In recent years, the SEO industry has seen more and more companies offering SEO services and claiming to get you to number 1 in the rankings. There have also been a lot of complaints about SEO companies who treat an SEO service as a commodity, when it is anything but.
With so many SEO companies to choose from and also many poor SEO companies out there gaining a fast buck for a terrible service, we thought it would be a good idea to produce this simple guide of the checklist of things that you should be aware of when choosing an SEO company, and also pointers to ask any SEO company you are considering taking on.
1. Avoid cold-calling companies
An SEO company should first and foremost be interested in your business, and not in the sales targets that their company wants to achieve.
Some SEO agencies use cold-calling and pushy sales tactics to contact companies to entice them to join them. This is a blanket approach adopted by some SEO agencies and your business will be just one contact amongst hundreds of other businesses, so it is a numbers game.
They will promise things such as guaranteed rankings and number 1 results in Google, however, these calls need to be treated with care and taken with a pinch of salt. These types of agencies can also strike fear into you with selling techniques that aren’t ethical or credible.
It is advisable to ask the agent on the end of the phone who is calling you whether they are the ones doing the SEO, or if the call you are receiving is just one of many that they are making each day in order to reach their calling targets from lists of businesses given to them. This sales technique doesn’t offer you any credibility on the SEO company and says a lot about their business if they have to resort to cold-calling customers in the first place.
The screenshot below shows an email from an anonymous SEO company.
If you sign up to these types of companies, they will treat your SEO as a production process. Your keywords and business will go into an SEO sausage machine and come out the other end with no thought or tailored SEO solution for your business. If they have other companies in the same sector and market as you, they will re-use methods for you that they have already used for your competitors.
A good SEO company will look at your business, market, competitors and objectives and tailor an SEO strategy that will work for your business and market.
2. What do you get for your money?
You should ask your SEO company what SEO services they are offering and what all of the costs include. Some agencies will include basic reporting as standard and charge for additional reporting and some may expect you to pay for all of your reporting. So be clear about what you will receive. If you are going to spend money on SEO then you really need to know these finer details.
3. Make enquiries
What you also need to check is their credibility and if they will do a good job for you. The best way to do this is to speak to their clients as references and also ask the length of contracts that they have with clients. A client will stay with a good SEO company who produces results. Make sure that you have a direct discussion with at least three of their clients. Any company that doesn’t want to provide references you can discuss their work with should be avoided; after all what do they have to hide? Any reputable and successful agency will be delighted to give you references of their satisfied clients!
4. Check they don’t use spam techniques
SEO can be implemented in a poor and unethical manner i.e. not in accordance with Google’s policy and guidelines and this will in time penalise your website and rankings. If an SEO company uses spam techniques or over-optimises your website and links then you are seriously jeopardising your website rankings and business. Some SEO companies may well offer quick wins so that they can get your money, however, this is not a sustainable SEO strategy. And with Google increasingly clamping down on spam techniques and over-optimised websites, this type of SEO carries a high risk. These types of SEO companies will also know that these methods are not sustainable and that they are taking risks with your website.
You can also check their clients’ websites and their own website for any shady SEO practices. There are a number of back link tools that you can use to check the anchor text. If a high percentage of these back links are `money keywords’ then the SEO company is treading on thin ground and is likely to risk your rankings with unethical practices.
You can also check the reports that you receive from your SEO company and the anchor text they are using and the quality of the websites they are sourcing their links from.
5. Check who is actually working on your SEO
Many SEO company’s business models are to outsource all or part of their SEO and link building work to cut their costs and use additional resource during busy periods. Some agencies will outsource your work to overseas agencies, for instance in India, at a much cheaper price and mark it up so they get more profit.
We think this is a very bad idea because outsourcing means less control, less quality and less knowledge about your business. You should ask an SEO company if they outsource work and why and also ask to meet the whole team who will be working on your account to make sure you are happy with the team and that they understand your business.
Ensuring that they don’t outsource work is even more critical because your online brand and business reputation is your number one priority. If you have sub-standard links, online content and social media it will reflect detrimentally on your brand and your business.
6. Are they guaranteeing rankings?
First of all, no reputable SEO company will promise and guarantee rankings. Secondly no SEO company can guarantee a number 1 position in Google. Any company that guarantees rankings should not be trusted. Google even states that no one can guarantee a number 1 ranking with them. There are so many variables and criteria that are outside of an agency’s control so an agency is not in a position to make a claim to guarantee any position or ranking.
The only guarantees that SEO companies can make is that Google will consistently make changes to their algorithms and that the playing field is anything but level! But that is what you pay a good SEO company to do: to design a realistic SEO strategy that will drive quality traffic to your website and is tailored to your business and has a long-term performance.
If an agency is guaranteeing your rankings, there are two alarm bells that should ring.
- The first alarm bell is if they are using unethical and bad practices that do not adhere to Google’s guidelines to get your rankings. If they are then they risk penalising your website.
- The second is what keyword will they rank you for? An easy keyword with no competition that they can pick could rank at number 1 but may be not relevant to your business and may drive no traffic to your website because it’s not a keyword term that is searched for. A keyword that doesn’t drive traffic to your website is in effect useless.
7. What is the length of contract?
Some agencies will expect you to sign up for a long contract; anything from one year to two years. We would advise that you should not get locked into a long term contract in case the SEO company doesn’t deliver results and SEO performance.
A long contract will always be in the agency’s favour rather than yours. Realistically, any SEO results can be achieved between three and six months. If the SEO is working for your business then fine, you can decide to continue. However if it isn’t working and there isn’t any improvement for SEO performance then you will be locked into a contract that you can’t get out of and paying for SEO that doesn’t work.
A good SEO company will not lock you into a contract and we recommend going with an SEO company that has a monthly to quarterly contract that will enable you to get out of the contract if the SEO isn’t performing.
An SEO company will also know when SEO isn’t working and look into the possible factors. It can be down to the market, competition, time of year, your budget and demand for a product. A reputable agency will let you out of the contract easily and with no fuss if it simply isn’t performing.
Sonya Brucciani is Founder and Director at Espan Digital Marketing who specialise in SEO, PPC and all aspects of online marketing. Go to: http://www.espan.co.uk for further information.