10 Signs You’re Working With The Wrong SEO Company
Or How to Choose Your New SEO Provider
I follow and learn from an Internet marketing consulting and education company called HubSpot. They offer a great deal of free information and I have found most of it to be “spot on.”
This morning I found an email from them offering a free eBook entitled How To Spot Bad SEO Services, which you can learn more about at this link (registration with HubSpot required).
Here’s a quote from the book’s introduction that sums up its entire message:
Many of these “professionals” and SEO experts are counting on clients’ SEO ignorance to get quick cash without delivering long-term, sustainable SEO improvements. Even worse, some of the practices used by SEO firms can actually hurt your business in the long run.
After reading the eBook I wanted to share their 10-item checklist on how to sniff-out bad SEO (Search Engine Optimization) providers and also share my thoughts on each of their points.
HubSpot’s 10 signs that your SEO firm isn’t worth the money
Sign #1: Making promises that are too good to be true.
Identifying a promise which “sounds too good to be true” can be tough. It’s difficult to make sweeping generalizations but, as Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously said about pornography, you know it when you see it.
Unbelievable SEO promises include guaranteeing a #1 position on Google for any single key word or phrase. No legitimate SEO services company will ever do that because search rankings are notoriously variable and, despite your SEO guy’s best efforts, they will fluctuate over time.
More important is that ranking #1 on Google is meaningless in and of itself. As we say here in Virginia, it don’t feed the bulldog. What you want is new customers and Google can support that by delivering a steady stream of highly qualified prospects coming to your site, liking what they see and taking your specified call to action. If you want to know if the SEO company you’re considering can deliver that, speak to their references before signing up.
Sign #2. Using “Black Hat” SEO Techniques
This is a problem that uninitiated business owners may well have a hard time sniffing out. Black Hat refers to the bad guys in old western movies and black hat SEO techniques are those that are designed to “fool” or “game” Google into thinking that a page has great content related to a given search term. When Google finds that black hat tactics are being used it will slam down your results off the first page and possibly even ban your site from being listed.
This happened to the big retailer J.C. Penney during the 2010 shopping season when Google realized that their SEO company was buying inbound links from shady “link farms” for a variety of generic product terms like “area rugs” and “furniture.” When Google figured out what was going on, Penney’s average ranking went from 1.3 to 52 during the biggest shopping season of the year, costing them millions of dollars in lost sales.
According to the HubSpot eBook:
“The best way to avoid falling victim to black hat SEO is to ask your current or potential SEO vendors if they use any of these common black hat tactics. If they try to talk you into doorway pages, link-buying schemes, or other black-hat practices, take your business elsewhere!”
Sign #3. Targeting the Wrong Keywords
This is a rather complex topic that I couldn’t possibly synopsize here. Please download and read the HubSpot eBook using the link above for a full explanation.
The main point is this: over time your SEO company can get you ranking for a wide variety of key words and phrases. A more important first step is deciding which key words and phrases will generate the type of traffic you are looking for. I use a variety of techniques to divine the answers down to a very fine point. But even then, the best method is to track what’s working over time with Google Analytics and adjust your optimization tactics accordingly.
Sign #4. Employing Shoddy Linking Schemes
Creating large numbers of high quality inbound links is another multifaceted subject on which I will defer to HubSpot’s eBook. The way to tell if your SEO guys is taking shortcuts here is if they say something like “We’ll have hundreds of inbound links to your site set-up within two weeks.”
The only way to make good on that promise is to employ unprofessional techniques which may work for a short period of time but surely will not last and may actually hurt your rankings over the medium and long run.
Sign #5. Promising to List Your Site in Hundreds of Online Directories
This is definitely a big red flag. While there are hundreds of online directories out there, only a handful can really help you with your SEO rankings and just a few are absolutely indispensable. Someone who promises to list you on hundreds of directories in a short period of time is going to use a piece of software which will do it all automatically and robotically, not intelligently and custom-optimized to each site.
When choosing an SEO provider ask them to list the directories they recommend you be listed on and why they feel strongly about each one. Then just sit back, listen, watch their body language and decide for yourself whether they know what they are talking about.
Sign #6. Redesigning Your Site or Creating New Pages Without 301 Redirects
This is another complicated topic and I don’t know why HubSpot threw in a term like “301 Redirects” to an audience of beginners.
I have to admit that my first reaction as an SEO consultant, upon seeing a client’s existing site which is completely unoptimized, is to throw up my hands and say “I can’t work with this crap! Let’s blow it up and start from scratch.” But that is seldom a practical solution, both because of the expense involved and because the client will lose whatever existing search rankings they have already achieved.
A more practical approach is to work with the existing site, improve the title tags, footer text, headlines and other on-page factors and then start building off-page optimization through in-bound links and other techniques. If you do choose to re-create individual pages with new URLs, it’s important to redirect search traffic coming to the preexisting page with what’s called a 301 redirect. That way, when a searcher clicks on a link on Google for an old page they are redirected to the new, better and shinier page.
Sign #7. Focusing on Metadata Instead of On-Page SEO
Here I disagree a bit with my friends at HubSpot. I believe that both metadata (the tags and descriptors behind the curtain of your web pages) and on-page content are equally important and in fact have the most effect when they work in concert to present a consistent message to Google.
I have been in the web world long enough to remember when keyword stuffing meta tags would boost your rankings, but that train went off the track at least ten years ago. As a result, I don’t put much faith in them on their own. But if you combine meta tags, with the right title tag, URL, headline (h1), sub-headline (h2), text, bolded text, meta description, blog categories and so forth, my experience is that you will begin to see excellent results relatively quickly.
Sign #8. Creating Bad Content
Creating good content is laborious, time consuming and expensive. As a result people are always looking for shortcuts. Unfortunately, none exist.
Google has become the dominant search by doing just one thing very well: delivering the most timely, relevant results to the search phrases we type in.
They have built a multi-billion dollar business by being the best at answering our questions and solving our problems. And the way they do that is by finding and delivering to us, the best, most recent and most relevant information from the web that matches our inquiry.
If you are willing to put in the blood, sweat and tears to consistently post correct, timely, relevant information on the web you will be rewarded with high rankings. If not, you won’t.
I once produced 83 episodes of a live call-in real estate radio show in the Washington, DC area. Each episode was repurposed as a podcast and I had each recording transcribed into searchable text. As a result the podcast web site was #1 on Google out of nearly 20,000,000 results for “real estate radio” during its entire run and even for 9 months after it went off the air.
If you or your SEO guys are willing to put in that kind of effort, you aren’t going to get that kind of result.
Sign #9. Driving Irrelevant Traffic
This topic brings us back to the old quantity vs. quality debate. Just like ranking #1 on Google’s first page can be irrelevant to growing your sales, driving huge numbers of disinterested searchers to your site generates no value whatsoever.
At The Customer Factory we specialize in connecting local buyer with local companies. One of our clients has a service offering companionship, monitoring and transportation for senior citizens in a single local county. Her target market is extremely tightly defined. As a result she gets less than 10 visitors to her site every day from Google. But the majority of those visitors view multiple pages and stay on her site for quite a long time. A surprising percentage pick up the phone and call her for a free in-home consultation.
For a company of her size the number of web site visits and phone calls she is getting are almost more than she can handle. Additional volume of search traffic would be meaningless. It’s quality not quantity that matters.
If the SEO folks you are considering speak only about quantity but not the targeted quality of the traffic they can drive, show them the door.
Sign #10. Offering a One-Time Fixes with No Ongoing Maintenance
If your SEO person doesn’t want a long-term relationship, run for the hills. This is a sure sign of a hit-and-run practitioner who can fool Google into short-term rankings but wants to be at least five states away by the time the scheme comes crashing down.
There are two reasons why a legitimate SEO consultant wants to be with you for the long run. First off, it means steady income for them going forward. Secondly, all legit SEO types know that true success only comes over time and that it is greatly supported by analyzing traffic data and adjusting your tactics to do more of what’s working and less of what isn’t.
While search engine optimization is both an art and a science, measuring its effectiveness is nothing more than arithmetic. It’s all in the numbers. If what you are doing is working, both you and your client will see it in the analytics. If it ain’t, you won’t. As a result, if you want to stick around in this business you have to generate real results.
My Two Step SEO Provider Selection Process
Which brings me to my final point about this list. In my opinion, much of the effort required to find the right SEO consultant can be boiled down to two requests:
- Ask to see his results on Google Analytics (or whatever other analytics package he may use)
- Ask to speak to his current clients (three should be plenty if you trust what they tell you on the phone)
For the average business owner who knows next to nothing about SEO, those two steps will tell you about all you can hope to know about the legitimacy of the firm you are considering at this point in the game.
Look at the numbers.
Do you feel your boy knows what he’s talking about? Can he communicate their meaning to you in a way that you can understand? Do the numbers look good?
Talk to the clients.
Do they know why they’re sticking with this guy beyond they just like talking to him? Have his efforts delivered measurable revenue increases? Is he easy to get hold of? Does he meet with them on a regular basis? Have they referred him to their friends or peers? Why or why not.
You can spend hours researching this out using the 10 Signs from the HubSpot book. But dealing with people and delivering profitable results is where the rubber meets the road. If your SEO prospect appears to be able to do those two things, hire him.