How to choose an SEO Company

You’ve heard the horror stories from others who’ve tried SEO, investing thousands of dollars and not getting results or get short term results that quickly drop magically after payment has been made.  Perhaps you have called a few local SEO companies and found wild prices ranging from $300 per month to $8000 for 3 months or $1000 per keyword.  Plus all conversations involved long drawn out techno-babble that was difficult to understand. Perhaps you have ventured as far as to hire an overseas company at an affordable price, only to have weeks between emails and work, all while your website is going nowhere fast.  

So, how do you find a good affordable SEO solution for your online business or website?  The simple answer is a little research.  But, to research properly you need to know what to look for in an SEO company, enough to know what to look for in a company to judge if they know what they are doing or are dangerous to your business. 

Here are the top 5 criteria to evaluate an SEO company by: 

  1. Methodologies – In plain speak these are the methods that they use to gain your website top rankings.  No company will fully disclose all the methods they will use but watch for terms such as “ethical”, “white hat” and “legal”.  If a company doesn’t employ ethical SEO methodologies the end result will be that your website will be sandboxed (where Google will freeze your website for a period of 3 to 18 months or more, no rankings will be achieved during this time), semi-banned (where Google will only include your website in the “supplemental index” where it will never rank for anything but a search under your company or domain name) or worse yet, banned (where your site will never see rankings and sites can be banned in all search engine discovering the illegal tactics used). Once semi-banned or banned the only solution is to buy a new domain name and start over from scratch.  

Make sure the company clearly states they use ethical and white hat SEO tactics or drop them from your list.  

  1. Link Building – This ties in with methodologies but is so important that it deserves a number of its own.  Link building is one element of proper SEO work, but if not done properly has the capability of destroying your chances of ever ranking in the search engines.

Most SEO companies know that link farms are bad and becoming a thing of the past, however many have yet to catch on to some of the more recent changes to link building that are now frowned upon or outright punishable by the search engines.  Some link building red flags to watch out for are:

  • Reciprocal Link Building – Where the company will build links to your website by trading a link back to their’s. Search engines, especially Google punish websites that participate in link building.
  • Linking Rings – Where the company will build a series of inbound links with other sites where everyone trades a one way link
  • Forum or Blog Posting – Forum or Blog posting is considered spam or garbage posting by forums and blogs.  Many companies employ this tactic to build mass amounts of quick links all which fade quickly and hurt your site in the process

If a company doesn’t mention their link building methods on their website ask them specifically where and how do they build links and just as important ask them how fast.  Building 100 links in a month will only damage your site’s chances to rank well in Google.  Make sure they are building quality, related industry, inbound links or their link building will only hurt your site in the long run.  

  1. Portfolio – Nothing speaks louder to a company’s capabilities than their portfolio.  How do you evaluate a company’s portfolio?

Firstly if you find an SEO company not actively promoting their portfolio on their website, drop them from the list.  This is such an important part of displaying their capabilities that missing this from their website is either poor business leadership or a deliberate act.  

Secondly look for 3 crucial pieces of information in their portfolio:

·        Domain name/URL – Without this you won’t be able to verify the top rankings.  Also search among the sites for similar industries to yours such as ecommerce, small business, retail shops, travel companies, realtors etc and notice their results.

·        Keywords – In addition to verifying the rankings achieved in the search engines you also need to look at the keywords themselves to get an idea of how “competitive” their keywords targeted are.  A simple method to see how competitive a keyword is, is to check how long the keyword is and if it’s targeting a small local area, large local area or globally.  A small local area will have less businesses competing for the top ten than a metropolitan area like Chicago, New York or Toronto.  As well the more words in the keyword the less competitive it is.  For instance did they get good rankings for “Electronics stores” or was it “Electronic stores selling Sony TV’s” or “Electronic Stores in Kalamazoo Michigan”.  Obviously getting good rankings for the second and third terms would be easier than the first. 

·        Rankings Achieved – Look at the rankings they have achieved and then go to Google and spot check some of them.  If the rankings are not there inquire about this.  From time to time clients stop their SEO work when rankings are achieved, only to have their rankings drop, or accidentally erase or undo the coding on the website or other changes that will undo the SEO work causing rankings to drop.  A good company will have testimonials or ranking reports to verify the rankings they have gained.  

  1. Price – This is likely the original deciding factor you would have used, but hopefully the preceding information has shown that going with the cheapest or even the most expensive won’t ensure you get a great company or even quality work. You will also notice that even after viewing the top 20 SEO companies in the search engines you will be hard pressed to find even one that lists their prices on their website.

SEO companies have a variety of ways in which to charge for their work.  Some charge monthly, some work quarterly (3 month blocks), some require 1 year commitments and others bill by the keyword, page or hourly rate.  The best option to look for is a company that works monthly or quarterly as this allows for monthly payments and the ability to stop the work in a short period of time if the arrangement is not working out.  

Red flags to watch out for:

·        Hidden fees – Some companies will charge more for link building, for targeting more than one search engine, for providing monthly reports.  Make sure you ask to know about all fees upfront and ensure they are put in the contract.

·        Commitment times – Some companies may try to lock you in for a set amount of payments, such as one year or more. You will be required to pay these with or without results and even if you try to terminate your contract with them.  Commitments of 1, 3 or 6 months are standard and reasonable anything more than that may only end up taking your money with no results.

·        Confirm Pricing – If you are interested in an SEO company that doesn’t post their prices on their website are unable to produce a pricing list for you, call back and test by providing another domain name requiring similar work and ensure the pricing they give you is similar to the original pricing. Many companies, even large companies don’t offer fixed pricing for the same work and adjust their pricing based on what they suspect you can afford.

·        Sudden drops in pricing – Along with the point above, if a company starts off at a high price and then at any signs of hesitance on your part they “wheel and deal” with you to lower the price as an “exception” they are likely testing the waters to see what you can afford, where your budget is and try to get the highest amount of money out of you as possible.

·        Upfront Money – It’s not unreasonable for an SEO company to ask for the month’s payment in advance, or a portion of the set fee upfront, but be leery when a company asks for more than 50% of the project price up front, and better yet resolve to a 25%, 25% and 50% payments at fixed milestones.  

  1. Language and Customer Service – Usually not something one considers when choosing an SEO company.  Language bears a very important part of effectively optimizing a website.  Not only is important for writing the meta tags that will get proper rankings but also optimizing the content of your pages so that it speaks to the keywords your website is targeting. There are countless times where I have see a website so obviously optimized by a company where English is not their strong suit.  Many companies think of only the search engines and write to them, forgetting that visitors and potential clients will be reading what is written and nothing is more unappealing to a visitor than poorly written text. 

Always hire a company that is capable of writing professionally and understands the nuances and slang of the language you need optimization in. This doesn’t mean just scrutinizing offshore companies but also

North American, UK and Australian companies as well, as many may outsource the work offshore or may be technically trained but not educated in writing professional content. Lastly consider customer service.  Many SEO companies promise great rankings, more traffic and appeal to your need to increase online business but many come up short when it comes to customer service.  Some factors to consider:·        Are you given a direct contact or a general email box to be answered by whoever is on call that day and may not necessarily be familiar with your business.

·        Are they going to explain the work and seek approval and insight from you regarding the work they are performing on the site?

·        Will they make all the suggested changes on your website or will they require you to make or arrange all their changes

·        Will the provide a monthly or quarterly report and will that report be explained if it’s not understood.  

All these factors will determine the type of experience you have with a company and may be more or less important depending on how technically trained and savvy you already are.  In closing, there are affordable, quality SEO companies out there; it simply takes some research and time to find them.  In addition to searching in the search engines you can also consider freelance websites where many companies and freelancers will bid on your SEO project providing you a variety of prices and options.  A North American, UK or Australian based company will likely be more expensive than an offshore Indian, Pakistani, Eastern Europe company, however you gain a local company, more familiar with the language, marketing, pace, and clientele you are trying to reach which has it’s own distinct value.

4 thoughts on “How to choose an SEO Company

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