at their website, but don’t be swayed by it. Remember that it does not take a good SEO firm to design a nice website.
What you should establish from their website is if there is information available on previous clients and results. If not, contact them and ask if they have some case studies with actual results. Then you can see if those results seem to mirror the case study claims (remember to take into account how long ago the work was done).
Getting that information will allow you the chance to contact the case study client for an independent opinion.
Also do not be impressed by their own site ranking for relevant search terms. Just because they have “SEO services Dallas” nailed, doesn’t mean they are any good – it could just mean they have an old domain name with some ranking authority.
It will pay to check the SEO company out through social media channels. What does their Facebook or Google+ accounts say? Do the people who work there have their own? Do those accounts demonstrate professionalism, knowledge and respect?
From Google searches, are they mentioned? And if so, is it always in a positive light? Do they have a company blog or do company representatives guest author elsewhere?
You are basically looking for evidence that these people know their stuff and have their finger on the industry pulse. It will help you to see what their opinions are on changes in their industry and if those differ from others – and for what reason.