SEO is an industry that is always on the move. What works today might not work tomorrow, and it may not have been an effective strategy yesterday. Techniques change. Tools evolve. Rules build upon rules. If you’re going to outsource your SEO to a third party, you’re going to need to make sure you’re hiring the most competent company available. Don’t settle for any company within your budget; pick one that knows what they’re doing.
Before getting into positive qualities to look for, first familiarize yourself with some warning signs of poor companies. If you see a company exhibiting one of these signs, scratch them off your list.
• Any guarantee other than a satisfaction money-back guarantee. The worst of these is the “guaranteed #1 position in Google Search” promise, which is impossible to live up to.
• Unsolicited offers from the SEO company arriving in your inbox. If they need to resort to untargeted mass mail, they aren’t pleasing their customers and thus can’t attract them legitimately. That, or they’re just phishing for your information.
• Using “submitting your site to search engines” as a selling point. Search engines don’t need to be notified that your site exists if you’re doing SEO properly.
• Mass directory submission. Directories aren’t a valid SEO technique today, so any company that still promotes the method is doing something wrong.
• A lack of transparency. SEO isn’t exactly a secret; Google publishes a huge amount of information about it every year, and there are hundreds of websites dedicated to the topic. An SEO company with something to hide is afraid of what you’ll find out.
• No referrals, past or present clients. A good SEO company should have satisfied customers who are willing to vouch for their services.
Providing a Content Creation Service
A huge part of modern-day SEO is content marketing, and content marketing means creating quality content for your site. You can do this yourself, of course, but a good SEO company is going to handle it with their own in-house or contracted writers. If you’re looking at an SEO company and they want to leave the content to you, shrug and move on.
Seriously, creating optimized content is the largest part of current SEO. It doesn’t take a lot of time or effort to optimize and automate titles and descriptions, work on incoming links, clean up past mistakes and streamline code. That can almost entirely be accomplished in a few short sessions. The ongoing part of SEO is all in the content marketing.
A History and Reputation
This was partially covered above, under the negative heading of the lack of referrals and past clients. When you consider hiring an SEO firm, you need to take a look around and figure out their reputation. See, when an SEO company fails, the damage takes a long time to clean up. When an SEO company fails and their clients recover, those clients tend to go on the warpath campaigning against the company. If you run a search for the company you’re considering, and you discover that they have an ongoing negative reputation, you need to remove their name from your list.
When you create a list of companies to investigate, one of the first thing you should do is search for reviews. Read more negative reviews than positive. Some negative reviews will be tied to client mistakes or to pricing, and those you can safely ignore. Others will warn you of black hat techniques and other problems which should keep you away.
Willingness to Communicate and Explain
An SEO company should be willing and able to explain complex SEO concepts in a way that satisfies your curiosity and reassures you of the knowledge and experience of the company in question. They shouldn’t disregard your questions with any form of “you don’t need to know” or talking down to you.
Communication should begin early. This is why many SEO companies will offer free consultations. This will involve them scanning over your site – without requiring admin access at all, so don’t give out your information – and creating a list of SEO bullet points. They should list both what you’re doing wrong and what you’re doing right.
From there, communication should continue. Establish weekly or monthly progress reports, touching base to make sure your goals are aligned and that you’re both satisfied with the arrangement.
Professional Ethics and a Focus on White Hat Techniques
A lot can go wrong over the course of implementing SEO. At any point, your company may turn to a black hat technique that will bring in favorable results for a short time, before coming back to bite you.
To help forestall this possibility, you should ask pointed questions of your potential company. Here are a few questions you can try, though a good company may call you out on the black hat techniques and explain their alternatives before you can finish.
A Concrete Timeline for Consultations and Improvements
SEO takes time. There’s no two ways about it. You can get immediate results with PPC, but the moment you stop paying for such a campaign, the benefit disappears. You can achieve fabulous long-term results with organic SEO, but it takes time for those results to build.
A good SEO company will have a timeline to achieve these goals. They will never say “you’ll be ranked number 1 in Google by six months from now.” That’s a guarantee they can’t hold up. They may, however, say something like “we will have a website redesign ready in three weeks.” Deadlines and timelines are important so you can hold them accountable if they miss them.
The Right Price
SEO can be very expensive. As a general rule, if a company is too cheap to be true, you should probably assume their services will be low-quality at best. On the other hand, more expensive does not always mean better. After a certain point, an expensive SEO company is probably catering to extremely high-end clients. Some will charge more than their services are worth, just because people will pay when they don’t know any better.
A Short Contract
A contract that lasts longer than 30 days is asking for trouble. A contract that lasts longer than 60 days is a huge warning sign. Make sure, as well, that ownership of your site and your content all remains under your company, and not the SEO company. The last thing you need is to hire a company only to find that they take ownership of your content. Always read any contract before you sign, of course. Otherwise, you never know what can come back to bite you.