Anyone who has owned a business for more than a day has probably gotten a dozen emails from SEO companies saying things like “I noticed your site is not ranking in the most important search engines. We can change that”. In fact, as a business owner, you may already be paying thousands of dollars a month for a Gold SEO Package. But the real question is, what are you getting in return? As you might have guessed, SEO is just like most things in business: you can spend thousands of dollars per month and get a great deal, or spend $50 per month and overpay for services. Good SEO may seem difficult to measure, but here are ways to know if you're getting a steal, or getting ripped off:
You're site is ranking, but only for non-competitive keywords
The whole purpose of SEO is to get good quality traffic to your website, and lots of it. Getting ranked for lots of keywords, or ranked first on Google for low-traffic phrases, isn’t going to accomplish that. If you were a charity that sold gift baskets in Baltimore named Benevolent Baskets, it would be much more important to rank for “Baltimore gift baskets” than for “Benevolent Baskets”. When SEO firms guarantee first-page Google rankings, they’re typically gunning for those easy phrases that aren’t going to generate a lot of traffic. A good firm is going to give you a list of phrases and keywords that will generate lots of traffic, even if they can’t get you in the first spot on Google. I’d much rather be ranked second in a phrase that gets a million hits per month than first for a phrase that only gets twenty.
Your agency tells you that on-page or off-page SEO is irrelevant
You could probably find a couple of Google engineers to argue about which is more important, on-page or off-page SEO, but the bottom line is that they both affect your rankings. On-page SEO is probably more important for simple search terms. Your company name, for example, will almost always rank first if you just apply some good on-page techniques. However, this won’t usually get you where you need to be for more competitive terms. In fact, many people suggest that after Panda and Penguin (and Platypus or whatever comes next), off-page isn’t as important anymore. Do a quick search for “click here” and you’ll see strong evidence to the contrary. Adobe Acrobat Reader doesn’t have any meaningful text on the whole page that says “click here” (certainly not in title tags or headings), yet they are ranked number two. That’s because every website on the planet shares their PDFs with a comment that says, “To get Adobe Acrobat Reader, click here”, thus generating off-page rank. By the same token, don't get roped in on "link generating schemes" that don't allocate any time to on-page optimization. Any significant SEO campaign will include pieces of both techniques. It’s ok to work one first, but if you want lots of traffic, you can't ignore either.
You're getting thousands of links on shady websites
Google is focusing more and more on quality links. An SEO company that says they'll get you hundreds of thousands of links is wasting your time, period. You may get some benefit from these links, but nowhere near the benefit you’d get from just a few higher quality links. These junk links can even cause push you off Google SERPs (Search Engine Result Pages) if they are placed on certain sites. Google tries to filter out spam and if your site gets listed with a bunch of other spammy sites, you're going to suffer from guilt by association. Make sure your firm is keeping you out of the dark corners of the Internet. Links should only be built on reputable sites.
Your team treats SEO link building like a classified operation
This is my pet peeve. Would you ever pay a marketing firm thousands of dollars for TV ads if they refused to tell you on which channels or what times these ads were running? Don’t get roped into this tradecraft nonsense. You need to know where your links are going – especially when Google could punish you if those links come from questionable websites. It’s perfectly fine for SEO companies to not tell you where their links go generally, but if you’re buying their service you should have a regular report that shows where they have been building links for you. You should be able to verify that the link actually exists and that it’s on a reputable site. It’s also important to know that you’re working with keywords that are generating meaningful traffic.
Your own analytics show no real results
Yes, you can – and should – verify that an SEO campaign is actually working. Some results you’ll see in a matter of a few days, and yes, others still take months. Either way, you need to have a handle on your analytics from day one. On the Internet, not tracking your analytics is tantamount to running a business without tracking your finances. You’ll know pretty quickly if your SEO firm is targeting good keywords. In fact, in Google Analytics, you can even set up goals to track user actions on your website. This allows you to associate keywords with the resulting action a user takes. So, while you may have 10,000 hits from “goofy backflip” you may need to focus on other keywords if those visitors aren’t signing up for gymnastics classes. A good SEO company will focus on results that matter to your business, not just drive random traffic to your website. So, how much does good SEO cost? It all depends on the results.
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Brian is a life-long software developer who loves to help others succeed. A frequent source for media outlets, such as BBC, Entrepreneur and Bloomberg, Brian also frequently speaks at universities, conferences and the like. His new book, "Unravelling the Internet of Things" will be available soon on Amazon.com.