cowboy

When we get work undertaken for things we don’t understand we often have to cross our fingers and hope that the judgments are right. Choosing an SEO company can be tough for any business and the fact that the business is chock full of snake oil SEO makes it difficult for even the most astute of businesses to be confident in the decisions they make when choosing a provider.

We all need to call in the experts sometimes; we can’t physically know everything about everything. I have recently had people in to fix my chimney, my roof and my boiler. Could I have done these things myself? Maybe. Would the quality of the work be as good as a professional? No. Did I know what I was talking about when I got my quotes in from different firms? No. Did I get value for money? I hope so.

Here are the steps that I recommend for making sure that you choose ethical, knowledgeable, trustworthy, hardworking and inventive providers that will give your site lasting value.

Know the basics

basics

You are here, you are reading this blog post and if you are new to SEO and Internet Marketing you are already on to a winner. If you have some knowledge already it never hurts to remind yourself of the basics and maybe learn something new. I never did any research when I had my chimney fixed (it was raining in the main bedroom) but I fell lucky – you are not always going to be that lucky with an SEO provider.

Knowing what you are talking about is one of the best advantages you are going to give yourself – you don’t need to know the intimatedetails of coding or be the king of microformats. It’s all about good solid foundational SEO knowledge.

Get this knowledge from these people that already know their stuff:

The SEOmoz Beginners Guide to SEO

The HOBO Guide to Google SEO

Google’s Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide

Research the companies

Now this is where you start to get smart about it. You have armed yourself with some knowledge; at this point you know more than ever that you don’t really have the time to implement all this yourself. Google is the tool of choice and is, ironically, the tool that will allow you to sort the wheat from the chaff.

Having run some searches on Google and found some companies that you like the look of you need to figure out whether these guys are going to fit your requirements. Are they trustworthy? Are they ethical? Do they know what they are talking about?

  1. Google their name along with words like ‘reviews’ and ‘testimonials’ to find out if and what people are saying about them. Use Google suggest to see what other long tail phrases are lurking around this company name. For ease I suggest you use Ubersuggest or Suggester to really dig around a company’s name.
  2. Check their Page Rank and MozRank. Combine these metrics to get a good overview of well linked to and trusted a site is on the web – a site that is a few years old for example that had good MozRank but low Page Rank may have been penalised by Google – a bad sign if ever I saw one.
  3. Check their back links. Because you have spent a little time researching what SEO is about you will know how important inbound or back links are the tools that you can use to check them. What kind of links are the company getting for themselves – if the profile is full of spam imagine what yours may look like. Is that future proof – no! Run away.
  4. Check the about page. Not as strange as it may at first seem, if a company has pedigree, if  company has history, if a company has staff that it believes are worth shouting about they have solid 'about' pages. You cannot have an about page if all your staff are automated spam bots filling up the web with bile.
  5. Check out the team. Are they active in the SEO community? Do they have solid social profiles (quality not raw numbers)? Do they write passionate posts on the company’s blog? Do they write for other blogs in the community? Do they talk at conferences? These are the teams that you want to be working with, the ones that have passion, drive, commitment and an understanding of the industry that will go beyond your basic knowledge.
  6. Check the onsite testimonials and case studies. Good companies do like to shout about their successes!
  7. How are they ranking? Check what their keywords appear to be alongside their rankings, how are they doing? How are they going to get me to rank if they don’t?

Talk to the companies

By now you will be armed with enough SEO knowledge to know what you are talking about, you will have extracted the cowboys that failed at the first few hurdles. There are, alas, some companies who will still be in the running – who have passed the tests so far – that might not be right for you. What follows are a bunch of questions that you want to ask when you meet the company face to face. First of all make sure that they want to meet (if they don’t ask yourself why) and if a consultant will be there (you need one there!).

Look at getting an SEO provider as a long term strategy rather than a short term service provider and you are on your way to developing a strong working relationship with a firm that cares about what it does.

10 Questions to ask (there are potentially loads more though)

questions

  1. Will I get a review of my site before you begin work so that I have an understanding of your plan?
  2. Will I receive transparent monthly reports on what you have done and how the project is progressing?
  3. Is the plan flexible? Can it evolve?
  4. Can you show me some examples of previous work?
  5. Can you give me some examples of how you build links?
  6. What other services can you offer for the future? Can you evolve as the project blossoms?
  7. How do you use Analytics to guide your SEO?
  8. Is anything automated?
  9. Is anything outsourced or does it all happen in house?
  10. Is SEO about the search engines or do you consider the users as well?

When to run a mile

  1. If they promise you a number 1 position on Google for any keyword – they can’t promise that they don’t own Google. In addition you will probably find that the keywords that you are number 1 for are ridiculously long tail and not competitive at all.
  2. If it SEO is sold in packages. “X amount a month will get you 30 links <insert some rubbish here>”. Good SEO companies will provide a bespoke solution for everyone – no two set of keywords are the same, no two niches are the same, and no two niches require the same kind of back links.
  3. If the phrases like “submit to search engines”, “hundreds of directories”, “article spinning”, “meta keywords are important” pass the lips then run, run for the mountains.
  4. If they aren’t transparent with their tactics it probably means that they could be harmful to your site or at least not long term strategies.
  5. SEO is a long term strategy and when looking for a company to provide that service you should be thinking along these lines. Will they be able to provide everything you need as the project progresses or are they in it for the short term?

My parting piece of advice?

Only work with SEO people that you like and get on with, the human touch cannot be underestimated.

Wayne Barker

I work for Boom Online - an Online Marketing and SEO company based in Nottingham, England.

Boom Online

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4 Responses to “He Said, She Said: Avoiding the SEO Cowboys [How To Choose An SEO Company]”

  1. That last sentence "Only work with SEO people that you like and get on with, the human touch cannot be underestimated." is the most important piece of advice I give to potential clients.

    • Wayne Barker says:

      Hey there Gregory,

      Thanks for your comment. I really believe that SEO (or whatever digital service you deliver) requires interaction. Without input and discussion you cannot deliver the best service possible. Essentially it is another way of sorting the wheat from the chaff, if an SEO comapany wants your money but don't want meetings and discussions and input then – at best – the service they offer is going to be questionable. At worst it coould potentially leave your site suffering some sort of penalty via 'quick fix' dodgy tactics.

  2. Jan Willis says:

    Excellent advice Wayne! What are your favourite link building strategies?

    • Wayne Barker says:

      Hi Jan,

      Thanks for the comment! My favourite link building strategies? Anthing that will form naturally is great – solid, useful content with a plan for blogger outreach and social media outreach. There are great ways to utilise what you already have (be that your twitter followers who retweet your posts but never link to you from their site, getting links from existing realtionships or utilisng your staff and their specialities). I'm also a big fan of guest blogging.

      I guess my favourites are based on building realtionships or utilising existing ones.