SEO is a powerful digital marketing technique, and one for which many businesses will pay a premium to be able to leverage. There are also no qualifications to start up in business as a digital marketer, or optimization specialist, and certainly none as an SEO agency or practitioner. So with almost no barriers to entry, almost every business you can see a lucrative prospect, and with a lot of money to be made, it is no surprise that there are a lot of SEOs who will happily pitch like a champion, but can barely find Google online.
How do you know you are getting a search optimization specialist that really knows what they are doing, and will actually properly execute on the work, and deliver results?
I’ve been on the agency side of the table for over 15 years and also acted as the in-house expert helping select vendors, and I’ve heard some good questions and some really bad ones. I’m drawing on my experience working for clients, the challenges I faced when choosing vendors myself, and my own opinion based on knowing what I do about SEO.
So, I’m going to suggest you include these 3 questions for prospective SEO partners, and see what they come up with.
Question #1 – Do You Offer a Guarantee for Rankings?
This separates out the vendors after money from those who have a deeper understanding of SEO, the purpose in asking this question is to help you create your vendor shortlist.
If you are told by anyone that they will get you to #1 in the search engines, or even guarantee you will get to the first page, then shut that conversation down fast!
The reason I am so emphatic about this is that the only person who can guarantee you will get to #1 on Google is Google – and they don’t do SEO.
SEOs, even the most experienced ones, may have some understanding of what factors are taken into account for search engine rankings, but they do not know all of them, and in any event they change constantly. Also, where you rank is also determined by how well your competitors are doing with SEO too, and that can also come down to size of budget, experience of their SEO practitioner, and things such as how old is your website. None of which makes it possible to guarantee you will get ranked, nor how long you will stay there if you do.
Any SEO or agency claiming you are guaranteed to get to #1 is either (a) flat-out lying to you, or (b) they are so ignorant about SEO you cannot trust them to actually do what they claim they can do.
Wellspring Search has a high rate of success at generating high rankings and increasing website visitors, but we can never guarantee you a #1 ranking, and neither can anyone else.
Question #2 – What Experience Do You Have with SEO and With My Type of Business?
Really, this is two questions – how much experience have you got with SEO, and how much with my own niche.
Let’s take the first one first: how much experience as an SEO do you have?
SEO is a strange brew of creativity, technical expertise, current knowledge of search engines and behavior, and the ability, discipline, and resources to execute and to be effective with SEO.
Someone who has spent a year reading about SEO may know enough to put their foot on the gas and go faster, but they will not be able to steer, nor will they be able to brake if they are doing something that is adversely affecting the website health.
I think a good yardstick is that you are looking for someone with at least 5 years as a practitioner, and ideally with multiple disciplines under their belt in addition to SEO.
My reasoning is that firstly, they need to have a good grasp of the SEO fundamentals in action, and also have encountered situations where things do not go according to the original game plan. Secondly, they need multiple disciplines and skills because SEO is about combining a multitude of tactics and strategies to get to the desired outcome, and you need the ability to look up and see the bigger picture. It’s no use getting to #1 for a keyword term, but overall you have ignored all the other rankings and now see a drop in visitors and ROI.
The second question is experience in your particular niche, and I personally love being asked this question because, (a) chances are very high I do have experience working in their niche, and (b) this tends to be a buying signal from the potential client that they are moving to hiring me.
If you ask this question, be aware of the buying signal you are sending out, but that said, you ought to dig into where the SEO firm has gained their experience. If you are in a highly competitive environment, having someone who already knows and understands the general environment within which you are operating is invaluable. For instance, personal injury law SEO is helped enormously if you understand things such as “TBI”, that railroad workers are not covered by worker’s compensation (they have their own federal scheme), or can spell “mesothelioma” correctly without looking it up in a dictionary.
Question #3 – Do You Practice Black Hat SEO?
There are 2 types of SEO – White Hat and Black Hat (and I suppose it is fair to say there are an infinite number of shades of grey in between).
White Hat is ‘good’ SEO and uses techniques that are unlikely to result in you being penalized or punished by the search engines, and they are also unlikely to damage or harm the long-term health of your website and business.
Black Hat is ‘bad’ SEO and uses techniques that are associated with spammers and criminals. While Black Hat can generate very impressive results very quickly, they are almost always short-lived and the benefit disappears very quickly. A frequent results with Black Hat SEO is that your website is penalized causing a massive loss of rankings, and in extreme cases, your website can even be banned.
One word of caution here: Black Hat SEOs will typically deny they are doing the ‘bad’ stuff, while White Hat SEOs will probably know quite a lot about Black Hat simply because they know the rules. Be on the lookout for the former, but don’t discount the latter: at this point you may want to get some technical support in to help you identify who the good guys are and eliminate the questionable from further consideration.
Before hiring an SEO agency, ask questions and lots of them.
The Big 3 for me are:
- do you offer a ranking guarantee – a trick question to be sure, but it eliminates the dishonest and incompetent;
- what is your SEO experience in my industry – dig into this, you’re looking for broad and deep, including handling things that went wrong; and
- Black Hat-v-White Hat – you’ll be looking for a White Hat SEO agency in all likelihood, but dig in to this, there is a lot of Black Hat stuff that goes on under the White Hat banner.
Karl Hindle has practiced SEO and digital marketing for over 15 years both as an external consultant, and as an in-house resource, working with clients such as Colfax Industries, Adidas, Barclays Bank, and Childfund International (formerly Christian Childrens Fund), and a very long list of small and medium-sized businesses, including clients here in Frederick MD who will provide references.
He has direct, hands-on experience working with small, medium, and enterprise-class clients in a wide variety of niches, at home and internationally. Karl is also certified Google for both Google Analytics and Google AdWords (including AdWords Video and Search Advertising).
Looking to Hire an SEO Firm?
You’re looking for an SEO company to help you, and we certainly have the skills and experience to do that, but we also like to make sure we’re a good fit for the long haul, so if you answer “Yes” to these 3 questions, please call us:
1. Is your business established?
(We do not take on start-up clients for SEO except in very rare circumstances, but we can help you in other ways so call us)
2. Are you selling great products and services, and have a strong commitment to providing fantastic customer service?
(We have a very strong customer service ethos, and we will not work with clients who don’t care about their own customers or their own reputation)
3. You are a B2B or B2C business in the mainstream, i.e. you do not sell porn or adult-related services?
(We’re asked enough times about this that we want to make it clear, we do not provide SEO or digital marketing services to porn providers, get rich quick schemes, or escort services, so ‘regular’ businesses only please)
If you answered “Yes” to all 3 questions, call us – (240) 415-6191 – because we would love the opportunity to earn your business.