So you are thinking that your site could and should get more traffic from search engines. Where do you start? Many businesses hire a dedicated SEO company to help them do so, but a quick search for agencies can make you feel immediately overwhelmed.
Why? Well, frankly the SEO industry has a reputation problem. You have probably received dozens of those SPAM emails saying your site is behind on rankings or that they did a test of your site and it was performing poorly. We also hear horror stories of businesses who spent thousands of dollars a month with some SEO company with no results to show for it.
There are typically two types of SEO firms - those that work within search engine terms of service (white hat agencies) and those that don’t (black hat agencies). There are also gray hat SEO firms as well; those who might be inexperienced or aggressively using SEO tactics to attempt to bring the desired results. When you work with an aggressive gray hat or black hat firm, it doesn’t mean that you won’t have results, but you do run the risk of your domain being penalized from the search engines for lack of compliance. Who can afford that to happen? And it isn;t as rare as it sounds. We’ve seen two or three cases right here in our local market where companies had to start their web presence over with a new domain name and new branding efforts - an expensive proposition.
So ruling out black hat operators and finding an SEO company that will provide stable, long-term results helps narrow down your choices. But how to do that?
Learn a Little About SEO
A little education about SEO goes a long way. You don’t have to know how to do it - but if you know enough to be able to understand how it fits in your marketing mix, then you are well on your way to finding an SEO outfit that can help. The Beginner’s Guide to SEO from Moz is a great place to start.
Is SEO Necessary?
Ask yourself - do I really need SEO? On the whole we find that for most businesses it is an excellent tactic, but did you know that for very competitive industries we have counselled clients not to bother? It is really all about your industry, your competition, and where we think you can achieve the largest ROI. If you hear a potential consultant or telling you that if you don’t do SEO you are ruined, then be wary. A more educated answer by potential practitioners about the “why” will give you a lot of information about their approach. There should also be discussion about the degree of SEO effort is a good fit for your business and your competitive niche on the Internet.
Get references and case studies, or call some clients on the SEO company’s website and speak with them. Ask what is really good about the agency and also ask where they can improve. Find out what size companies they generally work with - you don’t want to be the biggest or the smallest. Talking to current clients give you a lot of information about whether or not the agency is a good fit for you, even if the company you speak to is a completely different sort of business.
Are They Black Hat or White Hat?
Ask about their philosophy and approach. You want to know if they will work within search engine terms of service. Also be wary of anyone who will guarantee rankings. This is simply impossible for any SEO agency to do.
Expect Transparency and Good Reporting
Get very concrete information about how the company will demonstrate results and make sure you are comfortable with their approach. Automated reports monthly with data overload will not tell you much. Custom dashboards, personalized status reports or regular meetings do.
Some specific things you will want to hear from a solid SEO agency:
- They will ask about your business goals, marketing goals and target audiences
- They will ask why you want to optimize your site
- They will talk about building a keyword universe based on #1 & #2.
- Efforts to integrate SEO efforts with other digital marketing channels such as pay per click advertising and social media will be made
- They will talk about site infrastructure, on-page content, and the importance of a good user experience for your customers
- There is a genuine brand behind the SEO agency’s online presence
Examples of things that should raise concern:
- Guarantees of #1 rankings
- Is their site or brand name no more than a city or state name + SEO? Is their site a cookie-cutter template that is copied across multiple areas of the country?
- Is there a lack of transparency about who they are?
- Tactics that involve “doorway” or “landing” pages
- Link building strategies that focus on quantity over quality, link buying, or link exchanging
- Do they generate pages or sites that are written for search engines and not people?
Finally, simply have a conversation with your potential agency and see if they are a good fit with your values and mission. Since SEO is an ongoing process, a good agency should be a partner you want to work with for the long term, so it is important that both your value systems are in alignment.
Well, good luck! We hope this article makes you feel a little more empowered to seek and find the right SEO practitioner to help you grow your business.