10 Things to Watch Out For When Hiring an SEO Firm

If you own a business and have a website, the chances are pretty good that at some point you are going to need to do some search engine optimization, more commonly known as SEO, to boost the organic visibility of your website. 

A website is a huge investment, and does little good if it can’t be found by anyone besides your family and friends. Companies with limited budgets will often times do the research and attempt to tackle SEO themselves. While some are successful, others may give up and search for an affordable SEO firm to pass this huge responsibility off to.

There are many top SEO companies out there, but often times, companies will go straight to whoever is ranking number one in Google at the time. It only makes sense that if they do SEO so well for themselves and appear in the number one spot that they can do this for your company as well.

This isn’t always the case, and just like any B2B service, one quick Google search isn’t doing enough due diligence. After all, your website is perhaps the single most important marketing asset at your disposal.

SEO is not a one-size fits all solution, and not everyone does it the same way. Top SEO companies understand this. If you’re looking for an SEO firm, there are plenty of questions to ask and reasons to be skeptical of certain promises made in an effort to secure your business.

Here are 10 things to be mindful of when searching for an SEO firm. Top SEO companies don’t do these things.

1. Your Prospective SEO firm Buys Links

During the course of your research on SEO, you have probably figured out that links are good for websites. That’s true to a large degree, but links can also destroy your website if you’re not careful.

When an SEO firm tells you that they will work to get you hundreds or even thousands of links fast, the best thing you can do is run…fast.

The fastest way to get backlinks is to buy them. Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to buy links that actually have a long-term, healthy influence on your site. Google doesn’t care about your site simply having links, they care about quality links and have advanced algorithms that sniff out the differences between a poor link and a helpful link. This is just one of many bad SEO practices companies can fall into, either as a habit of old thinking or out of laziness.

The black market for backlinks is full of unhealthy, low-quality automated links and often times throws your link on a page with other completely irrelevant links. These sites have little content and sometimes pop up overnight, making them completely useless to any link-building efforts.

Building quality backlinks takes time, outreach and effort. Many of the best links you will ever receive come naturally from your offline efforts. If you run a restaurant, a great review in a well-known online magazine will be a trillion times more effective than a trillion links on sites no one has ever heard of before.

Find out your prospective vendor’s stance on link-building and ask the tough questions.

2. Your Prospective Vendor Promises Speedy Results

Doing things fast isn’t doing things right. There are many bad SEO practices companies can employ to try and manipulate rankings quickly.

If I told you we could have your website that no one besides your family and friends has ever heard of with zero backlinks and a domain age of three months ranking on the first page of Google for generic terms in less than a week you would probably be pretty impressed, wouldn’t you?

Isn’t that what an SEO firm is supposed to do? Why would I pay you good money for anything lower than the first position?

Fast SEO is bad SEO. Buying links, keyword stuffing and using invisible text may be a surefire way to get your page ranking high fast, but Google will more than likely figure this out and punish your site for attempting to manipulate the system.

A quality SEO firm will work to naturally reach goals month-over-month and year-over-year. You will see results, but they won’t happen overnight.

3. They’re A One-Man Shop

A lot of people think they can do SEO. There are great people with an entrepreneurial spirit who will break away from top SEO companies and open their own SEO shop. That’s all well and good especially if they know what they’re doing, but one man can’t give your website the attention it deserves, especially if they ambitiously take on multiple clients at once. Top SEO companies have a team of experts working on your behalf. Your self-employed SEO guy may have other things in mind on a nice sunny day, like playing golf.

4. They’re New to the Game

Whether it’s just one guy or a team, you want to hire a company that has established themselves as a leader in the marketplace and has references. A good SEO company has experience working with businesses of all sizes, from large retailers to a single physician’s practice.

5. Their reporting isn’t In-Depth or Transparent

When you write a check, you want to know where your money is going. Anyone can login to Google Analytics and export a few statistics during a given timeframe. In SEO, “what” matters, but it’s the why and how that provide the biggest ROI.

You need to know if your traffic is up or down, and may be content knowing your traffic is up, but do you really know why it’s up? Are you double checking the accuracy of the numbers being reported on? Do you get a ton of referral traffic but are unsure of the source? Did you know analytics numbers can be artificially inflated by crawler bots and few people bother to check to see if their traffic is truly legit?

Top SEO companies will look at the numbers and evaluate how your campaigns can be improved. Maybe you need a new landing page for a specific product or service area and your bounce rate is high because your content doesn’t really get to the point. Maybe 45% of your site traffic is from mobile devices but your site lacks a responsive design and isn’t palatable to that large percentage of your audience. Maybe your site is plagued by issues you can’t see like duplicate content or less-than-ideal backlinks.

Everything could be messed up but you’ll never know about it.

6.  They tell you that keywords (and more keywords) are the way to Google’s Heart

Yes, your content needs to be optimized, but it needs to be done in a subtle way that still tugs at the heart of your potential customers.

You can overcook keywords, and this stuffing isn’t as good as your mom’s on Thanksgiving. It’s just another one of those bad SEO practices firms can fall into in an attempt to manipulate search results.

Google describes keyword stuffing as this:

“The practice of loading a webpage with keywords or numbers in an attempt to manipulate a site’s ranking in Google search results. Often these keywords appear in a list or group, or out of context (not as natural prose). Filling pages with keywords or numbers results in a negative user experience, and can harm your site’s ranking. Focus on creating useful, information-rich content that uses keywords appropriately and in context.

Think back to grammar school (if you indeed, went to grammar school. Either way, it’s just an expression). Quality, keyword-driven writing for the web still makes use of the same elements that make good writing good writing.

Think short, concise paragraphs and include your keyword 3-6 times per-page, depending on the length of your content.

Google likes good content that makes sense and provides value. It doesn’t want keyword after keyword after keyword (followed by more keywords.)

Look at the websites of your vendor’s references. What does their previous on-page work look like? Comb through it, try and spot the targeted keywords and determine how natural their copywriting is before jumping aboard.

7. They Protect Their Practices By Calling Them Proprietary

Nothing about SEO should be a secret. You should know the tools your vendor uses, how they work, what they do and at least have read access to your own Google Analytics account.

Secrets don’t make friends. They also make for a bad vendor/client relationship.

You don’t want to go back to square one and pay a new vendor to resolve a Google penalty that was caused by your old overly protective vendor’s black hat tactics and bad SEO practices..

Secrets in SEO are rarely a good thing, unless your vendor surprises you with Cardinals baseball tickets for being such a good client.

8.  They Don’t Return Your Calls

It’s OK for clients to have SEO questions, otherwise they wouldn’t have hired an SEO firm. Whether it’s something as simple as a quick question about a reporting metric or something as big as implementing a new marketing campaign and figuring out where SEO fits in, an SEO firm should be your lifeline for all things SEO.

9. They Make You Sign Your Life Away

While a top SEO companies surely wants to be your SEO firm for life, they shouldn’t hold you to that forever. It makes good sense knowing that SEO isn’t an overnight one-solution fix and you should stick with your vendor long enough to see results. If you’re held in a contract with someone who isn’t communicating with you, isn’t providing you with transparent reporting and isn’t doing anything at all to improve your website there shouldn’t be a two-year contractual obligation to keep you writing checks every month.

10. They Don’t Take the Time to Understand Your Business

Your business is unlike any other business. Every engagement should start with a consulting period and two-way conversations to better understand what you do and how you do it.

Your website content should reflect your overall mission and goals, and adhere to any industry regulations and brand initiatives.

You should also be given the opportunity to review any major work being done to your site content or campaigns before your vendor pushes it live on your site.

Partner with an SEO firm who Doesn’t Do Any of These Things

At SteadyRain, our clients are our most important assets. We take the extra time to understand your business, don’t make impossible promises and return your calls. We’ve been around since 1999, and are constantly adapting to the every changing landscape of SEO.

Ready to see what a great SEO firm can do for your business? Let’s get in touch today.