Looking to hire someone who can help you with SEO? With so many so-called “SEO experts” out there nowadays, it can be hard to find someone with the requisite skills and experience to help your business improve its SEO rather than take your money and fail to perform.
Not every entrepreneur can become his or her own SEO expert, so, while reflecting on the last 17 years of my career, I came up with core questions business owners may want to consider asking when looking to hire a professional. You may be able to carefully vet prospective SEO hires by asking the following questions.
Who Are Their Past and Current Clients?
Rather than hiring inexperienced SEO companies,you may want to seek out those that have a positive track record with past and current clients. You can reach out to an SEO company’s previous or existing clients for deeper input. Consider making this standard practice; it may only take a quick phone call or email.
What Is Their CEOs' Experience?
Many companies seem to be founded by people with the utmost passion for their industry. Consider looking for CEOs or founders of SEO companies who display that passion and experience. Does the CEO speak at industry conferences? Does he or she write for major SEO publications?
What Is Their Strategic Process and Outline of Services?
SEO companies should clearly communicate their strategies. There are no guarantees in SEO (if someone makes a guarantee, that's often a warning sign), but there should be an estimate of how long it may take for your company to start seeing positive results.
A successful SEO company will likely provide a strategic outline of services that use enterprise tools for data. These services may begin with an audit that discusses current problems and their solutions and leads to an outlined plan of action. The plan may include elements such as on-site optimization, like URL restructuring, page titles that use keywords derived from enterprise tools, off-site optimization (such as an intensive backlink strategy that involves disavowing bad links and building reputable links) and strategic content building that pushes an authoritative voice.
Do They Use White Hat or Black Hat Tactics?
If an SEO company guarantees a No. 1 placement on Google, Bing or Yahoo, consider moving on. These companies may be using “black hat” SEO techniques, which in the world of digital marketing means one thing: cheating. These companies may boast a perfected backlink building strategy. Sometimes these can work in the short term, but it can quickly go south and get you de-indexed from major search engines.
The SEO specialist that provides only ethical, white hat optimization may not produce immediate results, but they can help make sure your site will not be de-indexed from a major search engine. Google provides best practices, and the SEO company you hire should be familiar with them. In other words, keep it clean. Search engines like Google may be a machine and overlook some things, but algorithms change what appears daily, and that machine can catch up to any black hat SEO tricks.
Are They Transparent Through Reports?
The first thing a reputable SEO company may do is ask for access to your Google Analytics or Google Search Console (formerly called Google Webmaster Tools). This allows them to analyze all current data to not only get a benchmark for progress going forward, but also provide an analysis on current data.
Though it can take time for organic results to become positive, the results will likely surface. An SEO consultant may provide weekly reports directly from reports like Google Analytics or keyword ranking reports from enterprise tools. This data can help provide not only results from the work in progress, but also transparency. Simply put, if a company doesn’t share data, it may be hiding something or taking your money without work. Transparency can be the key to real-time results and, ultimately, success.
Do They Have Strong Communication Skills?
The core of every successful business may be communication, both internally and externally. If your SEO company isn't keeping a strong rapport (I’d argue weekly or biweekly at the least), you may not be getting what you deserve. True SEO experts tend to be loaded with curiosity. Consider looking for a consultant that's willing to learn everything about your business and industry so they can offer the best results possible.
Kristopher B. Jones is the author of Search Engine Optimization: A Visual Blueprint to Effective Internet Marketing, and a member of the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC).
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A version of this article was originally published on January 11, 2015.