We wrote a similar article several years ago but you know the search engines they are always changing and evolving and so is SEO and now so has how you should choose an SEO company.
More than likely by now you know what SEO is (back even 3 to 5 years ago most business owners didn’t know what it was) and you may have even dabbled with it or flat out tried it. If you are reading this than it probably didn’t work out so well and you got burned or your site got burned, or worse yet both. The problem with SEO it’s like cooking, everyone has their own recipe and not everyone knows how to cook well! What’s worse is that hiring the wrong company can have costly downsides like getting your domain name banned and the need to get a new domain and start all over again, or back peddle with Google and plead your ignorance and wait out their penalty which can be up to 18 months. Either way your website and it’s ability to attract visitors and sales is severely diminished.
The last thing you want to have to do is figure out SEO yourself to know if you are hiring a company who knows what they are doing or just pulling a fast one over on you. First off how would you learn it, the resources online aren’t necessarily trustworthy and can be confusing or convoluted and who really has all that time. So here are the tips that will help you know who to hire and who to trust:
1. Does the SEO Company Rank for Their Own Search Terms?
There is no better indicator than an SEO company that can outrank other SEO companies. The problem here however, is usually these tend to be the larger agencies who can be more expensive then the smaller companies so be sure to look at all the results and maybe even venture into page 2 if you have to. Page 2 is still better than not at all.
2. Talk to Someone and Ask Questions That Make You Seem Informed
Always talk to someone there, not just communication through email. By listening to someone you can go for a gut reaction based not just on what they say but the tone of their voice. So they sound like the slick car salesman or do they sound confident in what they are saying? Trust your senses. But, what questions do I ask? you say. Here is a list of what current and up to date and knowledgeable SEO companies should be able to answer without any hesitation or dancing around the answer:
- How many websites have you worked on that you have secured local, national and global results for? (Note: You can specify only the type of rankings you are looking for, for your own business if it’s local just ask about local or ask about all three)
- What does your SEO work include? (Note: Here you are typically looking for 2 stages of work. Stage one should be to optimize your website and make sure your website is SEO friendly, the second stage is monthly work and you are looking for sitemap generation and submissions, a monthly report and link building that appears natural and from varied sources like social media, top level directories (like 411, yellow pages, super pages, manta etc.), blog commenting, profile links. But the key is they shouldn’t be talking about building hundreds of links. You need quality not quantity)
- Where can I see your portfolio and Case Studies? (Note: Ideally if they are upfront about their SEO it should be on their site, but they should be able to send you a list of sites they work on and rankings they have achieved. Case Studies should go a step further and show you the traffic benefits and sales benefits if applicable. Two important things here: 1. Verify the rankings, check the keywords they claim the site ranks for and make sure it’s there; 2. Verify that they actually did the work by contacting the client or looking for a link at the bottom of the page to their site. Don’t take their word for it, you don’t know they got that site there!)
- What Have Been the Biggest Changes in Google In the Last Few Years and How Has It Changed Your Approach to SEO? (Now this is where the answers will vary. First of all they should cite the Panda Update, Penguin Update and the most recent from September/October 2013 Hummingbird Update. Each has had it’s own affect: Panda affected content and the use of unique, correct, content. Penguin affected sites that were over optimized and using their keywords too much, building too many links or links from bad sources, had badly or over optimized code and basically were playing in the grey or black areas of SEO. Lastly Hummingbird had to do with improving synonyms in search (i.e. lawyers and attorneys now generate the same top ten result, where as before they would be completely different), it also increases the intertwining with Google Authorship via Google + profiles and website content. A good SEO company hasn’t had to change what they are doing as they were always complying with Google Guidelines and would not have been affected by any of these updates, with the exception of the synonym changes which has affected some industries where there are multiple names for a service (like lawyer and attorneys).
- Do I Have to Commit To a Contracted Amount of Time? (Most SEO companies don’t lock you in, anymore, but if you get someone who wants a 6 or 12 month commitment take that as a warning flag. A good SEO company can keep you happy even when you aren’t seeing results
- How Long Will It Take To See Results? (This of course is going to vary depending on your industry, how old your domain name age is, how established it is now with inbound links (or page rank to Google) and how competitive your keywords are. This is the answer you need to hear. Anything other than this unless they have thoroughly examined your site and keywords is a major warning sign! Especially if they are saying that your site can have results in a month to three months, as normally that is how long Google takes to index changes and count new inbound links so normally it’s at least 3 months.)
3. Portfolio, Portfolio, Portfolio
Yes I know I discussed it above in the questions to ask but it’s so important it begs to be mentioned again. The truest measure of an SEO company is their results for their clients. They could talk a great game but if they don’t have great results for their clients then run for the hills! And again verify, verify, verify. Don’t just take their word for it, make sure they have a link at the bottom of the page back to their site that says they are the SEO company or quickly ask the site owner if that company got them their results. You can also ask for references. A good company should be able to provide all of this, and provide it happily.
As mentioned above, you don’t need to commit to any long term contracts, but it’s also likely a big deciding factor in what you can afford, but make sure you take pricing in consideration to everything above. 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 most SEO companies don’t even list their pricing on their sites, so this makes it hard to know if they aren’t just making it up or if they truly have fixed rates.
Some 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.
- 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 an upfront fee for optimizing the website pages, but be leery when a company asks for more than this or some very large, unclear upfront price.
There are good, honest and affordable SEO companies out there, you just have to know which ones they are. These items combined should help you find the right SEO company for you and your business.