In fact, it might be the most important tool in your marketing strategy. As we discussed HERE, the concept of SEO extends far beyond the mechanics of Google – it’s about being in front of your customers at every stage of their research and purchase.
In 2016, digital marketing is no longer the arcane and murky monster it used to be. With the rise of freely available digital marketing resources, we’re seeing crops of small SEO companies pop up daily… and harassing companies for their business.
Don’t get me wrong – these guys can be brilliant. We all start somewhere, and a lot of Yodle’s talent comes from small-time SEO backgrounds. Unfortunately, just as many of them are inexperienced and incompetent – and at worst, fatal for your business.
So how can you tell the difference?
I’ve created this list of 5 questions carefully designed to trip up the SEO marketer trying to get your business. If they can’t get through this audit without sending any red flags, it’s probably time to hang up the phone.
“CAN YOU SHOW ME SOME LIVE EXAMPLES OF YOUR PREVIOUS WORK?”
I once interviewed with an SEO firm that told me they worked with Fortune 500 companies. When I pressed the marketer on what they’d specifically accomplished, he told me they’d audited a single campaign for Unilever… that never saw the light of day.
It’s very easy to massage the truth in the SEO world – specifically when you’re pitching to somebody who isn’t confident in the conversation.
Another warning to look out for is whether or not they’ve serviced any other businesses in your vertical. Contractors, lawyers, and salon owners all have vastly different audiences and strategies. While no two SEO strategies are the same, a backlog of experience with a certain industry can hugely pump up the success rate of an SEO firm (which is why I’m particularly skeptical of smaller SEO firms).
However, if they can give you concrete examples – including live sites – you can breathe easier. Any SEO firm worth its salt will have a litany of successes that they’re happy to share with you.
Once you’ve taken a look at some of the best performing examples, fill out a contact form on those sites and confirm that the SEO firm both a) Actually worked with them, and b) Delivered on their promises. You never know!
“HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH PENALTIES?”
Remember earlier when I remarked that “we all start somewhere”? This is true for even the best of us. Every SEO firm started as one or two people working with their local plumber. Accordingly, almost all of us have at one point incurred the wrath of a penalization.
That’s the tricky thing about SEO: there’s a fine line between what you can get away with and what a search provider condemns. Well-intentioned, ethical marketers can – and often do – poke the bear.
If the marketer responds with an emphatic “Actually, our work has always been squeaky clean and our clients have never been penalized!”… I’d be skeptical.
While they may be telling the truth, it’s very hard to believe. If they are as experienced as they claim, and they’ve never once had a penalty or even inherited an issue from shoddy client websites… it’s more than a little suspect.
If you’d like to accept that as truth, the next step is to ask them how they validate whether or not clients have had penalties. If they don’t mention link analysis, the search console, or auditing search traffic period over period… they’re not rigorous enough – and they’re not data driven. Boot.
“WHAT DO YOU VIEW AS THE MOST IMPORTANT FACTORS FOR ORGANIC SEARCH SUCCESS?”
I’ll be honest: there’s no right answer to this question. Organic search lives on the back of 15 strategies all working in tandem to boost your visibility and traffic – and priorities will vary from company to company.
However, there certainly are wrong answers.
If “keyword density” is near the top of the list, you should start running. Why? Keyword stuffing is a SEO technique that loads the meta tags and the content of your webpages with keywords. At best, it’ll make your website and content sound silly – and at worst, it could cost you penalization or ban.
If they recommend buying links, run screaming. It’s not a sustainable strategy, and there are entire teams and algorithms at Google to sniff out that kind of thing. Even if it’s working today, it’s a target for tomorrow.
“CAN YOU EXPLAIN THE FUNDAMENTAL REASONING BEHIND YOUR STRATEGIES?”
People who know what they’re doing will tell you: SEO is both an art and a science. There are so many unique variables, strategies, and obstacles to consider for each client that you need a deep understanding and instinct behind what you’re doing in order to make a dent.
With the rise of the “Internet Marketer” came marketing blogs rife with tips, tricks, and tutorials. Honestly, a good handful of these are amazing resources that I myself read daily (like this one, or my personal favorite). But there’s a fatal flaw.
These kinds of resources attract people without a solid understanding of the principles of SEO, looking to employ quick ‘hacks’. Rinse and repeat enough, and you end up with somebody who can talk the talk – and maybe have a few successes under their belt – but without a solid understanding behind what they’re doing.
A best practice is to ask for examples of strategies that they’d use for your business, then following up with “why would that work?”. If they’re legitimate and experienced, they’ll be able to explain their strategies with ease.
However, If you hear the words “Google recommends”, it’s usually a solid sign that they don’t fully grasp the reasons behind what they’re doing. And that shouldn’t make you feel too confident.
“WILL YOU COLLABORATE WITH MY EXISTING TEAM?”
To understand this question, it helps to have a broad perspective on what constitutes your marketing strategy. Do you buy ads on Facebook? How about email marketing? Do you send out mailers? Coupons? How’s your social media presence? Here’s the golden rule: all of these things have to work in tandem.
So what role does SEO play in the entire marketing stack?
If the SEO firm explains that they operate independently, trying not to bother you too often… that’s probably a bad sign. Your SEO firm doesn’t need to be the owner of everything under the sun, but it does need to regularly collaborate with the lion’s share of your business operations to make informed decisions about your strategy.
A good SEO firm will have insight that can inform a wide range of your business’ activity. Will they give your web development guy tips on how to optimize your site? Work with PR to source the best contacts for the most relevance and link authority?
Even if your business is lightweight enough that you aren’t employing these marketing techniques yet, it should definitely be on your roadmap – and you don’t want to invest time and money into an SEO firm that won’t work for you down the road.
Yodle connects consumers to local businesses simply and cost-effectively through its online marketing platform. Yodle currently serves more than 45,000 small business customers. This blog is used as a forum to provide key company updates and milestones, and to discuss important industry and business trends. Learn more.