Choosing an SEO specialist can be daunting.
Spending hard earned money on a service you don’t fully understand is never easy. Especially if you factor in the concern that there are a number of less than trustworthy providers in the market place. So how can micro businesses avoid making costly mistakes?
1. You Can’t Do Everything
Most micro and small business people are adept at learning new skills and applying them to their business. That’s what made them entrepreneurs in the first place. However there comes a time in most company’s development, when due to the complicated nature of a task it makes more sense to enlist the services of a professional.
Getting in a professional should provide you with peace of mind and the guarantee of a level of quality that would be difficult to achieve by a talented amateur. You only have to take a look at the results of my YouTube tutored efforts at plastering my bathroom to realise that in many cases it actually pays to enlist the experience of an experienced professional.
2. Choosing the Right Professional
SEO is like many other professional services out there. There are both good and bad providers competing for your marketing budget. The trick is to choose the ethical, inventive and trustworthy providers over the cowboys and charlatans. This of course is best done from a position of knowledge. So your first (and most important) task is to take your time and find out about the basics of SEO along with the latest developments and have a clear idea of how this is to be implemented in your business.
3. Educate Yourself
You don’t need to be fully conversant with the technical minutia of the subject. But spending some time on the internet researching the subject will pay dividends, the following resources will be invaluable for researching the subject:
The main difficulty with SEO is it is almost a full time job staying abreast of developments and this will be the key difference between the kind of provider that you want to engage and the kind that you want to avoid. A good SEO provider will be engaged with the latest thinking so you can read up on the latest topics of discussion on the following blogs:
4. Research Time
So now you have taken steps to educate yourself in the basics of SEO and discovered a few tips and tricks that can be employed to help you investigate the credentials of any provider that you should consider. Your next step is to get yourself a list of SEO experts to put under the microscope. Google will not only help you find SEO providers but will help you perform a “background check” to ensure they deserve a place on your list of prospects.
- First things first. Use your new found SEO knowledge to see what the SEOs have done for themselves is like. Check their ranking against their own keywords. If they can’t manage to rank their own site how much luck do you think they’ll have with yours? You should also check their MozRank and page rank to see how their site is performing. This will provide you with an insight into the site’s authority.
- The next thing on your list will be to check their link profile. This will really give you an insight into their SEO tactics. Open Site Explorer will enable you to check the quality (and variety) of links the company is getting for themselves. Alarm bells should start to ring if you see an over reliance on directory listings or other spammy low value tactics.
- Your list should have just shrunk to a more manageable size so now we need to find out how trustworthy and ethical these companies are. Google will again help you search for reviews and testimonials from their customers. With a little lateral thinking you can really start to piece together a picture of the company’s attitude to customer service. Try searching on words like “happy” or “unhappy” for example, along with the company name.
By following this kind of methodical approach you should by now have a shortlist of companies that you want to talk to. What’s more, you’ll have gained valuable experience in reviewing parts of an SEO campaign. This will help you keep on top of the work that the agency of your choice performs for you.
5. Meet the SEO Providers
The next step is a face to face meeting with the companies on your shortlist. You will be looking to work with technically proficient, ethical, innovative people and face to face meetings are the best way to make sure all the pieces of the puzzle fit.
You’ll notice I keep referring to ethics as an important factor in your choice of an SEO provider. This is because there are many ways to skin a cat! And some of the less ethical practices will work….in the short term but can cause problems for your site that difficult and time consuming to fix when their shelf life expires.
I would strongly advise you try and arrange to meet your prospective SEO experts in their offices. It’s a great way to see if they are equipped to provide the services they claim to offer. If you turn up expecting to see a team of copy writers, PPC experts and SEO specialists only to find a couple of chaps there is a good chance that they outsource most of their services which is not always a sign of a quality provider.
To put your mind at rest here are a list of questions that you should ask all SEO agencies:
- Do you provide monthly reports detailing performance against agreed parameters? This should also include a summary of all work performed and details of the next month’s campaign.
- Who are you currently working with and some examples of previous successful campaigns?
- What kind of tactics do your campaigns employ? They should provide examples of a variety of ethical link building campaigns.
- Do you outsource any services? Outsourcing in itself is not such a bad thing but if critical services are being farmed out, how much control does the SEO agency have over the quality of the work? And what happens when the outsourcing team are working on other projects? Who is going to ensure your campaign gets month-on-month attention?
The answers to the questions above will help you decide how good an agency is. It also pays to listen out for the tell tale signs that an agency are just plain bad.
You should never entrust your marketing campaign to providers who:
- Won’t explain their link building tactics to you. This could mean they have a very narrow field of expertise or are engaged in link building activities that could have harmful implications for your site in the long term.
- Sell “off-the-peg” SEO solutions. Your business is unique with its own particular set of SEO challenges, a package that offers X amount of links for your monthly budget does not take into account these unique factors and is a tell tale sign that you are not getting the bespoke service you deserve.
- Focus their pitch on a promise of achieving the top position in Google for a particular keyword. They are not in any position to make these kinds of promises and you may find that they deliver a bunch of useless keywords that have no search volumes at all. What’s the point of being top for a phrase that only five people search for a month?
- Provide a list of SEO services that are so 2009 that they will do more harm than good. Terms to be worried about are: article marketing, blog commenting, directory listings, keyword density, and article spinning.
The advice offered above is in no way exhaustive. But when combined with your natural instincts will help you drill down and find the kind of SEO expert who will look on your campaign as a long term prospect and have the ability to provide the variety of resources to meet the on-going needs of your business as it grows.
Today’s Micro Action
Have you decided you need an SEO consultant? If so map out your strategy for hiring one based on the ideas in this article.