7 Ways to Know If Your SEO Company is BS

This blog is largely aimed at industry professionals, but sometimes we will address SEO clients, or the general public. I think being a good SEO involves communicating well, and hopefully some of the topics covered in articles aimed at clients can be useful for SEOs when they talk to their own clients.

When a car salesman sells a car, the car buyer knows what a car is, what car dealers are, and how to drive. With SEO there are definitely knowledgeable buyers, but there are thousands who become clients in an industry they know little about.

This means that they can become easy prey to SEO companies that don’t really know what they’re talking about. While there is a sense in which results can speak for themselves, and there’s a bottom line return on investment calculation, it still might help for small businesses to be able to protect themselves from self-appointed SEO experts looking to make a few bucks in an undersaturated and expensive marketplace. Here are some tips for someone new to SEO and who plans to work with an optimizer:

Unclear or Poor Keyword Targets

You should know which keywords your SEO is targeting. You should know where you rank for these keywords, keeping in mind that the more obscure and long the keyword, the less point (traffic) there will be in achieving a ranking, for the most part. This is why SEOs that sell their services “by the keyword” are doing something strange. What keywords? How many people are trying to rank for these keywords, and what kind of traffic can you expect from success? That said, a good SEO might be able to generate lots of traffic through a large list of longtail keywords that produce large traffic in accumulation.

Basically, specific rankings mean little without the traffic they bring, so make sure you evaluate on organic non-branded traffic. People that guarantee top ten rankings for your keywords should have you raise an eyebrow, and those that price based on number of keywords are even sketchier.

Also remember that keywords have to be useful for you. Check where the traffic’s coming from, and make sure the likely searcher’s intent is in line with your conversion hopes.

Insufficient Reporting

Your SEO should be able to justify the expense for his or her services. Establish targets and make sure your SEO gets in touch at least on a quarterly basis, with ranking progress on the chosen keywords and corresponding traffic growth. Once your site is optimized, the number of links your site has should grow. Install Google Webmaster Tools to keep track. (Also, if your SEO has never mentioned Google Webmaster Tools, it’s not a disaster, but it’s not a good sign either)

Keyword Density Emphasis

Given how much this matters (not much), SEOs that focus on this probably don’t really know how to best spend their time/your money. That said, it’s even worse if they’re keyword stuffing. If the sentence reads horribly, with the keyword used almost every sentence, find new help. Of course, this applies to content producers by trade, too.

Search Engine Submission Emphasis

Many SEO websites brag about submitting you to search engines, sometimes even with price structures that reflect how many they will submit to. This is problematic on many levels. It has minimal SEO effect, so any focus on this means they are neglecting more impotant things, or they think it sounds impressive so they pretend it’s actually important. There are only a couple of search engines that really count (Google-Yahoo-Bing). Traffic comes from people. How many search engines do you or anyone else you know use? On top of that, submitting is very different from ranking. If this is on the short list of “things they do” for you, you should probably find someone else.

Directory Submission Emphasis

Links are valuable when they come from relevant sources, and directories are just about the least relevant set up possible. Your link is included with tons of others, from a page with little content, and a large chunk are for money, against Google link-buy guidelines. Ask to see the links pointing to your site, and if they all seem to be directories, something’s wrong. You’ll see at the end of the day when your rankings aren’t great, but you might as well catch it early. This doesn’t mean all directories are a bad idea (Yahoo’s has a history of being useful), but it shouldn’t be the focus. Niche-specific directories can be useful for SEO (added link value from relevance) and direct traffic, but are generally rare.

Retainer Abuse

While a by-the-hour system has its drawbacks, it has some very trackable advantages. There is time put in for the money. That said, to land a really great SEO or team and have them on-call when you need them does take a little extra on your part, incentive for them to stay with you and give you attention. Don’t run away from a retainer model, but you shouldn’t be paying very much for nothing. If you want to go retainer, make sure you give them all they need and move their suggestions forward, and it can be well worth your time and money. There is always something to do, though, and if you’re really paying someone to be there for emergencies and questions, you shouldn’t be paying a fortune. Retainers also give a peace of mind in asking for help and suggestions, when you know you’re not always on the clock, and can be great for helping you learn about SEO. You might want to suggest a retainer model based on performance and agreed upon expectations (controlling for seasonality). If the SEO is not against the idea, it could be a good sign. If they’re against it, it’s a bad sign. Remember, the goal is non-branded organic traffic, or conversions, if applicable.

Information Hoarding

A good SEO should be confident in their expertise, and know that no matter how much they train you, they will still be of great use to you as a hire. The first SEO I met as a webmaster would flat out answer any questions I had, which was impressive and encouraging. Your SEO should be open with you, and comfortable with explaining whatever you want to know about. Being secretive about information is an indication that the person might not know that much. Plus, good SEOs want their clients to know as much as possible so that they can accomplish as much as possible together and deliver maximum results. For a good and honest SEO, a knowledgeable client is a good client.

I consider those to be the main indicators. Have I missed any?

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