The process of getting your company listed high in search results can seem mysterious and confusing for any small business owner. That’s why many turn to a search engine optimization (SEO) company for help.
Plus, optimizing your site for search engines is time-consuming so it makes sense to hire an outside professional for this highly specialized knowledge.
Here are five signs that you’re about to hire the wrong SEO vendor. Some may seem trivial early in the relationship, but these details can turn into big problems later.
1. The SEO company guarantees they can get you on the first page of Google – fast.
Part of what makes SEO complicated is that there are things you can control and things you can’t.
First, Google and other search engines are secretive about the algorithms they use, but there are 200+ variables factored into page rankings. It’s safe to say that no SEO company knows the secret formula that will land you on the first page.
To add to the complexity, your site can rank very differently on desktops versus mobile devices, depending on a variety of factors including whether your site is mobile-friendly.
Second, while you can optimize the backend of your website and revise copy to make it keyword rich, your competitors may be doing the same and more. The internet is an endlessly dynamic space where millions of competitors fight for eyeballs.
Yes, there are SEO best practices to follow and tactics that have worked in the past, but at the end of the day, an SEO vendor cannot control your position in a Google search result. And, it can take months of testing and experiments to find the formula that works for your company and your market.
2. The vendor guarantees backlinks or recommends using misspelled words.
Disreputable SEO companies practice what are called “black hat” strategies to get you higher rankings.
One such strategy involves buying backlinks, meaning other sites that contain links back to your company’s website. Reputable backlinks require time and hard work to establish. Disreputable SEO agencies will register your site with “free” sites of low quality or from an irrelevant industry to boost your backlink numbers, which might help you in the short run but will hurt you down the road.
The legitimate way to gain back links is to offer rich, useful content for your readers. If they find value in your information, they’ll link their readers to yours. Yes, this requires time and money, but it pays off long-term.
Another “black hat” tactic is to add misspelled words to your site just because those misspellings are popular search terms. This makes your company appear unprofessional at best.
Think it’s not a big deal to try and game the system? Black hat tactics are heavily penalized by the search engines and can get your site barred from search results altogether or make it impossible to send marketing emails. Getting back into their good graces can take weeks, if not months.
3. The SEO vendor doesn’t spend much time getting to know your company and where you fit in the marketplace.
A good SEO partner needs to understand your company’s value proposition, your customers and your competition. This requires time and attention to detail.
If a potential SEO vendor says they can just run a few keyword reports and don’t need to meet with your company’s leaders, employees, or a customer or two, beware.
Sometimes SEO companies are excellent at one or two things and try to fit you in their box. But if their specialty skill won’t help your company’s situation, then you won’t gain anything from hiring them.
Make sure they’re making a plan that addresses your specific needs. If you get a proposal that looks like a template they slapped your logo on, keep looking.
4. They’re the cheapest SEO company you could find. Or the most expensive.
I like to share this analogy when I talk about SEO, or any marketing vendor. I don’t want cheap sushi. I don’t necessarily need the most expensive sushi made with fish flown in daily from Japan. Mid-priced sushi won’t make me sick and tastes just as good as the expensive sushi, so it’s a good middle ground.
It’s the same with SEO vendors. Just because an SEO company charges the most doesn’t mean they’re the best. They could be. Or, they could have a fantastic sales team that knows how to close. In my experience, mid-priced SEO companies tend to be the best fit for my company.
On the other hand, hiring a bare bones SEO company because it’s the least expensive will hurt your business. These companies tend to use dubious or illegal techniques to boost your ranking short-term. But once your company gets caught, Google will penalize you by putting your company on the equivalent of a Do Not Fly list. Getting off the barred list means you’ll be paying yet another vendor even more money to clean up the mess and get you back in search results.
5. They don’t deliver their proposal by the promised date.
A late proposal speaks volumes about how the relationship is likely to progress, especially if there is no communication about the delay. After all, this is the start of your relationship. If they’re late with the proposal and don’t tell you ahead of time, it tells you they’re likely to miss other, more critical deadlines later without notice.
This doesn’t mean your SEO vendor can never make a mistake. It just demonstrates a lack of professionalism and poor time management that could indicate less-than-stellar results in the future.
Finding the right fit
The risks and rewards for finding the right SEO company are high. Put the right SEO partner in place and your business could grow exponentially through increased brand awareness. Hire the wrong SEO company and you could blow your marketing budget without any results to show for the investment.
What are the warning signs you look out for? Let us know in the comments.