What To Look For In An SEO
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by Dave Davies
February 27, 2007
Davies is the CEO of Beanstalk Search Engine Positioning, Inc.
Beanstalk offers guaranteed search
engine optimization services,
consulting and training. He has been working in the SEO industry
since 2001 and enjoys sharing his knowledge of the industry and
practices with others. Visit Beanstalk’s SEO
for more and updated information on the latest going’s on in the
SEO and search engine industry and their free
page for some useful tools to help you if you’re a
| Dave Davies
has written 11 articles for PromotionWorld.
|View all articles by Dave Davies...
been about two years now that I have wanted to write this article.
Why haven’t I until now? Conflict of interest. Until recently I’d
have been motivated by that necessary evil … getting business.
Each time I started writing this article I subconsciously asked
myself, “How can I spin this towards Beanstalk?” You can’t
really begrudge me this. Such is the “curse” of living in a
capitalist society. Recently however we have put a hold on taking in
new SEO clients. The result: consistent questions regarding who
people should choose and what they should look for. And so to kill
two birds with one stone, I write this now. The first bird killed is
my frustration at not being able to properly write a useful article
on what to look for in an SEO without bias. The second bird killed
is my wasted time outlining over-and-over what people should seek
out. Now I can simply point them to this article.
read this far so you’re obviously interested in finding out what
you should look for in an SEO and what you might want to avoid. So
let’s get right to it shall we?
They Rank Their Own Site?
first thing you should look for when hiring an SEO is whether or not
they can rank their own website. This may seem obvious enough but I
can’t count the number of times I have heard from people attracted
to Beanstalk’s guarantee because they wasted both time and money on
an SEO firm that couldn’t (or didn’t) get the job done. Too
often when I take a look at the SEO’s website and research their
targeted phrases (usually pretty obvious when you look at the title
and heading tags) I find that they don’t even rank for their own
is clearly a big strike three (in this case I wouldn’t even give
the SEO firm a strike one or two). The only exception to this rule
is if they are running a new company or website and have a proven
track record from the past which can be used as their reference. In
this case any consideration would require research into the
individual, company, and circumstances. A good example would be Andy
Beal of Marketing Pilgrim. Prior to starting Marketing
he had been involved with two other SEO firms. When
MarketingPilgrim.com started it didn’t rank well. He was still a
great SEO consultant with a solid track record of success.
Do They Promise?
you have a new site or a site in a high competition area and you are
told that the company can get you great rankings on Google in 60 days
they’re either just telling you what they think will make you sign
on the dotted line or they have no idea what they’re doing. In
either event you’re in for disappointment.
honest and straight-forward SEO will give you realistic expectations
which will generally span over many months and sometimes over years
depending on the scope and competition levels involved. If you have
a new site competing for moderately competitive phrases, any claims
from a company that they will have you ranking on Google in anything
less than 5 or 6 months (and even this may be optimistic) are likely
Do They Include?
your prospective SEO company what they’ll be including with their
services is a perfectly fair question. You don’t need a full
breakdown of each and every specific (nor are you likely paying your
SEO for this) however understanding what areas of the site will be
changed, how the link building will be undertaken and the over-riding
philosophy or approach your prospective SEO company will be taking
are good questions to have answered.
something doesn’t seem right in what you’re being told, ask in
one of the many great SEO forums (see below).
Are They Backing Their Services?
one way or another, any good SEO company will be able to back up what
they’re offering. When we first started Beanstalk we decided that
we were going to do this with a guarantee. Not all companies go this
route and there are many excellent SEO’s and firms that provide
great services without a guarantee but all such companies will be
able to back their work.
be clear, I know of many good SEO firms that don’t offer guarantees
and I also know some that do offer guarantees but don’t do a very
good job. My purpose here however is not to point fingers but rather
to point out what you should look for and how to be able to tell the
good from the bad. If the company offers a guarantee, what is it?
I’ve seen a few “we guarantee you’ll be satisfied” statements
out there with no qualification as to what “satisfied” means and
what will happen if you’re not. If the person or company doesn’t
have a guarantee then what do they have under their belt in the way
of reputation? If a company isn’t putting their money where their
mouth is they should have a very good reputation if they want your
consideration. Are they well published or active in the SEO forums?
Are they active in the SEO community in a public fashion such as
speaking roles or SEO community memberships? If they are then they
have a reputation to protect and they will be backing every contract
with their reputation. This won’t help you recover the money
you’ve spent if you don’t get the results you’re looking for
but what it will do is insure that you’re hiring an SEO who is
motivated towards your success.
Are Some Major Warning Signs That You’re On The Wrong Track?
term “warning signs” might be better put “red flags” as the
tactics noted here are ones that should send you immediately looking
for a new SEO. Prepare to say, “Thank you but no.” if you hear
any of the following among their list of recommendations (and note:
there are more than those listed – but these are some of the more
common that I’ve seen and heard lately):
goodbye if you hear an SEO recommend that you build multiple
website either as a linking tool by linking them together,
or because it’s easier to optimize a different site for a
different engine. Unless you have two-or-more incompatible topics
(a work site and a personal blog for example) you have no need for
more than one site. And as a link building tactic it hasn’t
worked in a good number of years.
your SEO is using any kind of tool to automatically generatecontent
of any kind it’s time to shake hands and be
your SEO is not doing link building of some type and
yet is telling you they can get you rankings for anything but the
lowest competition phrases you might not need to run but you
definitely need them to justify what they’re saying. If you have
a 6 year old site with a lot of good links already but there are
some onsite issues that keep it from ranking then they may be
telling the truth. If you have a new site and/or low link counts
then they are not.
seems obvious but I have to mention it anyways, if they’re
recommending the use of any black-hat tactics then
you’re in trouble. I can’t possibly list off everything that
fits this category but a quick read of Google’s
should help. If you read these guidelines and some of the tactics
seems amiss, questioning your SEO is completely justified. You can
find some great examples and information on black hat SEO on the
Wikipedia site at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black-hat_SEO.
that they will “Submit your website to 18 billion search
engines for just $x” or mention top rankings on engines
you have barely heard of is a clear issue. There are a lot of
search engine out there and in fact, there are a lot of pretty
unique engines with some great offerings however when it comes down
to brass tacks – there are four engines that matter
when it comes to traffic (at least from a universally-applicable
standpoint). If an SEO is promising you great rankings on an engine
like Dogpile with their whopping 0.5% of the search engine market
share you may want to ask what they can do about the 91.8% of the
search engine market share that’s controlled by the top 4 search
engines (47.9% Google, 28.1% Yahoo!, 10.6% Microsoft and 5.2% Ask).
tried to Coles-notes above some of the main issues that I see and
hear complaints about and/or get questions on regularly. Of course
there are many more. The best advice I can give is don’t rush into
a decision when you’re choosing your SEO firm. Listen to what
they’re saying, ask questions and if you don’t know what
questions to ask take a few hours to find out on one of the many
great SEO forums out there. As I don’t want to leave anyone out by
listing off some of the ones I visit (and I couldn’t possibly
include them all) I’ll just recommend to search for “seo forum”
and “seo blog” and visit some of the sites and ask what you
should be asking. A company called Medium Blue, who’s owner I had
the pleasure of chatting with on Webmaster Radio a couple weeks prior
to this article’s publication, wrote a 3-part series of questions
to ask your potential SEO firm. You can find the first part here
(and find the others from there).
one final note, it isn’t always about the fees they charge. We’ve
had a number of clients come back to us after first opting to sign
with a cheaper SEO firm. In the end it cost them the lower fees and
lost sales due to not ranking sooner. This is not to say that the
most expensive firm will necessarily do the best job – just that
you need to be aware that sometimes things can be “too good to be
true”. An SEO firm charging $500 will almost always be putting in
different efforts than one charging $5,000. Find out what the
differences are and do what’s right for your business. And if
you’re really in doubt and don’t know what to do, contact
Even when we’re not taking on clients I try to answer questions
about choosing an SEO firm though it might take a couple days.
Please specify in the title, “Need help choosing an SEO firm”.
good luck with your online promotions.