It can be difficult for the average website owner to know what to look for in an SEO company. And unfortunately, there are thousands of companies online willing to take your money without providing you any real SEO benefit whatsoever. And in many cases, these companies can end up getting your site banned from search engines. So how do you know what to ask prospective companies before you sign a contract?
One: Can You Guarantee My Site Will Rank Number One?
SEO Red Flag Answer: Absolutely. Your site will rank #1 in 30 to 60 Days.
Nobody can guarantee results in search engines. Nobody. Anybody who says they can is lying, or engaging in tactics that will likely get your site blacklisted.
It is possible to rank quickly for certain keywords and phrases, but if your website is less than two years old, or if you’re in a highly competitive niche, it’s going to take a while to crack the top ten. Nobody has a crystal ball that can tell you how quickly you’ll rank. And SEO is best when results come slowly.
Most reputable SEO companies can provide you with case studies that can give you an idea of how quickly they’ve gotten results for other customers, but if anyone guarantees you rankings, it’s best to move on to another firm.
Two: What Is Your Methodology?
SEO Red Flag Answer: Our systems are proprietary. We do not disclose our processes.
Any SEO company worth its salt will tell you how they do what they do. There is no secret to SEO. It’s time and labor-intensive, but the methods used to improve rankings are hardly state secrets. The reason you pay an SEO company is because they are experts. They spend the time, money, and man hours needed to get your website found. You aren’t paying for secret formulas.
If an SEO company won’t tell you their processes, it’s likely they are engaging in shady tactics that could get you banned from search engines.
Three: How Do You Build Links?
SEO Red Flag Answer: We post in forums, make blog comments, and buy links.
Poor link building will put your website on the fast track to the blacklist. Since 2011, Google has dropped the hammer on link buying and link building schemes. They don’t like spammy forum comments, nor do they like blog comment links anymore, either.
There was a time when you could buy bulk linking packages from companies overseas and you’d see almost instant results. Truth be told, you can still buy those link packages today. But it’s not a valid SEO strategy for 2014 and beyond. An SEO company should talk about earning links, not buying links. Links are earned by generating quality content that other sites want to link to. There are a few “shortcuts” that SEO companies can take here, but you’ll need to be careful. Educate yourself on quality links if you don’t know what they are, and be sure to ask for detailed linking reports.
Four: How Do You Keep Up With Google’s Algorithm Updates?
SEO Red Flag Answer: We have a relationship with Google. They keep us informed and give us inside tips.
No SEO company has a special relationship with Google. In fact, Google has been making it harder and harder for SEO companies to game their algorithm. They’ve basically declared war on any company that is looking to cheat their way to the top. And even if you engage in above-board SEO tactics, you’re still trying to game the system.
Reputable SEO companies follow industry trends. They subscribe to trade publications and blogs, and they attend industry conferences. Good SEO professionals spend a great deal of time keeping themselves educated on all things SEO.
Good SEO companies also conduct audits of their own processes a few times a year, and after an algorithm update should re-evaluate their methods.
Five: Can You Guarantee An Increase in Sales?
SEO Red Flag Answer: Yes. Your increase in traffic will translate into a 30% increase in sales year over year.
SEO companies cannot guarantee sales. If they are doing their jobs correctly, your rankings will improve and your customer inquiries should increase. But once those customers get to you, it’s up to you to close the sale. If you experience a steady influx of new visitors but it’s not translating into sales, something else is going on.
It could be that your site isn’t designed to convert visitors, or it could be an issue within your organization. Either way, a company that strictly engages in SEO can bring prospective customers to your door, but they can’t promise you a specific increase in sales.
Six: How Many Keywords Should I Target?
SEO Red Flag Answer: We target 5-10 important keyword phrases.
Using the same anchor text over and over again (on backlinks) can land you in hot water. Your SEO keyword strategy should cast a wide net. You’ll want to choose a company that focuses on keyword themes, rather than just 5-10 specific keywords. When you choose to work with themes, you can generate full keyword lists of 100 or more target phrases. These broad lists ensure you aren’t beating a few words into the ground.
Seven: How Do You Determine Success?
SEO Red Flag Answer: When you rank number one for your most important keyword.
Ranking number one for your most important keyword is not the measure of a good SEO campaign. Most website owners, frankly, don’t even know know what their most important keyword truly is. And as we’ve discussed, SEO is about more than just one or even 10 keywords. A good SEO campaign will improve your rankings for a variety of terms, of course, but there is more involved.
Success in SEO means increased rankings, traffic, engagement, and repeat visitors. In order to reach these goals, your campaign must not only focus on keywords, but also content development and distribution, social channels, and lead cultivation.
Eight: What If I’m Unhappy With My Results?
SEO Red Flag Answer: Well you’ll be locked in to your contract for a year, so we’ll have to work something out then.
Now, good SEO takes time. You should typically sign up with an SEO company with an expectation that you’ll stick it out for at least six months before jumping ship. That being said, a strong SEO company will help you manage your expectations from the beginning. They should explain that SEO takes time, and that you shouldn’t necessarily panic after your first month.
However, beware of companies that lock you into a long-term contract. If an SEO company is willing to stand behind their work, they won’t lock you in. What they will do is meet with you every month via phone, in person, or on video chat to go over your progress each month. They’ll tell you what’s working, and what isn’t. They’ll make suggestions and even rework the strategy if need be. And they will allow you to ask any questions you may have. If you sign up with an SEO firm and you don’t hear from them for 90 days, that’s a strong red flag.
SEO Red Flags Abound
A famous man once said of lawyers, “It’s a shame that an entire profession should be maligned because of two or three hundred thousand bad apples.” The same quote could apply to SEO companies, as well. There are an unfortunate number of bad apples in the bunch. And they survive because the average website owner doesn’t know the SEO red flags to watch out for. But if you do a little bit of research, you can come to the table armed and ready, and you can avoid a potential SEO disaster.
What are some other questions you might ask an SEO company? What other red flags should website owners watch for? Let us know in the comments!