When It Comes to SEO, Legit It or Quit It

You think you’ve found a top-notch SEO firm. It seems the staff has the credentials, a perfect sales pitch, and the award-winning smiles you’re looking for. But do they really have what it takes to get your company the rankings it needs? Here’s how to find out.

What does Google say about them?
If you’re like most people, when you try out a new hairstylist, you give his or her hair a quick once-over before ever sitting down in the chair. You want to make sure the stylist knows what a good hairstyle looks like before cutting yours, right? With SEO, it’s the same thing. If an SEO company can’t rank for its own keyword phrases, chances are it can’t get rankings for you, either. Here’s a quick way to check the company’s SEO acumen: Google “(Your City) SEO” to see if the firm makes it on the first page of results. If it doesn’t show up, its strategies are either not very good or not very ethical.

SEO plans aren’t cookie-cutter
In the Internet marketing industry, people who don’t know the first thing about optimizing a website -” but sell “SEO plans” -” are a dime a dozen. In reality, an effective SEO plan is customized, not cookie-cutter. It must be crafted to address a client’s specific pain points. If the SEO firm doesn’t understand this, it will sell a plan that isn’t what the client needs.-¨

What color hat does the company wear?-¨
In the SEO world, we refer to ethical and unethical SEO as “white” and “black” hat, respectively. By sticking with a white hat company -” one that is 100 percent transparent in what it does -”you’ll work with people who are concerned with using search engines to connect people with the content they want and need, rather than playing a game and stuffing websites full of keywords. Ask SEO professionals how they build rankings for your site to get a feel for whether they’re more interested in serving your customers -” or the search engines.

Ready to put the company on the spot? Now that you know what to look for, assess the SEO company’s expertise with these few questions.

  • Can you share with me any personal SEO experience you have? This will let you know very quickly if the person you’re speaking with knows anything about SEO. If he or she keeps going back to the same company talking points and doesn’t note what he or she has achieved, chances are you are talking to salesperson -” not an SEO expert.
  • How do you build your links? Can you share with me how you plan to get links back to my site? If the person doesn’t mention building quality content for your site, cross the SEO professional off your list. Most companies build low-quality links from unethical sites, known as “link farms.” This is a key sign of a black hatter, and dealing with this type of company can be a huge risk for your company’s reputation. And if the person mentions having an SEO “secret” -” like a contact at Google or a special formula that no one else knows -” don’t be fooled. This is never the case.
  • Do you have any packages I can look at? Correct answer: “No!” Remember, when it comes to SEO, there’s no such thing as a successful cookie-cutter solution.
  • Can you show me some ways you are using SEO for your own company? A legitimate company should be proud to show how it is generating exposure to its site. If it cannot show eBooks, infographics, videos, white papers, etc., then chances are it won’t employ these tactics to optimize your site.

-¨The potential blowback of hiring the wrong SEO company can be huge. I have personally seen companies spend tens of thousands of dollars, only to end up ranking lower. Keep in mind that SEO is not a regulated industry, and there are no guarantees. It’s easy for unscrupulous SEO companies to use tricks to get a short-term increase in traffic. If the attempt succeeds, these companies will claim their methods are successful; but if you get caught and penalized, the companies will blame a Google update. Because of this, our industry has gained a reputation equivalent to a “techy used car salesman.”

So beware of that stellar sales pitch and hundred-watt smile. Your reputation -” and investment in a legitimate company that will do SEO the right way -” is worth the wait.

Phil Laboon is CEO and founder of Eyeflow Internet Marketing, a full-service SEO and online marketing firm. His company recently launched SEOzio.com, a virtual SEO consultant analyzing the SEO scorecard of any website. Laboon can be reached at [email protected] or www.eyeflow.com.