Search engine optimization (SEO) is getting harder every day. Optimizing websites, pages and content to rank high in search engine results is a fiercely competitive endeavor, and the criteria that search engines use to determine which pages to display keeps changing. It’s no wonder that more and more companies are turning to third-party SEO consultants, agencies and companies to get help and to ensure that they are consistently using SEO best practices.
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How Not to Choose an SEO Consultant
How do you find a great SEO company? You would think that if you Google “Best SEO company in <my city>,” you would be able to trust the results. After all, if an SEO company rises to the top of search engine results, that alone would seem to be proof that it knows its SEO. But that might not be the case. According to the king of SEO, Rand Fishkin of SEO Moz, “Most of the very good companies, the ones that are in high demand, the ones that do consistently great work and get great referrals, they don’t actually need to rank [on local searches],” he says. “They’re overwhelmed with clients all the time because their clients refer them to people and lots of people in their network refer folks to them.”
He says that many of the companies that rank high for the “best SEO” searches do so because they have little business and have the time to focus all their efforts on search rankings.
Don’t Trust “Best Of” Listings
Fishkin also warns against “best of” listings at apparent third-party review websites. “There are a number of these types of websites that are essentially just aggregators,” he says. “Their business model is they try and rank for terms like this, and then they sell those listings, the listings on their page, to SEO firms and companies.” He talks about how in the early days of SEO Moz, the company was offered rankings on these sites for a fee.
There Are No SEO Secrets
Another red flag is if a company claims to have a “secret” SEO tactic that they can’t tell you or they’d have to kill you. “If you ask, ‘How do you do it,’ and they say, ‘I’m sorry I can’t tell you, it’s a secret or it’s proprietary,’ that is a very, very bad sign,” Fishkin says. “No one has a secret proprietary process. SEO is a very, very open field. It’s well understood.
How to Choose an SEO Consultant
Fishkin says that the first step in selecting an SEO consultant is to form clear goals. Don’t just say, “I want more traffic.” Be specific about your target audience, what search terms they use, who you want to find your website. Also, be clear on your marketing goals. Optimizing search to increase sales will be different than optimizing for brand recognition, for example.
The second step to finding great SEO resources is to ask people you trust for referrals. If you don’t have such a contact you can turn to, Fishkin recommends asking a non-competitive company in a similar business for a recommendation. Ask a comparable B2B business or B2C business who they use, and what the results have been. Then develop a shortlist of possible service providers and find the one that you feel most comfortable with.
SEO is tough and competitive. Many companies have been burned by SEO companies that charge a lot for their services and leave the buyers wondering what they received for their money. Another recommendation Fishkin makes is to ask a prospective company what they do when the results don’t meet expectations. “What do you do when things aren’t working?” he suggests that you ask. “I love asking that question, and I like asking for specific examples of when things haven’t gone right and what they’ve done to fix that in the past and work around it.”