Most people who call themselves an SEO Expert (or worse, guru) are lying. The rules of Search Engine Optimization change too quickly for anyone to be a true expert. That also makes it hard for small business owners to figure out who’s a real SEO expert, and who’s looking to take you for a ride.
Mike Kawula, founder of Self Employed King once hired an SEO company for $1500 a month, but after 6 months he didn’t see any boost in his site’s ranking in his Google Analytics, or in the reports that the company sent. He started to suspect that they hadn’t been doing any work at all. He changed the system password so they couldn’t log in, but the reports and bills kept coming. Mike says, “Their website looked great, and our scheduled calls sounded professional.” But as soon as he confronted them about the lack of work, they hung up on him and cut off all contact.
At least all Kawula lost was his money. Some shady SEO practices can get a website blacklisted by Google, damaging the company’s reputation and sales. Douglas Karr, the CEO of DK New Media has had to clean up after disreputable SEO companies. “Too many of our customers are stuck with bad backlinking schemes the SEO company used to drive ranking. Most of them were unaware of what was happening until we uncovered it. A single bad backlink can be responsible for your site not ranking well!”
So how do you find a reputable SEO expert who will help your small business instead of hurting it? Juan Vides, President of New York City SEO suggests researching potential SEO vendors just like you would a car or a house. “SEO can cost $5,000 to $10,000 a year. You could almost buy a car for that. You want to make sure this car’s not a lemon.”
Vides thinks that small business owners should, “contact three or four companies and see what you can learn from them. Some will be more informative than others.” SEO is complicated and ever-changing, but it’s not a secret and there are no proprietary tactics. Anyone who refuses to explain how they work either doesn’t really understand SEO, or they don’t want to be bothered educating their clients. Either way, they don’t deserve your business.
Questions to Ask A Potential SEO Expert
Lori Riviere, owner of the marketing and PR agency, It Marketing Concepts says that you should ask for examples of past success. “Any SEO who has seen some success should be able to put together a case study relatively quickly. Tell them that you want to see some proof, with at least Google Analytics snapshots.”
Riviere also suggests asking “how Penguin 2.0 changed the game for SEO.” Penguin 2.0 was a major change to Google’s search algorithms, and it completely changed the SEO game. You don’t need to understand the details of Penguin 2.0, but any SEO expert you hire should. Riviere says this question is, “meant to flush out sites that benefit from link spam tactics. They should be telling you that Penguin 2.0 is much more sophisticated and on the hunt for spammy tactics, black hat tricks, keyword and keyword stuffing. Now you have to focus on quality content and quality back-links.”
Quality content is something that anyone can recognize and appreciate. Shanna Kurpe, Partner at Grasp, a digital marketing and software development company, has seen, “so-called SEO experts promise to create and distribute content on your behalf, but later they publish ‘articles’ that are inaccurate, riddled with grammatical errors and difficult to read because every sentence includes ten keywords.” Although keyword-heavy gibberish may bring in some short-term traffic, Kurpe cautions, “what happens when a prospective client actually reads that garbage? Your professional image is much more important than a few extra inbound links.” She recommends protecting your company’s brand image by insisting on approving any content before it’s distributed on behalf of your company. When an SEO Consultant names a few current clients, visit their sites to see if their content is high-quality.
Google announced an even more recent change, called Hummingbird, on September 29, 2013. It should take a few weeks for the SEO community to make sense of Hummingbird, so expect your SEO specialist to be aware of it, but be wary if they claim to fully understand it too soon.
Michael McDonald, an SEO Marketing Analyst at customized promotional products store, Promotions Now suggests asking how a a potential SEO vendor tracks the success of a campaign. “If the answers are just keyword rankings, then you have an SEO professional that does not see the complete picture. Keyword rankings are a means to an end…and that end is whatever goals a website owner has. Yes, rankings are important but that is just one piece of the puzzle.”
Shanna Kurpe, agrees that, “a real SEO expert will not just talk about the number of visitors to your website. You don’t want to just attract a bunch of visitors, you want to attract a specific type of visitor – one that actually wants to do business with you and has the money to spend.”
Ask about what reports the SEO consultant creates to track progress, and how often they will provide those reports.
Red Flags to Look Out For
If an SEO consultant promises that they can get your website on the first page of Google’s search results for a specific keyword, don’t believe them. “They don’t own Google,” Juan Vides says, so they can’t possibly deliver on those promises.
Douglas Karr warns, “If they are not asking questions about your business, how you measure success, and providing feedback on how you capture and measure that business or leads – RUN.”
Once you’ve met with a few prospective SEO consultants, you should have a better understanding of what SEO is, how it can help your business, and who you can trust with your company’s online reputation.