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    Looking for SEO expert services? 5 red flags to watch for.

    January 8, 2018

January 8, 2018

Looking for SEO expert services? 5 red flags to watch for.

If you’re looking for SEO expert services, watch out for these red flags

So you’re looking for SEO expert services for your business. Great! You KNOW that SEO (or search engine optimization) is a critical part of your business digital marketing strategy. After all, this is one of the most effective ways to get potential customers to your website without paying for advertising. You WANT people to find your business when they enter relevant search terms in a search engine like Google.​

​Watch out though. SEO is an incredibly technical and complicated subject. SEO firms know this and not all of them are scrupulous. Some of them hide behind the technicality and complexity of SEO to waste lots of your money while not doing much for you. Others might just be lazy or don’t have the time to keep up with the latest SEO developments and won’t be much help either.

Imagine you’re building a house. You hire an electrician to do all the complicated wiring for you. When he’s done, all you see is a huge tangle of wires and boxes. You have no clue whether what he did was right or wrong. You don’t know anything about electrical wiring. That’s why you hired an electrician! Fortunately for you, there are building codes and an inspector who will check the wiring to see if everything measures up.

​This is how SEO is for most business owners. They hire an SEO expert because they don’t know anything about SEO (other than that it is important). Except, there are no equivalents to building codes for the SEO industry, and there’s definitely no inspector to check things over.

What’s a business owner to do?

Well you can’t ignore SEO. Doing so will mean that you will be at the mercy of expensive pay-per-click advertising (where you could pay upwards of $20 every time someone clicks on your ad). But that’s not it. Since modern SEO practices also make your website easier to navigate and read by your target audience, ignoring SEO can make your website less appealling to potential customers, resulting in a higher bounce rate and less business.

The only way to be smart about looking for SEO expert services is to be educated. Learn about how SEO works, what a good SEO firm should and should not be doing for you, and what you should and should not pay for.

We will be writing lots more about this topic but to start, we’d like to share what we’ve seen as the 5 biggest dirty secrets that  no unscrupulous SEO firm wants you to know. Not knowing these secrets can rip you off or, worse, can seriously damage your SEO ranking ability or even your digital reputation. Knowing these secrets will empower you to be a better SEO client (and business owner) who can get better results and spend less money.

Here are red flags you should watch out for if you’re looking for SEO expert services:

Red Flag #1 – Rank Guarantees

If you’re looking for SEO expert services and an SEO consultant tells you they can “guarantee” a first place, first page, or any sort of rank, don’t believe it. In fact, there’s a good chance that any such SEO firm would waste your money and possibly hurt your business.

There are many reasons why no reputable SEO firm should ever guarantee your ranking but the basic reason comes down to one thing. SEO firms don’t control Google (or any other search engine) and Google, not your SEO firm, ultimately decides how to rank websites. This ranking decision is based on thousands of factors and they are changing all the time. The best an SEO firm can do is set your website up with best practices that will maximize the chances of success. Rank guarantees are a big, red flag. In fact, Google itself warns consumers that they should not hire SEO firms that guarantee ranking.

SEO firms that guarantee ranking often use tactics that either waste your money or that can get your website penalized. Sometimes these firms will pick keywords that have nonexistent search volume so that it is really easy to rank. Being #1 for a search term that no-one searches for is clearly a waste of money. Other times, unscrupulous SEO firms will use clearly unsanctioned strategies such as link farms, keyword stuffing, or shadow sites. These strategies can ruin your business’ reputation or even get your website penalized or banned by Google.

Bottom line: no SEO firm can guarantee ranking so beware of those who promise it.

  • ​Google controls search results, not your SEO firm
  • Google itself recommends that you be very wary of firms that guarantee search rankings
  • SEO firms that guarantee search rankings will often pick easy, totally useless keywords for you
  • SEO firms that guarantee search rankings may use unsanctioned tactics that can cause your website to be penalized by Google

Red Flag #2 – Poor Keyword Selection Practices

Needless to say, choosing the right keywords when you are looking for SEO expert services is, well, key.

After all, the whole point of this exercise is to increase the chance that when your potential customers do a Google search for keywords that are relevant to your business, your website pops up on the results. High on the results.

The key with keywords is a combination of three factors: relevance, search volume, and difficulty. Essentially you want to focus on keywords that are relevant to your business and your audience, that have a decent search volume, and aren’t too competitive (therefore difficult to rank for).

​We see two common wrong approaches that many SEO firms and SEO consultants take in choosing keywords for their clients. Both of these wrong approaches will, at best, waste your money. If you’re not careful, these approaches can also damage your reputation or create long-term SEO problems for your website.

​The first common wrong approach we see SEO firms take in choosing keywords is simply asking you, as the client, to send them a list of keywords you’d like to rank for ​and just using those keywords without any more research. While it might seem like a decent approach at first (after all they are asking for your input) this is a problem unless they also show you how to choose good keywords and most of the time they don’t do that. This is a huge problem because, unless the SEO firm gives you some good guidance on how to choose keywords and then does some homework on their end, the list of keywords chosen will almost always be useless. They almost always will either be keywords with extremely low search volumes or that have little relevance to your business. Either way, you’d be wasting your money on these keywords.

The second common wrong approach we see SEO firms take in choosing keywords is to simply choose them for you without seeking your input and without explaining to you why they chose them. This is also very problematic. First, the SEO firm isn’t likely to know your business well enough to choose keywords for you without consulting with you. Second, this approach allows SEO firms to easily “cheat” by choosing keywords that have low search volume or even relevance to your business just so they can rank you easily and show you (fake) results for your money.

​Our recommendation on the best practice for keyword selection has three parts:

  1. Educate. Learn how to choose potential keywords that are relevant to your business, have decent search volume, and are not too competitive. ​Watch for more how-to articles from us in the near future to help you with this.
  2. Choose. Based on these criteria we just talked about, come up with a list of potential keywords to use.
  3. Research. With the help of your SEO firm, decide which ones you should focus on. Make sure your SEO firm “shows their work” by explaining why they recommend the keywords chosen.

Red Flag #3 – Not Running and Explaining an SEO Audit First and Foremost

The first thing an SEO firm should do for you when you hire them is run a comprehensive SEO audit on your website ​and explain the results to you. Then you can work together to decide on what goals your SEO project should have. Without an audit, you are essentially going into the project blind and can easily waste your money.

​Here are just a few things that an audit can and should cover:

  • ​How well optimized the technical structure of your website is for SEO. This includes whether you properly use H1 tags, have meta descriptions, use alt text on images, have an optimized URL structure, don’t have broken links, avoid duplicate content, have compressed images. Some of this might sound ultra-technical to you and if so, a good SEO firm should be explaining them to you.
  • Whether your website is crawlable by Google without errors. This includes having a good Robots.txt file, and a properly functioning Sitemap.
  • How fast your page loads
  • What keywords your website currently ranks for (if any)
  • Who your main competitors are and which keywords they rank for
  • An overview of your backlinks
  • Whether your website is currently under penalty by Google or flagged as an unsafe site

​All SEO projects should start with a comprehensive audit. If your SEO firm doesn’t offer to start with such an audit, you should find one that does.

Interested in a full audit of your website? Our soon-to-be-launched website audit will cover basic SEO and 100+ other points to help your website attract and keep attention, and turn visitors into buyers. Sign up for our VIP list on the right hand column of this article to be the first to know when we launch this exciting new product (and to get exclusive members-only discounts).

Red Flag #4 – Wanting Administrative Access to Your Google Analytics Account

​No SEO strategy is complete without analytics and the most common tool to use for this is Google Analytics. A good SEO firm should help you set up your Google Analytics account and show you how to use it to see if they are doing their jobs or not. The key here is the term “​help you” ​set up your Google Analytics account. Some unscrupulous SEO firms will either ask for your administrator’s password or will set your Google Analytics account up themselves and serve as administrator. They do this so that they can control how you use your account and so that they can either overtly or subtly hold the account hostage – hoping that the trouble of trying to figure it out for yourself will make you keep paying their monthly fee.

​The only appropriate way for an SEO firm to access your Google Analytics account in any way is to make sure you, as the business owner, are the administrator, and that you grant them editing access (if you want their help setting it up) or just viewing access (if you don’t need their help with setup). That way, you can easily terminate their access if you part ways and you always maintain control and ownership of your important Google Analytics account and data.

When you are looking for SEO expert services, don’t ever let an SEO firm take administrative control of your Google Analytics account.

Red Flag #5 – Not Talking to You About Your Content

​Ultimately, SEO comes down to one thing: having lots of high-quality content on your website that your target audience wants to read. That’s it. An SEO firm can try every “SEO trick” in the book but search ranking ultimately comes down to quality content. When we say “content” we aren’t just talking about your static company information and sales pages either. We’re talking about articles, blog posts, videos, and guides that provide your customers and prospects with valuable information about your field of business, usually for free. The reason why Google uses so many factors in determining a website’s rank, and why it changes all the time, is that they are constantly trying to evaluate the quality of the content on the website, ​from the perspective of the audience.

If you’re looking for SEO expert services and your SEO firm doesn’t at least talk to you about how to create valuable, SEO-optimized content for your website, then this should be a big red flag. Ideally, a good SEO firm should help you formulate a good content strategy so that you can help your SEO with this content, and make sure that when the SEO starts to work and people visit your website, they have something to stick around for.

​There you have it. 5 red flags to watch out for when you are looking for SEO expert services.

​Are you going to look for SEO expert services to help your digital marketing strategy in 2018? If so, did this article help? Please let us know.

​If you thought this article was great, please do us a big favor and share it with your friends on social media using one of the convenient share buttons below.

​Here’s to your success!

Eric Hsu

Eric Hsu

Eric Hsu is the technical and content development expert at Communication Hackers. Eric has a strong background in business strategy and is an avid techie. He uses this to help businesses understand the big picture of digital marketing funnels and how all the pieces work together.
Eric Hsu

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