If your website depends on organic traffic from search engines then you need your site to rank as high as possible in search results. This is the logic behind search engine optimization, but the waters are muddied by SEO agencies that use black hat tactics which are designed to fool Google and Bing.
Every SEO agency claims amazing results; some claim impossible search engine rankings in ridiculous timescales though. How do you find an SEO you can trust?
I asked a group of SEO experts on MyBlogU.com and their responses are summarized below.
Listen to Matt Cutts – He Sets the Rules
I have mixed feelings about SEO consultants. Most come up with entertaining stuff and I read those. The guys over at SEroundatable and SearchEngineLand manage this by simply telling compelling, insightful and entertaining stories backed by data.
But the one I listen to the most is Matt Cutts. I guess that if there’s anybody who’s worth their chops with regards to the topic it is the guy who sets the rules. That makes sense right?
What does Matt Cutts want?
What is Google’s aim?
Why do they make these rules?
Why are they secretive about some stuff?
After all, SEO revolves around Google. Yeah, you can go to Bing, Yahoo – but the traffic there is negligible.
I think I have a basic understanding of what Google wants. They want natural conversations and interactions – mainly expressed through search queries and search rankings.
Let me explain further, these days, when I try to look for something and I see a verylongkeyworddomainname.com and read an article written by a fictitious person, I feel like I’m being taken for a ride. I don’t want to be taken for a ride. Sometimes, I just need the real thing and not to be sold on something that I’ll probably regret.
This game – this SEO game – only came into existence because of Google. Therefore, I believe that we should play by Google’s rules and if they want to keep the rules secret – that’s totally up to them. It’s their game.
To me, the best SEO consultant – will help to familiarize you with Google’s rules. That’s it.
How Would You Fix Algorithmic and Manual Penalties?
Ask them the difference between an algorithmic and a manual penalty and what’s required to lift either. This often sees people fall short and can showcase gaps in their knowledge regarding Panda, Penguin and numerous other areas. A look at some of the stuff being circulated around the recent Penguin update is testament to this.
Ask for Cold, Hard Facts
If you are looking for good SEOs to work on your blog you really need to be careful, because I’ve seem most SEOs claiming they are 100% white-hat and it was obvious to me that they were lying. The only way to spot that is to know a bit of SEO yourself.
A good SEO will talk in cold, hard facts – specific info rather than generalizations and vague statements. People who post actual case studies, done by themselves are the ones to look for.
For instance this one person that kept insisting to me that he only does white-hat SEO with high quality links, soon admitted he was actually using Private Blog Networks to boost rankings (which is of course a black-hat technique and can get you severely penalized by Google).
I figured it out because I had a look at his portfolio and noticed two key things: From his client’s feedback, it was obvious he wasn’t telling anyone specifically WHERE his backlinks were coming from (they were all saying things like “I don’t know how he did it, but rankings went up almost overnight!”). The second thing was that keyword rankings were going up way too fast to be happening organically. This is great for a while, but often eventually leads to being harshly penalized and losing all of that hard work (or money).
So the way I got him to admit it was that after a little conversation about what I was looking for I insisted that he told me specifically what his link building strategy was. What he told me sounded just fine until he said “then I use my authoritative resources to boost rankings more quickly” – if you hear someone say “authoritative resources”, he’s probably talking about a PBN. That’s what I told him I believed he meant and he even admitted it.
Ask for Samples
If you have some technical knowledge then you can easily find genuine experts.
First of all, you should provide them your website URL to be reviewed and then you can filter out the ones who fail to send you the appropriate audit of your website or who made the audit report using free online tools.
Secondly you can ask them for a sample of their work related to your niche.
The third level of filtering would be the interview where you would ask him for the most challenging scenarios of the task at hand.
How Will You Create Backlinks?
They say the proof of the pudding is in the eating and that’s certainly true for SEO. So called experts in SEO should be able to demonstrate their skills in getting a website onto page 1 of Google and have that site stay there.
There are so many resources out there that can be used as a reference for SEO. Sites like MOZ.com, Search Engine Land, and indeed the Google Blog to name a few.
SEO is a simple process made complex by the number of Black Hat techniques that still work. The search engines would have you believe that the way to achieve a good place in the search results is to produce well-written, engaging and shareable content.
This approach is completely white hat and over time will provide results for any website but you have to be prolific in your content production and it has to be exceptional.
They’ll also tell you that all of your inbound links (backlinks) need to be natural and to stay away from paid links of any kind.
The white hat approach has a problem though. Business owners just starting out want to get on page 1 today, they can’t wait for 6 month to a year to get significant traffic to their new website. This is where the SEO Expert comes in.
Stepping outside of the white hat approach a little can see you get page 1 rankings in weeks rather than months but this is a dangerous process and one that should be understood completely if you allow your SEO Experts to go that route. At some point any identifiable footprint left by SEO work will be found and stopped. There is a chance that if you just take that approach and do get “found out” that your site could be assigned to the 100th page in the results and thus your business knocked into oblivion.
The answer then is to understand that the non-white hat approach should only be a part of what your SEO Expert does for you. Other completely white hat techniques need to run alongside the dubious techniques in the early stages and take over completely as your project progresses.
Questions to ask your SEO Expert:
- Will you list our site in Directory sites (much care is needed as this is frowned upon in certain circumstances)
- What is the process to create backlinks. Ask about quantity, velocity and site quality. It’s not good to assign 10,000 backlinks to a new site in week 1.
- What social media platforms will be employed and why?
- Will PPC advertising be used?
- Will you use the Keywords Meta Tag? Why, Why not?
- Can you show me 3 sites where you have achieved good results?
- Show me 1 site where you have not had great success (every expert will have at least one of these, it may be due to client budget but it will be there) Ask them what went wrong or what stopped them ranking.
- Ask about the latest Google algorithm updates and compare their answers against some of the well-known resources.
A good SEO expert will be honest and open about success and failure and have a good background for the reasons for each success and failure.
You can find a good SEO as long as you ask the right questions.
Ask any SEO you intend to employ about the methods they plan to use and the results you can expect. Reject any that make too-good-to-be-true claims. Reject any that do not recognize that SEO needs to be on-going.
It’s your website and you are the only person whose interests are totally locked into its health, so you have the right to know what an SEO plans to do.