SEO is a complex, ever-changing industry and it’s a full-time job just keeping up with the changes. Learning it all from scratch, figuring out how to apply it to your site and keeping ahead of the curve when it comes to updates is too much for many small businesses to handle. That’s why it’s often a good idea to turn to a professional SEO firm to manage your site for properly.
It’s a dangerous world out there for businesses looking to start up an SEO campaign, however. There are companies that prey on your ignorance, and others who lie about results. Some charge more than their service is worth. Some are a perfect fit, but are hard to find. To avoid common pitfalls and scams, follow these do’s and don’ts.
First Things First: Should You Hire an SEO Firm?
Before you jump all in on hiring an SEO firm, you should decide if you truly need one. On one hand, an SEO firm is guaranteed not to make the newbie mistakes you might while you’re still learning. They have the tools and experience necessary for you to succeed. On the other hand, doing it yourself is going to be cheaper in the long run, and you aren’t reliant on an external company to keep your site where it needs to be.
Generally, if your niche is not very competitive, you can afford to take the time to learn and do it all yourself. If, however, you have stiff competition, it can be worth it to get an explosive start and hit them before they expect your competition.
Do: Research your company thoroughly.
SEO is an industry that is incredibly vulnerable to misinformation. For one thing, the people who know about SEO know how to get their articles to rank high and stay ranked. This is great, except when a piece of information changes and their articles don’t update. This means a lot of information you find online right now, ranked highly in search, may be dangerously out of date.
The problem is, shady SEO companies will take advantage of the confusing nature of the industry to keep you confused and swindle you. They’ll convince you they’re putting a detailed plan into action, but they’re really just using big industry buzzwords to say nothing at all.
A legitimate company will have a history and a reputation. Moreover, they will have case studies and past satisfied customers who will vouch for their services. If a company can’t provide you with proof, you can take the time to find one who can.
Don’t: Go with the cheapest option.
SEO is often an industry where you get what you pay for. Going for the cheap SEO option is going to get you a company that outsources their code to Bangladesh, hires the absolute cheapest copyrighters and cuts corners whenever possible. It opens you up to all sorts of possible penalties, when you’re skirting the bare minimum to get by. Some ultra-cheap SEO companies even rely on black hat techniques, which give you a visible boost for a few months before digging you in a hole worse than having never done any optimization at all.
Do: Talk with your chosen company about time and deadlines.
SEO is not something that happens overnight. In some cases, you’ll have to go through a full site audit and content revision before you can even begin to see a benefit. In other cases, you just need to put months of work into building a foundation. You’re going to have to be patient with your SEO firm, and they are going to have to be up-front with the time it takes to get results. For that mater:
Don’t: Buy in to any promises of guaranteed ranks or instant results.
Any company that claims it will get you the number one spot on Google is lying to you and you need to scrub out their contact information right away. Any company that guarantees a specific ranking by a certain date is likewise lying to you. SEO is highly variable based on your industry, your foundation, your audience and your competition. There are no guarantees.
Do: Learn the basics of SEO and ask intelligent questions.
Do you know what a backlink profile is? Do you understand the basics of geotargeting? Do you know why artificially inflated traffic numbers aren’t beneficial? Do you know what’s the most important part of SEO today? It’s a good idea to learn the basics of SEO before you start looking for a company to do it all for you. For one thing, you may find you have a knack for the industry and that you can do it yourself after all. For another, you want to be able to hold an intelligent discussion with your SEO company. Knowing the basics will also help you spot if a company is trying to give you the runaround. Google actually provides a very good starting guide.
Don’t: Give your SEO firm nothing to go on.
One of those questions above, the one about the most important part of SEO, is content. Running a blog and filling it with content related to your industry is going to be imperative. That means you’re either going to need to produce a lot of content in-house, or you’re going to need to work with your SEO company to produce content. If you’re relying on your SEO company or their writers, you need to give them something to go on. Remember, they aren’t familiar with your company, your history, your stances on industry issues or the current happenings in your industry, any more than you’re familiar with SEO or content writing as an industry.
Do: Be prepared to redesign your site for best effect.
Part of a good SEO plan is having a good foundation, from your web host to your site design. Before you can have compelling content, you need a compelling site. Unfortunately, many businesses encounter an issue with this step, either because they paid a lot for their current design or they’re really attached to what isn’t very functional. You may not need a redesign, but you should be prepared in case one is called for.
Don’t: Assume your company will do everything for you.
An SEO firm is not a fire and forget solution to your web presence. Yes, they can handle a lot. Determine what the relationship you’re going to have with them will be, and what you’re going to handle. Some will deal with your social media profiles; some won’t. Some will handle upkeep and maintenance on your ecommerce pages; others won’t. Some will work in reputation management, some refuse to touch it. Understand what they do and what they don’t, so you don’t rely on them to do something they were never going to do in the first place.