In today's SEO climate, where Google penalties can result in all of your web pages getting removed from search results, hiring the wrong SEO company can have disastrous implications on your ability to conduct business.
In some ways, this is no different than other industries. If you hire the wrong attorney for your company, you could end up with legal problems that seriously impact your ability to do business (or sometimes even stay in business). If you hire the wrong accountant, your company could also be negatively affected to the point of having to close its doors. That’s why attorneys and accountants are required to achieve a certain level of education, are regulated by state boards and are required to prove competency before they can practice.
But no such vetting exists for SEO consultants. Any person who has read a few blog posts can spend $25 at GoDaddy for a domain and hosting and set up an SEO business within a few hours. (Actually, reading the blog posts is optional.)
For this reason, we have compiled a few tips for you to keep in mind when you’re beginning the process of hiring an SEO firm.
Tip #1 – When it Comes to SEO, Don't Call Us…We'll Call You
Unsolicited email and calls from an SEO company should be viewed with the same skepticism as an email from a member of the Ugandan royal family. Many times, these emails will point out that your company’s web pages are not ranking in the Top 50 results for an important-sounding keyword and that your business is in jeopardy.
I would say 19 times out of 20 the keyword term they reference in the email is one that gets less than one or two searches per month. And, on the off chance they have referenced a popular search term, there is still no evidence whatsoever they can get one of your pages ranked for it.
Reputable SEO companies generally do not send unsolicited email or cold call business owners.
If you have subscribed to an SEO or marketing agency’s email list and they send you periodic emails, this is not considered an unsolicited email. It’s probably just good marketing.
Tip #2 – Build a list of SEO options
SEO is a long-term proposition that can take weeks or months to start showing results. So, it's best to take your time and follow a thoughtful process when you go about finding the right company for your business.
A good place to start building a list is on LinkedIn. You can either send out a message to your contacts for referrals or, you can search for SEO professionals that are connected to your connections.
Business groups like the local chamber of commerce or trade associations are also a good place to start asking around for any good or bad experiences people have had with an seo firm.
Additionally, most cities have some type of SEO meetups or regular meeting of online marketing professionals that would welcome the public. This is also a great place to meet people who are knowledgeable about the SEO industry.
Don't immediately dismiss someone if your LinkedIn contact has never worked with his SEO connection directly or a person at a MeetUp only focuses on a certain industry or is out of your price range. Usually these people will be happy to talk with you and have connections in the industry who could be a good fit.
Tip #3 – Ask a lot of questions
SEO is a complex process and is dependent on several factors. Also, some industries have a lot more competition than others. So tactics that may have worked for a businesses that has five main competitors may not work as well for a company that has 25 or 100 competitors.
- Ask questions specific to your company/industry — What do you think is the biggest challenge to my company’s SEO success? Can you see any problems with our current website that can inhibit our pages ability to rank high?
- Ask generic SEO questions — How do you go about planning and executing an SEO campaign? How do you measure success? List five things you think are very important in achieving SEO success?
- Ask about their experience — What clients have you worked with? Which one of your previous clients was most like our company and what challenges did they face? Have any of your past clients ever been penalized by Google?
- Ask about logistics — How do you price your services? How long is the contract? How do you report the activities you’ve performed and progress? Do you outsource any of your services?
Don't hire solely on price or solely on experience. Weight both factors against one another. Good SEO can continue to provide benefits for years, so try to keep long-term value in mind. On the flip side, some of the most expensive SEOs I’ve ever encountered were some of the most incompetent.
Tip #4 – Don't immediately grab the shiny SEO penny
Many firms will swear up and down that there is a brand new way out there of getting higher rankings that Google is using and nobody else knows about it. While Google changes its algorithm a lot, the basic principles of SEO have not changed much over the years. Quality content with a lot of legitimate links from other strong sites usually ranks well.
- So, is content marketing a magic bullet? No, not if it doesn't result in quality content that resonates with visitors.
- Is social media a magic bullet? No, not by itself, but it can help you promote your quality content and is a great way for other people to share it.
All of those algorithm changes Google makes never results in a magic bullet. They are primarily new ways that Google has figured out to better reward pages and sites for providing quality content that gets a lot of legitimate links.
Whenever someone says they have a new way of getting pages ranked that nobody else knows about, your spidey sense should be firing off the charts. There are thousands of technical SEO professionals who run countless experiments trying to reverse engineer Google's algorithm. There are companies that pore through Google's patent filings on a daily basis.
The days of secret methods that provide huge results are no more (if it ever was), there are simply too many people and too many ways to reverse engineer SEO campaigns that are successful.
So, it's best to stick with what everyone knows works and do it better than your competition. Here are a couple of good resources that show what a large group of long-time SEO professionals have found are important to successful SEO:
- Search Engine Land's Periodic Table of SEO Success Factors
- Moz.com's 2017Local Search Engine Ranking Factors Survey
Getting it Right Is Not That Hard
If you keep the above tips in mind and take a thoughtful approach to the selection process, it’s not too hard to find a good firm that will do its best to get you good results without incurring any kind of penalty.
Some business owners tend to think of SEO as a mystical black box and that the only way to succeed is to either cheat or have some secret formula that nobody else has. The reality is that while SEO is very complex and reliant upon thousands of factors, some of which you have zero control over, it is also a pretty well-known entity.
Due to this complexity, it can be impossible to say exactly why one web page is ranking ahead of another, however well-done SEO will almost always result in driving significantly more traffic to your site. At the end of the day, that is the primary way SEO will show a healthy ROI.