SEO consultants provide clients with valuable services, but unfortunately unethical consultants have given the industry a black eye with attempts to unfairly manipulate search engine results and overly aggressive techniques. Here are 8 warning signs that you should watch for when considering hiring an SEO consultant:
Unsolicited Spam Emails
Don’t ever, ever hire an SEO consultant who first contacts you via unsolicited email.
I visited your website and noticed that you are not listed in most of the major search engines and directories…”
Real SEO consultants hate spam even more than you do. Treat these unsolicited emails with the same skepticism as emails for “burn fat while you sleep at night” diet pills or requests to help transfer funds from deposed dictators.
Offers Guaranteed Placement
You may have seen this one before: “1st page Google ranking guaranteed!” Nobody has a “special relationship” with Google that will guarantee rankings. The thing with this “guarantee” is that they do usually end up meeting the requirements, but not in a way that will actually benefit you. Instead of improving your ranking for actual useful keyword phrases, they find long, obscure ones that sound good but that nobody actually uses with very little competition. It’s not that hard to get ranked well if there are only a few hundred competitors for a search term, but what’s the use if that search term is only used once or twice a month?
Makes References to Unknown “Experts”
There are plenty of trusted sources for SEO information and strategic thinking, like Rand Fishkin from SEOmoz and Aaron Wall from SEOBook.com. The really good ones talk openly about the SEO industry and aren’t afraid to put their ideas out in public for debate and discussion. If the consultant references SEO experts by name, Google those names to make sure they really are experts!
Suggests Specific Keyword Densities
Once upon a time, there was a belief that there was an “optimal” keyword density of 14.2%. This meant that content writers focused on embedding the keyword phrase as frequently as possible, without consideration to the readability of an article. That myth has been debunked over and over, but you’ll still hear talk about keyword densities. You’re better off writing content people will enjoy and link to instead of writing to try to lure search engines into ranking you higher. Of course your keywords should be there, but make it sound natural.
Makes Manic Submissions
Offering to submit your website to 7,000 online directories is a popular tactic. There were a tonne of these tools that came out a while back. There are directories that are industry-specific, and your website should definitely be in these, but let’s face it: most directories that let just anyone in aren’t likely worth much.
Another variation of this is submitting websites to search engines. If your website has been live for over a week, Google and Bing have already found it. Even if you’re launching a brand new website from a brand new domain and want to speed up the process, submitting a website by using a search engine’s Webmaster Tools is something that only has to be done once.
Overly Focused on Link Buying and Pay-Per-Click
Link buying and pay-per-click (PPC) are valid and effective strategies, especially when you are running sales or specials, or when you have a brand new website that needs a boost in traffic. But that’s search engine marketing, not search engine optimization. There also needs to be a parallel effort to create quality inbound links that you’re not paying for every month. Otherwise when your budget runs out, you’ll end up with virtually no website traffic again.
Advocates Black Hat Practices
Techniques like hidden text on pages, redirecting users to a different website, offering different content to search engines vs. human visitors, or anything that sounds like it’s an attempt to “trick” search engines is what’s referred to as “black hat”. Many black hat strategies will get you a short-term boost in your rankings, then when Google figures out what you’re doing you’ll get hit with the ban-hammer and never show up in search results again.
Offers Overly Complicated Explanations
I’ll be the first person to admit that search engine optimization is not rocket surgery. Most of the time, an SEO consultant is hired because the owner of the website doesn’t have the time or desire to learn or do it themselves. SEO can be nuanced, but unless you’re in a highly competitive sector you don’t need a PhD to understand at least the simple but effective basic practices. If an SEO consultant can’t explain their strategy in a way that a relatively intelligent person can understand, they’re likely blowing smoke.
Hiring an SEO consultant is a huge decision that can save you time and improve your site, but an irresponsible SEO consultant can cause damage to your site and your reputation. With the tips above, you can avoid the dreaded Google black-list.
If you’re considering hiring an SEO consultant, the earlier the better. The best time is when you’re considering a site redesign or planning to launch a new site. The SEO consultant can then work with you to ensure your site is search engine-friendly from the ground up.