By Thomas Davenport
There are a lot of firms out there right now selling pie in the sky dreams to small business owners. Search Engine Optimization or SEO is the art and science of making your website shine to search engines. Given the importance of good search engine ranking many businesses are willing to pay top dollar to firms promising thousands of linkbacks or guaranteeing number placement on google’s first page of search results. Buyer beware though as many of these firms at best are a sham and at worst could permanently damage your sites ability to rank with search engines. How can you tell the wheat from the chaff?
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Luckily there are some signs you can watch for when shopping for an SEO firm. One of the first great big stop signs are promises that sound too good to be true. These companies will make guarantees such as guaranteeing number one ranking for particular search terms. Give the complexity of the systems that generate these rankings and search results this is just impossible to guarantee unless the firm has some sort of shenanigans going on. Whats worse is that if they are employing these shenanigans known in the industry as black hat techniques. If spotted by the search engines these techniques can get your site blacklisted, sometimes permanently. It takes a lot of effort to turn this around and even a reputable SEO firm may not be able to save your site.
Another sign is free trials. Would you give someone you don’t know and possibly only met online the keys to your brand new car to take for a spin? That is what you are doing by taking some firms up on their free trials. Never, and I mean never, give out your login information to your website to a company offering a free trial. Hey maybe it’s totally legitimate but do you want to take the chance, I know I wouldn’t. This falls into the too good to be true category. Doing this work takes time and effort and no one is going to work for a month for free and even if they do the results from proper SEO take longer than a month to really show up. This is just a bad idea.
Ok this is a bit of a touchy subject for me but many other articles will tell you to steer clear of overpriced or underpriced. They also will tell you to steer clear of one man shops. Ahhhh see these articles are written by big SEO firms that are in my opinion bloated and unnecessarily large for a typical small business. Now I am biased on this point because I am a one man shop and my prices may seem low but there is a reason for this. I am not supporting a CEO and several executive vice-presidents salaries. Here it goes in a nutshell here. Oversized SEO firms are support large amounts of clients and often are impersonal. I, on the other hand, am a small business entrepreneur, like you. I understand small business because I run a small business. You can not get the kind of personal service I provide from a big SEO firm. That’s just my two cents, as I said I am biased so take my recommendation with a grain of salt. By all means do your due diligence but don’t discard a firm just because they are a one man shop or they seem underpriced.
Any SEO firm worth its salt should be able to explain to you what they are doing to improve your ranking in language you can understand. If they are throwing terminology out at you that you do not understand ask them to explain, if they can’t then walk away. Yes this is sometime complex work but explaining it should not be. If they are talking over your head or talking down to you they are trying to prove how smart they are. They are not, they are proving they are dumb. IF you ask a question and get the “That’s a trade secret” they are blowing smoke. There are no trade secrets in SEO. Everything to do is on the internet already. If you wanted to you could look it up and do it yourself but you don’t want to because that is not your business. You are paying for time and experience, not trade secrets.
This is just a small handful of red flags and there are many more such as:
- “We know someone on the inside”
- Advertising through spam email
- “We’ll get your thousands of links to your site”
It is important for small business and SEO firms to understand that SEO optimization is a process and a long term investment. Yes there are short term methods to test if certain keywords will be efficent but building a website to high search engine ranking takes time and effort that can not be accomplished overnight.
Tom Davenport is the owner of Davenport eCommerce located in Charlottesville, Va. He started Davenport eCommerce so he could do what he loves and love what he does. He works to help small business owners do the same.