Because our industry is in a constant state of growth, I find myself interviewing search engine optimization candidates on a routine basis. At the same time, I speak with client prospects each week who are trying to determine which SEO firm to select for working on their projects.
What I can tell you is that even I, having been involved in search engine optimization for a number of years, find it challenging to find the right talent for our own company. So I can certainly understand the complexities and difficulties that executives face when trying to find a reputable firm to work with.
I’ll begin with some basic information on whom you should not hire.
Avoid the person who talks big.
What I mean by this is the more exaggerated the claims, the more likely this person/company is pretending to be something they’re not. I contracted work to someone you'd think was going to be the next guru in our industry, only to find out this person talked a terrific game but couldn’t actually do the work.
Then there are people who make false guarantees and can’t back them up. These people say things like, “We guarantee that you will rank within the top three results for your keywords.” In case you don't already know this, no one can guarantee rankings within the major search engines. We (search engine optimization firms) do not own the search engines, so there is absolutely no way a ranking can be guaranteed. If someone does make this claim, you might want to ask them what they will do to make that happen. Are they incorporating tactics that might actually harm your Web site’s indexing in the search engines?
You don’t need to submit your Web site to the search engines.
If you are still receiving unsolicited emails stating someone will “submit your Web site to thousands of search engines,” hit the “report to spam” button and forget it. With proper external linking, it is not necessary to submit your Web site to the search engines. Certainly, if you are an e-commerce Web site and you want to submit your product catalog, that’s another thing. But for most standard Web sites, a good linking program will have your site indexed in no time.
Ask for examples of work.
What makes for a good search engine optimizer? Well, experience is probably a pretty good indicator. Those with years of experience and multiple projects under their belts will have a good treasure chest of information on what works and what doesn’t. They will know what helps in the short term and what can help deliver long-lasting positions in the SERPS. Any good SEO will be proud to showcase his or her work.
Ask for references.
Any good search engine optimizer will have references for you to call. These references should provide you with details on what was done to help the client achieve results, how responsive the person/company was to questions, how transparent he or she was in revealing SEO methodologies used and in providing metrics to help measure “success.”
Ask for specifics.
A good search engine optimizer should also provide you with some detail as to what was done for their clients to help them achieve results. Perhaps he or she can point you to case studies or white papers that outline some of the tactics used to help clients achieve results. If you should speak with someone who has difficulty answering this question, it could very well be that person just “got lucky” and didn’t really do much to achieve results for the client. There can be instances where a Web site is designed so well, and the company is already so respected, that it may naturally rank in the search engines without much assistance.
Go with your gut.
When all else fails, it’s been my experience that your gut feel will sometimes tell you what you need to know without having to consult with your head. If you feel that the person/provider has great character and your instincts tell you that person will work hard for your cause, that’s often a far better indication of whether or not it's the right fit than the fact that this is a huge company working with huge clients. I know some very large search engine optimization firms that really don’t dig very deeply into their tactics. They will do what I refer to as “surface” optimization, which basically means they do the easy stuff like building “information pages” specific to a given set of keywords, while not really working too much on modifying the entire Web site to make it search engine friendly.
If you are considering an SEO firm or specialist and are wondering what their claims or promises say about themselves and/or their services, shoot me an email through the link under my photo without mentioning any SEO names, and I’ll do my best to help you discern whether the claims are legitimate or just hype.
Meet Your Favorite Search Engine Watch Contributors
Many of SEW's leading expert contributors will be at ClickZ Live, the new online and digital marketing event kicking off in New York (March 31-April 3). Hear from the likes of: Thom Craver, Josh Braaten, Lisa Barone, Simon Heseltine, Josh McCoy, Lisa Raehsler, Greg Jarboe, Dan Cristo, Joseph Kerschbaum, John Gagnon, Eric Enge and more!