SEO is a fast-paced game and it’s important to understand that you aren’t just playing against the visible online competition, you’re also playing Google. And just look at what a team they have got! You are up against hundreds of PhDs trained in the Googleplex with a turnover that rivals the GDP of most developing countries. Even the mighty Bill Gates has failed to beat Google in search. The point is that Google is one tough opponent and you may well need a helping hand.

Beware of Charlatans and Snake Oil

Be warned, while it isn’t quite the Wild West out there, there are still plenty of cowboys in SEO. So how do you go about choosing an SEO you can really trust?

The first step in finding a trusted SEO partner

The first step is to clearly identify what you want to get out of a SEO campaign. The chances are that you are looking for a substantial ROI generated through increased leads or sales. However, this isn’t always the case, perhaps you are looking to build a piece of valuable online real estate or maybe it’s all about brand awareness?

You’ll be surprised at the number of (admittedly questionable) SEOs who think differently and prefer to chase rankings instead. And ranking for a term that brings in little traffic is an expensive way to waste time. Ideally you should look for an SEO who is willing to work on a profit share basis; it shows they have confidence in their abilities. And although they might be hard to find, they are out there.

The next step is to ask yourself what you want from your SEO partner. You could just hand over the whole package, but it’s increasing common to outsource elements of an SEO campaign that you don’t have the capacity (or know-how) for in house, such as keyword research or link building. A good SEO should be flexible enough to deal with any of your demands. In all cases it pays to go bespoke, off the shelf SEO just doesn’t work and in a changing market you’ll need flexibility in your approach.

Another option is to use a SEO consultant, with the end goal of eventually bringing all the SEO work in-house. A typical package would include training and on-going support with the option to take some of the trickier elements off your hands. This should make things more cost effective in the long-run but you do need to be committed.

How homework can help you chose the right SEO company  

Before setting out to find a SEO spend some time brushing up on the basics. Remember you are putting a lot of trust (and possibly money) into a third party so it’s essential that you get the right supplier. It’s well worth taking a few minutes to read Google’s Webmaster Guidelines for insight into SEO techniques that Google does and doesn’t condone. Choose a 100% ethical approach as Google is getting hotter and hotter on ‘spam-busting’ and has no qualms about penalising, or even banning, sites which violate its guidelines.

What questions should I ask my potential SEO supplier?

When choosing an SEO agency trust is paramount. Not only do you have to be able to trust their ability, but you also have to trust them not to take any shortcuts which might jeopardize the future success of your website. Much of this will be a gut feeling, but it’s a good idea to ask the following questions:

  • How long have you been working in SEO?
  • How did you start out in SEO?
  • How do you think SEO has changed in the past few years?
  • What have you done for your clients?
  • Have you had any failed campaigns?
  • Have you ever lost a client, and if so why?
  • What are the emerging trends in search?

Any SEO worth their salt should be able to produce tangible figures detailing how they’ve improved rankings and traffic for their existing clients (note: this is different statistic to how their clients are currently ranking). It’s also a good idea to ask about any failed campaigns. There are plenty of reasons for a SEO campaign to flounder and it’s important that your expert understands why it hasn’t worked…and what action they can take to get things back on track.

Have a close look at projects they are currently working on and ask yourself if you would be happy with a comparable product. Then ask to speak with one or two of their clients; a reputable SEO should be more than happy to put you in touch with a living-and-breathing testimonial.

Finally, shop around. Arrange to meet several SEOs so that you can compare like with like.

How to spot the SEO gunslingers and cowboys

Steer well clear of any SEOs that guarantee top 10 positions. Put simply: it’s impossible to guarantee anything in the organic results. With Google’s ever-changing algorithm; even Larry Page and Sergey Brin (Google’s co-founders) would have trouble getting to the top and staying there.

However, one way in which lazy SEOs often make such claims is to promise to deliver on what they term ‘highly targeted keywords’. In reality these aren’t keywords, which searchers would use to find a product, and are consequently very easy to rank for. Take the following example: ‘cheap feather mattress’ is a viable keyword phrase ‘suppliers of quality feather mattresses in Oxford England’ isn’t.

Link building techniques are another way in which the cowboys give themselves away. Outdated techniques include reciprocal linking, link farms and buying text link ads. Instead listen out for more sophisticated approaches such as blog outreach and online PR distribution. And most importantly ask if their link development is carried out in-house rather than through a third-party supplier (often abroad).

Finally, if you hear any mention of the prefix ‘auto’ (such as auto-submission or auto-generated) get out of there quickly. Remember that if you pay peanuts for a SEO campaign you can expect SEO monkeys to be working on your site.

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