Talk about SEO services to most business people and they roll their eyes.
Robocalls, blind emails and other spam advertising techniques have set the industry's perception equal to a used car salesman, plaid jacket and all. This even though recent surveys have found that 42 percent of business people realize that SEO is an important service in today's online economy.
So, how do you know quality from slime?
Here's my top 5 techniques to identify questionable SEO companies:
- They use spam to reach me: As a rule of thumb, I don't do business with companies who send blind emails and robo calls. SEO is a long-term strategy that requires a long-term partner. Spamming techniques stink of a cheap sale.
- They won't explain what they do: Quality SEO companies explain their services and guide you through what they did to ensure you understand the impact to your company's online reputation. Don't expect the nitty gritty as this could reveal proprietary information to competitors. They should, however, provide enough information to give you confidence that their tactics aren't causing you trouble. Companies that hide their SEO tactics may be doing things that Google doesn't like, causing your site's natural search to plummet even though your paid search drives more traffic. Stick with your SEO company because they provide value and leads and not because they have some "secret sauce" they won't explain.
- They create a fake website that only they can control: Many SEO companies will create a fake website under a different URL but use your content and your brand. This makes it easier for them to service your account. At the end of the day, however, it's not your website they're making easier to be found on Google. It's their temporary, template-looking website they're supporting. Doesn't it make more sense to make your website more visible? Your SEO investment provides a much longer term return if you do, especially when you stop paying the SEO company. If long-term success is your goal, don't let your SEO vendor setup fake websites.
- They don't offer to optimize your website: The goal of any SEO service should make you website more visible on search engines. If that's the SEO vendor's goal, then they will want to align search words on my website and will want access to the website content. Body text, headlines, page titles and picture text should all have a consistent theme bound by those keywords. This could be an expensive service depending on how many pages you optimize, so you can so "no thank you" and that's OK. The red flag is if the company doesn't even offer the service. If they don't, then expect them to perform questionable techniques that may hurt your rankings and your online reputation.
- They have a guarantee: Run, don't walk, when there is a talk of a guarantee. Only Google and Bing can guarantee what appears highest on Google and Bing. Everyone else can only work hard on your behalf. They can't guarantee anything.
To me, SEO quality is all about transparency and value. You should see your natural search results improve and you should see a long-term strategy. If your vendor provides any other claim, then they are there to take your money and run.
Ed Klopfenstein is an eCommerce Analyst and Principal with Visual String, an online sales and marketing company near Boise, Idaho.